Patricia Anthony (1947 – 2013)

Patricia Anthony died last month, and for whatever reason the word has only been released now.

Anthony published a number of SF books throughout the 90s that read like grimmer versions of Philip K. Dick novels: deceptively easy to read, but grueling in style or subject matter. For an example of one of these check out Brother Termite. She later drifted away from SF in disappointment and took to writing screenplays. Supposedly there are a few unpublished novels that may or may not see the light of day.

One of my favorite reads from recent years was Anthony’s Flanders, a World War 1 magic realist novel that it’s a bit like Goodbye to All That mixed with the Last Temptation of Christ.  That’s actually a rather dumb description, but the book was a delight to read. Both funny and horrifying.

“I was having a good sit-down myself, not the yellow squirt I get when the water’s bad, nor the dark goat-turd pebbles I get when the food’s not plentiful enough. No, this was a great, glorious golden cigar of a turd that felt fine and upstanding coming out, a British sort of turd. Major Dunn would have pinned a medal on it.”

Yeah, it’s a quote about poop. So what? It occurs in the middle of a book featuring trench warfare. When it happens the main character has seen some bad shit (pun intended), and the fact that he can still be pleased and make a joke about crapping hits you like a punch in the gut. You’re laughing, but there’s something more going on. You actually feel happy for the guy.

It’s a shame she’s gone.

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5 responses to “Patricia Anthony (1947 – 2013)”

  1. says :

    A bit too early to pick up the support a woman writer might find now. And she didn’t embrace the genre (i.e. Go to conventions).

    • Justin says :

      She did seem to be ahead of the wave, both in the support her work might have had now and in general audience receptivity to it. Maureen McHugh might be an example of that.

      But, yes, an insufficient love of Dr. Who destroys another career.

  2. Gord Sellar says :


    I have Flanders on hand here, and it’s on my list of books to read before the year’s out, unless Jihyun dives and ties it up till then. In any case, the reason I dropped by was because I was trying to find her website (not as easy as it sounds, but it’s here) to see if it’d been updated. I was a little broken-hearted to only come across that (when my wife found it) after her passing: I’d searched for a way to find Anthony, and maybe even contact her, a few years back, apparently before she put that site up. When I finally saw the site, it was too late.

    But anyway, the real reason I came to post a comment here is that I ran across a rather longish piece about her from 1998 in the Dallas Observer. I can’t help but feel like, today, she’d probably just slap a pseudonym on Flanders and go ahead and publish as either mainstream or slipstream, and do fine… or, maybe, she’d have put a pseudonym on her more SFnal stuff in the first place, and reserved her real name for stuff like Flanders. Or, you know, Ace might have just passed on Flanders and given her the chance to shop it around elsewhere, and asked her to submit something more marketable to fulfill their contract. (Or negotiate ending the contract, maybe?)

    It’s odd, though, the picture that emerges in that long piece: after reading it, the insufficient love of Dr. Who riff takes on a different cast–like, the perils of rubbing others’ noses in your insufficient love of Dr. Who after writing several episodes of Dr. Who and building your audience through doing so, versus just loving insufficiently, if you know what I mean? I look at where she published her short stories (most of them in Aboriginal SF, and the rest in other magazines that are clearly SF/fantasy: see for yourself), and look at those novels of hers that I’ve read (and very much enjoyed) and she did sign a contract with Ace SF. She embraced SF enough to write something like six novels that used SF tropes directly and centrally. It’s just that at some point she decided to write stuff in another genre — as plenty of authors seem to do on occasion, without it being career suicide — and then acrimony started flying. I don’t know, it’s very odd, the closer I look.

    In any case, I thought that her former marriage had been childless, but two children are mentioned in the Dallas article, so maybe Anthony might have a non-hostile literary executor out there… perhaps even someone who will follow through on the promise (on her site) to publish Mercy’s Children. But then, I still have Flanders (and a couple of other books) to get to…

    • Justin says :

      Thanks for the link! Interesting stuff.

      I’m still inclined to think of her as someone who ended up a victim of fandom’s bruised ego. Sure, she could have been more tactful. Overreach, a burn your boats attitude, and a publishing world unsure how to handle an author like her played their part. Plenty of authors can piss off fans and get away with it – unless they’re women. (Bruce Sterling was the example in the article.) Anthony seems like a pioneer in the true sense, the dead body you find on the trail that points you towards the direction you need to go.

      • gordsellar says :

        Argh! I typed a (fairly long) comment but it was lost. More briefly:

        — Yeah, men seem to get a lot longer leash, or even sometimes get points for pissing off fans.

        — I feel like maybe there’s more to her claiming she wasn’t an SF author, and that that’s tied up with why Brother Termite remains my favorite among those of her books I’ve read. (Basically, in that one she does unusual things with the usual off-the-shelf UFOlogy stuff she likes to riff on, rather than treating them as furniture the way she sometimes did.) Kind of said the same thing in my post on Happy Policeman a couple of years ago:

        Then again, it all goes back to King, who seems to have built a career on genre tropes, but also seems to be considered “just” a writer, not a “science fiction” or “horror” or “fantasy” writer anymore. Again: men can do it, but women get flack when they try. But then again, King wasn’t publishing all his early work in two or three genre magazines and then declaring he wasn’t a genre writer, was he?

        It’s hilarious, by the way, the comparison drawn with King here:

        … considering that did end up writing his own version of the same scenario is the book of Anthony’s being reviewed there.

        — Sometimes when you find a dead pioneer sprawled on the trail, that’s a sign of a route perhaps better avoided, even if it affirms you’re going in the right general direction. Sort of like when you reach a river to find the bridge burnt and the wreckage smoking: you say to yourself, “There must be another way across.”

        — I still can’t figure out why Anthony sat on that last book, when she wasn’t bound to Ace, and I’m sure she could have found a publisher someplace. Hm. Once bitten…? It’s a shame.

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