Scarborough, Elizabeth Ann

views updated

SCARBOROUGH, Elizabeth Ann

Born 23 March 1947, Kansas City, Missouri

Daughter of Betty Lou and Donald Dean Scarborough; married Richard G. Kacsur, 1975 (divorced 1981).

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is best known for The Healer's War (1988), a novel about a Vietnam nurse, which was inspired by her career after she received an R.N. in 1968 from the Bethany Hospital School of Nursing in Kansas City, Missouri. From 1968 to 1972 she served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam, earning the rank of captain. She later worked as a surgical nurse at St. David's Hospital in Austin, Texas. In 1987 she earned a B.A. in history from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, where she lived for 15 years. She has been a freelance writer since 1979 and lives in the state of Washington.

Scarborough is popular for her humorous fantasy, which uses the conventional tropes of witches, dragons, and magic spells in comic, unconventional ways. She has written several series, starting with those about the magical land of Argonia: Song of Sorcery (1982), The Unicorn Creed (1983), Bronwyn's Bane (1983), and The Christening Quest (1985). Republished as Songs from the Seashell Archives, these stories chronicle the comical, fast-paced misadventures of a young witch named Maggie and her mother, Bronwyn.

The Arabian Nights-influenced novel The Harem of Aman Akbar (1984) involves a young bride fighting a genie's curse in the Middle East. Next Scarborough mixed fantasy with western fiction in The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas (1986) and The Goldcamp Vampire (1987), which are set respectively in the Texas plains and the Yukon frontier. Her journalist heroine in these works pursues and confronts the titular monsters.

The Healer's War won the 1989 Nebula award (granted by the Science Fiction Writers of America). Although its subject and incidents are dreadful, the story is warmly narrated with frequent flashes of humor. Nurse Kitty McCulley spends Part I in "The Hospital" caring for her American and Vietnamese patients. Kitty describes with sanguine common sense the exhaustion of working long shifts, the grief of losing patients, and the frustrations of finding romance with combat personnel. A dying patient, a Vietnamese "holy man," gives her a magic amulet which allows her to perceive the colorful auras emanating from others' emotions as well as to heal critical injuries. The value of the former ability becomes evident when Kitty is shot down over enemy territory in Part II, "The Jungle," and must evade the Viet Cong and an American soldier prone to homicidal fugues. Kitty learns, or rather confirms, that goodness is found not in political ideology but in ordinary people struggling to survive desperate times. Returning to America, she feels both strengthened by her experiences yet uprooted in a consumer society in which the truths of famine, pain, and death are frivolously disregarded.

Nothing Sacred (1991) is another powerful tale with an intriguing mystery. Viveca Vanachek, a 41-year-old prisoner of war, is kept alive for reasons she cannot fathom in a bizarre POW camp within a secluded valley in Tibet. Her fellow American prisoners are oddly out of date, more concerned with 20th-century baseball than with 21st-century shifting alliances. The guards are downright friendly, "carelessly" allowing her to access their computer files and to organize an ancient library while other prisoners rebuild the war-torn building, a palace which the Dalai Lama had previously called home. Viv's haunting dreams of its past glory give clues to the climactic revelation that the prison is as great an ontological mystery as a sociopolitical enigma. The novel ends with nuclear war destroying the world outside, but Viv has found happiness and no longer calls herself a prisoner. In Last Refuge (1992), Viv's granddaughter, Chime, ventures out of this magical oasis to seek renewal for a holocaust-burned world.

The humorous Songkiller Saga includes Phantom Banjo (1991), Picking the Ballad's Bones (1991), and Strum Again? (1992). Trouble begins when Torchy, actually the supernatural Faerie Queen, decides to abolish music. Seeking revenge against balladeer Tam Lin, who imprisoned her in the devil's underworld, she especially hates folk songs. As her name foreshadows, Torchy burns the Library of Congress and other musical archives and causes people to forget their fondness for music. Protagonist Willie gathers a fellowship of humans who remember folk music. Aided by a magic banjo, they launch a quest to save their favorite tunes.

Scarborough's friendships with social workers inspired her to write The Godmother (1994), in which a magical fairy godmother visits Rose Simpson, a Seattle social worker. In 1995's The Godmother's Apprentice, a teenager travels to Ireland to become a fairy godmother herself, and the series was rounded out with The Godmother's Web (1998).

Next Scarborough collaborated with fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey on the Petaybee trilogy, consisting of Powers That Be (1993), Power Lines (1994), and Power Play (1995). These novels are set on a faraway planet and concern a rebellion by settlers against the controlling corporation.

Scarborough returned to Earth for her next fantasies. Carol for Another Christmas (1996) brings the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge to visit workaholic Monica Banks, who needs to learn the lessons only Scrooge can teach. In The Lady in the Loch (1998), the sheriff of Edinburgh investigates the disappearance of gypsy women at Loch Ness and discovers an ancient evil.

Scarborough's works are accessible and pleasing. The values she promotes in her fiction are trust, caring, and sharing, which her protagonists personify. Her narrative voice is energetic, as are her characters, who ruefully take stock of the evils they confront but who rally enthusiasm to tackle the work of defeating them. These traits promise to keep her popular for years to come.

Other Works:

An Interview with a Vietnam Nurse (1989). The Untold Lives: The First Generation of American Women Psychologists (1989). Acorna's People (with Anne McCaffrey, 1999).


Everett, G., "The American National Character and the Novelization of Vietnam" (thesis, 1994).

Reference works:

St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers (1996).

Other references:

Fantasy Magazine (Fall 1993). Locus (June 1990). New York Review of Science Fiction (Sept. 1991). Starlog (Feb. 1991). SATA (1998). Science Fiction Chronicle 11:9 (June 1990).