FICTION, HISTORY, and SF

I've been asked whether or not Princess Kaiulani was a real person. The answer, of course, is yes.

In fact, Kaiulani was the main reason I started work on "Kamehameha's Bones," a novella which appeared in ASIMOV'S, and continued to expand the idea into a novel.

Kaiulani was born a princess, in 1875. Her mother was a member of the Hawaiian royal family, and her father was Scots. Over the course of a decade or so, the royal family had experienced many deaths, a lot of them from diseases for which they had no resistance. She was Hawaii's last heir to the throne, and was sent to Europe to be educated when she was still a child--and to be kept out of harm's way, I imagine. She died rather mysteriously when only twenty-three years old, soon after Hawaii was annexed by the United States.

It is almost painful to read about the gradual American takeover of the Hawaiian Islands by a group of swindling businessmen. Kaiulani was able to postpone the annexation by sailing from Europe to the United States, meeting with President Grover Cleveland, and presenting the facts. But after he lost the Presidency, annexation of the Hawaiian Islands was one of the first things passed by the Congress. American sugar growers had a huge stake in Hawaii. Kaiulani, by all accounts, became dispirited and depressed, yet the common intimation that she "died of a broken heart" always seemed odd to me.

All the Hawaiian history in THE BONES OF TIME is true. The royal family was quite progressive, and Iolani Palace was actually wired for electricity years before the White House was on the grid. The only liberties I took with history were that Kaiulani most probably did not see a man from the future, and that she may not have given birth soon before she died.

However, photos of her a few months before her death show that the ultra-thin Paris-dressed young woman who spent her formative years in England, Germany, Scotland, and France had become quite large, and chose to isolate herself on the Parker Ranch on the Big Island. I actually DID meet a Hawaiian man in the Bishop Museum who told me the story I more or less recount in the book, of Kaiulani having given birth and her grandson dying only recently. If this is true, then it is probably pretty much an open secret in Hawaii--one not covered by the history books. She was not married, which would account for the secrecy, and she did have medical conditions which may have complicated the pregnancy and contributed to her death.

Princess Kaiulani Statue in HonoluluIn Hawaii right now there is a very strong land rights movement among Hawaiians, and many important lawsuits have been filed and won regarding ownership of the land beneath several mega-resorts. Unfortunately for the corporations, not all the old deeds were lost! To read more about the political situation in Hawaii today, as well as some of the history, go to the HAWAI`I - INDEPENDENT & SOVEREIGN site.

When I was at the Los Angeles Worldcon, a man came up to talk to me after the nanotech panel. He asked whether or not the history in THE BONES OF TIME was true, and I gave him the above answer. He said that he thought that SF authors ought to mention somewhere in their books whether or not their histories are real or imaginary, since at times it was confusing.

I was a bit surprised at this, since it seems to me that culturally we all share the same parameters of history. But perhaps some areas, such as Hawaiian history, are obscure. What do you think? Email me with your answer; I will try and post the most interesting responses.

Read an online excerpt from THE BONES OF TIME


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Copyright 1996 Kathleen Ann Goonan All Rights Reserved.
Princess Kaiulani statue photograph Copyright 1999 Mindi Reid  used with permission