Catherine Asaro: Renaissance Woman
Propped against the bookcase in Catherine Asaro’s home office is the framed diploma for her Harvard Ph.D. in chemical physics. Nearby, dangling from the doorknob, is the bag stuffed with the tights and leotards the attractive brunette wears when she pulls herself away from her writing for ballet classes. A former professional dancer, this versatile California native has little time for the ballet bar these days. Instead, she’s fielding speaking offers and meeting deadlines for her novels contracted by New York publishers.
Winner of the Nebula® Award for her novel, THE QUANTUM ROSE, Catherine blends space adventure, science, romance, and strong characterization into her fiction. Her latest science fiction novel is THE RUBY DICE (Baen Books, April 2009), and her most recent fantasy is THE NIGHT BIRD (Luna, June 2008). She also writes thrillers, including ALPHA and SUNRISE ALLEY.
Catherine’s upcoming book—DIAMOND STAR (Baen, May 2009)—is about a rock star in the future. The book’s release will also see the culmination of what Catherine describes as “one of the most exciting collaborations I’ve ever done.” Working with the Baltimore rock band Point Valid, she and the band recorded twelve original songs for a music CD that offers readers a soundtrack to the book. In April 2009, Starflight Music will release the CD, also titled Diamond Star, performed by Point Valid—Hayim Ani, Adam Leve, and Max Vidaver—with Catherine as a guest artist. Catherine wrote the lyrics for most of the songs, and Hayim wrote the music with Point Valid. Catherine also composed several cuts on the album, and Hayim offered her several of his original compositions, which she gladly accepted.
Catherine’s short fiction has appeared in Analog magazine and various anthologies, including “Walk in Silence,” “A Roll of the Dice,” and “Aurora in Four Voices,” which all won the Analog Readers Poll for best novella, and were nominated for both Nebula® and Hugo Awards. Her novella, “The Spacetime Pool” (Analog, March 2008), is currently up for the Nebula®. Catherine has also published reviews and essays and authored scientific papers in refereed academic journals. Her paper,“Complex Speeds and Special Relativity” in the The American Journal of Physics (April 1996) forms the basis for some of the science in her fiction. Among the places she has done research are the University of Toronto, the Max Planck Institut für Astrophysik, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She was a physics professor until 1990, when she became a consultant and writer.
In Catherine’s youth, the arts were her focus. She studied ballet from age of five, trained in classical piano, and spent hours curled up with books. She successfully pursued London’s Royal Academy of Dance syllabus through the first professional level and enrolled at UCLA as a dance major. Then she discovered she loved math and science. “I hadn’t studied it much in high school, but at UCLA I ended up taking a lot of science and math,” she remembers. “I struggled at first and sometimes I felt like I had no clue. Then one day I read the chapter in my chemistry book on quantum theory—and I was hooked. It felt more right than any other subject I had studied.” She went on to earn a BS with Highest Honors from UCLA, a masters in physics from Harvard, and a doctorate in chemical physics, also from Harvard.
Catherine attributes her ability to entertain a broad reading audience in part to upbringing. “My father is one of the four scientists who postulated that a comet hitting the earth caused mass extinctions, including the demise of dinosaurs. My mother was a student of English literature who loved to write, so from the beginning I was influenced by both the sciences and arts.” While pursing her degrees, Catherine continued to dance, founding the Mainly Jazz Dancers and Harvard University Ballet. Perennially on deadline, she now focuses more on her writing than research, but she often speaks on the intersection of science and art at venues such as the Library of Congress and Georgetown University.
Born in Oakland, California, Asaro grew up in El Cerrito, north of Berkeley. A challenger of rules since her childhood, she explores the boundaries of genre fiction in her novels. “It’s like stretching different muscles for dance class,” she says, adding that dancing and math aren’t as dissimilar as people may think. “There is a beauty in seeing a math problem come together just as there is in performing a ballet. And the discipline it takes to do ballet well is similar to that needed to do math.” But no matter what the style of her novels, she writes from the heart. “The flashy adventure is fun,” she says, “but the characters mean the most to me, both as a reader and as a writer.”
Catherine is also proud to coach the Howard Area Homeschoolers, whose students have distinguished themselves in numerous national math programs, including the USA Mathematical Olympiad, MathCounts, and the American Regional Mathematics League. She has served two terms as president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA). She is married to John Kendall Cannizzo, an astrophysicist at NASA. They have one daughter, a ballet dancer who studies maths at Cambridge University in England.
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