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Today’s guest is fantasy and science fiction author Ginn Hale!  I’ve read and loved her (as of now) standalone novel Wicked Gentlemen as well as both volumes of Lord of the White Hell, published by Blind Eye Books (a publisher dedicated to SFF about gay and lesbian protagonists). In particular, Lord of the White Hell was one of my favorite books in 2010 because of its wonderful characters and the strikingly different cultures it portrayed. Inspired by fan comments that she “writes like a man,” she’s here today to talk about what that might mean and to what degree gender plays a role in how an author’s work is received.

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale The Shattered Gates by Ginn Hale

Write Like a Human

Over the years I’ve received a number of fan letters that, while well-intentioned and very kind, always give me pause—especially when they exclaim something along the lines of “you write like a man.”

Obviously, the comments are intended as compliments and I take them as such. (I’d be the last to complain about a reader taking the time to contact me. It’s always flattering and inspiring.)

But those comments did get me wondering—is writing itself really gendered? Or is it that certain subject matter seems more male or female? For that matter, does awareness of an author’s gender affect a publisher or reader’s perception of the book’s authenticity? And why—despite the vast number of top-selling and award-winning female authors in the world—should “writing like a man” be considered commendable? If it is, then by extension does that mean that authors who “write like women” have somehow failed…even if they are women?

May Fowles, in a 2011 article for the National Post aptly titled “Write Like a Man: the Unspoken Rule of Avoiding a Pink Cover”, notes that the reception of a book regardless of theme often seems to depend upon the author’s sex:

“Men actually write ‘women’s books’ all the time, but they’re certainly never labeled as such. When male writers write about relationships, family and the domestic sphere, fiction or non, they’re considered groundbreaking and often celebrated for it.”

So the bias seems to have far less to do with the subject or genre of a book than the gender of the author.

A common criticism raised against women writers, regardless of genre or theme, is that a female author cannot write a convincing male character. To a much lesser degree the reverse has been argued, as well. But since Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover are all considered classics I don’t think the criticism is taken too seriously.  As May Fowles pointed out, men are often applauded for writing about women.

Female authors on the other hand must often contend with a very skewed version of the write what you know adage. Apparently a woman may be able to convincingly write characters of wildly diverse backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities, ages, educations, and physical abilities—she may people entire worlds–but she can’t possibly characterize another human being with genitalia that differs from her own.

Of course such an assertion doesn’t make any more sense than claiming that mystery authors must be criminals to really write a good mystery. (Thieves might pass muster for some less discerning critics but the truly discriminating will demand a murderer!)

Though some women have been male authors–in name at least. Many a female author has received recognition and praise—not to mention much better pay for her work—when it was attributed to a male pseudonym. Enough of us have written as men that by now you’d think the point would have been proven.

But more often than not, when the truth is revealed, critics make a point of declaring that this singular female author “writes like a man” as if she were some astonishing prodigy who defies the limits of her sex. To quote critic John Clute, speaking of Alice Bradley Sheldon (aka James Tiptree Jr.) “she wrote like a man, and a meteor, a flash in the pan, a mayfly angel.” By the end of the summation the author has not only transformed from a woman to man but she’s become a bizarre ‘flash in the pan’ hybrid of insect and angel.

So clearly the gender of an author plays a huge role in how writing may be perceived.

But is the text really all that different?  Considering all the genres and styles of writing that exist in the world, is the real division just as simple as male and female? I personally don’t think so but how about we test the theory out?

The following are short excerpts of writing, taken more or less at random from several authors. Read them over and if you’re inclined go ahead and “sex” them. (There is an answer key at the end.) But it might also be worth taking a few moments while reading to consider whether it would matter to you if any particular author turned out to be male or female. Does it in anyway alter your conception of the prose? And if so, why?

1 Strange spices scented the chilly autumn wind, and he could hear faint cries drifting over the wall from the streets beyond.

2 Neglect could kill a building brick by brick. It was, to his mind, more insidious than hurricane or earthquake as it murdered slowly, quietly, not in rage or passion, but with contempt.

3 A hand appeared from the dust and wrapped about her upper arm, firmly but not hard, and guided her into the maelstrom.

4 Clara Reece screamed, cried, shouted, hit her brother with all her strength, kicked furniture and walls, but none of it served to ward off the horrible realization that a stranger was coming to take possession of half of her ranch.

