Melissa Elaine Scott (1960–)

A scholar who followed her father, a prominent lawyer, from Little Rock Central High School to the academic citadels of the east, Melissa Scott turned to writing fiction in the 1980s and became one of the most honored and prolific authors of English-language science fiction. Over nearly forty years, she has published eighteen original novels, several short stories, and numerous tie-in novels for the science-fiction network-television series Star Trek and Stargate: Atlantis. Her fiction has been noted for the frequency of lesbian and gay characters, who were often the protagonists. In the 1980s, even among book lovers, there was little knowledge or acceptance of the biological and social diversity of human life in the area of gender and sexuality. The genre of science fiction furnished young Scott a literary medium—the far-away future of cyberspace and interstellar travel—in which LGBTQ+ identities were not met with condemnation.

Melissa Elaine Scott was born on August 7, 1960, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Her father, Isaac Alexander “Ike” Scott, graduated from Little Rock (later Central) High School, got a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and a law degree from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), and spent a long career at the large corporate law firm headed by Edward L. Wright. Her mother, Elaine Hoffman Scott of North Carolina, attended Wellesley College, obtained a master’s degree in English from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, and, after marrying Ike Scott, taught English in middle schools in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties) and Little Rock. For fourteen years, she was a member and sometimes chair of the state Board of Education, appointed by Governor Bill Clinton.

Melissa Scott was a precocious pupil. When she broke an arm in gym class and was sent to the library until it healed, the librarian pulled a science-fiction book off the shelf and suggested she sample the genre. She was taken by it. She went through the small science-fiction sections at school and then the collections of science-fiction, fantasy, and Western literature at the Central Arkansas Library System. Two poems and a short story in the high school literary journal, The Labyrinth, illustrated her promise as a writer.

While earning a bachelor’s degree in history at Harvard College in 1981, Scott helped produce a college-sanctioned science-fiction magazine, which led to the formation in 1986 of the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, which intermittently published a science-fiction literary magazine, Fusion. She enrolled in the graduate program of comparative history at Brandeis University in Boston; published her first novel; and earned a master’s degree and a doctorate.

In Boston, she met Lisa Anne Barnett, a writer and editor who attended the nearby University of Massachusetts, and with whom she would collaborate on three novels. The two settled in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In February 2000, seven months after Vermont became the first state to recognize civil unions of gay couples, Scott and Barnett went to Burlington and had their union officially legalized. Barnett died of breast and brain cancer in 2006.

Scott’s first novel, The Game Beyond (1984), was about the heir designated by the dying princess to the throne of a failing interstellar empire who then uses unusual psychic powers to conquer a ruthless bunch of rivals. It was followed in quick succession by the Silence Leigh trilogy—Five-Twelfths of Heaven (1985), Silence in Solitude (1986), and The Empress of Earth (1987)—the first of which won her the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction. The trilogy followed the interstellar exploits of the space pilot Silence Leigh and her partners in rescue missions to mythical planets. Silence’s struggles with her sexuality are a subtle narrative element.

Three later books—Trouble and Her Friends (1994), Point of Dreams (2001), and Death by Silver (2013)—won Lambda Literary Awards for gay/lesbian science fiction. The novels Death by Silver, Fairs’ Point (2014), and Shadow Man (1995), and the short story “The Rocky Side of the Sky” (2010), won other literary awards.

After The Game Beyond, Scott’s books gained in the complexity of plots, characters, dialogue, and even sentence structure. Her meticulous—and, to novices, often bewildering—descriptions of cyber and spatial technology (such as surgically inserted “brainworms”) take some time and effort by readers to master, or at least to indulge, but garnered a passionate following. Although the stories of cyber and spatial adventures mostly occur far away in time and place, the human characters deal with the ordinary moral and emotional predicaments that confront twentieth- and twenty-first-century dwellers.

Scott only rarely made gender and sexuality the overt theme of a story; rather, the disparate sexualities of the characters were merely noted and occasionally explicitly described, as had long been the case for heterosexual characters in other genres of fiction. The lone book that deals predominantly with the theme of gender and sexual acceptance is Shadow Man (1995), in which, eons from the present, a drug taken to survive interstellar travel increased intersex births and led across the universe to the recognition of five body types—except in the planet of Hara, where only two body types were recognized: female and male.

Scott wrote a series of tie-in novels for the television series Star Trek and then, after the death of Barnett (and upon the urging of her friend and collaborator Jo Graham), for the science-fiction and fantasy television series Stargate: Atlantis. Tie-in novels required a different discipline, as the plots had to end in a way such that the main characters were always around for the next part of the series. Scott also collaborated with Graham on a trilogy of novels not about the future but the past, specifically the Great Depression.

After Barnett’s death, Scott moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, near where her mother grew up.

For additional information:
“Heart’s Choice Author Interview: Melissa Scott, A Player’s Heart.” Choice of Games. https://www.choiceofgames.com/2020/02/hearts-choice-author-interview-melissa-scott-a-players-heart/ (accessed April 14, 2022).

“Interview: Guest Lecturer Melissa Scott.” Odyssey Writing Workshops. https://odysseyworkshop.wordpress.com/2021/02/10/interview-guest-lecturer-melissa-scott/ (accessed April 14, 2022).

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 04/14/2022

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