Kathleen Ann Goonan (born 14 May 1952) is an American science fiction writer. Several of her books have been nominated for the Nebula Award. Her debut novel Queen City Jazz was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and her most recent novel In War Times was chosen by the American Library Association as Best Science Fiction Novel for their 2008 reading list. In July of 2008, In War Times won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
She was born in Cincinnati, OH, the setting of her first novel, and at age eight moved to Hawaii, the setting for her second novel, while her father worked for the Navy for two years. She currently lives in both Tennessee and Lakeland, Florida with her husband, Joseph Mansy, who she married in 1977.
She has a degree in English Literature and Philosophy from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and following graduation, received an Association Montessori Internationale teaching certification from the Montessori Institute in Washington, D.C., and then opened a Montessori school in Knoxville. Following a later move to Hawaii, she became a full-time writer.
She is best known for novels which give snapshots taken at different times of a world where na and biotechnologies ("bionan") produce deep changes in humans and their habitat. She explores themes of cultural and social change and catastrophe.
Kathleen Goonan's style is dense and textured, and she is influenced by literature as a whole, particularly American literature, and not just genre science fiction. Her background is in teaching, which got her interested in science. She tends to work from popular science texts, back towards the original sources when researching her books, and filters it through highly literate writing.
She is a great lover of Jazz and music in general, and peppers her tales with references to (and reincarnations of) the likes of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Sun Ra. Her work rewards the careful reader with passages of great descriptive power and beauty. In this, Goonan's body of work provides one of the best examples of the literary value of modern science fiction.
Her first novel Queen City Jazz was published in 1994 to critical acclaim including from cyberpunk sf writer William Gibson who described it as "An unforgettable vision of America transfigured by a new and utterly apocalyptic technology." It was a New York Times Notable Book for 1994 and a finalist in 1998 for the British Science Fiction Association Award. It became the first book in what she would later call her Nanotech Quartet. Because of Gibson's praise, her work has sometimes grouped with cyberpunk. However, she deals little with computers in her novels, and her characters, such as Verity, the protagonist of Queen City Jazz, are positive and sometimes heroic, while cyberpunk concerns itself with anti-heroes. This has led to some SF critics dubbing a new sub-genre called "nanopunk"
While her second novel 1996's The Bones of Time featured some elements of nanotechnology science within it, it is not part of the Quartet, and was not centered around these ideas. Instead it mixes Hawaiian mythology with a spy thriller type chase through Asia centered on the cloning of one of Hawaii's native rulers. This novel was an Arthur C Clarke Award finalist.
Mississippi Blues followed in 1997 as a direct sequel to Queen City Jazz following the further adventures of her main character Verity along a Mississippi River radically changed by malfunctioning nanotech. It is somewhat of a tribute to the great American author Mark Twain who appears in the book as two separate characters who have been programmed with nanotech into believing they are him. This novel won the Hall of Fame Darrel Award in conjunction with her short story "The Bride of Elvis" for their contribution to speculative fiction set in the Mid-South of America.
Crescent City Rhapsody was published in 2000 as a prequel, explaining how the world of Queen City Jazz came about as a the U.S. government conspired to sweep in nanotechnology that was not tested for possible side effects. It was a finalist for the Nebula Award, and received high praise from her peers including such genre authors as Joe Haldeman, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, and Stephen R. Donaldson. Much of the novel takes place in New Orleans, and it is particularly haunting to read today as the book ends with the levees breaking and the city flooding, penned 5 years before Hurricane Katrina struck.
Light Music, published in 2002, concludes the Nanotech Quartet. This novel looks at the further evolution of humanity under the influence of "bionan", and ties it in with an alien presence apparently responsible for "El Silencio", the great radio silence of Crescent City Rhapsody that paved the way for the nanotech takeover. Light Music received a starred review in Booklist and was also reviewed in the New York Times. Once more, other science fiction authors spoke highly of her work including Kim Stanley Robinson, David Brin, and, again, William Gibson.
Ms. Goonan newest novel, published in 2007, In War Times is set in World War II. This novel represents a major departure from her nanotech novels, mixing elements of historical fiction with the alternate history sub-genre of science fiction. There is no mention of nanotech in the book, though it does deal with other technology both real and theoretical throughout the novel. Published by science fiction publisher Tor Books who have published the rest of her novels as well, In War Times is centered around secret technologies used during the war and extrapolates on what might have happened if some of those had surpassed atomic tech and created a lasting peace instead of a Cold War. Without ever using the specific term, Goonan clearly considers the concept of the multiverse first postulated by science fantasy author Michael Moorcock in the 1960s and now a serious theory within physics. This novel was chosen by the American Library Association as Best Science Fiction Novel for their 2008 reading list. It also was the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Memorial Award.