Casey Newton is resourceful, smart, determined and idealistic. She is willing to break the rules for a good purpose, especially if it involves keeping her dad in a job. She is a nascent scientist and inventor: she devises ingenious approaches to trying to stop NASA decommissioning a launch site – both to protect her father but also because she believes in a future of discovery and invention which is embodied by space travel. She is willing to take a journey on the basis of a glimpse of an exciting future full of scientific discovery and human endeavour. But Casey isn’t just a dreamer; she can protect herself in a fight and is brave in the face of killer robots and other unexpected dangers. But most of all her idealism, and her intelligence, are enough to ensure that the world is saved, and that a better future is built, which supports dreamers and inventors like her to blossom and continue to save the world.
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
Fallen Dragon Peter Hamilton
I bought this in an airport when I had run out of plane reading and knew that Peter Hamilton is pretty reliable for that kind of reading – hence the cover damage. It was an entertaining read, though I thought the first half was a bit slow in parts and probably would have benefitted from being rather tightened up. Like much of the Hamilton oeuvre, Dragon has a long build up to the relatively quick pay off, so it is fortunate that much of that build up contains interesting ideas. Again, as with the other Hamilton I have read, the exploration of the power and role of corporations and economics in setting limits on things like space travel and exploration are very interesting and, as with the Commonwealth setting books, it is corporations who wield all the power. Characterisation is a little superficial at times and I think there were aspects of Lawrence’s character in particular which weren’t well articulated. Overall, excellent for reading on planes, especially in the second half, with interesting ideas, but ultimately not a book I would ever read a second time.
One of the reasons I started the list of 100 Science Fiction Women was to address the idea that science fiction, in particular, but genres like horror and fantasy as well are primarily the realm of men and boys. I wanted to showcase the fact that we can find women role-models within “nerdy” genres, and that these women can be powerful and action-oriented, or intelligent and wise, or, quite often, both. Women in science fiction can love men or women or can be strong alone; they can be mothers and grandmothers or can be without children. What the spread of women we see in science fiction shows is that there is no one path for women, and that as a young girl, or as an older woman, we should be free to make choices and follow what appeals to us. I have loved science fiction and fantasy since I was quite young and I don’t think this in any way detracts from being a girl.
In that context and with that background it has been interesting to follow the discussions on girls’ toys and boy toys, which, while already ongoing, has been galvanised around Lego’s introduction of its “Friends” range for girls.
I must say that I agree with many of the commentators that this Lego ad from the 1970s is a much better representation of how I would like to see Lego marketed to girls. I played with primary block colour Lego as a child and continue to be a big fan. We used Lego alongside our doll’s house, our Fisher Price toys, our blocks and my brother’s cars to build sprawling cities which were inevitably struck by natural disasters (usually floods). These were games in which my sister and brother and I participated equally (actually, to be honest, as the oldest I was the bossy one and the director of the mise-en-scene) – not games for boys or girls.
Anyway, a fabulous discussion on the Lego decision from The Age is worth a read. Lego is trying to respond to a market it sees, and it is that broader notion that toys are gendered which is increasingly problematic. Another good discussion of the general approach is here. There have been some alternative views – that little girls can under-cut stereotypes and play subversively with Barbie (and I certainly know some mothers who do that) or that constant attacks on pink or girls’ toys is another form of anti-womenness. While I see these views, it is easier for girls to be subversive if exposed to different ideas and not subsumed in princesses and hairdressing, and while there is nothing wrong with pink per se, why is it all girls can have and forbidden to boys? The fact that pink and Princesses are so confined to the world of girls leads to the denigration, and that same notion that girls are best when they are decorative and house-making. Do serious people of business wear pink? It is funny how mothers of toddler boys (including myself) often end up investing in girls’ pyjamas or shoes because their boys want some pink like their friends. At 3 and 4 children are relatively gender-blind and do not understand the binaries of society.
As I have said in another post, feminism should be about having choices, not having choices made for you. If girls (or boys) like dolls, then dolls they should have. But if they like trucks or trains they should have those also, and not be judged for it. Choice is more than everything being physically available to you – choice is about being able to do things without social approbriation. My concern is that the more girls and boys are forced in gender-based choices of toys and the like, the less choice they have as people around them expect more and more conformity. I had a chemistry set at 11 and bug catchers before then, and I would love my nieces to want the same things. If their choice is genuinely different, then that is their choice, which should also be respected and not denigrated because it is a ghetto for girls.
