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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.

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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
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Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author Alex Hughes! Her work includes the Mindspace Investigations novels (Clean, Sharp, and Marked), the prequel short story Rabbit Trick, and the related novella The Payoff (1.5 in the series), as well as some short stories unrelated to her series. She’s also an avid reader of science fiction, and she’s sharing her top 10 favorite female writers in the genre with us today!

Clean by Alex Hughes Sharp by Alex Hughes Marked by Alex Hughes

Top Ten Favorite Female Authors in Science Fiction
By Alex Hughes

Recently I keep hearing that women aren’t writing science fiction (or we can’t, or I’m unusual for doing so). This is silly; women in science fiction have been here a long time, though often under pseudonyms, and in certain scifi genres (like urban fantasy) we currently outnumber the male authors. But, in the interest of setting the record straight, let’s celebrate women in science fiction through a list of my all time favorite female authors. The list is in no particular order.

  1. C.J. Cherryh. (Make sure to read: The Pride of Chanur.) Nobody makes aliens feel alien like Cherryh. In my opinion, she’s one of the all-time greats—if not the greatest—sociological science fiction authors of all time.
  2. Anne McCaffrey. (Make sure to read: The Rowan.) She was the first female science fiction author to make the New York Times Bestseller list in 1978, and one of the first science fiction authors to make the list at all. She writes incredibly vivid characters and strong women.
  3. Catherine Asaro. (Make sure to read: Ascendant Sun.) A physicist, Asaro knows her science. Her i-space hyperdrive and very cool nanotechnology change the very nature of the stories she writes, but she still spends the time to paint vivid characters.
  4. Lois McMaster Bujold. (Make sure to read: The Vor Game.) If you like swashbuckling adventure in space, you must read about Miles Vorkosigan.
  5. Elizabeth Moon. (Make sure to read: Once a Hero.) Moon writes extraordinary ship-based military space opera. Period. Her female heroines are smart, tough, and can handle anything the world throws at them.
  6. Andre Norton. (Make sure to read: Brother to Shadows.) One of the “founding fathers” of pulp science fiction writing under a male pseudonym, Norton’s body of work is huge. She writes interesting aliens/magicians and cultures in vivid settings with a lot of adventure.
  7. Tanya Huff. (Make sure to read: Valor’s Choice.) One of Huff’s relatives is a Marine, and you can tell. She writes brilliantly in a variety of subgenres, but her military science fiction is particularly noteworthy. It’s gritty, real, and exciting with plenty of action.
  8. Linnea Sinclair. (Make sure to read: Finders Keepers.) Sinclair writes action-adventure science fiction with strong romantic elements and a kick-butt attitude.
  9. Mercedes Lackey. (Make sure to read: By the Sword.) Best known for her fantasy, Lackey writes amazing science fiction as well, though mostly in short-story form. She’s a master of worldbuilding and one of the most prolific writers in the business.
  10. Ursula K. Le Guin. (Make sure to read: The Left Hand of Darkness.) Not only is her work often cutting edge in its treatment of gender, politics and sexuality, the way she puts words together is truly gorgeous.

Alex Hughes

Alex Hughes, the author of the award-winning Mindspace Investigations series from Roc, has lived in the Atlanta area since the age of eight. She is a graduate of the prestigious Odyssey Writing Workshop, and a Semi-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novels 2011. Her short fiction has been published in several markets including EveryDay FictionThunder on the Battlefield and White Cat Magazine. She is an avid cook and foodie, a trivia buff, and a science geek, and loves to talk about neuroscience, the Food Network, and writing craft—but not necessarily at the same time! You can visit her at Twitter at @ahugheswriter or on the web at http://www.ahugheswriter.com. Or, join her email newsletter for free short stories.

About Marked (Mindspace Investigations #3, Released April 1):

FORESEE NO EVIL.

Freelancing for the Atlanta PD isn’t exactly a secure career; my job’s been on the line almost as much as my life. But it’s a paycheck, and it keeps me from falling back into the drug habit. Plus, things are looking up with my sometimes-partner, Cherabino, even if she is still simmering over the telepathic Link I created by accident.

When my ex, Kara, shows up begging for my help, I find myself heading to the last place I ever expected to set foot in again—Guild headquarters—to investigate the death of her uncle. Joining that group was a bad idea the first time. Going back when I’m unwanted is downright dangerous.

Luckily, the Guild needs me more than they’re willing to admit. Kara’s uncle was acting strange before he died—crazy strange. In fact, his madness seems to be slowly spreading through the Guild. And when an army of powerful telepaths loses their marbles, suddenly it’s a game of life or death.…

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Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author and editor Deborah J. Ross! She has written both short stories and novels, including Jaydium, Northlight, Collaborators, and some of the Darkover novels, continuing the series begun by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her latest books are an epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield, comprised of The Seven-Petaled Shield, Shannivar, and The Heir of Khored (coming in June 2014)—and she is here today to talk about the heroic women in this series!

