Catherine Ann Asaro (1955–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1955, in Oakland, CA; Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.S., 1978; Harvard University, A.M., 1983, Ph.D., 1985; postdoctoral study at University of Toronto, 1985–87. Hobbies and other interests: Classical piano, ballet dancing, choir
Office—c/o Molecudyne Research, P.O. Box 1302, Laurel, MD 20725.
Kenyon College, Gambier, OH, assistant professor of physics, 1987–90, affiliated scholar, 1990–91; Molecudyne Research, MD, president, 1990–; writer. Consultant to Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, 1978–83, Biodesign, 1987, and Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 1991. Visiting scientist at Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, 1991–92. Teacher at Caryl Maxwell Classical Ballet Maryland.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (past president), American Association of Physics Teachers, American Physicists Society, Mathematical Association of America, National Council of Teachres of Mathematics, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi, Romance Writers of America.
Sapphire Award, 1997, and UTC Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of 1997, both for Catch the Lightning; nominations for Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella, both 1999, both for "Aurora in Four Voices"; nominated for best novel, Nebula Award, 1999, for The Last Hawk; Nebula Award in novel category, 2001, for The Quantum Rose; nominated for Hugo Award and Nebula Award for Best Novella, for "A Roll of the Dice," and 2004, for "Walk in Silence"; three-time winner of Best Science Fiction Novel Award, Romantic Times Book Club.
The Veiled Web, Bantam (New York, NY), 1999.
The Phoenix Code, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.
With Mercedes Lackey and Rachel Lee, Charmed Destines (includes novella "Moonglow"), Silhouette (New York, NY), 2003.
The Charmed Sphere, Luna (New York, NY), 2004.
Sunrise Alley, Baen (Riverdale, NY), 2004.
(Editor and contributor) Irresistible Forces (includes "Stained Glass Heart"), New American Library (New York, NY), 2004.
The Misted Cliffs, Luna (New York, NY), 2005.
The Dawn Star, Luna (New York, NY), 2006.
Alpha, Baen (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including Christmas Forever, Tor, 1993; Sextopia, Circlet Press; Redshift and Fantasy: The Year's Best, 2001; Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy, 2004; The Journey Home, Imajinn, 2005; and Down These Dark Spaceways, Science Fiction Book Club, 2005. Contributor to periodicals, including Analog, Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, New York Review of Science Fiction, Pirate Writings, and Science Fiction Age. Contributor of scholarly articles to refereed journals, including American Journal of Physics, International Journal of Quantitative Chemistry, Journal of Chemical Physics, and Physical Review Letters. Columnist, Tangent. Editor and publisher, Mindsparks: The Magazine of Science and Science Fiction, 1993–96, and Mindsparks Review, 1997–.
"SAGA OF THE SKOLIAN EMPIRE" SERIES
Primary Inversion, Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
Catch the Lightning, Tor (New York, NY), 1996.
The Last Hawk, Tor (New York, NY), 1997.
The Radiant Seas, Tor (New York, NY), 1998.
Ascendant Sun, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
The Quantum Rose, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
Spherical Harmonic, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
Moon's Shadow, Tor (New York, NY), 2003.
Skyfall, Tor (New York, NY), 2003.
Schism (book one of "Triad" series), Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
The Final Key (book two of "Triad" series), Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
Catherine Ann Asaro is both a distinguished astrophysicist and a science-fiction writer. She earned her doctorate from Harvard University in 1985 and taught at Kenyon College from 1987 to 1990, subsequently serving as an affiliated scholar there while assuming the presidency of Molecudyne Research, which she founded in Maryland in 1990. As a novelist, Asaro has penned a series of books comprising the "Saga of the Skolian Empire." The saga includes Primary Inversion, Catch the Lightning, and The Quantum Rose, the last which garnered Asaro the prestigious Nebula Award in 2001. While her novels have a YA appeal, Asaro once told SATA that she believes the romantic scenes in many of her novels may be "a bit mature" for young-adult readers. "The scenes are tastefully done," she noted, "but they are perhaps better suited for an adult audience. As she has expanded her "Saga of the Skolian Empire" and delved into the pasts of her main characters, the teen appeal of her novels has grown: the "Triad" sub series, beginning with Schism, features one of the heroes of an earlier novel during her teen years.
As a girl, Asaro loved reading fantasy and science fiction. "My dad is a scientist, so we were always exposed to science in my family, and I suspect that's why I tend to go more toward science fiction," she told J. Alexander Harman in an interview for StrangeHorizons.com. She began writing tales at an early age. "The first time I tried to write was when I was eight," she told Harman. "For as long as I can remember, from the time I could form thoughts in my head, I was always making up stories…. I didn't really start writing seriously until graduate school; I put away the book when I was eight and didn't write another one until I was in college. By that time I knew how to do research. I do spend a lot of time researching details, even those which may hardly show up in the book at all."
