Elizabeth Moon established herself in the late 1980s with the popular The Deed of
Paksennarion trilogy, in which she presented a starkly realistic fantasy world.
She has collaborated with Anne McCaffrey on several novels, and her short fiction
has been collected in two volumes: Lunar Activity and Phases. Moon's science
fiction has been as well-received as her fantasy, with her 1997 effort, Remnant
Population appearing on the final Hugo ballot for best novel. Her latest novel,
Change of Command, follows the continuing exploits of Esmay Suiza from the
far-flung future of Once a Hero, Winning Colours and Rules of Engagement.
Remnant Population, was up for a Hugo at the 1997 Worldcon.
What did that mean to you?
It's amazing. It's astounding. It's certainly not something I expected. I'm delighted. What it means
in the long run, I don't know.
Why do you think it struck such a chord?
It really surprised me, because it did not seem to be leaping off the shelves quite as eagerly as some of the others.
So I really didn't expect this kind of response to it. I guess the people who did read it, really, really liked
it. It's interesting. It made the preliminary ballot for the Nebula and the Tiptree as well. I was very
surprised. I think perhaps just the character of the protagonist being so different from science fiction main
characters is part of it.
How would you say that character differs from your standard science fiction heroine?
Well, for one thing, she's old. There are relatively few science fiction or fantasy books with the main character
being an old person. And in addition to that, she's a poor old person. A working-class person, which makes her
very different. Other people, including me, have written books with main characters who were old and rich. Or
old and brilliant. Old sages, old wizards, old rich people. Ofelia isn't any of those, so she is different.
That's a distinct break from the traditional science fiction stereotype of the scientist's lovely daughter.
There've been a lot more books, I think, in the last fifteen, twenty years or so with female protagonists, but
they have tended to be young, or at most middle-aged. And also strong, educated, technologically apt -- all that.
That's certainly something you wouldn't have seen in the Golden Age, when science fiction was strictly a male-dominated genre.
Of course, my mother was reading science fiction back in the 30s, but she was an engineering student -- that's probably why.
You grew up in a single-parent household when that wasn't very common. Your mother held a wide variety of jobs while
you were growing up. How did that influence who Elizabeth Moon is today?
Quite a bit, I would say. Having a mother who had been an aeronautical engineer convinced me that more things should
be open to women. Now my mother, interestingly enough, was not a feminist in her own mind. She absolutely was
not. She thought feminists were unhappy, miserable people who hated men. Since I'm one now and I don't hate men, I
have to disagree with her.
But that was her belief. I watched all the things that she could do. She did carpentry. We painted the house
together. We built things together. When I was quite young, she was working in a hardware store, so I grew up knowing
about hardware. So I didn't think it was odd for women to have technological knowledge and yet be mothers, and very
devoted family members and have friends.
I had, of course, no model for that sort of woman being married, but I can make that up as I go along.
You're best-known as a fantasy writer, but after Remnant Population, you've actually written more science fiction books.
What does writing science fiction allow you to do that fantasy doesn't?
It allows me to play with the science side of my mind. One of my degrees was a science degree in biology. I love science.
I love biomedical science, I love astronomy, and you can't really do much with those in a fantasy setting. So in a
science fiction setting, I can play with kinds of characters that are modern and more intellectual, perhaps. Of
course, Ofelia isn't, but that's Ofelia. She came into my head and co-opted it. I actually feel that the different
kinds of stories come out of different parts of my brain. That's probably not true, but it would be interesting if
you could ever do a PET scan of a science fiction-fantasy writer's brain while they're writing and find out which
parts of the brain are activated by which kinds of writing.
That's an interesting point, since the scientific and mathematic areas are very distinct from the language and artistic
centres of the brain.
And the emotional. When a person responds emotionally to intellectual things, or emotionally only to traditional
emotional things -- I find that an interesting break between myself and some other writers and fans. I can become very
emotional about math, although I'm not that good at it. But it's so beautiful, I can feel a rush of joy for that kind
of intellectual activity. But I don't feel the tragedy, the entire emotional connection to it -- only partial.
Well, what does fantasy allow you to do that science fiction doesn't?
It allows me to deal with archetypes much better. It allows a different kind of separation from the everyday than
science fiction allows. My personal feeling about science fiction is that it's always in some way connected to the
real world, to our everyday world. It may be far in the future, but there's some kind of logical way to get from
where we are to where the science fiction is. But in fantasy, you can make a complete break, and you can put people
in a situation where they are confronted with things that they would not confront in the real world. That they would
avoid confronting. They may never have considered the cost of courage, for instance, which is something you can
make explicit in fantasy. You can also make explicit certain social problems which, again, would be prejudged or not
encountered at all in real life, because people have set up defenses against it.
Fantasy allows you to get past defenses. At least it usually does. Not always. I find that much harder to do in
science fiction, although there are writers who do it well. But I just lack the skill, I guess.
SF Site Interview: A Conversation With Elizabeth Moon -- Part 2
Copyright © 2000 by Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in
journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy short fiction and has several
in-progress novels lying around in various stages of decay. His non-fiction
articles and interviews have seen publication in the U.S., Britain and Australia.
His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html