The Seven-Petaled Shield by Deborah J. Ross Shannivar by Deborah J. Ross

Women Heroes in The Seven-Petaled Shield
By Deborah J. Ross

My first professional short story sale was to Marion Zimmer Bradley for the debut volume of Sword & Sorceress. When the anthology became an annual series, I kept submitting stories, and looking around for different cultures and historical times as background. For one of the later volumes (XIII), I wanted to explore the tensions between a nomadic horse people like the Scythians and a city-based culture like Rome, and their different values and forms of magic. I did not call them Romans and Scythians, of course, but these models were very much in my mind as I created Gelon and Azkhantia. As I delved further into my research, I learned that although Scythian women were definitely second-class citizens, the Sarmatian women rode to battle and were likely the origin of the “Amazons” of legend. What could be more perfect for a sword and sorcery story featuring a strong woman protagonist? Thus began a series of “Azkhantian tales,” and my exploration of a vastly complex, fascinating world.

From the very first “Azkhantian tale,” I set up different systems of magic and of spiritual beliefs in the various cultures, contrasting the pantheon of the empire-building, city-dwelling Gelon and the nomadic horse peoples of the steppe, loosely organized into clans (each named for a different totem animal), living in harmony with the land and its seasons. Their primary deities are, of course, the Mother of Horses and her consort.

For the first of these stories, I departed from the usual swordswoman or sorceress heroine: a woman who is young, physically fit, and unattached to family. I’ve often been astonished by the number of such protagonists who appear to be orphaned only children. In cultures like my Azkhantian nomads, however, family and clan form the core of an individual’s identity. I wanted the bonds between parent and child or between siblings to shape the adventure. A host of possibilities opened when I chose a point of view character who wasn’t physically involved in the battle, but was deeply emotionally involved. Hence, most of “The Spirit Arrow” was told from the perspective of an aging mother, linked to her warrior daughter by more than the natural enchantment of the heart.

These stories grew into not only a novel, but a trilogy. From the outset, I knew The Seven-Petaled Shield must be told primarily through the experiences of the women. The action begins with the armies of Gelon laying siege to the citadel of Meklavar, but I was more interested in what the women of the city were doing. For my initial viewpoint character, I created Tsorreh, the young second wife of the aged king. She’s inexperienced but neither helpless nor idle; she organizes medical care for the injured and housing for refugees from the lower city. She counsels her husband and treats his wounds, and she worries about her adolescent son in his first battle. All of these are traditional “female” roles. Because she is an educated person and a woman with initiative, however, she also takes it upon herself to save the library. Shortly after the city falls, she whisks her son to safety through the mountain tunnels, and she herself becomes the bearer of the mystical gem that will later play a pivotal role in defeating the incarnation of chaos in this world.

The second and equally important woman hero rides onto the pages of the next book, which is also her namesake: Shannivar. Shannivar is recognizably heroic; she’s a warrior of the Azkhantian steppe, skilled in archery and horsemanship, determined to accomplish great feats of valor. She’s the grandchild of the clan matriarch, a strong and self-reliant woman.

Shannivar and her best friend, Mirrimal, have reached the age when they are expected to choose husbands and retire from fighting the Gelon. Neither is happy about this – Shannivar because she refuses to surrender her dreams of glorious deeds, Mirrimal because marriage itself is abhorrent to her. Both women insist on their own self-determination, although with quite different results. Shannivar’s courage and quick-thinking place her in a succession of leadership roles, first of a war-party, then of a diplomatic mission, and finally of a expedition to trace the incursion of uncanny forces into her world.

In tales of fantasy as elsewhere, we have a tendency to measure heroes by their physical prowess instead of, for example, their foresight or moral authority. This approach inherently puts women in non-industrialized cultures at a disadvantage. Very few women are as physically strong as men or have the same mass, height, and reach. We can step outside the strength=heroism model if we consider that the differences can be minimized by training, appropriate weaponry, or other advantages. Shannivar is a superb horsewoman and archer. The height of her horse (and she has two wonderful horses that are heroes in their own rights) and the reach of her arrows mitigate her lesser muscular strength. More than that, she has the ability to see patterns in battle and to think in ways that use the assets of her riders – speed, maneuverability – to best advantage. She has a clear vision of her goals and does not let temper or ego get in her way, unlike her hotheaded cousin. This enhances her ability as a strategist and organizer.

All of these qualities can apply to male warriors as well. What then distinguishes Shannivar as a hero? The quality of her character, her vision, and her determination to defend her people against enemies human and supernatural, regardless of cost. Instead of being a handicap, her refusal to “settle for less” lifts her deeds to extraordinary – heroic – heights. Tsorreh is no less a hero, for her courage is of the heart and spirit, her quiet wisdom and compassion.

Deborah J. Ross

Deborah J. Ross writes and edits fantasy and science fiction. She’s a former SFWA Secretary and member of Book View Café. Her short fiction has appeared in F & SF, Asimov’s, Star Wars: Tales From Jabba’s Palace, Realms of Fantasy, Sword & Sorceress, and various other anthologies and magazines. Her most recent books include the Darkover novel, The Children of Kings (with Marion Zimmer Bradley, Amazon Barnes & Noble); Lambda Literary Award Finalist Collaborators, an occupation-and-resistance story with a gender-fluid alien race (as Deborah Wheeler, Amazon); and The Seven-Petaled Shield, an epic fantasy trilogy (Amazon Barnes & Noble.) She’s also the author of Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life (Book View Café Barnes & Noble).