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Today’s guest is fantasy and science fiction author Fran Wilde (who was also here during Women in SF&F Month 2017)! Her work includes the Bone Universe novels, beginning with her Compton Crook and Andre Norton Award–winning debut novel Updraft; “Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left,” which appeared in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2017; and “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” a Eugie Award winner and a Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards finalist. Riverland, her first middle grade novel, was just released earlier this month, and a standalone sequel to her Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated book The Jewel and Her Lapidary will be released on June 4. This new Gemworld novella, The Fire Opal Mechanism, is available for pre-order from Fountain Books—where it comes with a signed limited edition bookplate and a chance to win one of six fire opal pendants designed by Elise Mattheson!

The Fire Opal Mechanism Cover

Six Favorite Fictional Librarian Heroines
By Fran Wilde

“All librarians travel in time, Commissioner. Some more thoroughly than others.” – Ania Dem, Librarian, The Fire Opal Mechanism (Tor.com Publishing, June 4, 2019)

The librarians and library-adjacent people in my life constitute their own brilliant phylum—they hold degrees in information sciences, law, and library science; they wield their online catalogues like light against the darkness; they create refuges in their communities for words and for the people who need them. They are my family, my warriors, my first protectors. (I wrote about this at NerdyBookclub, too, when I talked about sheltering spaces for my debut middle grade, Riverland.)

I’ve always loved a good librarian story—and there were plenty of librarian heroes growing up, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Giles to Terry Pratchett’s Librarian, to The Librarians…and those librarian heroines (and their real-life counterparts!) who shone through with their powers of recall, imagination, humor, and the ability to pace through time and meaning with the calm of a warrior.

It was recently National Library Week, and I was thinking in particular about those heroines as I prepare to send my own time-traveling librarian and archivist, Ania Dem, of the last university in the Far Reaches, out into the (gem)world with The Fire Opal Mechanism. Ania’s love for the books she guards places her in the middle of a struggle about language. It also gives her the opportunity to observe that “Books are measures of time. They are made to grow old, to grow—occasionally—wrong.”  This finished-ness and constancy is something that Ania has to explore across time as she fights a gem-laden printing press, and—at first—a very vexing thief.

Other librarian heroines have fought more than one foe in their own narratives. This list is a little non-traditional, but I find the real-life librarians I know embrace innovation as much as they do the through line of history.

Lirael Cover The Invisible Library Cover Geekomancy Cover

First, a nod to Bunny Watson, played by Katharine Hepburn in the movie Desk Set (1957). As the main foil (and an admirable parry) to Spenser Tracy’s tech-happy computer guy, Bunny is the head of a television network’s research department who shows the power of memory and recall that all librarian superheroines come by honestly each time she (sometimes hilariously) saves the day. While this is a struggle as much against sexism as it is against technology, in the end, Desk Set resolves into a momentary capture of changing times where Bunny proves human instinct will always be more important than programmability.

Barbara Gordon begins her appearances in the Batman comics and TV series as the head librarian for Gotham Public Library, and simultaneously as Batgirl. She later becomes digital hacker and reference guide, Oracle, following Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke,” where she’s wounded in action. As leader of The Birds of Prey, or as guide to the Suicide Squad, she’s a heroine by night and by day, with great fashion sense, agency, and a PhD in Library Sciences.

Charlotte Abigail Lux, also known as CAL or the primary node of The Library in Dr. Who’s “Forest of the Dead” and “Silence of the Library,” is a young girl uploaded to a massive computer (the Library) in order to save her from illness, and given all the books of the universe to keep her entertained. CAL goes through several iterations, including frightened child, before she’s restored to the role of true librarian and, in her own fashion, saves the people within the library from an invasion.

On her fourteenth birthday, Lirael, Abhorsen-in-Waiting of Garth Nix’s Lirael, and, later, Abhorsen, is given the role of Assistant Librarian of the Great Library of the Clayr, in part because she doesn’t have the Sight. She is, however, to be revealed as a Remembrancer, and one of her people’s great heroes. Along the way she manages to find in the library an artifact that soon becomes her constant companion…the disreputable dog of the Old Kingdom series.

A professional spy for her Library, Irene Winters hunts dangerous books in Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library, along with her assistant Kai. She’s posted to an alternative London, only to find herself ensnared in the kind of danger that’s often only found in the books she retrieves.

**Ree Reyes is not a librarian, per se. She works in a comic shop and as a part-time barista in Mike Underwood’s Geekomancy series. However, she navigates culture and fandom in the manner of a pro, so I’m including her here too!

Who are your favorite librarian heroines and library-adjacent heroines?

This list was created with deep and abiding thanks to my own librarian heroes and heroines, including (but not limited to) Ryan Labay at North Akron Library, Elizabeth Edinger at Catholic University, Lynne M. Thomas at University of Illinois, Lisa Pett, the librarians past and present at Tredyffrin Easttown Library, the librarians of Twitter and Goodreads, and Hope O’Keefe of the Library of Congress.

Fran Wilde Photo A former programmer, poet, teacher, and engineering/science writer, Fran Wilde’s novels and short stories have been finalists for three Nebula awards, two Hugo Awards, and a World Fantasy Award. They include her Nebula- and Compton Crook-winning debut novel, Updraft; its sequels, Cloudbound and Horizon; Gemworld novellas, The Jewel and Her Lapidary and The Fire Opal Mechanism; and her debut middle-grade novel Riverland. Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, and Nature Magazine. Her nonfiction appears at The Washington Post, iO9, Paste, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.