5 They were a strange lot. They knew about old things no one used or needed anymore, and they built things with their hands.

6 Maybe what’s been carved away, the empty space that’s left, is like silence. The dark shadow that defines the pale form.

7 Electrodes, attached to long wires and wrapped in saltwater sponges to further conduct current, would be fitted to the ankles and head.

8 It was reassuring just to look at him, riding slowly forward into the sunlight on the black Irish stallion.

Certainly some authors do seem better than others at capturing a diversity of authentic voices, be they male, female, young, old or any other shading of individuality. Such authors often transform mere print into living characters that readers can recognize, sympathize with, love or hate. They are outstanding writers.  (I’m often gripped with awe and envy while reading such books.)

But these authors are not confined to one gender any more than they are confined to one ethnicity, nationality or age. What they all do have in common is their grasp of humanity and of course human language. In short, the single trait that they all could be said to share is that they are human beings.

Now, until we see the rise of the machines, when perhaps a horde of plot-bots will crank out digital novellas featuring unfulfilled toasters and the ovens they both hate and admire, I don’t think most critics or readers are likely to start informing authors that they were moved by how very human their writing is. Writes just like a real human is unlikely to be splashed across covers any time soon. We tend to take an author’s humanity for granted. But in doing so, we can often fall back on identifiers that are largely superficial when deciding who can be a great author.

But if we accepted that anyone could produce a powerful work, then maybe we’d all discover new caches of wonderful books that we would otherwise have devalued, ignored, or felt couldn’t speak to our own particular niche simply because of the author’s sex.

The answer key.

1 George R.R. Martin—male
2 J.D. Robb—female (Nora Roberts)
3 M.L. Buchman— male
4 Leigh Greenwood—male (One of a number of men now making in-roads into the romance market.)
5 Rebecca Rowe—female
6 David Esterly—male
7 Deborah Blum—female
8 Michael Shaara—male

Ginn Hale

Ginn Hale resides in the Pacific Northwest with her wife and two cats. Her novel Wicked Gentlemen garnered her recognition as a Lambda Literary Award finalist and Spectrum Award winner. Her publications include the Lord of the White Hell books, the Rifter trilogy: The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road, His Sacred Bones, as well as the novellas “Feral Machines” (Tangle), “Touching Sparks” (Hell Cop) and “Things Unseen and Deadly”, which appears in the shared world anthology Irregulars.

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Today’s guest is Heather from the excellent blog The Galaxy Express! Her site is a fantastic place to visit for all things related to science fiction romance—book news,  discussions, guest posts, interviews with authors, and more. She’s very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the genre, and I’m thrilled she’s here today to discuss why she loves science fiction romance and share a variety of recommendations in this genre!

The Galaxy Express

Sci-Fi Romance: Introducing A New Kind Of Hero

Since my early teens, I’ve been on the alert for female science fiction heroines who would provide me with an alternative to the default White Male Hero. What can I say? I’m a woman and I need representin’.

I enjoy genre stories with lone heroes of either gender, but I’m a much bigger fan of stories where it takes two or more characters to overcome a threat, solve the mystery, etc. Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond the Stars, and Attack the Block are among my top favorite films because of their emphasis on a community-based alliance.

Even more, I crave science fiction stories wherein the heroine saves the day in conjunction with a partner, one with whom she’s on equal footing (because, you know, obvious creative choice to make). And preferably one with whom she falls in love. Science may build the world, but love makes it go ’round.

My interest in couple-as-joint-heroes predates to the 1974 Japanese anime show Space Battleship Yamato. It was my earliest exposure to not only science fiction, but also romantic SF.

The main couple, Susumu Kodai and Mori Yuki, is my favorite of all time. While Kodai is ostensibly the hero of the show, Yuki’s courageous act in the final episode of the original series cemented for me the idea that love and romance in a science fiction story can have mind-blowing power.

Years would pass before I was able to find books that delivered what Space Battleship Yamato had only hinted at, namely, a sharp focus on the intersection of romance and technology. Starting in the mid-80s, science fiction romance built on the foundation of romantic SF—most notably by introducing SF-romance blends with upbeat endings—and has been evolving steadily ever since.

