Grad student challenges sci fi conventions in debut novel

Kellie Doherty has always loved science fiction, but she finds many of the tropes and conventions limiting.

A second year graduate student in the book publishing program at Portland State, Doherty published her debut science fiction novel Finding Hekate on April 8 through Desert Palm Press.

It’s a story about transformation. “The takeaway for my reader is, no matter how bad your past is and no matter how horrible the things that have happened or the choices you’ve made, you can always change,” Doherty said. “People can still accept you and you can still move on from it and learn.”

Doherty likes the fantasy genre as well, and was strongly influenced by the Harry Potter series. She even sought to emulate the way J.K. Rowling depicted the group dynamic of Harry, Hermione and Ron in her own book. She was also inspired by the television show Firefly. The universe Doherty created is similar in that it is ruled by a central government and includes backwater planets.

Doherty was compelled to write this story because she wanted to see a female character that was as dark as many of the male characters she was so used to reading. “I’ve read so many books like that before,” Doherty said. “I wanted to change it up a bit.”

The book started as a short story, but after sharing it with a writing group, Doherty’s peers loved the protagonist, Mia Foley, so much they encouraged her to expand it into a novel. So she did and now it’s the first of a duology.

A prominent way in which Doherty challenges conventions is by making Mia Foley a lesbian. Brianna Dym is a friend of Doherty’s from the University of Alaska, and one of those who encouraged her to turn the story into a novel. She feels that Doherty’s novel is significant precisely because of how it expands the science fiction genre in this way.

“It is extremely frustrating to walk into a bookstore and know that as a queer woman my unique experiences will only be reflected in a finite amount of fiction,” Dym said. “To see queer main characters in her story, something that is science fiction first and romance not even second or third in its priorities, is a breath of fresh air.”

Dym values some of the archetypes and tropes of the genre as valuable tools, but still sees them as molds that need to be broken. She said that Doherty does this by writing a diverse cast of characters, many of whom fall somewhere on the LGBT spectrum.

“It presents the reader with a familiar enough stage for science fiction and uses it to critically examine characters, not some contrived plot twist, to create a satisfying story,” Dym said.

Finding Hekate has been a labor of love for Doherty since she wrote the story in 2010. For her, one of the most memorable moments of this achievement was holding her book for the first time.

“Seeing something I thought up when I was an undergrad, and the whole process of writing it, rewriting it, tearing it apart and putting it back together again, and then actually holding it and it being this physical object that I created and that other people can read, I think that was the most rewarding aspect thus far,” Doherty said.

There have been many iterations of the book since the last draft Dym saw, so she’s especially excited to the read book. “It will be like rediscovering a favorite ice cream” Dym said.