For Christmas this year I bought my 2 and a half year old niece a train set – not because I was trying to force non-gender specific toys on her, but because I am told she loves Thomas (personally, I’ve never really been a train person). I bought the similarly aged-daughter of a friend a Playmobil castle with a Princess and a pink unicorn, but I did buy her a Self-Rescuing Princess t-shirt to go with it. My boys have all had dolls, which they played with to a greater or lesser extent, but various teddies have been nurtured and put to bed and played with over time. They have also had tea sets and have served us endless cups of tea and muffins, and have learned to cook themselves. I was impressed this year when our 9 year old got real cooking equipment from two different sources. But they also love nerf guns and Star Wars and endless Lego and cars and all those things too. All kids can and should be allowed to be multidimensional, as the following young social theorist says:
Update: Here is a link to another fabulous article on pink-ification and Pink Stinks from The Guardian
So science fiction, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction or whatever you might like to call it, all of these (barring the Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse novels and a few other cases) are generally seen as male domains. Especially the science fiction bit. So this list is, in part, to reclaim those genres, to prove that female characters have a place, and an important place at that. In the first 50 we have characters from all the genres, from novels, television, films and video games. We have women of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, as well as some aliens and some of the artificially intelligent. There are the young and the old, and everything in between. Some are beautiful and some are not, some are mothers, some are single, some kick butt and some think great thoughts. Like women in general, they are varied and different.
You may not agree with every inclusion on the list, and you may think of reasons why the places that they come from are not as progressive as they might be. But what this shows is that woman have a presence in a fictional form in these genres.
So point to this list whenever a young girl (or an old woman) says that science fiction isn’t for girls – and please feel free to send me any suggestions or entries you might have for the next 50 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, just a reminder that this is not an order of merit – it is a list of when they have occurred to me! We can think about actual rankings when we get to 100!
1. Kara Thrace Battlestar Galactica
2. Perosteck Balveda Consider Phlebas
3. Sarah Connor in all her Terminator related incarnations
4. Offred The Handmaid’s Tale
5. Ellen Ripley The Aliens franchise
6. Dorothea McDonald The Galactic Milieu series
7. Inara Serra Firefly & Serenity
8. Nell The Diamond Age
9. Leela Doctor Who
10. Alldera The Holdfast Chronicles
11. Nyota Uhara Star Trek
12. Killashandra Ree The Crystal Singer trilogy
13. Buffy Summers Buffy the Vampire Slayer
14. Tenar Wizard of Earthsea series
15. Dana Scully X-Files
16. Susan Ivanova Babylon 5
17. Chevette Washington various William Gibson
18. Zoe Firefly and Serenity
19. Hermoine Granger The Harry Potter oeuvre
20. Laura Roslin Battlestar Galactica
21. Kira Nerys Deep Space 9
22. Tricia McMillan Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series
23. Servalan Blake’s 7
24. Princess Leia Organa Star Wars original trilogy
25. Anne Burden Z for Zachariah
26. Romanadvoratrelundar Doctor Who
27. Marcelina Hoffman Brasyl
28. Margarita Nikolaevna The Master and Margarita
29. Joanna Dark Perfect Dark
30. Willow Rosenberg Buffy The Vampire Slayer
31. Eowyn The Lord of The Rings
32. Caprica Six Battlestar Galactica
33. Odo The Dispossesed
34. Delenn Babylon 5
35. Jadzia Dax Deep Space 9
36. Claudia Interview with the Vampire
37. Lwaxana Troi Star Trek: Next Generation
38. Adelle De Witt Dollhouse
39. Diana V
40. T’Pring Star Trek
41. Molly Millions Neuromancer
42. Aura/Rashmika Els Absolution Gap
43. Max Guevara Dark Angel
44. Lilith Iyapo Xenogenesis Trilogy
45. Bayta Darell Foundation and Empire
46. Cord Anathem
47. Kaylee Frye Firefly and Serenity
48. Kelly Dead Set
49. Cordelia Chase Buffy and Angel
50. Rachael Blade Runner
Ok, back to the usual game. In the lists update a couple of good one end-of-year ones which come courtesy of city of tongues: the best and worst sci-fi movies of 2009 and the best sci-fi novels of 2009. Hopefully the world will continue to create great science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction and horror in 2010.
Marcelina Hoffman Brasyl Ian McDonald
Marcelina is vain, appearance obsessed and botox using, selfish, coke snorting, obsessed with success and just a little bit shallow. But who said woman had to be self deprecating earth mothers who wash only in tea leaves to be good heros? Marcelina is also fearless in many ways, willing to take on new things, rise to new challenges and explore new ideas. She also discovers herself to be capable of deep love. As the producer of trashy reality television programs she gets to do that, as the chosen zemba of the multiverse she has no choice but to embrace it and meet the challenge. Marcelina’s world is upended when she finds an exact copy of herself busily going about destroying her life by revealing production secrets, ignoring her friends and insulting her family. Worst yet, the other-Marcelina tries to kill her. Marcelina, as a practitioner of capoeira is not without fighting skills, and as a television producer is not without the skills to plan her way out of trouble. This task is made slightly harder by the fact that the other-Marcelina knows how she thinks. In her flight, Marcelina discovers that there are multiple worlds and multiple worlds and, while people are not supposed to travel between them, sometimes they do. She is initiated into the role of zemba – the warrior – fighting against the Order and gets a fabulously cool weapon. What Marcelina comprehensively proves, is that people’s potential and their essential character should not be judged by the superficial flit across the world – when tested they might be something completely different.
Again the multiverse pulsed around Marcelina. Cut. Edit. You are not unarmed now. You are not a victim. She held the knife high over her head.
Because by now we all know I love lists, here is another science fiction one, found originally at Where the Wind’s Like a Whetted Knife.
