Janet Megson Kagan never reached the lofty literary strata of the Steven Kings or Robert Heinleins of the world, so she does fit in with our philosophy of remembering the lesser-known luminaries of science fiction. But her inclusion on these pages is also a personal indulgence on my part, because she wrote two of my favorite novels of all time (“Uhura’s Song,” 1985, and “Hellspark,” 1988) – and because she became a friend.
Janet was born on April 18, 1946 in New Jersey. She is primarily known as a short story author, her work appearing in most of the best sci-fi magazines published, including Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and others.
She and her husband, Ricky, were fixtures in the New York Sci-Fi scene in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, but Janet came to my attention first with her 1985 novel “Uhura’s Song,” one of Pocketbook’s Star Trek novels; it is #21 in that long-running series of books. “Uhura’s Song” tells the story of Kirk’s Enterprise on a desperate mission to save a closely-allied race of felinoids – a search literally based on a song. A search aided and abetted by a small, brilliant, determined whirlwind of a character who keeps surprising her shipmates – up to the very end.
In 1988 Tor Books published a marvelous story of intrigue, culture clash, unexpected violence and wondrous new worlds – “Hellspark.” You’re dropped into a universe of the very far future, with a mouthy computer, religious fanatics, delightful characters from widely-divergent cultures – and all the potentially-lethal trouble a universe can throw at them. It is at once a rousing adventure story and a telling commentary on the human condition and human foibles.
A series of Janet’s short stories (her "Mother Jones" stories) were re-published in novel form in 1991 under the name “Mirabile.” These stories were all set in the same universe involving the same people – and prove that colony ships can be just as adventuresome as any other.
Janet also won the prestigious Hugo Award for the Best Novelette of 1993 with “The Nutcracker Coup,” published in December of 1992 in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine.
After I’d read “Hellspark” a couple dozen times, I found an email for Janet and wrote her a rather fan-boyish note, with a couple serious questions thrown in – and to my delight she responded. We began a correspondence that lasted several years. We shared Janet’s love of cats and the antics of her troop, who never seemed to tire of garlic chicken or hard-boiled eggs. We shared recipes. And Janet encouraged both my wife and myself to enter the National Novel Writing Month contest (www.nanowrimo.com – it’s a race to write 50,000 words in the month of November), and my wife (who had never before written anything longer than a letter) actually won the first time out. It took me a few years of attempts before I hit the magic number, but I did, finally.
In the mid-2000’s, we became aware that Janet was not well. She told us of bouts with Lyme Disease, but we did not know how frail she was becoming; she’d also been diagnosed with emphysema and other related conditions. In the early hours of March 1, 2008, Janet lost her battle with acute COPD, and those of us who counted her as a friend, mentor, and cheerleader lost a strong, positive, and encouraging voice – and the world of science fiction lost a unique creative vision.
Although an accomplished photographer herself, Janet was also notoriously camera-shy; she claimed not to understand why anyone would be interested in her aging, elfin form. This image, taken at a "Winter Solstice" celebration some years ago, is probably the best picture I’ve seen of her.
Written by John Pickard
JANET KAGAN'S SLIGHTLY INCOMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY
#"The Loch Moose
#"The Return of the
#"Getting the Bugs
"What a Wizard Does"
"From the Dead Letter
"Mischief in the
"Out on Front Street"
"The Last of a
"The Nutcracker Coup"
"She Was Blonde, She
Was Dead---And Only Jimmilich Opstrommo Could Find Out Why!!!"
"No Known Cure"
"Standing in the
Broad on Earth"