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Moffett, Judith

(1942-    ) US author and academic, a professor with the University of Pennsylvania since 1979. She was first active as a poet, publishing two collections – Keeping Time (coll 1976) and Whinny Moor Crossing (coll 1984) – before turning to sf with an ape-as-human tale (see Apes as Human), "Surviving", for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in June 1986, later assembled with "Not without Honor" (May 1989 Asimov's) as Two that Came True (coll 1991). With her first novel, Pennterra (1987), she came into immediate prominence, partly because of the rousing sexual explicitness of some scenes between humans and the pheromone-emitting Hrossa (see Exogamy), a mysterious group-mind species named – oddly, given C S Lewis's prurient distaste for sexual material – after one of the Martian races in Out of the Silent Planet (1938). Having escaped a terminally polluted Earth, a party of Quakers has landed on the planet Pennterra and been permitted restricted residence on condition that they do not breed indiscriminately, attempt to claim further territory, or introduce invasive Technologies. All goes well until a second human expedition arrives with no intention of changing any of the behaviour which has ruined humanity's first home (see Colonization of Other Worlds). The Hrossa warn them that Pennterra herself (see Gaia) will punish any disobedience, and the novel – taking on the hues of a grave and didactic Planetary Romance – moves inexorably to the comeuppance.

Moffett's main creative accomplishment – the Holy Ground sequence comprising The Ragged World: A Novel of the Hefn on Earth (fixup 1991), Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream: A Sequel to the Ragged World (1992) and The Bird Shaman (2008) – soon followed. In the first volume, a series of stories – including "Tiny Tango" (February 1989 Asimov's), about AIDS – is fixed up into a remarkably effective mosaical portrayal of Climate Change, Disaster and redemption, the latter at the hands of a deus ex machina cabal of Aliens that ambivalently seems intent on defending Earth from its otherwise uncontrollable natives. The second volume focuses on the private, isolated life of a young girl, whose apprehensions of the Holy Ground of Earth seem ineffective, in sf terms, as the planet suffers crisis after crisis. The Bird Shaman, even less easy on the home species than its predecessors, hints perhaps that the End of the World will come soon: though the radiance of its human protagonists suggests, perhaps, a happier alternative. By choosing controversial subjects and then treating them to generic solutions as experienced through the lives of fully-modulated characters, Moffett shows a mature sense of balance, and an active engagement with sf as an exploratory mode. The risk of focusing on characters who do not themselves change the world is of not being read: it is to be hoped that Holy Ground, now that it is complete, becomes a central text for the times. [JC]

see also: Edisonade; John W Campbell Award; Pastoral; Sex; Supernatural Creatures; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.

Judith L Moffett

born Louisville, Kentucky: 30 August 1942




Holy Ground

individual titles


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight.
Accessed 03:15 am on 31 May 2020.