Bold the ones you’ve read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put asterisks beside the ones you loved (the more asterisks, the more you liked it).
- The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien**
- The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov***
- Dune, Frank Herbert****
- Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein****
- A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin****
- Neuromancer, William Gibson*****
- Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
- The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
- Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury*
- The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
- A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
- The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
- Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
- Cities in Flight, James Blish
- The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
- Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
- Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
- The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
- Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
- Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey***
- Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
- The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
- The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
- Gateway, Frederik Pohl
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling**
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*****
- I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
- Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice**
- The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin****
- Little, Big, John Crowley
- Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
- The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
- Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
- More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
- The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
- On the Beach, Nevil Shute**
- Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
- Ringworld, Larry Niven
- Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
- The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
- Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut*****
- Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson*****
- Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner**
- The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
- Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein*
- Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
- The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
- Timescape, Gregory Benford
- To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer
So that is only 16, which considering how much science fiction and fantasy I have read seems a bit poor. One could argue with some of the book choices, but I might leave that to another day. I must admit also that my enjoyment ratings in some cases might relate to the age at which I read most of these books – the majority was when I was 16 or under, which might have skewed my view somewhat. At least it indicates more books I should read, and perhaps some I might want to revisit. I loved the Foundation books as a teenager, and also really enjoyed A Stranger in A Strange Land when I was in my final year of school and my extension english topic was politics and religion in science fiction. And it must be said, I still love Douglas Adams.
Before we get to today’s entry, I wanted to mention two new lists which are quite entertaining is the Buffy-Joss Whedon space. We have the Top Ten Buffy episodes which is quite entertaining and then the Top 5 Reasons It Sucks Being a Joss Fan, which can make one a bit squirmy. Although I do love the first entry – He Will Slaughter Everything That Makes You Happy Inside. Please Joss, just stop that!
Dana Scully X-Files
I always loved Scully. Mulder I found annoying, even though the logic of the show was that you really did have to “believe.” But sensible, practical, logical Scully always appealed to me a lot more. She was both a crack investigator and a medical doctor who didn’t flinch in the face of mangled bodies and horrible autopsies. What she did flinch at was Mulder’s weird theories, and even though he was often proved right, let’s face it, who wouldn’t have been with her? Her cool intelligence and sensible approach meant that she would accept the bizarre when proven, but she trusted to facts and reason. She was also a positive depiction of a single mother and a professional woman, who was both attractive and, more importantly, highly intelligence. It was also Scully’s intelligence that was most important, not her looks.
Lest it appear that women must wield guns to appear in this list, a change of pace…
Offred The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Attwood
In a way it is wrong to refer to her as Offred, the name bestowed upon her by the repressive sexist society she is dragged into. As a “Haidmaid” her role is to carry the children of the high ranked men of society, pregnancies which are harder and harder to achieve due to the toll that environmental toxins are taking on society. In the world before the revolution which oppresses women, she has a family and is the daughter of a radical feminist. In the new world her husband has been taken and probably killed, her daughter taken from her and she has seen her best friend tortured. Despite being stripped of friends, her husband, daughter, mother, freedom and even her name, and despite the fact she considers suicide, she finds a way to survive, learn, communicate, protect herself, live, fight and even, almost love again. We hope that in the end she does find her way to safety, even if we can’t know this. She survives something we would find unthinkable and unbearable, but she doesn’t survive without pain and anguish.
I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me.
I want to steal something.
So I have been inspired by a number of projects that have been about recently exploring areas where women are often overlooked but are still there, still important and even if, unfortunately, often under-represented. The fabulous work on the alternative Hottest 100 and the work on the Feminist SF site on Mindblowing Science Fiction by Women. Also I have seen some wonderful lists of science fiction related areas recently, including Den of the Geek’s wonderful pice on sci-fi corridors and io9’s regular Top Tens, including unlikeliest apocalypse survivors and dirt cheap aliens who still look awesome. And let’s face it, everyone loves a list. So, over the next few weeks, I want to develop a Top 100 science fiction and fantasy women (and we might include supernatural world views in there too). I have a lot of them up my sleeve and will publish them in regular posts over the next few weeks, but please feel free to add in your own, and when we get to 100, we can stop. Or vote. Or something.
So, we might as well start with my current favourite…..
Starbuck aka Kara Thrace
Starbuck kicks arse, both literally and figuratively. Could in no way be described as a girly-girl, but definitely scrubs up nicely in a frock – or her dress blues. The Top Gun of the Galactica, Starbuck shows that women can drink and fight and sleep with who they want, but still command respect and authority because they are good at what they do. With an abusive mother and an absent father and a fiance who died because she had slacked off as his instructor, Starbuck was tough, but also demonstrated vulnerabilities and insecurities. Her appearance in any episode of Battlestar Galactica brought it to life and she was a waaaaay better character than the Starbuck of the original series ever was. By the end of the series it turned out that Starbuck was more than human, possibly an angel of some description, and if there have to be some sort of metaphysical beings in the world, I love the idea that they chomp cigars, mess up their love lives and can’t resist punching a superior officer because he is, quite frankly, a dick. I miss her now I don’t get to see her all the time.