In far too many SF stories for my taste, female characters are relegated to the love interest and/or have a serious lack of agency. Remove such characters and the story still stands. It’s been dismaying to witness how easily a female character, of any race or sexual orientation, can be marginalized in a narrative.

Sci-fi romance stories—and the scores of women who write them—address that imbalance by delivering a much-needed alternative to the White Male Hero default. These books usually feature a heroine and hero joining forces to not only fall in love, but to also overcome an external threat. This genre has rewritten the hero narrative in order to give female characters leading roles as well as explore love and sex in a science fictional setting. The heroines possess equal agency, equal personality, and equal stage time.

In light of what sci-fi romance has accomplished, I’d like to showcase a few books I’ve enjoyed. My goal is to also demonstrate the sheer variety available in this genre even in the case of a small sampling. While diverse in nature, the stories share the core concept of the interface of science/technology and romance.

Alpha by Catherine Asaro The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald A Gift for Boggle by PJ Schnyder

Alpha by Catherine Asaro  

At its heart, Alpha is an android romance. What makes it so entertaining and refreshing for me is that the heroine is the android. She’s a perfect mix of strong and vulnerable. Strong because she’s an android with extraordinary abilities, and vulnerable because she’s evolving into a sentient being as the story unfolds. Not only that, but she falls in love with the military admiral she’s supposed to kill on behalf of a ruthless cyber terrorist. Just—wow!

Other tags: near-future setting, hard SF elements, A.I., military, action-adventure

The Outback Stars – Sandra McDonald

The Outback Stars begins as a science fiction mystery, but ends as a science fiction romance. The heroine is an officer low on the military totem pole, but she refuses to let that stop her from taking charge when she discovers evidence of a smuggling ring. Her investigation leads to more trouble and danger, particularly in the form of the hero, a sergeant who’s been accused of rape, but never charged.

Other tags: military politics, complex plot, forbidden love, romantic SF, Aboriginal mythology, alien artifacts, beta hero

A Gift For Boggle – P.J. Schnyder

Boggle, the hero, began as a secondary character in the author’s book Hunting Kat. I immediately became enamored of this tech wizard, one made all the more compelling by the fact that he’s a character with a disability. He’s also extremely nerdy and overweight. But his personality was so interesting that I felt he deserved a sci-fi romance of his own.

To my delight, P.J. Schnyder delivered exactly that with A Gift For Boggle. It’s short and sweet (and free on the author’s site!), but delivers a fun, sexy story with one of sci-fi romance’s most envelope-pushing heroes.

Europa Europa by K.S. Augustin Rulebreaker by Cathy Pegau On Wings, Rising by Ann Somerville

Refugees on Urloon by Melisse Aires and Europa Europa by K.S. Augustin

Melisse Aires writes “hearth and home” sci-fi romance, which offers readers an alternative from kick butt action heroines and heroes. K.S. Augustin writes cerebral stories with hard SF elements and political undertones. What I particularly enjoyed about both books was the way they combine alien ocean settings and genetic engineering elements. More, please!

Rulebreaker by Cathy Pegau and “The Effluent Engine” N.K. Jemisin (The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, Sean Wallace, Editor)

These two stories offer a rare bird in genre fiction: the lesbian sci-fi romance. They’re notable for being among some of the earliest stories of this type. Rulebreaker takes place in a futuristic setting, while “The Effluent Engine” is steampunk. Both stories feature intelligent heroines, all of whom are involved in either business or science ventures.

Apart from the entertainment value found in these tales, they include two elements that sci-fi romance needs more of: diversity and multiculturalism.

On Wings, Rising – Ann Somerville

On Wings, Rising takes place on a far-away world during a time when humanity lacks much of the advanced technology it once had. An m/m sci-fi romance, it features a cross-cultural romance and a truly alien humanoid hero, along with a few gender-bending elements. This is a go-to sci-fi romance for readers who enjoy stories on the intellectual side, as well as thoughtful (but not preachy) social commentary.

Metal Reign by Nathalie Gray Moonsteed by Manda Benson Body Electric by Susan Squires

Metal Reign – Nathalie Gray

Metal Reign is an alien invasion SFR and it includes all the elements Nathalie Gray has a reputation for delivering: high-octane action, a kick-butt heroine, military space opera setting, and cool sci-fi details. Most of her stories have an erotic heat level, but if you prefer your sci-fi romance on the “sweet” heat level side, Metal Reign should not be missed.