Primary Inversion the first of Asaro's science-fiction "Saga of the Skolian Empire," is a futuristic tale in which three galactic empires vie for domination of the galaxy. Inhabitants of Earth have ties to both the other empires, the Skolians and their enemies, the Traders. In the story, Skolian princess and star fighter pilot Sauscony Valdoria becomes attracted to Jaibriol Qox, son of the Trader emperor. Valdoria's sensory capabilities enable her to discover that Jaibriol, despite his ancestry, is her soul mate. However, she also discerns that Jaibriol has been genetically contrived to overpower her fellow Skolians. Booklist reviewer Carl Hays called Primary Inversion "an unusually masterful first novel," adding that "Asaro innovatively blends computer technology and telepathy into the electrifying, action-rich drama she creates." A Publishers Weekly commentator asserted that Asaro "manages to anchor her story with thoughtful, engaging characters and an intriguing vision of the future—and she leaves the door open for a sequel."
Asaro followed Primary Inversion with Catch the Lightning, which relates more conflicts between the Skolians and the Traders. In Catch the Lightning, Skolian Jagernaut Althor, destined to rule Skolia, lands his sabotaged space vehicle on an alternative Earth and befriends Tina Pulivok, a psychic teenager from 1980s Los Angeles. Inquisitive scientists, meanwhile, are conducting investigations into the capabilities of Althor's craft. Althor, with the help of Tina and her friends, determines to recover his ship and return to his own world. Although it was honored with the 1997 Sapphire Award for the year's best romantic science fiction, several reviewers maintained that Catch the Lightning falls short of the expectations set by her debut novel. A Kirkus Reviews critic called it "an unexciting but solidly crafted, and at times absorbing narrative" yet added that too many technical details and a slow plot weaken the book. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that the novel "fails to cohere and to deliver the vibrant reading experience that [Asaro's] first novel offered," but nonetheless stated that the book contains good characterization and "many fine passages." However, Melinda Helfer, writing in the Romantic Times, found value in the sequel, writing, "Asaro's Skolian Empire is a truly masterful accomplishment in world-building, an example of consummate craftsmanship and an impeccable feel for the technical and social possibilities that lie ahead of us."
Asaro recounts another adventure featuring a Skolian hero in 1997's The Last Hawk, and returns to the lives of her beloved Sauscony and Jaibriol in The Radiant Seas. In The Last Hawk, Imperial Heir Prince Kelric is stranded and held captive on a female-ruled planet. Taken in as a slave, he grows to love his captors. "The fate of a man on such a planet has usually been handled didactically, disastrously, or sometimes both ways," noted Booklist reviewer Roland Green, "but Asaro avoids most of the pitfalls, giving us an intelligent action story, with strong overtones of the better sort of romance." A Publishers Weekly critic maintained that with this third Skolian story, Asaro "has settled into a smoothly absorbing space-opera formula that mixes high-tech gimmickry with galactic politics and plenty of romance." In The Radiant Seas, Sauscony and Jaibriol have faked their own deaths and stolen away to a secluded planet to raise their children. They are drawn back into the conflict between their respective empires, however, and Sauscony must attempt her husband's rescue. Jackie Cassada, reviewing The Radiant Seas for Library Journal, praised the author's "mix of romantic intrigue" and "large-scale dynastic" science fiction.
Taking place directly after the events of The Last Hawk, Ascendant Sun tells how Kelric escapes from his captors to reclaim his place in the Skolian Empire. As a refugee, he has no proof of his identity, and he must travel through dangerous Aristo territory to make his way home. Injured and deprived of some of his cybernetic skills, he is also aware that his brother has been captured by the Aristos. Working under a false name, Kelric is also taken hostage. Roland Green wrote in Booklist that the novel is "one of the better treatments of the lone-male-on-a-woman-ruled-planet gambit," while a Publishers Weekly critic commented that "series veterans will find this to be yet another fast-paced and pleasing saga."
