Award-winning Seattle science-fiction author and behind-the-scenes powerhouse Vonda Neel McIntyre died in her Wallingford home on April 1, 2019. This was a little under eight weeks after her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer on Feb. 7. Fifty-three days. That’s not much time to prepare to die; McIntyre spent most of the rest of her life revising her final novel, “Curve of the World,” a book as gorgeously imaginative as her 1998 Nebula winner “The Moon and the Sun,” or her 1979 Nebula and Hugo winner “Dreamsnake.” She also managed to purchase dozens of boxes of Girl Scout cookies and donate them to the FamilyWorks food bank and complete a few other generous, Vondalike tasks.
Eight weeks is not much time to prepare yourself for a friend, colleague and mentor’s death, either, but McIntyre’s various communities rallied ’round. Neighbor Jane Hawkins put a series of schedules together: first for escorts for McIntyre’s shopping expeditions, then for the solitary running of her errands, and finally for a round-the-clock bedside watch. Each schedule sparked jealous competition for available slots. Graduates and staff of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, which McIntyre founded in 1971, shared news of her deteriorating health with each other online; members of Pacific Northwest science-fiction fandom, which for decades held parties in McIntyre’s home, offered each other necessary mutual sympathy.
The sympathy was and is necessary because we’ve lost so much. McIntyre was at the forefront of the feminist science-fiction movement of the 1970s. Like her friend and collaborator Ursula K. Le Guin (the two created several chapbooks and Christmas cards together), she challenged the unacknowledged sexism rampant at that time in literature in general and science fiction in particular. Stories by Le Guin, Joanna Russ and other feminists included in the 1976 anthology “Aurora: Beyond Equality,” which McIntyre co-edited, envision a world free from gender bias. With the success of “Aurora” and her own blatantly pro-female-autonomy writings, she inspired and made possible hundreds of other classics of the field, such as Pamela Sargent’s “Women of Wonder” series. She made a difference in what sort of stories were available in the ’70s and ’80s, and in who could reasonably expect to write and sell them.
Today’s strongly surging wave of women and nonbinary people writing speculative fiction owe McIntyre a debt — and not just because of her efforts to broaden inclusion within the genre in decades past. More recently, she built and ran websites for many of these authors. She organized and administered Book View Café, a publishing cooperative with decidedly feminist members. To the very end of her short, illustrious life — she was 70 — she donated money in support of feminist and other social-justice causes: the James Tiptree Jr. literary awards; the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship Fund (she was Octavia’s Clarion classmate); the ACLU; Planned Parenthood.
And many others. In the wake of McIntyre’s death, anecdotes are surfacing which reveal more and more shining facets of the gem she was. Often these facets surprise her admirers. Those who knew her mainly as the author of five Star Trek novels aren’t automatically aware of the beautifully beaded sea creatures she crocheted; not all those who received these toys as gifts realize their design’s importance to the mathematical discipline of topology. Two women belonging to McIntyre’s “posse” — the circle of friends who took her to her last doctor appointments and bought her last ginger beers — will assemble into a book as many personal, firsthand accounts of Vondan experiences as they can. Hopefully these slices of life will be holographic: though flat themselves, they’ll give a three-dimensional sense of the depths McIntyre contained. To contribute to the book, visit her CaringBridge site, www.caringbridge.org/visit/vondanmcintyre. A public memorial is being planned; details, once they’re decided, will also be posted to the CaringBridge site.