Other tags: friends to lovers, alien invasion, starship captain heroine, cook hero

Moonsteed – Manda Benson

I enjoy sci-fi romance that’s a bit on the Weird SF side, and if you have similar tastes then Manda Benson’s Moonsteed is one to consider. It features a so-called “unlikeable” heroine, a pudgy Beta hero, erotic elements of the o_O variety, and general quirkiness. There are also genetically engineered horses and a Callisto setting. Not one’s typical mix for a sci-fi romance, but it’s a fun example of the unusual places the books in this genre can go while still emphasizing the hero-heroine partnership.

Body Electric – Susan Squires

Spike Jonze’s HER may be a current critics’ darling, but long before Scarlett Johansson’s sultry voice brought an A.I. to life, Susan Squires explored a similar premise—and much more—in her 1992 book Body Electric. The difference is that Body Electric approaches the concept of a human-A.I. romance from the heroine’s point-of-view and uses a distinctly female gaze.

Part thriller, part cyberpunk, part near-future Pygmalion, Body Electric provides social commentary on what it means to be human as well as the challenges and ethics of falling in love with a sentient A.I. of one’s own creation.

***

There’s plenty more where those titles came from!

The SFR online community offers a variety of resource sites for readers and authors to gather, including Spacefreighters Lounge, Smart Girls Love SciFi & Paranormal Romance, SFR Brigade, Alien Romances, Backward Momentum, CONTACT – Infinite Futures, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly (of which I’m a founding member), and my own blog, The Galaxy Express.

For an extensive list of authors who write sci-fi romance (most of them women), check out my SFR Authors page.

Happy reading!

About the Blogger

Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express.

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Today’s guest is fantasy and science fiction author and poet Jaime Lee Moyer! She has written short stories appearing in a variety of publications, including Lone Star Stories and Daily Science Fiction. In addition to writing poetry, she is the editor of the 2010 Rhysling Anthology, a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror poetry that the Science Fiction Poetry Association selected as the best of 2009. Her first novel, Delia’s Shadow, won the 2009 Columbus Literary Award and was published last year. Two sequels are forthcoming and the second book in the series, A Barricade in Hell, will be released in June 2014. I’m happy she’s here today to discuss the subject of women writing science fiction and fantasy!

Delia's Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer A Barricade in Hell by Jaime Lee Moyer

Women Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy

The library was my best friend when I was a little girl. I was the oldest of four kids, my parents had very little money, and no matter how many books I read I always wanted more. So once a week during the school year, twice a week in summer, my mother walked all four of us kids to the library. My mom let me check out as many books as I wanted, the only rule being that I had to be able to carry them all home.

Libraries in L.A. were well funded in those days, and I was able to read through entire series of books. The branch near my home had them all, new books that had just come out and books published years before I was born. I made short work of Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, Trixie Belden, and all the Little House books.

The very best part was that these were books starring girls! Girls who did things, went places, girls who saved the day with quick thinking or action. I wanted to be just like them when I got older. These young women weren’t just the girlfriend, the little sister, or the tagalong best friend who watched from the sidelines. They were at the center of the story.

I was nine or ten when I discovered the shelves of science fiction and fantasy books. Stories about space ships, strange creatures and colonies on distant planets were better than anything I’d ever imagined. And I fell in love with fantasy from the very first.

I think I read Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series a dozen times or more. Here was another girl, Arrietty, as the main character and having the most thrilling adventures. The fantasy element of a race of tiny people living alongside humans enchanted me. I was an inner city kid who knew nothing about folklore or mythology. Just the idea that there could be a family of Borrowers living in my house, or my grandmother’s house, was the coolest thing ever.

The not so subtle subtext in all the Borrowers books—and all the other series involving plucky young heroines—was that girls who don’t follow the rules, and didn’t obey their parents, always got into big trouble. But that entire thinly disguised “message” flew right over my head. When you’re ten years old and starving for books about someone , anyone, who looks like you, subtext is invisible. I kept looking, and in the process read through whole sections of the library.

My flirtation with the Danny Dunn series was brief and unsatisfying. I leapt right from boy scientist books into Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Heinlein lost me pretty early on, but I memorized the three laws of robotics, imagined living in caves of steel, or in Tarzan’s jungle, and devoured Bradbury. I was mesmerized by Mars and golden-eyed Martians, Bradbury’s poetic language and mental images that stayed with me long after I’d finished reading.