Both The Quantum Rose and Spherical Harmonic take place in the same universe Asaro created for Primary Inversion, but each novel features a new cast of characters. The heroine of The Quantum Rose is Kamoj, the young governor of a province on a backwater planet. Kamoj is set to marry a fellow governor of a much more important province when she is swept off her feet by the wandering Skolian Vyrl. Together she and Vyrl eventually travel back to his home planet to fight for its independence. Originally published as a serial for Analog and later expanded to its novel form, the story also deals with an abusive relationship; Asaro, who has worked as a sexual harassment counselor, wanted to portray a woman stuck in an abusive situation who could not see her way out of it. "I wanted to show that people can have difficult situations and still recover," Asaro told Harman in the Strange Horizons online interview; "I guess that's a theme in all of my books." The Quantum Rose provides what Green in Booklist termed "the requisite happy ending." A Publishers Weekly critic commented that Kamoj is "as brainy as she is beautiful," and called the novel "a freestanding page-turner as a romance."
In Spherical Harmonic beautiful telepath Dyhianna Selei recovers from a case of amnesia only to discover that her husband and son have disappeared and the empire is now thrust into chaos as a result of a political coup. After the events of The Radiant Seas, Dyhianna had escaped, with her son, into an alternate universe, and her amnesia is, in part, a result of her return to her native universe. "A small amount of the text in the book is actually in the form of simple spherical harmonic wave functions," Asaro told Harman. Booklist contributor Diane Tixier Herald added that "fans of Asaro's 'Saga of the Skolian Empire' will not want to miss" Spherical Harmonic.
Following Spherical Harmonic with the titles The Moon's Shadow and Skyfall, Asaro continued the series by bringing the Skolians and Aristo Traders closer to peace, as well as by taking a look at the beginning of the saga. In The Moon's Shadow teen Aristo ruler Jaibriol must hide the secret that he is a telepath or be forced into slavery by his own people. While Jaibriol realizes that his uncle Corbal Xir might know his secret, Xir has a secret of his own: he seeks to restore the psiberweb, which was destroyed in the war but once provided instant communication to the galaxy. A Kirkus Reviews contributor complained about the layers of the plot, calling the novel "Tedious, confusing, [and] pointlessly self-referential." Green, writing in Booklist, however, felt that The Moon's Shadow "just raises the stakes higher than usual in an Asaro book," while a Publishers Weekly contributor considered the work a "mesmerizing, passionate novel," commenting: "Asaro skillfully shows the hesitant sprouting of loyalty, trust, and even love."
Skyfall, which takes place before any of the other books in the "Saga of the Skolian Empire," tells the story of Roca Skolia and a powerful telepath named Eldrinson Althor Valdoria. Roca is the widow of the Skolian imperator and the heir to the Ruby Dynasty. Her son Kurj manipulates his mother as he quests to destroy the threat of the Aristo Traders. When Roca escapes her son's power, she finds herself on the backwater planet of Skyfall as well as in the arms of Eldrinson. Their love blooms, but is threatened when Kurj comes to reclaim his mother from the backwater planet. "Skyfall pleases like its predecessors," noted Roland Green in Booklist, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that although Asaro's science-fiction fans "may be disappointed to find so little of the physics" usually found in Asaro's novels, "romance readers will have no cause to complain."
Asaro's "Skolian" novels in the "Triad" sub-series follow Sauscony Valdoria (called Soz) through her teen years, beginning when she applies to become an Imperial Jagernaut at age seventeen, much to her father's dismay. Her world is at war and her brother, already a Jagernaut, goes to battle; meanwhile, Soz herself faces sexual harassment and scandals at the military academy. Whether she can succeed at the training and reconcile with her father is already known to readers of the series, but here it is experienced first hand. In Booklist, Green comparing Schism, the first book of the series, to a cross between Georgette Heyer's romances and Frank Herbert's science fiction, called the story "the best of large-scale romance interleaved with the best of spaceoperatic saga." Though feeling that The Final Key, the second book in the sub-series, lacks focus, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised Asaro's portrayal of Soz, noting that the character "seizes the book's spotlight with her combination of vulnerability and bravery."
In addition to novels about the Skolian and Trader empires, Asaro has written some books that take place outside her fictional world. Notable among these is The Veiled Web, featuring a Latina-American heroine who is drawn to the Moroccan inventor of a new internet technology. The Veiled Web was praised by some critics for its cultural sensitivity; for instance, a Publishers Weekly reviewer cited Asaro's "sensuous and respectful evocation of Islamic culture" as one of the novel's best features. Noting that Asaro also includes creativity, virtual reality, and the question of a soul in the novel, Charles De Lint wrote in his Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction review that she "has combined these elements, along with the pacing of a thriller and a dash of romance, to great effect."
