Friday, January 23, 2009

Getting herstory right in speculative fiction

Cultural writer Lucy Portsmouth has done an excellent job breaking down the feminist perspective here in the online magazine Seven. In addition to parsing out the writers that have avoided the stereotypes, she also breaks down trends by feminist era.

As a child of the Seventies and Eighties, the message sank in...and I personally strive to avoid the pitfalls Portsmouth mentions in my own writing. Three of these stereotypes are the:

  • evil villainess
  • hapless victim
  • attractive, often scantily clad, in need of redemption and validation by a heroic man

Settling onto the couch doing a bit of self-analysis: I avoided 2 out of 3 in my recent novel Darwin's Orphans. There is a phalanx of evil-doers in my book all perpetuating unrest with violence. And there is an evil villain character -- not the leader -- she's the smart one that clearly dominates in the end...she's obviously the most resourceful of the lot. In this case, she's not a stereotypical, evil villainess. What about hapless victim? Most of the victims are male and the female pulled into the snare turns out to be very clever: again, I passed the test. The scantily clad one in need of redemption, I confess, is included in one chapter. In spicing things up, I committed a feminist misstep.

Overall though, I've got strong female characters and feel good about realistic and positive representations in the book. But, I wonder, how do your favorite authors faire in this regard?

I'm reading one of my favorite current authors now: Charles Stross. Catching up on his older books, I'm in the middle of Glasshouse and it's got hot women that Ms. Portsmouth may not respect. However, they are intelligent and full of guile...doesn't that earn Stross a few pointers? In the book before it, Accelerando, Stross also features complex, very smart women as major characters. Yet there is that hottie factor thrown in...but why is that?

My take on it: people are seeking both fantasy as well as future visions from speculative fiction. They want both intellectual stimulation as well as entertainment from their books. So, at least for the male audience, spicing the women up makes it more entertaining. That's not fair to real women, though. So, do you counter this by making the smartest, most capable characters women? Seems like a fair balance. After all, seeking balance is what the feminist movement pursues.

This writer pledges to seek that balance in female characters. As a child growing up when Gloria Steinem was in her heyday, I got the message loud and clear...and I agree with it. Hopefully, this same message will imbue the decisions that other male writers make in creating their female characters. Assuredly, Ursula K. LeGuin and other current female authors have already got this mastered.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the western edge of spec-fic

Seattle is back on track...the rare snowy conditions and white-knuckle-gripped driving are a thing of the past. So, back to writing and meeting about speculative fiction. The RustyCon suffered. Everything was thrown out of whack.

However, this writer plans to contribute to the '09 rebirth. It's true, this once consistent source of speculative fiction insights has been negligent. Posts have been sparse. I've let you down. There is, however, a reason for this...

"The blog is dead" they said. I took this seriously. Oversaturation and too many contributors not maintaining proper research behind their statements were the common themes. So, I was pulled into a state of despair. "Why do I bother?" I thought.

Truth is I've missed commenting on what's happening with both the science behind and the writing trends of my genre. It's fascinating stuff and deserves commentary. Even if it's now routinely brushed aside as pap.

So, please return. You will find more insights here in 2009. When I spoke on January 10th at the annual RustyCon, I was devastated: it was sparsely attended, people seemed lethargic, the light was dimming. But that doesn't mean that it's extinguished, right?

So, once more into the breech dear friends. Speculative fiction lives...and so do its brethren.