As an adult, I learned that I wasn’t the only young girl reading science fiction and fantasy. Far from it. Countless girls were into comics, space travel, robotics, and dreaming of other planets, magic and wizards, and the unexplained. The persistent myth that women and girls don’t read SF& F is just that—a myth.

Still, I was very quiet about my love of genre. Being a bookish, shy girl is hard enough in most schools. Being a bookish, shy girl reading what your age mates think of as boy books?  Most of the time I felt like a freak. While my female friends were reading books about girls and their horses, I was reading Dandelion Wine or The Martian Chronicles.

A huge part of the problem was that the books I was reading were, in fact, boy books.  They were written by men and the main characters were men. Female characters, if the book had any at all, were thin on the ground. I started to think that someone had made a rule that space ships could only have one female crewmember. This lone woman, marooned on a strange planet with a ship full of men, could never be the leader of the expedition or the science officer.  She did, however, get to serve the men meals, or look terrified when the situation merited terror.

The roles women were allowed to play in genre books were limited at best: worried mother who stayed in the background, tag-a-long sisters who got in the way, girlfriend/sidekick/important scientist’s tomboy daughter who always needed to be rescued. These women were window dressing, characters without any self-determination, or agency, or any real reason to exist—aside from giving the male hero someone to save. Even as a kid I understood that was wrong.

By the age of twelve I was already convinced I was meant to be a writer, and that part of my mission in life was to write the kinds of books I couldn’t find. Stories and ideas I had aplenty. What I lacked were role models.

Sometime in my twenties I found the first of those role models. Stuck in a revolving paperback rack in a different library, in another part of California, was a worn copy of Women of Wonder, an anthology edited by Pamela Sargent.  Here—finally—was an entire collection of stories written by women, about women characters. Here in a cheap paperback was what I’d been searching for.

This was only the first Women of Wonder anthology that Sargent edited, and I managed to find them all. The stories she included opened a whole new world, and introduced me to the work of Le Guin, McIntyre, Russ, Butler and Tiptree. Women had been writing science fiction and fantasy all along. I just hadn’t known where to find them or who to look for.

Women’s books were out there, but they weren’t on the new fiction displays in the library, and they weren’t on the featured book tables or stack outs in bookstores. These authors rarely, if ever, got reviewed in the book section of the L.A. Times or the San Francisco Chronicle, never mind the local papers.

This was pre-social media. You had to know what books and women authors to look for in order to stand a chance of finding them. Sometimes you got lucky and stumbled over something like Women of Wonder—most of the time you didn’t. You read the science fiction and fantasy books that filled the shelves, and the default on those was almost always male.

Fast forward to now, years later.

Year to year, women publish an almost equal number of science fiction and fantasy novels as men. And year to year, women’s books still get reviewed less, women authors are written about and interviewed less, and women’s novels are denied space in featured bookstore displays. Women consistently write novels full of groundbreaking concepts and incredible worldbuilding, and just as consistently their books are left off award ballots and year’s best lists.

Women still work twice as hard for half the notice. One has to wonder why.

This is not to say that progress hasn’t been made. Women readers and writers network via the internet, book bloggers and columnists highlight women’s books that might otherwise be ignored, and social media of all kinds help in discovering new writers. Things are slowly, and with continued pressure from women in the field, getting better. I even count it as a measure of progress that women are now being accused of destroying science fiction. That means we’re having an impact.

I worry less these days about young girls and young women finding role models in the books they read. The world is a different place than when I was twelve or twenty, full of books with people who look like me, or like you, or like you over there.

This is a good thing, a small battle won. Even so, the first book I bought in 2014 was How To Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ.

Jaime Lee Moyer lives in Texas, land of cowboys, cactus, and rhinestones. She writes novels about murder and betrayal, friendship, magic and kissing. Her cats like to help.

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It’s been another great week of Women in SF&F, thanks to last week’s guests! There is more to come starting tomorrow, but before announcing the next week’s schedule, here are a few reminders and a summary of last week.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison Heaven's Queen by Rachel Bach

Today is the last day to enter to win a copy of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (residents of North America are eligible to win). It’s a book I’m very excited about since Katherine Addison is also Sarah Monette, the author of The Doctrine of Labyrinth series (some of my very favorite books of all time). I did start reading it although I haven’t had much time to read very much of it between my full time job and this month’s daily posting schedule, but I have enjoyed what I have read so far—plus I have heard it is wonderful.

