Present Writers: Dorothy Heydt (Katherine Blake)

This is the second of a new series I’m doing here on the blog: Present Writers. See the first post, on Marta Randall, for series details. I admit that I’m fudging a tiny bit here on the series parameters, because a cursory internet search did not give me Heydt’s exact age–but it did say that she invented a conlang in 1967. If she was less than 11 when she did so, I apologize–and hats off for the small child achievement–but I think I’m safe in guessing that this is an author who fits.

And what an author. Heydt is not vastly prolific, but her work is highly varied. She’s made several things available in free ebook formats on her website, so you don’t have to spend any money to find out what I’m talking about. (Although you can kick in to support the author if you see fit!) There’s a book about a physician who dabbles with witchcraft in Ancient Greece, a virtual reality novel dealing with esports before the term esports was a thing, a parallel realities novel that is some of the most engaging and thoroughly domestic fantasy I’ve ever read, and lashings of short stories. Heydt has range.

There are fight scenes in Heydt’s books–A Point of Honor has a jousting knight for a main character, albeit a virtual one–and chase scenes and other pieces of excitement. But a lot of writers can do those well, too. Heydt really shines in making character interactions and pieces of speculative practicality come to life–the details that make a character or a world feel lived-in. Heydt’s use of violence is considered, nuanced, and full of consequence–it is never a default, and in fact is often absent because it was not the right element for the story. With that sure a touch, Heydt makes The Interior Life a master class in what can matter in genre–and a strong contrast to what traditionally has been considered to matter.

When I first looked at Heydt’s website, only a few things were there. She’s added more since, which gives me hope. But in the meantime, I strongly appreciate what there is, I urge you to go give it a look, and then a long hard think, and then come talk to me about what you thought. Because we’re so very lucky that she’s present and sharing so much.

Present Writers: Marta Randall

Marta Randall is the author of seven novels, one as Martha Conley, and numerous short stories all across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum. Her characters dove the ruins of sunken Hawaii before most writers were willing to give the global effects of climate change the time of day. She was willing to take on refugee crises and generational resentments when these issues were just starting to ramify. If breadth, depth, and sensitivity in handling complex social issues were the metric, Marta Randall novels would be discussed in half the convention panels in 2018.

Her Kennerin duology–Journey and Dangerous Games–particularly exemplify the themes that make Randall’s work feel so contemporary forty years after its first publication. Disabled people, old people, and children all have strong agency. They make hard choices and deal with the ramifications of their decisions–sometimes for decades afterwards. For Randall, killing another individual always matters. Even if the killer was thinking of their victim as somehow lesser or unreal because they were a different ethnicity or origin of human, a different literal alien race, or because they were in good old science fiction fashion a little blip on the screen of a spaceship, they still count. Their deaths still matter, and there will still have to be a moral, personal and social reckoning for them.

For all that much of science fiction has featured colonies here, there, and everywhere, Randall’s work has been willing to deal with the ongoing legacy of colonialism in complicated and human forms. Her characters come up with solutions that their children don’t always agree with or even approve of, and the colonialism is intersectional and multidimensional. Some characters need to rename and reinvent themselves; others, to reiterate choices in a setting where moral purity is not a starting point or an outcome and the world is filled with people who are simply doing the best they can to stagger toward kindness among other flawed sentients.

The climax of Dangerous Games features a stunning indictment of respectability politics, in which a character demands, “Where is the law that says the victim of injustice must always be appealing?” and rails against the practice of pitting minorities against each other. It is a staggeringly fresh take on a topic that we will be generations more in fixing. It made me feel astonished and glad that Marta Randall is present, that her books are around to appreciate and to influence the conversation for those generations to come.

This is the beginning of a new series I’m doing here on the blog: Present Writers. I thought about eligibility for this, and I finally decided that what I want it to be is the opposite of a retirement party. I want to take retirement age and say: yay! We’re glad you didn’t retire and are still around doing cool stuff–you are present, and your work is a gift. Let’s keep the part of a retirement party where your colleagues say cool stuff about your work and ditch the part where you, y’know, go away and stop actually doing it. I don’t like the part where you go away. Don’t do that! I just like the part where people say the cool stuff about your work. This is in lieu of a cake and a gold watch, which are harder to shove through the internet at this time.

I picked 62 because in the US that’s the very beginning of Social Security eligibility, so I did not have to figure out where my personal milestone line would be. What “seems reasonable” to me? Eh, humans vary a lot, “seems reasonable” is a weird thing. Rather than angsting about it, I will pick the arbitrary line that is used in the country I live in, and once a month I will write a post celebrating the work of a writer who has achieved that arbitrary milestone, focusing on at least one specific book that feels contemporary and interesting to me. If you want to recommend authors who are over 62, have at it! I have a pretty long list in my head already, but adding to it never hurts.