100 sci fi women #82: Captain Curtana

Captain Curtana Terminal World Alastair Reynolds

Curtana is a tall, dark-skinned woman who is self-possessed, smart and not afraid of action. She is the captain of the Painted Lady, a dirigible which floats above a post-apocalyptic landscape filled with dangerous raiders who think nothing of launching themselves from their own craft onto hers intent on destruction and mayhem. While she inherited her captaincy in part from her father, she is an exceptional pilot and captain, possibly the best of the dirigible city called the Swarm. She is comfortable both out alone with her craft scouting the world for goods and enemies, or back in the fleet dealing with its complex politics – though she would always rather just be flying her ship. She is extremely loyal to her godfather, the leader of the Swarm, but not blindly so – she tells him what she thinks, calls him on his mistakes and challenges his decisions if she disagrees.She is a person of deep integrity who is willing to put aside historical differences and risk her life and her ship to save the lives of people to whom she owes nothing. She is brave – both in her convictions and in her actions and will stay aboard a burning airship if it means the possibility of saving other lives – and she keeps a cool calm head when faced with danger. Her decisions are made from a place of consideration – she listens to those she trusts and weighs their information. While she has a partner who she loves very much, she neither sacrifices her captaincy or asks him to put his aside for them to be together – instead enjoying the time they can be together while both living their own lives and carrying out their own missions. Curtana is a woman you would want beside you in a tricky situation and whose judgement you would trust every time.

“I’m a good captain,” he confessed to Quillon once, “but she’s better than me. Always will be. That’s no condemnation of my own abilities, though. It’s just that she’s Curtana and the rest of us aren’t. There’s only one Mother Goddess, and there’s only one Curtana…”

100 sci fi women #81: Professor River Song

Doctor Who has always had a spotty kind of relationship with gender – women are usually secondary, companions, often in need of saving. But, Doctor Who has always had female characters present, and many of those women have had clear story arcs of their own. They haven’t only been a foil for the Doctor, they have changed and grown and often become quite different people. Many of his companions have had strength and determination, as well as compassion and along the way they have taught the Doctor a few lessons. Companions like Leela and Romana have defied many female sidekick approaches, while at other times the Doctor has had more than one woman hanging out with him – such as when Nyssa and Tegan were haunting the TARDIS. But River Song was a very different kind of woman for the Doctor to meet. So in honour of 50 years of the Doctor, here she is.

River Song Doctor Who

471493-river_songRiver Song is smart. Not only does she end up becoming a professor of archeology, but she is also able to think her way out of pretty much any situation. Beyond brave, she has a willingness to throw herself into adventure and danger. She has a well developed sense of fun and whimsy. Growing up separated from her parents, turned into a psychopathic killer does stop her becoming a woman of compassion, great love and humanity – if just a bit of a troublemaker. River is equally as comfortable with a gun or a book, with technology and old fashioned secrets. She wants to be a partner for the Doctor, but she has her own life to live and won’t just give it up to follow him anywhere. She can fly the TARDIS better than he can and is a fellow traveller through time and space, but she does it on her own terms. Not conventionally beautiful with her wild curls, she is charismatic,  compelling and deeply sensual. All of space and time is much more fun with her in it.

Doctor Can I trust you, River Song?
River If you like. But where’s the fun in that?

100 sci fi women #79: Phedre no Delaunay de Montreve

Phèdre no Delaunay de Montrève Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar Jacqueline Carey


from Hot Cute Girly Geek

Phèdre no Delaunay de Montrève is a beautiful woman is was sold by her parents to a brothel (albeit a high class and reputable one) as a young child. Her intelligence, determination and compassion, as much as her beauty allow her to rise from these humble beginnings to become a trusted adviser of her queen and save her homeland over and over again. Phèdre also has the special gift of being an anguissette, someone who genuinely feels pain as pleasure, and sexually this makes her a formidable courtesan, in a country where this is a respectable profession. SHe is marked by the gods with a scarlet mote in her eye, signalling her role as an anguissette. However, there is much much more to Phèdre than her capacity to sexually enjoy pain. The patron who buys her from the place of her initial training ensures she is educated and teaches her the other skills which make her a valuable ally or formidable opponent. She speaks a number of languages, is observant, is excellent at deductive reasoning, inspires loyalty and can think her way out of many situations. She is also incredibly brave – willing to risk herself, her body, her sanity and her love for what she thinks is right. She has found her way through frozen wilderness and jungle, charmed the Master of the Sea with a song, devised and uncovered cunning plans, endured hideous prisons and horrible tortures and been kidnapped by pirates. She does not forget her debts or her friends, and is absolutely loyal to her Queen. She has a well of strength and determination which make her formidable. She also loves her partner deeply and has to learn how to make their relationship work. Phèdre is the kind of friend you would always want on your side.

Let the warriors clamour after the gods of blood and thunder. Love is hard, harder than steel and thrice as cruel.

100 sci fi women #77: Mako Mori

[yes these are out of order. But life isn't always a straight line!]

Mako Mori Pacific Rim

Mako_Mori_3Mako is Japanese. She is intelligent and respectful, but not blindly obedient or arrogant. She has exceptional physical skills in addition to her formidable intelligence, and knows how to pilot a giant jaegar as well as anyone else. She is haunted by the traumas of the past, but can overcome these to ultimately use her abilities to serve the greater good. She is also unstintingly brave, whether it is standing up to giant alien monsters or to a man she deeply respects. While she is beautiful, her beauty is irrelevant to her strengths. When she makes a mistake, she does not flinch from its consequences, but does not let it stand in her way of successfully smashing some kaiju later. Mako is the type of pilot you ultimately do want to take into the drift with you.