Last year, Renay from Lady Business requested that people submit 10 of their favorite books by women to start a list of recommendations. The response was overwhelming, and there is now a list of over 800 science fiction and fantasy books by women from last year’s submissions (with many books recommended by multiple people). You can add up to 10 more favorites this year, and this list will eventually be merged with the current list to create an even bigger list of SFF books written by women.

Yesterday, another giveaway began and you can enter to win the entire Paradox trilogy by Rachel Bach (residents of the US/Canada/UK are eligible to win). It’s the perfect time to read the series since the third book is coming out on April 22!

Week In Review

Here are the posts from last week in case you missed any of them:

Upcoming Guests: Week Three

Finally, it’s time to announce next week’s guests! Here is the schedule for week three:

womeninsff_week3_2014

April 14: Jaime Lee Moyer (Delia’s Shadow, A Barricade in Hell – June 2014)
April 15: Heather from The Galaxy Express
April 16: Ginn Hale (Wicked Gentlemen, Lord of the White Hell, Rifter)
April 17: Rinn from Rinn Reads
April 18: Storm Constantine (Wraeththu, Calenture, The Chronicles of Magravandias)
April 19: Stephanie Saulter (Gemsigns, Binary)

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Today I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Rachel Bach and a giveaway of the books in her latest series! The Paradox trilogy is a science fiction series containing Fortune’s Pawn, Honor’s Knight, and Heaven’s Queen (available April 22). Rachel Bach is also Rachel Aaron, author of the fantasy series The Legend of Eli Monpress, beginning with The Spirit Thief. I enjoy reading her own blog, and I’m delighted she is here today to discuss love and action in science fiction—and her inclusion of both of these in her Paradox trilogy!

Fortunes Pawn by Rachel Bach Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach Heaven's Queen by Rachel Bach

Love and the Science Fiction Action Heroine

Three years ago, I decided I wanted to read a Science Fiction romance. Something with high stakes, shoot outs, and Aliens-style intense action, but also a meaningful relationship, preferably with sexy times involved. But, as anyone who’s ever browsed the Science Fiction section can probably guess, I had a bit of a rough time finding one I hadn’t read already years ago (Oh, Anne McCaffrey, how I miss you). So, since I’m a writer, I decided I’d write one myself. Three, actually.

The Paradox trilogy is the story of powered armored mercenary Devi Morris and her high ordinance quest for answers. The books, which started with Fortune’s Pawn back in November 2013 and will conclude with Heaven’s Queen on April 22, are the exactly ones I was looking for all those years ago, and Devi’s story has had a better reception than I could ever hope. Especially seeing how I am 1) a woman writing action Science Fiction 2) from the first person perspective of a female protagonist 3) with kissing. But of all the good things this series has brought, I was most delighted by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Devi herself.

If you haven’t read the books (and I very much hope you will, you can even try a sample free on my site!), Devi Morris is a pretty in your face leading lady. From page one, she’s ambitious, aggressive, and violent with a smart mouth and some serious anger and trust issues. She’s also a crack shot, a savant at using her custom suit of super cool powered armor, and a master of destruction. In short, Devi’s a Grade-A badass of the Starbuck/Ellen Ripley variety, and she kicks butt and takes names pretty much non-stop through three books despite being constantly in over her head. She also finds time to fall in lust and then love with a man she can never have…and that’s where we start to run into trouble.

As I mentioned way up in the first paragraph, this story was always conceived as a Science Fiction romance. Forbidden love was a part of Devi’s arc from the very beginning, and not just as a side plot. Love and trust go hand in hand, and who Devi can trust in this dangerous universe of killing secrets is an ongoing question throughout every part of the story, especially in the final book when the stakes are at their highest. For me, this added level of romantic complication felt like a natural and exciting extension of the story. I am both a Romance and Science Fiction reader, so putting the two together sounded like a peanut-butter-and-chocolate style match made in heaven. But from the very first novel, there were a lot of readers who, while they loved the rest of the story, vehemently disliked the romantic aspect of Devi’s story because they felt that the addition of a romantic storyline made Devi weak.

