Vonda McIntyre obituary: Champion of women in science fiction

McIntyre became an inspiring mentor to many younger female writers

Science-fiction writer Vonda McIntyre. Photograph: Gary L. Benson, The New York Times

Science-fiction writer Vonda McIntyre. Photograph: Gary L. Benson, The New York Times

 

Vonda McIntyre
Born:
August 28th, 1948
Died: April 2019

Vonda N McIntyre, a science-fiction writer whose tales featured female protagonists – among them the healer in a post-apocalyptic earth who cures the ill with snake venom – and who also wrote five Star Trek novels, has died at her home in Seattle aged 70.

When McIntyre began reading science fiction as a young girl, male writers dominated the genre. By her 30s, she was one of the category’s leading women, following a path established by Ursula K Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm and Anne McCaffrey. She then became an inspiring mentor to many younger female writers.

There was a lot of controversy in science fiction about whether women should have anything to do with science fiction at all, which I actually found quite hurtful

“The modern feminist movement was just gaining steam,” McIntyre recalled in 2010 in an interview with Gizmodo. “And there was a lot of controversy in science fiction about whether women should have anything to do with science fiction at all, which I actually found quite hurtful.”

McIntyre graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1970 and studied genetics there as a postgraduate until ending her studies in 1971. Using her education to illuminate her science fiction proved more alluring than being a research scientist.

A short story, Of Mist, Grass, and Sand, won a Nebula Award in 1973 for best novelette from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, competing against veteran male writers such as Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon.

When she expanded the story into a dark novel, Dreamsnake, in 1978 she won another Nebula and a Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Society.

In an article in the Guardian in 2012 about the women whose books have won Hugos, writer Sam Jordison praised Dreamsnake as a “feminist – and determinedly feminine” novel that features a protagonist focused on saving lives rather than “kicking butt”.

As McIntyre continued to write novels and short stories, she became known as a mentor through her founding in the 1970s of the Clarion West writers’ workshop in Seattle (where her friendship with Le Guin flowered). She encouraged many writers, mostly women, over the decades.

Vonda Neel McIntyre was born on August 28th, 1948, in Louisville, Kentucky, and moved to the Seattle area with her parents, H Neel McIntyre, and Vonda (Keith) McIntyre, as a teenager. She began reading science fiction in the 1950s but could not always relate to the male-centred stories written by men. By 1966, as Star Trek began its three-season run on NBC, she found a passion.

She said on several occasions that she began writing a Star Trek script as she watched the first episode in 1966. The script was rejected, but she eventually turned it into The Entropy Effect (1981), an original Star Trek novel.

Now a part of the Trekkie literary universe, she was hired by Pocket Books to write the novelisations of the films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, all based on their screenplays.

She also wrote another original Star Trek novel, Enterprise: The First Adventure (1986).

McIntyre leaves no immediate survivors. Her sister, Carolyn McIntyre, died last year, also of pancreatic cancer.

When McIntyre herself received a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer in early February, she felt driven to finish her final novel.

“Vonda is pleased with progress on her book,” her friend, Jane Hawkins, wrote on the CaringBridge website on March 18th. “She said yesterday that while she will continue to work on it, she wouldn’t be embarrassed to see it published as is.”

On March 21st, Hawkins provided an emphatic update. “Vonda has finished Curve of the World!” she wrote.

McIntyre died 11 days later.