The scientist turned author has just won the James Tiptree award for her first novel, The Girl in the Road, as she works toward a goal of ‘radical empathy’.
Lydia Kiesling in The Guardian:
Monica Byrne is about to head to a coffee shop and sort 23,000 words’ worth of notes into the bones of a new novel when I speak with her. “Fifty per cent of novel writing is just organisation,” she tells me. “It’s like writing a thesis.” Byrne, who was lately awarded the James Tiptree award for her debut novel The Girl in the Road, has a master’s degree in geochemistry fromMIT and an alternative future in the sciences if writing doesn’t pan out. On off-days, she tells me, she reminds herself that if she doesn’t write, she’ll wind up “a lab tech for my whole life”.
Given her track record, this seems unlikely. Byrne’s first fiction efforts got her accepted into the prestigious Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s workshop, where she took a class with Neil Gaiman. She has a polymath’s assortment of interests and skills – pile “accomplished playwright” on to her résumé with the geochemistry degree. As she works on her new novel, set in Belize, she’s also writing a new play, an absurdist work called Such Cake, about two people trying to put on a good show despite the overwhelming evidence that, according to Byrne, “95% of all theater is bad”.
Her work has a kinetic quality that seems the natural habit of a quick mind, as difficult to pin down as the metallic hydrogen that forms a major plot point in The Girl in the Road. The novel travels nimbly from science to spirituality to geopolitics, claiming territory inside and outside of its genre.