As an author, of course, my initial gut reaction to these criticisms was to blame myself—I should have written it better, I should have done this or that differently, and so on. That said, though, I personally love the romantic aspect of Devi’s story, and if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t make any significant changes. I also don’t blame anyone who didn’t like the love story. What is or isn’t romantic is highly personal, and what floats my boat may put a hole in yours. Different strokes for different folks. What I do not agree with at all, however, is the idea that the “mushier” aspects of Devi’s plot made her weak.

There’s a deeply rooted belief in our culture that falling in love and admitting it makes a person weak. I can understand the logic. Loving makes us deeply vulnerable, and even the euphemisms for it—softer feelings, going mushy, melting for someone—are all in the language of surrender. That’s scary stuff for a character like Devi who is so invested in being strong and invulnerable, and I understand how a reader could view my decision as an author to have Devi succumb to these softer emotions as a betrayal. It doesn’t help that falling in love is also seen as a stereotypically female weakness, making it a double punch to my strong leading lady. So yeah, I get it. I also think it’s wrong.

The whole concept that badasses can’t be in love is one carried over from the hyper-masculine ideal of the stoic, hard as nails hero. This manliest of men is only allowed to feel affection when the object of his love is the prize at the end of his quest or dead. (Sometimes, she’s both at once!) Either way, the relationship between the hero and his love is always a static element while the story is in motion. It has to be, because an evolving romance and all the emotional muddiness and feelings that go along with it is “girl stuff,” which we all know is verboten in manly hero stories. Sex with random women is cool, of course, so long as no significant attachments are formed.

This is the classic, sexist vision of acceptable action-hero love, and one Devi herself actually believes hook line and sinker, which was a great source of fun for me. You see, Devi, the soldier who will charge a breach ship full of carnivorous aliens twice her size without batting an eye, is terrified of love for all the reasons listed above. She’s trying as hard as she knows how to be that macho action hero, and a huge part of her development as a character is how badly she fails. Not because she is a woman, but because she is human, and humans fall in love. It is a natural part of being a person, and the irony of Devi’s situation is that she actually made way more trouble and danger for herself by denying her feelings than she would have if she’d stopped being so pigheaded and just accepted that being in love is part of being alive.

This is the reason I put a love story in Devi’s books. I wrote the Paradox trilogy specifically to be a feminist entry in the deeply macho genre of Military Space Opera, and part of that feminism is rejecting the outdated, sexist idea that love and romance are inherently female and, therefore, weak. The heart is a human concern, and it is no more gendered in nature than hate or rage or loss. To open yourself up to love is to become vulnerable, but the entire point of romance is to show how love makes us stronger and better than we ever could be alone.

This is not to say that I think everyone must read or even enjoy love stories. Fear is a part of the human condition, too, but I wouldn’t read a horror story if you paid me. That’s fine, everyone doesn’t have to like the same things. Even my book is only about one third romance interspersed with all the gun fights and conspiracies, but that third is as much a part of Devi’s kick ass woman in space story as the powered armor and the aliens. Her troubles and heartbreaks help shape her into the strong hero she needs to be every bit as much as the terrible moral choices or the life and death stakes. It’s a part of her, like all the rest, and her story couldn’t be the same without it.

Rachel Bach

Rachel Bach is the author of FORTUNE’S PAWN, the start of an action packed science fiction trilogy that concludes with the highly anticipated finale, HEAVEN’S QUEEN, releasing April 22! She is also Rachel Aaron, the author of the popular Eli Monpress epic fantasy series. To find out more about Rachel and read free samples of all her books, please visit www.rachelaaron.net.

Paradox Trilogy Giveaway

Courtesy of Orbit, I have a set containing all three Paradox books to give away! This giveaway is open to those with a mailing address in the US, Canada, or the UK, and it includes Fortune’s Pawn, Honor’s Knight, and Heaven’s Queen.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Paradox Giveaway.” One entry per person and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from the US, UK, or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Saturday, April 19. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the books).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Note: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is Anya from the science fiction/fantasy blog On Starships and Dragonwings! She posts a lot of reviews with a clear analysis of each book’s strengths and weaknesses, plus her Sci-Fi and Fantasy Fridays are a great way to find other reviews, giveaways, and discussions related to SFF around the blogosphere. I’m happy she is here today to discuss her discovery of a special book series that played a major role in her enthusiasm for science fiction and fantasy—especially dragons!

