Advisory Board

C.J. Cherryh, M.A.

C.J. Cherryh, M.A. is the pen name of Carolyn Janice Cherry. She is an American writer of speculative fiction and is one of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed authors in the science fiction and fantasy field.

She has written more than 80 books since the mid-1970s, including the Hugo Award-winning novels Downbelow Station (1981) and Cyteen (1988), both set in her Alliance-Union universe. She won a Hugo award for the Best Short Story for Cassandra (1979). She is known for “world building”, depicting fictional realms with great realism supported by vast research in history, language, psychology, and archeology. Her series of fantasy novels set in the Alliance-Union universe, the Morgaine Stories, have sold in excess of 3 million copies.

C.J. Cherryh (pronounced “Cherry”) appended a silent “h” to her real name because her first editor, Donald A. Wollheim, felt that “Cherry” sounded too much like a romance writer. Her initials, C.J., were used to disguise the fact that she was female at a time when almost all science fiction authors were male.

C.J. has the asteroid 77185 Cherryh named after her. Referring to this honor, the asteroid’s discoverers wrote of C.J.: “She has challenged us to be worthy of the stars by imagining how mankind might grow to live among them.”

C.J. was born in 1942 in St. Louis, Missouri and raised primarily in Lawton, Oklahoma. She began writing stories at the age of ten when she became frustrated with the cancellation of her favorite TV show, Flash Gordon. In 1964, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin from the University of Oklahoma (Phi Beta Kappa), with academic specializations in archaeology, mythology, and the history of engineering. In 1965, she earned her Master of Arts degree in Classics, Latin and Greek from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where she was a Woodrow Wilson fellow.

After graduation, Carolyn taught Latin, Ancient Greek, the classics, and ancient history at John Marshall High School in the Oklahoma City public school system. While her job was teaching Latin, her passion was the history, religion, and culture of Rome and Ancient Greece. During the summers, she would conduct student tours of the ancient ruins in England, France, Spain, and Italy. In her spare time, she would write, using the mythology of Rome and Greece as plots for her stories of the future.

C.J. did not follow the professional path typical of science fiction writers at the time, which was to first publish short stories in science fiction and fantasy magazines and then progress to novels. In contrast, she did not consider writing short stories until she had had several novels published.

C.J. wrote novels in her spare time away from teaching and submitted these manuscripts directly for publication. Initially, she met with little success; indeed various publishers lost manuscripts she had submitted. She was thus forced to retype them from her own carbon copies, time-consuming but cheaper than paying for photocopying. (Using carbon paper to make at least one copy of a manuscript was standard practice until the advent of the personal computer.)

C.J.’s breakthrough came in 1975 when Donald A. Wollheim purchased the two manuscripts she had submitted to DAW Books, Gate of Ivrel and Brothers of Earth. She stated in an interview on Amazing Stories,

It was the first time a book really found an ending and really worked, because I had made contact with Don Wollheim at DAW, found him interested, and was able to write for a specific editor whose body of work and type of story I knew. It was a good match. It was a set of characters I’d invented when I was, oh, about thirteen. So it was an old favorite of my untold stories, and ended up being the first in print.

The two novels were published in 1976, Gate of Ivrel preceding Brothers of Earth by several months (although she had completed and submitted Brothers of Earth first). The books won her immediate recognition and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1977.

Although not all of her works have been published by DAW Books, during this early period C.J. developed a strong relationship with the Wollheim family and their publishing company, frequently traveling to New York City and staying with the Wollheims in their Queens family home. Other companies that have published her novels include Baen Books, HarperCollins, Warner Books, and Random House (under its Del Rey Books imprint). She published six additional novels in the late 1970s.

In 1979, her short story Cassandra, published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in October 1978, won the Best Short Story Hugo Awards, and she quit teaching to write full-time. She has since won the Hugo Award for Best Novel twice, first for Downbelow Station in 1982 and then again for Cyteen in 1989.

In addition to developing her own fictional universes, Cherryh has contributed to several shared world anthologies, including Thieves’ World, Heroes in Hell, Elfquest, Witch World, Magic in Ithkar, and the Merovingen Nights series, which she edited. Her writing has encompassed a variety of science fiction and fantasy subgenres and includes a few short works of non-fiction. Her books have been translated into Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish and Swedish. She has also translated several published works of fiction from French into English.

She now lives near Spokane, Washington, with her wife the science fiction/fantasy author and artist Jane Fancher. Her brother David A. Cherry is a science fiction and fantasy artist.

Her hobbies include travel, photography, reef culture, Mariners baseball, and, a late passion, figure skating: she intends to compete in the adult USFSA track. She began with the modest ambition to learn to skate backwards and now is working on jumps. She sketches, occasionally, cooks fairly well, and hates housework; she loves the outdoors, animals wild and tame, is a hobbyist geologist, adores dinosaurs, and has academic specialties in Roman constitutional law and bronze age Greek ethnography.

Her studies include planetary geology, weather systems, and natural and man-made catastrophes, civilizations, and cosmology…in fact, there’s very little that doesn’t interest her. A loom is gathering dust and needs rethreading, a wooden ship model awaits construction, and the cats demand their own time much more urgently. She works constantly, researches mostly on the internet, and has books stacked up and waiting to be written. She regularly makes appearances at science fiction conventions.

In her own words:

“I write full-time; I travel; I try out things. The list includes, present and past tense: fencing, riding, archery, firearms, ancient weapons, donkeys, elephants, camels, butterflies, frogs, wasps, turtles, bees, ants, falconry, exotic swamp plants and tropicals, lizards, wilderness survival, fishing, sailing, street and ice skating, mechanics, carpentry, wiring, painting (canvas), painting (house), painting (interior), sculpture, aquariums both fresh and salt, needlepoint, bird breeding, furniture refinishing, video games, archaeology, Roman, Greek civilization, Crete, Celts, and caves.

I’ve traveled from New York to Istanbul and Troy; outrun a dog pack at Thebes, and seen Columbia lift on her first flight. I’ve fallen down a muddy chute in a Cretan cave, nearly drowned in the Illinois River, broken an arm, been kicked and tossed by horses, fended off an amorous merchant in a Turkish tent bazaar, fought a prairie fire, slept on deck in the Adriatic, and driven Piccadilly Circus at rush hour. I’ve waded in two oceans and four of the seven seas, I’ve seen Halley’s Comet from Australia’s far coast, and I want to visit the Amazon, the Serengeti, and see the Erebus volcano in Antarctica. I’ve seen the Northern Lights and experienced tornadoes and a small earthquake. I choose to live downwind of five active volcanoes, (one of which has just woken up) and directly atop the evidence of world-class cataclysms: lava flow and Ice Age flood. I love snow and cold, and with my good friend Jane Fancher, I took up figure skating at 61. I took silver (to her gold) in my first small competition six months later. We practice the sport daily, and we both have ambitions to compete in adult Nationals…if I can ever get my outside back edges steady.

I see this planet as part of the whole universe: I’m stuck on it a while, and until I get the chance to get off it — (I want to do a flyby of Mars and take a look at Nix Olympica and the Vallis Marinaris, personally; and I want to see Titan and Saturn’s rings and the Red Spot on Jupiter) — I don’t plan to neglect where I am either, and I’m keeping a constantly updated list of wonders this planet has to see.”

Read her interview at Read her blog, visit her homepage, and read her Booklist with Notes at SFFchronicles, at isfdb, at Open Library, FantasticFiction, or at GoodReads. Read her complete list of sci-fi award wins and nominations by novel at Worlds Without End. Read the list of all her awards.

Read her Wikipedia profile and her Facebook page. Visit her homepage.