kathleen ann goonan


Goonan redefines what is "natural" in this postapocalyptic world through Abe's most successful creation, Verity. Manufactured in a laboratory much like Frankenstein's creature, Verity is the part human, part bumblebee, part bio-mechanical ideal of Abe's scientific imagination. In contrast to Frankenstein's creation, however, Verity is indeed a superior model of being, a triumphant cyborg well adapted to living with or without the technology that has flooded her world. In the world of Queen City Jazz, cyborgs are the truth, the real thing. Thus by the close of the novel, every character has been transformed into a cybernetic being. The old boundaries between "human," "animal," and "machine" are transcended.

These permeable boundaries enable Verity to successfully negotiate both the City and the UnEnlivened countryside that surrounds it. Nonetheless, it is important to note that she meets with resistance from inhabitants of both realms. The Shakers who raise her in the countryside refuse to acknowledge the cybernetic aspects of Verity's body, much like the DeLaceys who refuse the horrible form of Victor's creature. By vilifying all things Enlivened, the Shakers attempt to teach Verity to deny that part of herself. Conversely, the people of the City reject Verity's desire to return to the humanness of the Shakers. Many citizens, such as the pharmacist who activates her and Azure, the New Queen's devotee, try to coerce Verity into giving up her humanity and remaining in the city as a disembodied Hive Queen. Abe is most persuasive to this end, as he programs her to return to the City and the Hive with a fervency she cannot ignore.

Verity does return to the Hive to fulfill her position as Savior Queen, and in doing so, throws off her disposable physical body like all of the City's inhabitants. Physicality is not necessary for existence in the City, as the Hive is a suitable home for disembodied consciousness. Most humans in Cincinnati inhabit multiple bodies and Queens, such as Verity, are allowed to move between bodies without first dying. Much like Shelley, then, Goonan suggests that there are no natural or necessary connections between bodies and identities. Indeed, Goonan takes this insight a step further to show how the move between bodies might be necessary for some individuals and their communities to survive.

If Verity manages to transcend her programming and engage the City on her own terms, it is because she, like Frankenstein's creation, develops a sense of humanity by living outside the laboratory rather than within it. This living outside allows Verity to learn like a human does; slowly and through experience. She is not flooded with knowledge like the children of Cincinnati or the Bees who become drunk of the information they gather like pollen. Rather, outside the City, she learns how to be a person by growing up with the DeLacey's literary heirs, the Shakers. It is precisely this education, combined with the yearly knowledge installments that she downloads from the Dayton library, that imbues Verity with the self-sufficiency she needs to venture into the City of her own accord. By investigating the City on her own terms, she breaks the cycle of mad creation initiated by Abe and enforced by India.




  ethics of creation


bodies and identity


domesticity, morality,
and motherhood



  interview with
kathleen ann goonan