Stand-alone novel Sunrise Alley also features a cross-cultural relationship, this one between biotech engineer Samantha and Turner, a cyborg who believes he is a human who was killed and reborn in a technologically enhanced body. The pair team up to try to undo the plans of rogue scientist Charon while also solving the mystery of Sunrise Alley, a harbor for artificial intelligences who have evolved their own self-awareness. The novel was recommended for a high-school audience by Christine C. Menefee in School Library Journal, who noted: "The plot is an epic chase across a near-future landscape, enlivened by twists, complicated puzzles to solve, plenty of intriguing technology, and a strong element of romance." Sunrise Alley "reinforces [Asaro's] reputation for combining high tech adventure and romance," stated Regina Schroeder in her Booklist review.
Frequently praised for her ability to blend romance and hard science in her novels and short stories, Asaro stated in an interview with Terry Hickman for The Market List that she "made a conscious decision not to downplay the romantic elements. I like them." "A great deal of good romantic literature exists," she added. "So I decided to talk about that as well as the other aspects of the books. That is the only way to counteract negative stereotypes." Discussing her fiction's crossover value with a Locus interviewer, Asaro noted: "The amount of romance varies from book to book, but I'm happy to have that crossover. I don't play to it, though. I actually held back at first, because a part of me wondered how much of a love story I should involve in a science fiction book. But I found out my fans really enjoyed it."
Regarding advice to beginning writers, Asaro noted in her StrangeHorizons.com interview: "Don't take rejection personally. No matter how good you are, chances are you'll get a lot of rejections. I certainly got my share of them. And if you are one of the lucky ones, and the first thing you ever write is published by a major house and they pay you two million dollars, try not to let your head get swollen."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Analog, July-August, 1999, Jay Kay Klein, "Biolog," pp. 224-225.
Booklist, February 15, 1995, Carl Hays, review of Primary Inversion, p. 1064; November 1, 1997, Roland Green, review of The Last Hawk, p. 456; February 1, 2000, Roland Green, review of Ascendant Sun, p. 1010; December 1, 2000, Roland Green, review of The Quantum Rose, p. 698; November 1, 2001, Diane Tixier Herald, review of Spherical Harmonic; February 15, 2002, Whitney Scott, review of The Last Hawk, p. 1039; April 15, 2002, Whitney Scott, review of The Radiant Seas, p. 1422; February 15, 2003, Roland Green, review of The Moon's Shadow, p. 1058; September 1, 2003, Roland Green, review of Skyfall, p. 73; August, 2004, Regina Schroeder, review of Sunrise Alley, p. 1912; January 1, 2005, Roland Green, review of Schism, p. 833
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1996, review of Catch the Lightning, p. 1500; September 15, 2001, review of Spherical Harmonic, p. 1329; March 1, 2003, review of The Moon's Shadow, p. 352.
Kliatt, March, 2002, Bette D. Ammon, review of The Last Hawk, p. 50.
Library Journal, February 15, 1995, p. 186; November 15, 1996, p. 92; December, 1998, Jackie Cassada, review of The Radiant Seas, p. 162; November 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of The Quantum Rose, p. 101; December, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of The Phoenix Code, p. 197; November 15, 2001, Jackie Cassada, review of Spherical Harmonic.
Locus, November, 1999, interview with Catherine Asaro.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April, 2000, Charles De Lint, review of The Veiled Web, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, January 16, 1995, review of Primary Inversion, p. 442; November 18, 1996, review of Catch the Lightning, p. 66; October 27, 1997, review of The Last Hawk, p. 57; November 8, 1999, review of The Veiled Web, p. 65; January 17, 2000, review of Ascendant Sun, p. 48; November 27, 2000, review of The Quantum Rose, p. 60; November 12, 2001, review of Spherical Harmonic, p. 41; November 27, 2002, review of Spherical Harmonic, p. 41; February 3, 2003, review of The Moon's Shadow, p. 59; August 18, 2003, review of Skyfall, p. 62; December 6, 2004, review of Schism, p. 48; October 17, 2005, review of The Final Key, p. 44.
Romantic Times, December, 1996, Melinda Helfer, review of Catch the Lightning, p. 92.
School Library Journal, January, 2005, Christine C. Menefee, review of Sunrise Alley, p. 158.
Wilson Library Bulletin, June, 1995, p. 96.
Catherine Asaro Home Page, http://www.sff.net/people/asaro (August 21, 2005).
MarketList.com, http://www.marketlist.com/ (November 3, 2005), interview with Asaro.
ParaNormal Romance Paraphernalia Web site, http://www.writerspace.com/ParanormalRomance/ (October, 2001), interview with Asaro.
StrangeHorizons.com, http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (October 2, 2000), J. Alexander Harman, interview with Asaro.
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