Message From The Author
Catherine Asaro had entered UCLA to major in dance. She had been a ballerina all her life; it only seemed natural that she enter a professional program. But instead she capitalized on the anonymity of a large school in an even larger town and decided to follow a decidedly different interest: physics.
The result? For every pirouette, Catherine can tell you about the integer spin of a subatomic particle; for every arabesque, delineate the complex grace of an electron tunneling through time; and for every grande de jamb, explain the properties of the quantum worlds
Catherine, the author of six novels with this months release of THE VEILED WEB, is a quantum physicist.
Id always liked science, she says, but because I was a dancer, I wasnt taken seriously. Then, people didnt really encourage girls the way they do now.
While studying at the library for chemical physics class, she became enthralled with the material covering quantum mechanics (the rules that govern the behavior of subatomic particles).
It was so neatly bizarre, she says. Her next memory after getting quantum physics titles from the librarian is of a guard tapping her on the shoulder. Midnight. Librarys closing. She had been reading for 14 hours.
After receiving her BS in Chemistry, she moved on to Harvard for her MA (Physics) and Ph.D. (Chemical Physics). Shes done research at Germanys Max Planck Institut f|r Astrophysik and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Her expertise led to a teaching position at Kenyon College.
In the 1980s, Catherine found a mathematical trick to theoretically travel faster than the speed of light. (Special relativity holds that an infinite amount of energy is required to accelerate a particle to light speed.) She published a paper on the math concepts in the
The American Journal of Physics. It became the scientific foundation of many of her novels.
At the behest of her students, she taught another year, then left to write. Primary Inversion was the result.
As most chemists can tell you, it is not altogether safe to mix volatile agents. In fact, it can be downright deadly. Primary Inversion manages to mix the qualities of typically mutually exclusive genres to a complimenting affect.
Novels that followed were Catch the Lightning, The Last Hawk, The Radiant Seas
and The Quantum Rose, which had been serialized in Analog Magazine, the most widely read SF monthly in the world. (Other publishing credits include Physical Review Letters and Journal of Chemical Physics.)
While Primary Inversion became immediately popular with hard SF readers and critics, landing places on the Nebula ballot and the Locus recommended list and becoming a finalist for the Compton Crook award, it took a bit longer for romance fans to become aware of her work.
Catherine credits Melinda Helfers 1995 review of Primary Inversion with exposing her novels to romance readers. 1999s stellar review (see RT #182) of The Quantum Rose highlighted another work with resonance for romance fans.
She became inundated with e-mail from readers who were thrilled with the novels mixture of elements from each genre. Romance readers said the science and the depth were great, while SF readers said the characterizations and the relationships were great.
The clamorous enthusiasm of the romance-fan base was unexpected. In a world of niche marketing, specificity is all. How was she to appeal to SF readers and romance fans simultaneously?
It was different in the beginning, she says, I had to be careful about what I said. Her publishers were concerned that SF readers, Catherines initial fans, would be turned-off by cross-over marketing to romance fans. Enough appreciative e-mails from male readers reassured her publisher. My readers said, this is romance? I never would have thought so. I like it! she recalls.
But Catherine doesnt technically write romance. When asked if she adheres to one of the most basic rulesinteraction between the hero and heroine constituting more than 50% of the novelshe admits that her breakthrough with romance readers, The Quantum Rose, failed on this count. They were separated for the middle of book. She pauses, then adds
hopefully, But they think about each other a lot.
Hard SF is undergoing a similar confusion of classification. Its very controversial to give a definition of hard SF, Catherine cautions, but says that it bases its science on currently understood principles. Other subgenres of SF create systems that have less to do with actual science. Hard SF extrapolates from what we know today and says, what if? It is one of the characteristics that makes her believe there are more similarities between the genres than differences.
Youre not likely to find dystopian thought in hard SF. In science, theres the idea that you can find a solution. In romance, its the same thingbut its the human solution. I write in an optimistic vein, and it fits right in with romance.
Catherine hopes she brings an element of credibility to a genre that she says gets less respect than it deserves. Because of my credentials, SF readers cant dismiss romance.
But it is as a fan of romance that she becomes most vocal on this issue. I want to make it very clear. Romantic fiction does not deserve the reputation it has. Its a great disservice. She mentions one of her favorites as an example of great romance. Mary Jo Putney writes very well-written, subtly feminist books.
THE VEILED WEB, her current release, is close to Catherines personal experience in one way: the female protagonist is a ballerina and cyber-expert. She encounters a Moroccan businessman, whom she marries for both their protection.
While typically she doesnt need to question the scientific basis of her work (Im glad I have a hard SF background. It helps me more than I can count) she did need to question the accuracy of the elements of Islam in THE VEILED WEB.
Michael Aburrahman Fitzgerald, director of the American Language Institute in Marrakesh, Morocco, was her consultant.
I didnt want to offend anyone, she says. I guess [the book is] my being idealistic, my hope to increase tolerance from different cultures.
Upcoming works include THE PHOENIX CODE, a romantic thriller from Bantam, the manuscript of which she just turned in.
I guess you could call it SF. It only takes place a few years into the future. The hardcover release of ASCENDANT SUN, another SF release from Tor, is scheduled for March, 2000. The Quantum Rose has been extended and bound in a novella and will be out in 2000.
Catherine is busy with her daughter, age nine, her astrophysicist husband, who is the proverbial rocket scientist and a wonderful husband and daddy, the consulting firm she owns, and the two to three novels per year she is currently contracted for.
Catherine may very well be in the vanguard, revolutionizing both genres she has been embraced by. As romance has been
historically constrained by formulas of structure, character, and theme, so has SF been narrowly focused on nifty gadgetry and theoretical constructs. While romance readers often seek the freshness and stimulation of novel ideas, locations, and dynamics between the heroine and hero, so too do hard SF readers yearn for a deeper level of emotional intensity and more emphasis on character development.
Dr. Asaro, Ph.d., just might be the woman for the job.
Visit Catherines website at www.sff.net/people/asaro.
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