Anya SFF Header

How it all started for me: Anne McCaffrey’s Pern

I remember seeing an audiobook with a dragon on the cover in my parents’ car. They had lots of audiobooks so I always liked to look at whatever was laying around most recently. This time, though, I was especially intrigued since there was a dragon! While my love for dragons hadn’t fully developed at that point, I was a kid and fantasy critters are pretty much a win at that age ;-). I recall asking what it was about and if I could read it and my parents saying that it was a bit too old for me (which I discovered later was 100% true since there were sex scenes and I was about 11 at the time…).

It was pretty inevitable that I would end up reading Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, however, since we own at least one copy of every single book set in Pern, often two, and a whole lot of other McCaffrey books. I can probably be blamed for a lot of the duplicates since I wanted copies of my own when I was a teen; you know how that goes I’m sure ;-). I managed to pick up the first three books before stumbling upon any others, which I credit to my parents. I had a habit of randomly choosing books from the shelf on weekends without any regard to if they belonged to a series or who they were by. Therefore, really the only way that I could have actually started with the first book is with intervention.

The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffreyI adored that strange purple paperback with small pictures of dragons on it, to the point that I think it is completely unusable at this point. I ran into a problem when going to the bookstore to find the next book in the series though: there wasn’t a definitive next book. There were so many to choose from since McCaffrey wrote her books in a world, not really a series, but I was one of those kids who made lists and stuck to them. There had to be a “proper order,” hadn’t there?? The Internet was a recent discovery for me at the time, so I was only too excited to go to the official website where there actually conveniently was a recommended reading order :D. I was a kid in a candy shop bookstore >.>. As far as I can remember, I religiously followed that reading order as I worked through every single book set in Pern. I took breaks from Pern now and again (the Harry Potter books were coming out around then), but I am fairly certain I’ve read every single Pern book that Anne wrote. I have even read a couple of Todd’s, though it just wasn’t the same and I didn’t stick with his :-/.

My love of dragons 100% stems from Pern, and that’s saying a lot as most of you know, hehe. I started choosing books from the bookstore by a very simple criteria: Is the word dragon in the title? Yes? Awesome! For the record, not all books with “dragon” in the title actually have dragons in them >.>. However, between my parents’ collection of other fantasy and sci-fi books and their strong encouragement of me purchasing any and all books I wanted from the bookstore, I quickly discovered that there were lots of other cool worlds to visit besides Pern.

Pern always has had a special place in my heart, however, to the point where I daydreamed of a family trip to Ireland to visit Mrs. McCaffrey back when it was still an option. She had horses too, what more could a geeky kid want?? I remember reading on her website that as long as fans scheduled a visit in advance, she was happy to have tea with them, oh how a kid could dream. I also emailed Mrs. McCaffrey once to suggest actors for the film that simply had to be upcoming, right?? I’m still waiting for that film by the way *ahem*.

I even discovered the world of fan fiction because of Pern through text-based roleplaying games. I was so desperate to visit Pern and be a dragonrider that I was quite happy to spend hours writing out stories with other fans about my character going to a Hatching and impressing any sort of dragon that she could. I didn’t really care if I got a Gold or a Green, I just wanted a dragon! Fun fact: those roleplaying sites were actually against McCaffrey’s fan policies and would routinely be ordered to shut down D:. We kind of kept going though >.>.

In the end, I’m sure that I would have discovered fantasy and sci-fi even if I hadn’t seen a book about dragons sitting in my parents’ car, but who knows if I would be quite the fan that I am or quite as obsessed with dragons ;-). Between my mother’s love of the genre and my first introduction to true fanatic obsession with it myself, I never even realized that I wasn’t supposed to like speculative fiction since I was a girl. To me, women read and wrote science fiction and fantasy right from the start. I fully realize how incredibly lucky I am to have had such a great experience with the genre. Even though Anne McCaffrey is no longer with us (and therefore I can’t have tea with her at her horse ranch!), I am so grateful that she imagined a world filled with dragons and Harpers and alien organisms that fall from the sky and eat all organic material they touch!

On Starships and Dragonwings