Friday, January 19, 2018

Girl Heroes

I just now read Dara Horn's essay, Finding Science Fiction and Fantasy for Female Readers, in the Paris Review blog. The title's a bit of a misnomer since it's about specifically YA fantasy & sf but that's a quibble and my only one. The essay is about how when Ms Horn was a girl, genre fiction turned her off largely because it almost never had anybody who convincingly reminded her of herself. And how the genres nowadays have a richness of female protagonists.

It's hard today to appreciate how difficult it was Back When to imagine the protagonist of an adventure novel being female. I remember when I was a struggling gonnabe back in the Seventies that one of my ambitions was to write something with a hero who was also a woman. It seemed terribly daunting then. There were so few of them!

And then came Joanna Russ's Alyx. She was tough and capable and brave and smart. Also short. And plain.

This last came as a shock. The female leads in SF stories were always beautiful. Even Russ reflexively started to describe Alyx that way. Then, she later recalled, the character looked up at her from the page and said, "Oh, come off it!"

After Picnic on Paradise came out, it became a whole lot easier to write female heroes. It broke something loose. More and more writers -- women, mostly -- followed in Russ's footprints. By the time I'd learned my craft well enough to write one, nobody thought it was much of an accomplishment.

Which is a good thing.

And that's part of the point of Dara Horn's essay. You can read it here.

And Picnic on Paradise is still a great book. In fact, it's a classic of the genre. If you haven't read it, you should consider doing so.


1 comment:

Kevin Cheek said...

Our mutual online friend, Stephen Case, in his First Fleet books wrote a classic space opera with elements of Lovecraftian horror and compelling, intelligent, well characterized female leads.