A Farewell to Typecasting: Empowered Women in Sci-Fi Romance
Thank you, Heather, for inviting me to contribute a column to Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. When Heather first reached out to me, we chatted about my unusual choice of a woman professional athlete as the female lead of my 5/16 release The Champion of Barésh. The convo shifted to strong females in SFR/RSF (Science Fiction Romance/Romantic Science Fiction) stories in general, one of my favorite topics! More on that in moment…
Back to Champion, stories where a female pretends to be a male is not unusual. It’s a much-loved trope. But what makes Jemm rare in fiction is her job driving heavy vehicles for a mining operation. When the idea for this novel first came to me, I could not help thinking of the movie Flashdance, where the female lead was a welder by day and a ballet dancer at night. In the opening chapters of The Champion of Barésh, Jemm spends her days driving an ore-transport vehicle for the mines, and her nights competing in bajha matches for money in the seedy, dangerous world of fight clubs. The most compelling stories feature characters that have a defined motivation and reason for their actions. Jemm is all about making a better future for her family. The men in her life have either disappointed her, like her ne’er-do-well brother, or have disappeared, like her dead father. As a teen, she stepped up to take their place in supporting the family. She did not do it by marrying up, or asking a man for help. She pulled on her big girl pants, jumped behind a steering wheel, and did it herself.
Jemm is unapologetically blue collar, and life has taught her that the best way to make something happen is to do it herself. Does this make her any less feminine? I don’t think so. Likewise, learning to trust and eventually to rely on and fall in love with the male lead does not detract from her strength.
When Jemm took the wheel of her truck to drive across the “badlands”, it was a lot like how I feel grabbing the yoke of the 747 jumbo jet that I still fly in my “day job”. Jemm’s interactions with her male peers throughout the book were reflections of my own experiences as a pioneer in a formerly all-male field. As one of the first females to graduate from the US Air Force Academy, I learned to fly jets during a unique time in history during the early 80s. The first female USAF jet pilots in history were my instructors. Other pioneers, like the first female black USAF pilot, were my contemporaries. To this day, the percentage of females in my career field remains in the single digits. When it comes to living and thriving in a man’s world, few authors know it like I do. I love sharing this experience with readers through storytelling.
“Where were books like this when I was growing up? Little girls of my day that wanted adventurous reads had to settle for male heroes–not that there’s anything wrong with heroes–but it would have been nice to see the girl save the day now and again.”
“Girl power at its best!”
Reviews like these told me that 1. Readers do enjoy stories wherein the female lead is not overshadowed by the the male, and 2. The frequency of such stories is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Here at SFRQ, I enjoy reading Kaz Augustin’s editorials. In Edition 10 she writes about diversity. We have both obviously been in situations where our differences from the others around us was apparent. As a female in a male dominated profession, I can certainly relate to sticking out and the hardships it sometimes causes.
In her editorial, Ms. Augustin notes the lack of females in the “front office” or the steering end of the starship. There are mechanics aplenty; in fact, this has become commonplace in SF books, TV, and movies, the ubiquitous female grease monkey. It is not a bad thing. It manages to insert a female into what has been seen as a male field while also taking a step away from the typical female medical people and those working in the “softer” science fields like botanists. Kudos, by the way, to Andy Weir, author of The Martian, who wrote the male lead as the botanist and a female as the mission commander! That book (and the movie) did not get enough credit for smashing stereotypes and all that anti-typecasting goodness. But, to circle back to Ms. Augustin’s editorial, where she writes, “Why limit a capable woman to the bowels of the ship when she can roam freely throughout it?”
I, too, would love to see more females in the front of the spaceship, and in command of it. Fortunately, there actually are books with female starship commanders, quite a few of them, in fact, with more being released all the time.
In my SFR, Moonstruck, the female lead is a combat hardened senior admiral forced to take part in a peacekeeping mission and “make nice” with her former enemy. Worse, her new second in command is one of them. This is an enemy to which she lost peers and loved ones. When I envision what it would be like having to work side by side with al Qaeda after losing friends on 9-11, yeah, it might be tough.
I have compiled a list of further suggestions of books where a female commands a ship. When reaching out to readers for titles, I did not specify the size of the ship, but I did make it clear that a solo pilot wasn’t what I was looking for.
I ended up amassing quite a long list. Note: I have not read all of them, and collected them as I received them in no particular order for your reading pleasure.
Susan Grant’s ever-growing List of SFR/RSF/SF Books Featuring Female Spaceship Commanders/Captains/Admirals/Queen Bees!
- Warrior Wench, Marie Andreas—She is the captain of a mercenary crew,
- Linnea Sinclair’s Chasidah Bergren in Gabriel’s Ghost. (Also Games of Command)
- Anne McCaffrey’s Sassinak
- Cordelia Naismith in Cordelia’s Honor—captain of her Betan Astronomical Survey Ship.
- Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire series
- In the Black by Sheryl Nantus features a female captain.
- The female lead in Susan Grant’s Moonstruck is an Admiral
- Catherine Asaro has a few female captains in her books.
The following books feature space captains of fairly small crews:
- Mercenary Instinct by Ruby Lionsdrake;
- Inherit the Stars by Laurie A. Green;
- The Galaxy Hunters series by Nathalie Gray;
- Gambit by Kim Knox;
- Prime Obsession by Monette Michaels;
- David Weber’s Honor Harrington (works her way up the ranks to become an Admiral);
- Nissa Sander of Beyond Galaxy’s Edge captains a patrol ship;
- Ekatya Serrado of The Caphenon captains a ship of about twenty crew
- Shelly Adina has Alice Chalmers, she flies her own Zeppelin. She is not the main character, but she is one of the heroines. She’s introduced in the 2nd or 3rd book, but plays a big part in all the rest of the books.;
- Elizabeth Moon, both series, Vatta’s War and Serrano Legacy;
- Beka Rosselin-Metadi, in Doyle & Macdonald’s Mageworld series;
- What about *becoming* captain? Greyson’s Doom (although that’s probably a spoiler…);
- Tracy Cooper-Posey—Interspace Origins series, as they feature the captain/owner of her own spaceship, and general leader of everyone in sight;
- Jane Fury’s serial, Freedom Bound—has a ship captain, Corrie Scott in command of her Freetrader.
If you’re reading this at the SFRQ website, please comment with any suggested additions to this list. There are many, many titles featuring females in the “front office”. I’m glad to be able to facilitate finding them.