It is not obedience, it is respect.



Six sentence review: Pacific Rim

pac rimYes, it is noisy, yes the Australian accents are (predictably) terrible and yes it massively fails the Bechdel test with only one woman character who even really talks. But it is such fun, as well as being intelligent and that one woman character is an excellent one – non-white, smart, strong and capable. It knows its audience and it caters to them extremely effective with well staged giant scale fights and clever touches (and a Star Wars reference in the first ten minutes will always guarantee my attention). It actually had some quite strong performances from quality actors like Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam, even if I couldn’t help giggling at Stacker Pentecost’s inspirational speech (and you have to love the name). I also thought that it had moments of great beauty – in particular Mako’s memories are beautifully shot and composed with really effective use of colour and constrast. Hard to beat though for its giant machine on giant alien monster action though.

Six Sentence Review: The Twelve

2013-06-01 18.00.29The Twelve Justin Cronin

Like The Passage the first half of The Twelve is significantly better than the second, with compelling portraits of characters and strong ideas. I particularly enjoyed the return of Lawrence Grey and the beautifully painted portrait of life in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak. While the second half was not without merit, there was a level of caricature which was jarring, particularly against the very serious and emotionally compelling depictions of a number of the characters, particularly the ones we had previously met in The Passage. The critques of torture and propaganda were transparent and didn’t really go further than a very crude “these are stupid and ineffective and counterproductive” although I was interested in the use of suicide bombing as a trope. For me, the character of Horace Guilder in the second half of the book did not seem well-formed – someone with his experience and knowledge would surely have been more sensible and sophisticated, and the reasons he wasn’t were not explained. Still worth it, but hoping that the intimated final novel will be a bit tighter and more like The Passage.

100 sci fi women #78: Vyr Cossont

Following the announcement in April by Iain Banks that he has terminal cancer, it would seem that Vyr Cossont might be his last creation of a wonderful female science fiction character. I love the books of Iain Banks, with “M” and without, and am terribly sad about his sickness but I will write more about that separately. But what I did want to say here was how much I have enjoyed the women in his books – and most of his books have great women characters. In fact many of the Culture books have a female character at their centre, and these are women who are smart and capable and know how to look after themselves. They aren’t always the hero, but they are always interesting. Banks’ range of wonderful women help to add to the interest and accessibility of science fiction for women, and give us role models (even if some of them are covered in fur). It would be nice to hope that maybe the diagnosis is wrong, and that maybe we will get to meet a few more of these women in time.

Vyr Cossont, Lieutenant Commander (reserve)

The Hydrogen Sonata Iain M Banks

Vyr doesn’t really want to be a hero, or at the centre of events which might effect her entire civilisation, but she steps up when it seems that this is the case. Vyr’s passion and talents lie in music and she is driving herself slightly crazy attempting to master the incredibly difficult Hydrogen Sonata on the Antagonistic Undecagonstring when she is whisked off to undertaken tasks for which she doesn’t even understand the reason. While she was really only a Lieutenant Commander because of her music playing, as one of the few people left, she is thrust into an altogether different military role and while not enthusiastic, accepts that the job has to be done. Talented, interesting and engaging enough to have captured the attention and confidences of one of the oldest people in the universe, she also proves herself to be smart, adpatable and resourceful. She is also determined – whether it is growing additional arms in order to play an almost unplayable instrument, defying her mother or seeking to solve the mystery at the centre of her civilisation – and courageous enough to be willing to engage in any number of near-death activities. And when it is all over, she choses life and an uncertain future of potential adventure over the Sublime, and whatever that might entail.

Not so much as a by-your-fucking-leave

Six sentence review: Kushiel’s Dart

2013-04-28 10.56.31

Kushiel’s Dart  Jacqueline Carey

I found this book extremely readable, despite some doubts about some of the choices around setting and religious notions. The world of the novel has deliberate references to our own world and religious mythology but the purpose of this referentialism is not particularly clear. Despite this, the characters are engaging and the story is emotionally compelling, even if soem of the politics of the world is overly complicated and not actually that interesting. In the end, the most interesting part is the story of Phedre and her discovering of herself and her capabilities. It also comes with a fair dose of reasonably well written BDSM eroticism as Phedre’s  position as an anguisette means that she gains genuine pleasure in pain. Despite my intitial doubts, I enjoyed the ride and am looking forward to reading the second novel.

Six sentence reviews: Django Unchained

Django UnchainedDjango is very clearly a Tarantino film with its clever dialogue followed by ultraviolence, but it also captures and reflects Taratino’s love and knowledge of film with its fabulous pastiching of the spaghetti Western and blaxploitation genres. The open titles with set that tone which is followed through in many of the details including the spectacular use of music. Dr King Schultz is a fantastic character, and ther performances are strong – Samuel L Jackson is almost unrecognisable. I feel that critiques that pose the film as one of white-rescue-of-black man are unfair – Django clearly has agency and it is he who rescues himself. My only concern in the racial politics is the idea that Django is “that one man in 10 000″, which ignores the strutural, social reasons for the answer to Candie’s question “why don’t they just kill us?” But the film’s political edge does extend to a kind of revealing that behind the privilege and the fancy-ness of existence lies great exploitation, and that the greater the fancy, the greater the exploitation.