Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kathleen Ann Goonan's "In War Times"

Kathleen Ann Goonan's first novel, Queen City Jazz (the start of her Nanotech Quartet), was a New York Times Notable book. The Bones of Time, her acclaimed second novel, was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2000. Crescent City Rhapsody (third in the Quartet) was a Nebula nominee, and Light Music, also a Nebula finalist, was described by Booklist as the "brilliant conclusion to a tetralogy as consequential in sf as Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy."

Goonan's latest novel, In War Times, was named the Best Science Fiction Novel of 2007 by the American Library Association.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to In War Times and reported the following:
Page 99 of In War Times does, in fact, contain a microcosm of the novel's intelligence aspect.

Sam and Wink, the main characters, have just been brought to Blechley Park, where the British are trying to break the Enigma Code, by a mysterious "driver." The British suspect the American soldiers of being in possession of a device that might well change the course of the war.

"Rather astounding place," remarked Wink.

"Amazingly . . . ugly."

It had sprouted many wings which were visually
unconnected to one another, and had a vaguely German air because of the half-timbers. Bicycles littered the front steps, and at least one was propped next to each of the multitudinous doors.

"This is it?"

"Not quite yet, sir."

Behind the manor were long, low buildings, obviously
war-built. The driver parked the Rolls. They followed him to a back door. The guard took one look at him, said "G'day, sir," and nodded them in. The driver then led them up two flights of stairs and down a wide hallway. Opening the door, he motioned them in, hung his hat and jacket on the coat stand, and took a seat behind the desk.

"Just the driver?" asked Wink.

"Don't worry. You didn't give anything away. Can't
blame me for trying." He offered them cigarettes, which each accepted. Leaning back in his chair, he propped up his feet, lit his own, put out his match with a flourish, and tossed it in the ashtray he'd settled on his lap.

"So who are you?" asked Sam.

"You don't need to know."

"Your child's bedroom?" asked Wink, glancing around.

"Someone else's child, I'm afraid, although I find the
Peter Rabbit wallpaper comforting." He tilted his head as smoke drifted upward. "You know, of course, that we have radar. It's a war secret, but you are in a position to know about it, so I presume I'm giving nothing away in telling you that."

"Correct." Sam smoked his cigarette in a leisurely
fashion, leaned forward to flick the ashes into the ashtray on the desk.

"It helped us survive the Blitz. The Germans knew we
had something, of course, but couldn't figure out its exact nature. However, something happened to radar the night of last Saturday. All of our stations picked up an object at the same time, and that object was triangulated as being in your shop. Your very shop, gentlemen. It was a radio object, some sort of transmission that canceled our beam. What was it?"

Wink, uncharacteristically, said nothing.

The man took his feet on the desk and resumed an upright
position with an accompanying screech and thump of the chair mechanism. He scooted to the desk and took out some papers from the top drawer, tapped them on the desk to straighten them, and handed them to Sam. "Might it have been something like this?"

Wink leaned over Sam's shoulder.

The contents of the paper resembled Dr. Hadntz's plans
to a startling degree. There were differences, though, and omissions. Sam paged through the papers, studying each one, trying to decide what to do, what to say. He was pretty much on

And that's page 99 of In War Times.

The novel is based on my father's memoirs of WWII. Having completed three years of a chemical engineering curriculum, he was in the 610th, an ordnance company. His Army training was in the setup, maintenance, and repair of the M-9 fire director, which, as part of the SCR-584 (radar), was the top-secret weapon that shot down all of the V-1 buzz bombs the Germans fired at England during the last month of V-I use.

Paragraphs of his actual memoirs are set into novel, which, of course, is fictional.

Dr. Hadntz had, in fact, passed her plans to Sam, the character loosely based on my dad, in Washington D.C., the night before Pearl Harbor. Sam and Wink deny any knowledge of this device, but actually, Blechley Park is on the right track; their prototype failed, rather spectacularly, at the moment in question.

In War Times is about the quest to build this device, designed by Hadntz, that will interact with human consciousness to end our propensity to wage war. The British, and, later, other governments, know that someone, somewhere, has plans that may work.

There is no mention of jazz on page 99, but the novel links the development of modernity in the arts -- and, in particular, bebop -- to the revelations of science in the twentieth century and the
technologies that resulted.

And the Peter Rabbit wallpaper? Obsessive research!
Read an excerpt from In War Times, and learn more about the author and her work at Kathleen Ann Goonan's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue