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The Algebraic Properties of Equality in SF

This is my second to last guest post. After Friday, a (hopefully) well-rested Charlie takes back the blog wheel. I've had a wonderful time with y'all. You are a lovely bunch of people. I shouldn't have been nervous, that's clear to me now. It seems we have a great deal in common and not just a love for Charlie's work. Anyway, if y'all have any questions for me outside of the blog topic, you have today and tomorrow to ask them. Who knows? Your question might inspire tomorrow's post.

With that, I'm going to bring up a subject a bit more... touchy: female characters in SF and Fantasy.

One of the things that impressed me about Charlie is how he writes female characters. I believe he does an excellent job, and Mo is one of my favorite female characters in SF and Fantasy. Mo is powerful and quite obviously Bob treats her as an equal.[1] She's believable in an unassuming way.[2] I like that. I could see myself running into her at a friend's party. She is a whole person and not just the sum of one or two characteristics. That's important. One of my favorite stories about non-default (that is, non-white-male) characters in SF involves the actress Nichelle Nichols, Rev. Martin Luther King and Star Trek. I'm sure you've heard it.[3] I was lucky enough to hear Nichelle tell it once. The take-away for me was that non-default characters need to be treated as people--not as a representation of their minority group. It's one of my "character tests" that I run for myself. "Can I insert a default (white male) character in this place and get the same result?" It helps me see problems in my writing. Writing female characters is tricky--and not just for male authors. Although I'm a female, the misogynist program was installed in my brain too. And because female characters are infrequent in our genre there are certain problems faced by all writers. One of the biggest issues is that when creating female characters in a female character-sparse environment the exception can become the rule in the reader's mind. That is, whatever you do with your female character is viewed as a stand in for all female characters. It sucks, but it's true.

NOTE: I'm keeping the following discussion a bit vague in order to avoid spoilers. If you wish to discuss specifics in the comments, please do me a favour (and the others too) and note that your comment contains spoilers.

For example, there has been some controversy over what I've done to a certain female character in my first book. That's understandable. However, I was taught that a writer was free to use whatever story device was necessary for the telling of the story, including genre tropes. Whatever is best for the story is the top priority. However, a good writer never employs a story device without purpose, especially genre tropes. Whether or not it was done effectively (and that can and will be argued,) I had a reason for employing that specific trope. The biggest hint is in the order in which that event is repeated. That is, it happens to a male character first. Then I place the event in its traditional context to demonstrate what is wrong with that trope. Mind you, anytime you employ a trope--particularly when it involves a minority group--you're going to get flack for it even if you're a member of the minority group in question. Your intentions won't matter to some readers. That's just how things are. Reading is an individual and interactive experience. I'm not in favour of authors dictating to readers what their experiences should be. That said, there have been strong reactions to what I've written. Frankly, that's a good thing. My intent was to upset the reader. However, I didn't do so merely to punch the reader in the face for the sake of punching the reader in the face. As stated elsewhere, I don't believe in that. I also don't believe in making rape titillating. So, when I write about such things I'm very careful about which details I dwell upon. Mind you, I made mistakes when I wrote those two books. No work is perfect. However, I don't consider those areas to be mistakes. [shrug]

That said, I believe that the question "Can I insert a default (white male) character in this place and get the same result?" is an important part of the writing process. I was taught to switch out roles this way in order to spot sexism and racism. And while I'll continue to make mistakes my hope is that it will cut down on the number of times I repeat that one. For the record, I'm not a big fan of the Strong Female Character stereotype.[5] I believe that women are people. Oh, and also for the record, I think Liam's mother is a strong female character. She has beliefs, and she sticks to them whether or not they are advantageous in a selfish sense and whether or not she's ultimately correct. Kathleen is complicated and real. I love her for that.

So, with all that in mind, what are some of your favorite female characters in SF and Fantasy? Why do you like them?

----------------------------------

[1] I really enjoyed the bit in The Jennifer Morgue when I realized who was the Bond Girl and who was Bond, by the way.

[2] I found it very difficult to get into the Charlie's Angels remake mostly because I had a hard time believing those stick figures could punch. I liked the idea. (And I did like where Drew Barrymore was headed. I can't wait until she makes more films.) I'm just not sure Charlie's Angles did women any favours by making it seem that female heros require wires and special effects in order to be effective.

[3] Just in case you haven't I'll give you the short version. At one point Nichelle decided to quit Star Trek. She didn't feel her character (Uhura) was all that important to the show, and she decided to move on with her career. Not long after she'd resigned, she went to see Martin Luther King. As fate would have it, Reverend King turned out to be a big fan of Star Trek.[4] He told Nichelle that Uhura was his favorite character and wasn't it wonderful and important for her to be in the cast? She said she didn't think so. "Anyone can do what my character's job. I'm not that important. So, I quit." Reverend King said, "But don't you see? That's what's so important about that role." In other words, Uhura was a person. She wasn't merely about being a person of color. Reverend King convinced Nichelle to take back her job, and to Gene Roddenberry's credit, he told her he hadn't really accepted her resignation anyway. 

[4] Which, frankly, only makes me admire him more.

[5] That is, Hot Young Thing with Gun who is usually dressed in skin tight clothing--usually leather. It isn't that there's something wrong with that particular straight male fantasy. The problem is that there's so little variety.

186 Comments

1:

It isn't that there's something wrong with that particular straight male fantasy.

Honestly, your gender's fantasies about mine aren't much better. The male romantic lead is inevitably handsome, rich, thin, and deeply interested in things that bore actual straight men to tears, especially subtle shades of feeling. He will likely be profoundly ambivalent about sex, unlike actual heterosexual males.

2:

it's a bit quiet here…

i'll plump for Therem Harth rem ir Estraven who as a true person of their culture does the right thing regardless of shadow. or there is Lilith Iyapo from Butler's Xenogenesis who makes the best of things.
Looking at my book shelves there don't seem to be any women who aren't part of an assembly cast, no lone hero's, not many spot lights. Why should I make that my criteria for favourite female character? No one jumps to mind going YES HER.

However a well written story often, depending on the degree of estrangement, allows you to identify with the protagonist. When we were talking the other day about Podkayne of Mars, I was thinking about Red Plant and it's boy heroes. There are practically no women in the story save mothers and headmistresses. There aren't that many named characters either: ornery doctor, parents, slick head master and scheming city boss. However in a kind of reverse Bechdel test, you could reverse all the pronouns in the book and not have anything much stand out as unusual at least by by today's measures. I could identify with the boy heroes at the time because they fit into their context, not because or despite them being boys. from what I understood about the background of the story they could have just as easily been girls - only girls would have been more sensible!
I'm not saying this as an excuse for the heavy gender bias in the genre, but I prefer my people to be people first not a bundle of gender cliches. People are a product of their experiences and a good character will demonstrate this time depth of development. What those experiences, big or small, were will influence that character, whether you pick her out of a catalogue or imaging seven- year-old birthday trauma.

So are SF female characters too sensible to go galavanting around in leather cat suits, with no where to stow the SheWee, let alone an extra clip, or are the kind of stories they want to tell, too 'carrier bag'* and not enough 'run fast : sharp stick.'

*Carrier bag history; Ursula Le Guin talks about gatherers, rather than hunters, collecting things food , by more than a hand full, inventing the bag and telling slow stories.

Maggie

3:

The feminist stereotype I find laughable is GI Jane, a 120lb woman who can go toe to toe with a 220lb male soldier and swap punch for punch before drinking him under the table.
Anyway, enough of that.
As long as the story is good I don't actually care about the race/gender/orientation of the main character(s). Back in the day I enjoyed Cagney and Lacey just as much as Starsky and Hutch. It's when the writer starts to get preachy about the differences that I find it distracts from the story.

4:

The two lead characters in Alastair Reynolds' "Pushing Ice". They're both treated as human beings, rather than as examples of particular tropes.

5:

"Anyway, if y'all have any questions for me outside of the blog topic, you have today and tomorrow to ask them. "

Why isn't there a Wikipedia article on you or your books?

Re female characters. But isn't it also a problem when female characters act and think just like men, except the author has made them female so he can be "with it." Fine line to walk.

6:

My excuse for the tight leather is that the young lady rides a motorcycle.

Well, she used to when she was younger. Now she's well into middle age and flying aeroplanes.

She carries the new Browning. If she is going to shoot anyone, they are going to damn well stay shot.

She'd rather Charleston.

8:

On Strong Women Protags.. Anyone read any Mary Gentle? I'm thinking Ash and White Crow off the top of my head..

9:

I like Mo too. Especially since, as you say, she's a "powerful" character. Not only as a person - if I'm reading OGH correctly it sounds like Mo does and knows considerably more than our favourite unreliable narrator Bob.

Other favourite female characters off the top of my head. I'm sure others will appear later.

  • Currently a massive Fringe fan so Olivia Dunham springs to mind. Strong, driven, smart - but not just written as a man with the sex switched.
  • Mrs Peel came up in a previous thread ;-)
  • Vosillin Banks' non-culture-culture-book Inversions. I really liked how he managed to get across the character's strength and confidence using the POV of a male narrator who sits in a culture that cannot comprehend female strength/confidence. Sneaky.
  • Soft spot for some of the female characters in Anne McCaffrey's earlier Dragon books. Especially Menolly. I have problems justifying liking these. I just like 'em okay - converted while young ;-)
  • Cayce Pollard in Gibson's Pattern Recognition. That novel just keeps getting better every time I read it.
10:

Oh. Alice - C.S.Lewis. The kick-ass take-no-shit girl from the books. Not the bouncy Disney version.

Does Estraven count as a female character for part of Left Hand of Darkness?

11:

The feminist stereotype I find laughable is GI Jane.

I remember a report from back when I worked for the US Army:

Most women in boot camp at the time were failing their grenade qualifications. Many of them just didn't have the necessary upper body strength. Some of them complained on the grounds that the test wasn't fair to them.

The drill sergeant calmly explained that high explosives don't give a damn about fairness. You either throw a grenade far enough or you don't. One of these outcomes will make you very unpopular with the surviving members of your unit.

12:

Good question, For a small part technically yes, but Estraven can't count as a male for the rest of the story despite the pronouns. (There's a probability that he's sometime male off camera as the story occurs over a couple of years, or there's self imposed celibacy [i don't remember].) It's Genly who's tied up in knots over gender identity, never Estraven. I like Estraven , a solid character, some one I count in the non-male list, so along with all Gethens a person who gets to be included in this conversation.

Lack of respectable non gendered pronouns is frustrating, or you could go the chip Delaney 'stars in my pocket' way; she for persons you interact with, he for bodies you fancy.

13:

Connie Ramos from Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time". Assuming that you read WonEoT as SF of course.

Just because of the way the character stays consistent throughout - and never being given the smallest clue as to whether she's delusional or not. Pushing you to consider if and why she's the hero.

14:
Estraven can't count as a male for the rest of the story despite the pronouns

Indeed - but I always thought that choice was a very deliberate one. To make the changes from kemmer more of a surprise to the reader. To make them (or me anyway) think more than they had thought so far when the changes occur.

Darn sneaky authors.

15:

"So, with all that in mind, what are some of your favorite female characters in SF and Fantasy? Why do you like them?"

I can't think of any, either male or female.

16:

"Honestly, your gender's fantasies about mine aren't much better."

The main difference being female gaze isn't ubiquitous, nor is it used to control male behavior. So, not the same thing. [shrug]

17:

Male gaze is used to control male behaviour.
Many a bout of violence is prefixed with "What are you looking at?". The first bit of advice I got when I went to a disco at age 16 was "Don't look at anyone".

18:

I didn't say it was the same thing; I said it wasn't any better.

19:

"Why isn't there a Wikipedia article on you or your books?"

Hell if I know. I don't think I'm allowed to create one.

"Re female characters. But isn't it also a problem when female characters act and think just like men, except the author has made them female so he can be "with it." Fine line to walk."

It is a fine line. It always is. And again, Equal does not mean Exactly The Same. :)

20:

"Anyone read any Mary Gentle?"

I've read Grunts! but I've not explored her work farther. I need to get around to that.

21:

"- if I'm reading OGH correctly it sounds like Mo does and knows considerably more than our favourite unreliable narrator Bob.",/i>

I get that impression too. But I didn't want to get into the power dynamics of that situation because I was afraid that we'd head into "by equal she means superior" territory. There Be Dragons. :)

"Soft spot for some of the female characters in Anne McCaffrey's earlier Dragon books."

No need to be defensive there. I enjoyed McCaffrey too when I was younger.

22:

"Does Estraven count as a female character for part of Left Hand of Darkness?"

I have no idea. Left Hand of Darkness is one I've not read yet. Damn, I wish I could read faster than I do.

23:
what are some of your favorite female characters in SF and Fantasy? Why do you like them?

Reminds me of a bit from Daniel Keys Moran's The Last Dancer:

I asked him once what he thought of women, and he said he found them useful for sex, and for making babies. [...] It made me angry. I asked him if he was joking, and he said no; that he found people fascinating, but that when I phrased things in terms of men and women, what else could I be talking about?"

24:

Why isn't there a Wikipedia article on Stena? Because we haven't written it yet! BTW, I don't have a Wikipedia author's account or I would ask her to collaborate.

Favourite "strong women in SF" - We've already done Emma Peel, Mo and Uhura.

So I'll nominate Aeryn Song from Farscape (and possibly we should consider Chianna, Jool, Sikoza and Zahn as well?), Samantha Carter from Stargate: SG1, and Honorverse characters Honor herself obviously, Mike Henke, Queen Elizabeth Winton, Queen Berry of Torch and President Eloise Prichart of Haven to start with.

25:

"Most women in boot camp at the time were failing their grenade qualifications. Many of them just didn't have the necessary upper body strength."

The point is, some did, and those few should have the opportunity to do serve. There are, I'm sure, things which women excell at over men. For example, I understand that women (in general) are better at eye-hand coordination and speed-related tasks. That doesn't mean all men should be disqualified from flying jets. Again, equal does not mean exactly the same.

This kind of discussion is the reason why I like Kung fu. The principles behind the martial art are connected to geometry not strength. A smaller person can fight a bigger person and win. They just have to know how to work with their own strengths and weaknesses.

And by the way, Kung fu is the only martial art created by a woman for women. It works. I've actually caused a man who was much bigger than me to fall to the ground so hard I had to ask him if he was okay. I didn't use strength to do it.

That said, I'd say it was a weakness in the training. If women are going to serve, then there needs to be adjustments made. If a drill sergeant's duty is to teach soldiers how to survive then it's the drill sergeant's duty to teach women a technique they can use to throw grenades the appropriate and safe distance.

26:

"And by the way, Kung fu is the only martial art created by a woman for women"

No, that's a subset of Kung Fu, specifically Wing Chun.
It also remains true that a strong trained fighter will generally beat a weaker trained fighter, all else being equal.

27:

"Male gaze is used to control male behaviour. "

That's not the definition of 'male gaze' to which I'm referring. Try: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaze#The_.22male_gaze.22_in_feminist_theory

28:

"Reminds me of a bit from Daniel Keys Moran's The Last Dancer:
I asked him once what he thought of women, and he said he found them useful for sex, and for making babies. [...] It made me angry. I asked him if he was joking, and he said no; that he found people fascinating, but that when I phrased things in terms of men and women, what else could I be talking about?""

That's brilliantly sneaky as its displaying the women=sex aspect of sexism in addition to the male=default. Nice.

29:

The weakness in the training here being that the techniques used to accomplish its produce-completely-interchangeable-humans end requirement have yet to adapt to the more diverse supply of raw material. ",)

Canonically, the "differences between the sexes" are that ON AVERAGE males have more upper-body strength and ON AVERAGE females have a higher pain threshold. Now I just have to find whatever source I read back in the mists of time for that assertion...

30:

"So I'll nominate Aeryn Song from Farscape"

Oh, yes. I thought she was wonderful. I relate to warrior characters. I just do. Unfortunately, I couldn't get far into that series. Too much needless bickering and inter-party back-stabbage for me.

31:

I can understand that on an intellectual level but I doubt whether I could recognize it in real life. Like when Fiona took me out to the local pub one night, where we got talking with the other people there who were quite friendly. She asked me afterwards what I thought of them, to which I replied "Nothing special, why". However, it turns out it was Gay Night there! I miss a lot if I do not look for it specifically.

32:

I'll have to disagree with you there; a grenade is a lump of dumb matter of a given mass. Throwing a rock a long distance is about muscle mass and lever lengths, whereas Karate and Kung Fu (oh yes and Judo) throws are about fulcrums, pivots, and using the opponent's power against them.

If the opponent just sits down and says "ok, move me" your technique is not going to help you get a guy 1.5x your body mass out of the centre of the mat.

33:

"No, that's a subset of Kung Fu, specifically Wing Chun."

Yes! You're right. Sorry I wasn't specific.

34:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4641567.stm
Women feel more pain than men for the same stimulus

35:

"The weakness in the training here being that the techniques used to accomplish its produce-completely-interchangeable-humans end requirement have yet to adapt to the more diverse supply of raw material. ",)"

Yes. I get tired of seeing comments that imply that women are the problem when it's the system that is failing.

36:

"If the opponent just sits down and says "ok, move me" your technique is not going to help you get a guy 1.5x your body mass out of the centre of the mat."

I could move him using just two fingers!

37:

The subtlety of martial arts:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSkD7BPpVK4
These techniques will work for anyone, but they are not "gentle"

38:

Almost everyone written by Bujold. Thinking about it, they do tend towards the strong (physically or mentally or both) but they come across as real enough.

39:

Definitely need to find that citation... (",)

40:

"Women feel more pain than men for the same stimulus"

There are a couple problems with this. The first is that I'm going to be instantly skeptical of any article that uses a derogatory term for gay people in it's description of women and their ability to handle pain. Second, I *do* have a high tolerance for pain--higher than my husband's. In fact, I have to be very careful of it sometimes. I drove a stick shift around town for 4 hours with an untreated freshly broken arm.

41:

Ok, I was wrong, it's complicated and no-one really knows. (See here.) But: making pronouncements like the ones that appear in that BBC article on the basis of a study of at most 100 people(the most generous reading possible)? Eh, no.

42:

Vaguely related. There was a comedy sketch show Smack the Pony that was on UK telly for a few years. Mostly written and performed by women. Jolly good.

I remember thinking for a while that it was odd that they had so many very tall men on the show in the walk in roles.

I eventually twigged that they didn't. They just had the camera at roughly the eye height of the women - not the men. #facepalm.

43:

Like I said, that whole article's based on a study of either 50 or 100 people (the sentence is somewhat ambiguous). With such a complex question, I'd have liked more.

44:

Again, we are talking statistics, not individuals. Additionally pain tolerance also varies with age.
Tolerance of pain has a very wide span in Humans. There are people who feel no pain at all, and whose survival to adulthood is problematic. OTOH, it has been suggested that pain tolerance might be a good genetic engineering target, so that nobody need feel beyond a certain level.

45:

Morn Hyland from the Gap cycle is my favorite female character in SF/ Fantasy actually probably my favorite character no matter the gender.
The first book "The real story" sets the tone and subvert perfectly what is "expected" of a female character by first telling what everybody witnessing the event thinks the story is and then tell the story as it actually happened. After that things go down hill for Morn, but she remains a real person and a woman.

46:

Probably doesn't count as F or SF but I'm rather impressed with Jeeja Janin in Chocolate:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAN1GTRPyto

47:

Is "wimp" a homophobic term in the US? It's not in the UK. It's a generic term for somebody weak or ineffectual - not gender/sexual-preference specific insult.

(Now wondering how many US folk I may have unintentionally offended... darn...)

48:

Grunts is atypical for Gentle. It's also very much a love it or loathe it book: I loved it, my wife loathed it.

49:

Canonically, the "differences between the sexes" are that ON AVERAGE males have more upper-body strength and ON AVERAGE females have a higher pain threshold.

This has already been beaten on several times by others, but I'll suggest that it's useful to differentiate between types of pain. Anecdotally, women seem to bear chronic pain better while men take acute pain better. Someone's probably done a study with decent controls, but I've not seen it yet.

50:

Bath, where they did the research, is one of the two major pain research institutions in the UK and has a worldwide reputation in the field - so the research is not likely to be completely bogus. I suspect the usual poor science reporting is turning the actual research results into something more soundbite-ish.

As the quote from the article says it is "a very complex area". It's *veeerrrry* difficult to compare and contrast reported pain levels between individuals. There's also quite a bit of evidence that perceived pain levels are, at least partially, socially constructed/learned.

That said - there is quite a lot of evidence that there are gender differences in pain control/management.

For example women are three times as likely as men to get CRPS which "has the unfortunate honour of being described as the most painful syndrome or disease, scoring highest on the McGill pain scale (42), above such events as amputation of a digit and childbirth" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_regional_pain_syndrome

Considering how important pain is to humans it's amazing how little we still understand about how it works.

51:

Yes. Pain is quite an interesting phenomenon with a huge psychological component. That ice water test becomes a lot harder if the person doing it is told that it's slowly inflicting damage. Pain that does not cause significant damage is much easier to bear if it's not "real". Duration is also a major factor. It is a lot easier to bear pain if you know its going to end. Which is one reason toothache is so bad. It's damage, and it might not go away.

52:

It has a slight connotation when used to describe a man in the US. Calling a man "wimpy" is different from doing the same to a woman.

That said, I wouldn't call it a homophobic term in general. And it's quite variable in its derogatoriness (it used to be a far worse insult than it is now, and can be used in friendly banter now).

53:
Anecdotally, women seem to bear chronic pain better while men take acute pain better. Someone's probably done a study with decent controls, but I've not seen it yet

There are many. The majority seem to show women have more problems with chronic pain than men ( e.g. http://www.painmanagementnursing.org/article/S1524-9042(04)00014-1/abstract ).

BUT doing accurate comparisons between different folks actual/percieved pain levels is stupidly hard. There is also evidence that pain perception isn't completely "innate" but at least partly learned/socialised. So these sort of gender differences may be due to the way men/women report pain and the way men/women are socialised as much as it does biological differences.

54:

I understood the workaround to be "some soldiers do not get grenade qualified, and are not allowed to throw grenades for the safety of those around them".

Personally, I'm 6'8" tall (about 205 cm) and north of 300 lbs. I haven't been in too many fights since middle school, but my experience has been that some martial arts do not train you to fight someone my size. The striking arts work well enough (if you have sufficient reach and strength; I'm not dumb enough to lock my knees in a fight). Judo and similar arts have been tried on me to little effect; the extra limb length screws up the geometry of the moves and the extra body mass keeps the judoka from compensating for bad leverage with muscle power.

Generally, martial arts can allow a small person to defeat a 50% heavier person only if the small person is much better trained.

55:

As an apology for helping derail the comments onto gender differences in pain perception I'm going to describe a slightly odd and personal favourite female lead.

When I was in my early teens I read Joe Halderman's "The Forever War". It made a huge impact. A few years later I wanted my own copy. However - and this was before the web - I couldn't remember the title or the author. Kept describing it to folk but nobody recognised it.

The problem was, at least partially, due to the fact that I was telling folk about some parallel universe version of the book where the lead character William Mandella was a woman!

I have no idea when this switch happened in my head - but for some reason I remember Mandella being a women and the relationship with Marygay being a lesbian one. It must have been fairly soon after I read it since I remember thinking that Book 3 of The Ballad of Halo Jones (a great female SF character from Alan Moore) was a heavily influenced by "that book with the woman soldier in an alien Vietnam" ;-)

When I finally encountered another copy of Halderman's book it took me some time to convince myself that my memory was at fault rather than there being some other novella version that had the sex switched.

56:

I'd punch you in the groin

57:

On a vaguely related topic to that I occasionally have dreams that somehow get "timestamped" as memories from years in the past. I know the memories really are dreams because they cannot possibly be objectively real.
Anyway, I had one a couple of days ago. I *remember* going to see the big space opera competitor to Star Wars when it first came out. Except it never existed.

58:

I'd punch you in the groin

Men tend to see that coming. Faking to the groin and punching the throat would be a better opener.

I'd try to close in and get two good grips on you, because speed is usually not on my side but strength probably is. If I managed that and you weren't more than 150 lbs or so, I'd probably just lift and throw you.

59:

Actually, men see kicks to the groin coming. A punch to the groin is very unusual and far faster than a kick, but only really works if there is a big height differential. The taller person is also an ideal target for headbutts.
Punching the throat is almost impossible in a real fight. Other techniques useful against tall people are thigh kicks and foot sweeps.

60:

So topical as to be obvious, but Mori Phelps from Jo Walton's AMONG OTHERS is great. Damaged and vulnerable in some ways, but also smart and opinionated; doesn't suffer fools but sociable with her people. Plus great taste in sf, can see fairies.

Hmm. Dany Targaryen, Cat and Arya Stark -- they all have serious flaws, but I think they're pretty well drawn. Marcie Grosvenor from some bits of FINDER. I'm blanking a little bit here; this is sad.

61:

"Most women in boot camp at the time were failing their grenade qualifications. Many of them just didn't have the necessary upper body strength."

This stands out to me as not training for women properly. Unless your hips are for some reason immobile, most of the power available (in both sexes) is in the lower body and core, where women are at far less of a disatvantage (I would worry about lower overall body mass though, much bigger disadantage). Just because men *can* throw a grenade with upper body strength alone, doesn't mean the other half can't do it with hip power.

62:

I'm 6'8" tall (about 205 cm) and north of 300 lbs...

Yes, I remember a friend of mine complaining about just this. She was average size, quite athletic, and a well trained marital artist; the mutual friend who she was having trouble throwing around was slower, much less trained - and well over 300 pounds, more than twice her weight. After a while the leverage advantages are overwhelmed by the practical difficulties of moving 150+kg of couch potato. And you want to do this fast?

63:

The best technique for throwing a grenade, using as much of the body's strength as possible, was worked out decades ago. It takes upper body strength, but not only upper body strength.

Speaking of which:

A guy I knew at the Army Research Lab, a couple years after 9-11, was carrying some wooden mockup grenades when a buddy invited him to lunch. They headed out to a strip bar for lunch, which turned out to be poor judgment. It was also poor judgment to leave the mockup grenades on the seat of the car, where they were noticed by passersby who called the police. The police saw the grenades (but did not, apparently, notice the "Army Research Lab" sticker on the car) and cut the guy's car open with hydraulic jaws. It made for a very awkward afternoon.

64:

Gee, no love for any of James Schmitz's leading ladies?

I guess nobody has much of a memory for one of the early SF pioneers of strong female leads. Admittedly, I didn't realize that The Witches of Karres first came out in 1949. Dude wrote for a long time.

65:

I always remember Pagadan, from Agent of Vega.

Dave Robinson

66:

Any female character written up by Connie Willis, because they all seem plausible.

Also, I'm fascinated by the different interpretations young women (some of them artists who choose to illustrate the results) have when they decide to play commander Shepard of Mass Effect as a woman.

67:

Vaguely related. There was a comedy sketch show Smack the Pony that was on UK telly for a few years. Mostly written and performed by women. Jolly good.

Smack the Pony is really good, yes. I watched it about ten years ago when it was shown on the telly in Finland.

I got the first two seasons on DVD this week, and I've watched three episodes this far. I think it does some things which shows done mostly by males can't or won't do so easily (I've been lately watching The Fast Show, Monty Python and That Mitchell and Webb Look. Yes, I do like British sketch shows...).

Also, for some strange reason getting the whole series on DVD wasn't that easy. Most places are selling only the best of DVDs, and the only release of the whole series was done years ago in the Nordic countries. Good luck getting your hands on those for a reasonable price...

68:

Personally, I'm 6'8" tall (about 205 cm) and north of 300 lbs. I haven't been in too many fights since middle school, but my experience has been that some martial arts do not train you to fight someone my size.

I'm about 190 cm tall, that's about 6'2", and when I last practiced martial arts I was about 85 kg (190 lbs). That meant that most people I practiced with were smaller, but of course there were some bigger people.

Of course I mostly tried to understand that I just couldn't all the time rely on my size in a fight. The best way to practice this with people of all sizes was in aikido: there's a practice style where the attacker starts sitting down and the defender is standing. That taught me a lot about how to deal with bigger people.

This was over ten years ago so I don't remember the proper terms anymore.

69:

Nobody has mentioned Ilia Volyova and Skade from Reynolds' "Redemption Ark" or Verity Auger from "Century Rain." Or Johanna Olsndot and Ravna Bergnsdot from Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep." Or Regina from Baxter's "Coalescent" or Lulu Parz from his "Resplendent." Or Lededje from Banks' "Surface Detail." Or Emiko from Bacigalupi's "Windup Girl."
Or our hosts Liz Cavanaugh.

70:

If you look at WW2 movies, training films and combat footage, and Hollywood of the period, you'll see a difference between how British and American soldiers throw grenades.

The British soldiers throw much like the bowling in cricket.

The American soldiers throw like baseball pitchers.

I don't know what the technique was with the original grenades, going back to the 16th century in Europe, but they faded from use in the 18th Century and were revived for the First World War. I've never seen any movie footage of how German or French soldiers were throwing grenades in that war. The Germans had their stick grenade.

There are a lot of situations in combat where you're not throwing for distance. Toss it through a doorway or window and duck back to use the wall as cover. The pineapple-type grenades, such as the Mills bomb, just cannot be thrown far enough for the thrower to be safe from the fragments. They're heavy lumps of metal that can fly a long way.

Anyway, I have heard of a few women who were in the US Army, and not Infantry, who had skills which got them attached to Infantry patrols in Iraq. They ended up in combat, but then they got home, with PTSD symptoms, people seemed unable to believe they had been in combat.

I've seen some of those symptoms myself, people I know and knew whose combat experience went back as far as the Somme and Passchendaele. I have a feeling that, a few years ago, the US Military was being almost wilfully blind about PTSD, but maybe I had just heard the bad stories.

I am not going to claim that the characters I write about are well-written, or that I show realistic depictions of PTSD, but I try not to ignore it. They're not quite whole any more.

As for other writers, writing about characters in the 1920s and 1930s, some maybe get it across better than others. Bulldog Drummond is a bit of a caricature, but the thrill-seeking aspect was there. It's not clear if Simon Templar saw combat, though there are some hints that he was in the Army in that war. The best example I know of is Lord Peter Wimsey. And there is a fanfic, Green Ice, based on the idea that Bertie Wooster was particularly affected by his experience of the war, and he and Lord Peter were officers in the same battalion. That works as a story, but I don't think it really fits.

Is it really true that Lord Peter started life in a Sexton Blake fanfic?

Oh well, enough rambling. I rather think my father was affected by my grandfather's PTSD, and maybe one or two aspects were passed on to me. When things get bad I have a tendency to laconic, very black, humour. And, around seventy years ago, there were a lot of British civilians who were getting bombed. That sort of experience was Europe-wide, and maybe it explains a few of the political differences between the USA and Europe.


71:

Yes but that strength is arguably a necessary general element for effective characters in some sorts of fiction. When it isn't, too often you see the women chosen as the weak and feeble.

Just take one traditional female role: nursing. They have to handle mental pressures that I know I don't have to face. And then you still get the sexist cliches thrown into the fiction.

But when Cordelia goes shopping...

72:

And to be honest throwing grendes by hand for long distances went out after ww2 if not before. Its about as relevent to real world combat today as being realy realy good at bulling your boots.

Now a days the only time youd use a hand thrown genade would throwing it through a window or dorr during FIBUA (Fighting in Built up Areas) or as the squaddies say Fish and Chips (Fighting In Someone's House, and Causing Havoc In Public Spaces. )

The rest of the time you have your Underslung GL or a M79.

73:

That is, Hot Young Thing with Gun who is usually dressed in skin tight clothing--usually leather. It isn't that there's something wrong with that particular straight male fantasy. The problem is that there's so little variety.

Oh dear, those of us old enough to remember Monty P's predecessor on radio - ISIRTA may recall the following:

[ In stentorian male tones] "We fruit fetishists damand a fair crack of the whip."
[Small, slightly quavering voice] "ooh, now you're talking!"

@ 70
NO
Peter De'ath Bredon Wimsey was definitely not fanfic.
DLS wanted a character she wasn't (rich, confident etc), but was also a combination of several people she met post WWI. The gradually-diminishing shellshock that Wimsey suffers as the books progress is masterly-done.
As for "Bulldog" drummond, he is just a nasty piece of crypto-fascist thuggery - there was a lot of it around, then - the word is "zeitgeist" I believe?

74:

Ah you mean Helen Magnus :-)

75:

Well surprised on one mentioned Sarah Jane or Ace how can you not love the woman who they invented the Crowning Moment Of Awesome for - Beating up a Dalek with a basseball bat becuse it called her short

76:

That's just the dilemma. If an author has a female character who is just a character that happens to be female, he (female writers are exempt?) can be accused of not being sufficiently sensitive to her special characterstics as a woman. Whereas if the character does have some kind of female specific characteristics or circumstances the author can be accused of stereotyping or at least not getting it right (though science fiction allows a certain leeway for stuff to be strange). That's why most of the good truly female characters written in science fiction by male authors are only written by MASTER writers, because amateurs can't pull it off.

77:

In general, citations of science/medicine articles off the BBC's web site should be given as much credence as citations from a tabloid newspaper. There might be some genuinely good research behind it, but there's almost certainly a science-illiterate journalist putting their own spin on the findings. And it's equally possible that the research is bunk that just happened to have a good University public relations department shoveling it out the door.

78:

I await with considerable interest your explanation of how you are going to inflict pain on a lump of metal and plastique, and why this will motivate it move.

79:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE

Enough with the grenades and the hand-to-hand combat.

You're derailing the discussion. Stop it.

Further comments pursuing these subjects will be un-published by the moderators.

80:

Grenades of a given type are all the same mass give or take. Shot put is a throwing disciple where both men and women use one of the same two techniques. Male shots weigh 7.26kg; female shots weigh 4.0kg. Despite this, the best ever put by a woman puts her 8th on the all-time both sexes shot put table.
Do you still think that the answer to achieving minimum safe distance from a grenade is purely technique and not power?

81:

Also relates to #65 following:-

I was less than enthused by "Agent of Vega" (IMO the best thing about it is that it inspired Mercedes Lackey to write, and hence without it we might not have had the "Tales of the SERRAted Edge").
As for the $MU of Karres books, I felt that the witches were part cypher and part motivation for the male lead.

82:

Favourite female characters - all of Bujold's characters, especially Ekaterin Vorkosigan and Haut Pel; Diziet Sma from Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks; Mo (in fantasy casting, I always see Bob and Mo being played by Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan, especially after the DW ep where he's a soldier and she's a special agent); Buffy; Briar Wilkes in Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

I read quite a lot of 'urban fantasy', enough to get irritated by the stereotype Strong Female Character. That said, I do like Marjorie Liu's Hunter Kiss stories and Ilona Andrews' Magic Bites, etc. stories, for characters who are at least two-and-a-half-dimensional, with concerns outside of kicking ass.

That said, I believe that the question "Can I insert a default (white male) character in this place and get the same result?" is an important part of the writing process.

I'm not sure I understand - is it good if you can or bad? There's no way you could put a male in place of any one of Bujold's female characters, so bad? I'd say it points up poor characterisation rather than sexism as such, because you have a character that could be replaced by a cipher.

I can see it revealing sexism (and other prejudices) if you have no non-default principal characters. I can also see it displaying sexist tokenism if a woman replaced by a man would achieve the same result in exactly the same way, i.e. what we have been discussing about SFC stereotype, which is really a guy in a fantasy female shell.

I think 'strong' in this discussion should refer to strong characterisation, not physical might. I think it's a positive thing to have women who are principal characters and who make hard choices and achieve their ends, without ever using means that a man would use. I also see nothing wrong with a woman having different goals than a man would have. Or with a woman picking up a pistol and hoisting the Jolly Roger, either, but I disagree with it being the default 'Strong Female'.

Which I wonder if, reading back, that is what you were getting at with 'writing women is tricky'. I haven't found it so, so far, although I haven't written much of anything. I did find that replacing a stereotypical man (deliberate Bond ripoff) with a woman in a story I'm working on, made a whole lot of interesting possibilities open up in reactions, relationships, and resolution. And she's hopefully a strong female character without ever having to get into a fight.

83:

If you want a source better than the BBC on pain tolerance differences:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=women-feel-pain-more-intensely

If that is not good enough I can look up the original papers.

84:

Molotov Cocktease (Does "The Venture Brothers" count as SF?). She's skilled at combat (even though she lacks depth perception), has an extremely high pain threshold, and could undoubtedly throw a grena..., uh, a fist size object a considerable distance.

She does do that whole skintight black leather thing though...

85:

I was actually thinking more of Telzey Amberdon, who was one of Schmitz' late creations. I was just surprised to see that Witches of Karres was written so early.

For me, it's an interesting point that Schmitz is so often forgotten, when he pretty clearly was writing kickass girls long before they became a standard trope. The other thing is that his heroines are not paired up with flabby nerd guys, either. He was writing more in the James Bond/Flandry mode, and most of his characters were competent at the very least.

86:

Or you could cite these distinguished scientists

http://mythbustersresults.com/no-pain-no-gain

87:

"There's no way you could put a male in place of any one of Bujold's female characters, so bad? "

I find it interesting that you can sometimes (in your head) put a female in place of some of Bujold's male characters without the story being affected much. It's a refreshing "new" spin.

I think also that there are all kinds of ways you can put a refreshing new spin on having a woman picking up a pistol and hoisting the jolly roger. You can have her cradle her baby at the same time, for instance:

http://mochazombie.tumblr.com/post/37235413312/granuaile-aka-grace-omalley-for-light-grey-art

Despite several decades of historical readings I didn't know a thing about Grace O'Malley until I saw that painting a few days ago. Neglected historical sources are great for getting a new look on this old theme.

88:

If anything this post has challenged me to take an assessment of what I've read so far. I'm sorely lacking. I really enjoy Mo of Laundry.

But really a character that comes to my mind immediately is Susan Richards, of the Fantastic Four after John Byrne took over. Just after the weird bit with Malice. She became a tough, clear-headed leader and somebody that was easy to root for, instead of a damsel-in-distress.

Now whether a comic book can slide under the SF&F umbrella as defined by this post, I'm not sure. I just remember grinning at Marvel finally letting Sue do something that was cool, of becoming more than what she was originally portrayed as, and she wasn't obnoxious while doing it.

89:

I'm not sure what your point is. You seem to dismiss the BBC report and now appear to dismiss the report in Scientific American. Is the apparent fact that women have a lower pain tolerance than men some kind of political correctness taboo?

90:

When it comes to women in movies, Zoe Bell in Angel of Death springs to mind:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyzhdE6AJes

91:

Fair enough; my thoughts on Schmitz naturally revolve around his books that I've actually read.

92:

Strong female characters in SF? Well, just about any of Joanna Russ'? Particularly Alyx and Jael, though that may be focussing too much on the physical meaning of strong. She had plenty of others. William Gibson's women characters, and of course Charlie's--certainly in "Rule 34".

Interesting that most of the authors mentioned have been male.

93:

I love Kaylin Neya in Michele Sagara's Elantra novels. She's a character that you absolutely cannot replace with some kind of cipher and get the same story. It's important that she's a woman, and a young one. Her defining characteristic is the need to protect, and to be part of something that protects others, because she has not been protected and those she loved have not been protected. A great protagonist of courage and intelligence.

If you can cope with high fantasy I unreservedly recommend giving the first book in the series, Cast in Shadow, a try.

94:

Surprised no one has mentioned Starling from Assasins Quest or any of the Culture female characters Rasd-Codurersa Diziet Embless Sma da' Marenhide isn particular.

BTW Dizzy if your listning "gis us a job"

95:

I suspect that one reason why most people aren't mentioning Culture characters is that scarcely anyone is mentioning characters that only appear in one novel.

96:

This one really made me think, and I finally realised that when I read I am not consciously taking into account whether a character is male or female. I judge the quality of a character on whether they are fully realised or badly drawn -- although I am certain that my own experience of men and women is factored into that. I am seldom thinking: Is this character representative of their gender. Rather I'm thinking of everything I know about the character and the story they're in, and asking: Is this character behaving in an internally consistent *and* believable way.

A while ago, just as a little exercise I tried to think of all of the unbreakable rules in fiction. I kept adding things to my list, including style rules, grammar rules, even spelling rules; and then crossing them off. I realised that when you really know what you're doing there is only one rule you can't break in fiction: DO NOT BETRAY YOUR CHARACTERS. That is to say, do not turn them into ciphers, do not make them behave illogically and inconsistently solely to further your plot; create a real living breathing (if applicable) character, and then allow them to behave as they really would. Observe them, don't just write them.

97:

The corpus of female SF writers is smaller. And many females who write SF use male characters.

98:

@87
Hence I shall interject properly.

My oblique point was that if you need a study to tell the difference it is pretty trivial. Mythbusters only addresses issues real scientists have found too trivial to study.

99:

Actually, studying something as subjective as pain is extremely difficult because it's almost impossible to measure objectively. The study on gender differences is part of a larger field of study concerning gender based reactions to drugs. It was long *assumed* that gender differences were trivial, but this is definitely not so. Male and female metabolize some drugs very differently, opiates being one such class.

100:

Argh, Alyx. Of course. And whoever brought up Octavia Butler above -- I wasn't wild about Xenogenesis, but Lauren Olamina from PARABLE OF THE SOWER is the real deal, and I think Anyanwu from the Patternist books is as well (although I guess there's a good argument that she's weak -- not in the "badly characterized" sense, but weak-willed in important ways).

Onyesonwu in WHO FEARS DEATH, Mendoza in Kage Baker's Company books. Maybe Zinzi December in ZOO CITY. I didn't like FEED that much, but Georgia was definitely strong. There are a lot of well-done women in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, but it's a bit hard to tell who's a lead and who isn't.

101:

The corpus of female SF writers is smaller.

This is not actually true.

Even in mil-SF, the proportion of female readers and writers is around 35%; across all sub-sections of SF, the female readership is around 50% and 40-50% of the authors are female. (In fantasy, it climbs to 60% for both categories.)

Source: a survey I heard about at second hand. (Writers' Guild of America, I think.)

102:

OK, I wasn't going to weigh in on this pain thing because it seems like derailing much in the vein of the slap-fight going on earlier, but -- did you seriously just dismiss the entirety of science because everything that isn't obvious is unimportant?

103:

Or more likely, the majority of commenters here are male (maybe), and read male writers.
But we've aready had that discussion here, are year or so ago.

104:

I don't find the ratio of writers surprising, but I do find the ratio of SF readers surprising, assuming that it is not SF+F.

105:

I can't speak so assuredly about ratios of writers, but I've heard the same thing about ratios of readers from a variety of sources, not all of them USian.

106:

Strange. When I go into SF bookshops like Forbidden Planet the men outnumber the women in the SF sections. That's about the only metric I am familiar with. Maybe women buy more?

107:

Lazy way to write a "strong" female character: use a Final Girl. It's common and easy, and it doesn't challenge the sexist status quo.

108:

You're right. Let's not pursue this topic any longer.

109:
I suspect that one reason why most people aren't mentioning Culture characters is that scarcely anyone is mentioning characters that only appear in one novel.

I hesitated mentioning Vosillin from Inversions, but did in the end.

The reason I hesitated is that I'm not really sure that the "humans" in the Culture count as male/female. Like Estraven in Left Hand of Darkness they may live in a different category.

These are, after all, people who can change their sex and their hormone levels just by *thinking* about it...

110:
When I go into SF bookshops like Forbidden Planet the men outnumber the women in the SF sections. That's about the only metric I am familiar with. Maybe women buy more?

SF bookshops are not where most SF books are sold ;-)

They are also, if some friends experiences are anything to go by, more than occasionally rather annoying places for women to hang out. I personally know two people who no longer go into a Large London SF Emporium due to hassles they have had.

From my time working in a normal bookshop I can believe it being about 50/50.

(Men read a heck of a lot of romance too - which surprised me. Not 50/50 - but I would guess it had to be about 20/80.)

111:

Ari Emory (both of them), in Cyteen, full stop.

Almost all the female characters in Game of Thrones - even Cersei. While there are admittedly a number of systemic problems with the way a couple of them are written, I've found them to be pretty excellent in general. Bonus points to the show for, so far, covering for a lot of the books' flaws in portrayal.

ALSO most of Brandon Sanderson's female characters.

It's hard to walk the fine line between "this character's gender / race / circumstances are meaningless" and "this character's circumstances utterly define them"; I tend to find the former insulting and the latter boring and lazy.

This thread's given me a lot of book recommendations, by the way. Thanks! :D

112:

Please forgive me for ranting about K.J. Parker's Engineer Trilogy again, but it brings up the obverse of the "guys writing crappy female characters" issue.

Parker is female, and mostly writes male leads. What's odd to me is that her female characters in Engineer are barely sketched out and (mostly) despicable. She writes about their inner life more than is typical, and she passes the Bechdel Test (women don't just talk about men) but beyond that, they're mostly twitterpated fluff, and mostly nothing but trouble.

Her males are noble, principled and honorable in various and lethally pointless ways, but her females aren't even that. It's as if she went with the writer's advice in "As Good As It Gets" - "I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability."

Of course, I'm not a skilled reader, so I expect I'm missing a deep undercurrent that explains everything.

113:

Do you personally know K. J. Parker? 'cause last I heard, his or her real name hasn't been revealed, nor whether the author is a he, she, or they.

There's a lot of assumption that Parker is a woman, but it is an admitted assumption.

114:

Further thought on this; I am not suggesting that SF fan groups that meet in pubs are necessarily 100% representative, but last night's Trout was 50/50 give or take 1 person.

115:

Walter Jon Williams writes pretty good female protagonists:

Aiah in the Metropolitan books
Sula in the Praxis books
Dagmar Shaw in 'This Is Not A Game' et seq.
Fiona in 'Ambassador of Progress'

There's also the romantic interest for one of his Privateers & Gentlemen novels - Maria-Anna de Marquez, who is intriguing and attractive (as befits a romantic interest) whilst also being a strong character, albeit one operating under the social constraints of the time and with some historically appropriate, but nevertheless ugly, racist attitudes.

Regards
Luke

116:

Back to the original question:

Julie Czerneda's female characters are just about my favorite. They are fun and powerful in ways I think of as feminine - gender-swap them and I don't think you get the same story. Perhaps it's that their winning strengths (organization, empathy, resilience, fortitude, endurance) are not considered exciting enough to a male writer (or lead).

I think the Filthy Assistants in Transmetropolitan are great characters, even if their lives do revolve around Spider a bit too much. But that's the nature of the characters, and the story.

I'm always up for a story with an Action Girl, but tough+guns+female isn't much different from tough+guns+male, except for the inevitable crotch-kick joke. Give me a character with a distinctively non-male gaze, or an approach to solving problems that differs from "shoot it til it goes away". Heck, gimme someone who isn't about just "solving problems" in the first place!

117:

There's a lot of assumption that Parker is a woman, but it is an admitted assumption.

You're right. I'm quite certain, myself, but I can't claim any special knowledge.

118:

Who comes to mind?
I don't know why Diziet Sma from The Use of Weapons gets mentiones that often - My feeling is that Banks has roughly one female Culture Character that shows up in every Culture novel: Smart, tough in a rational way, sexually very active and I think most of the times dark hair. While I'm a bit bored by Banks right now, his recurring female character with changing names is well done, likable and believable in the setting. Does anyone else feel like Banks male Culture characters could very well function as men in our societies today, meaning they would stand out less than the women? Strikes me as odd.

Onyesonwu from Who fears Death

For some reason I remember Lonestar Voyager Isol from Natural History by Justina Robson as female, but she's a spaceship so I'm not sure that makes sense. But she's cool, smart, tough and vulnerable and a bit evil in ways that make perfect sense, so I like.

I also kinda liked the titular character from The Ship who sang from Anne McCaffrey

Whom I didn't like as a female lead was the girl from Peter Watts Rifters trilogy - while very intense, she remains somewhat to intransparent to be really believable.

What would happen to some stories if you swapped in a female lead?
Since I re-read The Inquest from Stanislaw Lem's Pilot Pirx stories, I like to imagine Pirx as a woman. The scene where the robot tells Pirx why all women love robots more than humans would be hilarious. And I think Pirx would work as woman with little or no change - he's mostly business anyway, the rest is sarcasm.
The guy from Banks The Player of Games could be one of the aforementioned Culture women, but then the empire he's sent to to play a game would treat him differently and the story wouldn't work out like that.
Last not least, I think Siri from Peter Watts Blindsight could very well be written as a woman, with hardly any change to story. And I don't think that Siri is a badly written character or anything.

119:

That's a great example.

120:

The reason I hesitated is that I'm not really sure that the "humans" in the Culture count as male/female. Like Estraven in Left Hand of Darkness they may live in a different category.
Yes but: With Estraven, I think, it is explored in what Category Estraven lives in. With the Culture people, they mostly display as promiscous, bisexual men or promiscous bisexual women.
Put Estraven into Europe, 2012, he'd be considerd queer in all senses of the word. Put a Culture Woman in the same place, she'd be considered a slut. Take a culture Man, he wouldn't stand out. I think - am not entirely sure.

While Banks is, I think, very good at describing gendered or other injustices (think Inversion or The Player of Games), I don't think who thoroughly follows all implications of the Culture setting. Le Guin on the other hand wrote The Left Hand of Darkness as a strong thought experiment.

121:

"I remember thinking for a while that it was odd that they had so many very tall men on the show in the walk in roles.

I eventually twigged that they didn't. They just had the camera at roughly the eye height of the women - not the men. #facepalm."

Wow. That's a great observation. I'm taller than average. (In spite of the fact that my husband likes to joke that I'm a tiny, tiny thing. I'm 5'8" tall.) That's not something that would've occurred to me either.

122:

"Morn Hyland from the Gap cycle is my favorite female character in SF/ Fantasy actually probably my favorite character no matter the gender."

That sounds amazing. I need to look it up.

123:

It was a book I could not finish due to the number of rapes that occurred in it.

124:

"Is "wimp" a homophobic term in the US? It's not in the UK. It's a generic term for somebody weak or ineffectual - not gender/sexual-preference specific insult."

It's cultural origins in the US are. 'Effeminate' is a related association with 'wimp' here. The fact that the article was written using such terminology indicates a bias in the scientific perspective of those conducting the study and therefore, makes me hold doubts regarding its accuracy. There are a lot of such studies. In fact, whole aspects of medical science are based on such unscientific biases.

Example: Females have hormone fluctuations that males do not. This hormonal fluctuations affect how medications are absorbed in the body. This is a known fact. Yet, for most of medical history, female test subjects have not been used. Why?

Because it's too hard to get a consistant result. You see, females have hormone fluctuations and those fluctuations affect the outcomes.

D'oh!

125:

"Hmm. Dany Targaryen, Cat and Arya Stark -- they all have serious flaws, but I think they're pretty well drawn. Marcie Grosvenor from some bits of FINDER. I'm blanking a little bit here; this is sad."

I'd fight you on Dany. A LOT. However, Arya? I love her. Hell, in a lot of ways, I was her. :)

126:

" Just because men *can* throw a grenade with upper body strength alone, doesn't mean the other half can't do it with hip power."

And this is why I saw it as a failure in training. :)

127:

"The fact that the article was written using such terminology indicates a bias in the scientific perspective of those conducting the study "

No it indicates a bias in the journalist who wrote the article about the study.

128:

"After a while the leverage advantages are overwhelmed by the practical difficulties of moving 150+kg of couch potato. And you want to do this fast?"

I never said martial arts was perfect. It isn't. And if strength was ever all that mattered in a fight, then we wouldn't have developed battle strategy. Fights would merely be decided by how many people showed up.

129:

"That's why most of the good truly female characters written in science fiction by male authors are only written by MASTER writers, because amateurs can't pull it off."

That's an interesting observation.

130:

"In general, citations of science/medicine articles off the BBC's web site should be given as much credence as citations from a tabloid newspaper. "

Ah-ha! That puts things in perspective.

131:

"I can see it revealing sexism (and other prejudices)"

That's the reason. There. Making every female character be All That Is The Female Experience(tm) is every bit as problematic as writing a male character and giving him breasts. It's tricky. Writing Other is.

132:

"Despite several decades of historical readings I didn't know a thing about Grace O'Malley until I saw that painting a few days ago."

Oh, she's been on my radar for quite some time. One of my friends named her little girl for Grace O'Malley.

133:

"Interesting that most of the authors mentioned have been male."

Isn't it?

134:

" I realised that when you really know what you're doing there is only one rule you can't break in fiction: DO NOT BETRAY YOUR CHARACTERS."

Which, for myself as a character driven writer, ties directly into Do Not Betray the Story.

135:

Not necessarily.
Charles is most famous for writing hard SF, and hence this blog attracts the nuts and bolts people. Also, I would not mind betting that the writers and readers of hard SF are heavily skewed in favor of males.

136:

"This thread's given me a lot of book recommendations, by the way. Thanks! :D"

You're welcome. Same here.

137:

The outcome of real fights are often decided before the trouble starts, because the instigator believes (often correctly) that they will win. They are either drunk, drugged up, enraged, armed, strike first, have friends who will help or are just plain vicious.

138:

"Her males are noble, principled and honorable in various and lethally pointless ways, but her females aren't even that. It's as if she went with the writer's advice in "As Good As It Gets" - "I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.""

It's possible. I've not read the author in question. But once again this causes me to repeat the following: Women Are Given The Misogynist Mental Programming Too. Our girly bits do not make us exempt. It makes the struggle against it more complicated and sometimes down right twisted.

139:

"Give me a character with a distinctively non-male gaze, or an approach to solving problems that differs from "shoot it til it goes away"."

And this is one of the reasons why I've written Liam as I have. Whether I was successful is a whole other issue.

140:

"It was a book I could not finish due to the number of rapes that occurred in it."

And then again, maybe I don't. Heh.

141:

Am I living in some weird SF ghetto? I have never read an SF+F book with rape in it AFAIK. The one exception being BDSM masquerading as SF, John Norman. I picked up one of his books at the local lending library years ago because I like parallel worlds stories. Couldn't believe what I was reading, or that the library would stock it.

142:

Yes. You must be.

I can see 4 on my shelves without much effort:
"Kronk" by Edmund Cooper
The gap series, I forget which volume, by Stephen donaldson.
"Shards of Honour" by Bujold
"Drakon" by S M Stirling.

I'm sure others can come up with some examples from books published in the last 15 years. It isn't in every book, but it does exist.

143:

I have read none of those. In fact, not even heard of them.

144:
Because it's too hard to get a consistant result. You see, females have hormone fluctuations and those fluctuations affect the outcomes.

Yes - I know ;-)

If you go look at the last two paragraphs of that BBC article. The ones in quotation marks (rather than what our usual example of poor science reporting interpreted the results as) you'll read:

"We know that women's pain threshold varies across the menstrual cycle. Postmenopausal women who take HRT tend to report more pain problems than other women

"More research needs to be done. It's hugely important because most of the drugs we use in pain have been tested on men. There is some evidence that women respond better to different pain killers than men."

As well as biological differences causing hassles there's also intriguing evidence that pain perception is a learned behaviour to some extent. For example some of the more effective treatments for chronic pain involve things like cognitive behavioural therapy - see http://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk/resources/our-services/peri-operative/pain/psychologically-based-treatment.pdf for more.

So some gender differences in pain perception may be down to socialisation and culture rather than biology.

(My partner has a chronic pain condition - we've done way too much reading on this topic ;-)

I also find it interesting that I seem to read a subtext in some of the comments here that being able to deal with more pain == better. I wonder if that's true.

Here's a SFnal "what if". What if we discover that people who commit violent crime have lower levels of pain perception? What if we can tweak it? Being found guilty of assault gets you N months in prison + your perception of pain increased by Y% on a permanent basis.

145:

Have you maybe heard of the authors at least?

146:

"I also find it interesting that I seem to read a subtext in some of the comments here that being able to deal with more pain == better. I wonder if that's true."

Ask someone with terminal cancer, or even toothache, and no access to painkillers.

147:

Donaldson and Bujold. The latter because I read a novelette online (Cryoburn?) and found it horribly tedious. The former from scanning SF bookshelves and seeing his name for years attached to endless doorstop series.

148:

I suppose that provides a corollary to my one rule: Character can drive plot, but plot should never drive character.

149:

Well knowing of Cooper would require you to either have a good knowledge of British SF authors of 40 years ago, or else been buying second hand SF books in the late 90's/ early 21st century when their owners were dying or selling them on to bookstores.

And I agree about Donaldson. Surprised you havn't seen S M Stirling much, he's popular with the mil SF lot.

150:

Okay then. I obviously expressed myself badly. To be clear "I wonder if this is always true".

As I said I have a partner with a chronic pain condition. I also cared for my father when he was dying of terminal cancer. Believe me I am fully aware that when pain is doing bad things it is awful scary and soul destroying stuff.

I just found it interesting that my reading of some folks responses was that that women perceiving pain more than men was seen a "bad" thing.

Is it really all upside for the blokes?

If women report pain at lower thresholds than men does it make them more likely to get treatment early and therefore stop physical issues before they can progress?

There's evidence of links between pain perception and body image. There are other links between body image, mirror neurons, and how we model others behaviour. Maybe pain perception and empathy are tied together through some ghastly evolutionary hack.

To pick a specific example - while women have higher reported perception of pain, men generally have lower reported quality of life metrics.

See the Norwegian study I referenced before (http://www.painmanagementnursing.org/article/S1524-9042(04)00014-1/abstract) for example.

Pain is really fricking complicated. The folks with congenital analgesia who cannot feel any pain not only have problems because they cannot "feel" injuries and ignore them. They have problems because pain is involved in some of the feedback cycles that trigger off healing behaviours in the rest of the body.

Not feeling pain can mess with healing. Feeling too much pain can screw up healing too.

Where's the right place to put the dial?

151:

Then you really don't read much science fiction and/or read many books about science fiction and/or go through real or virtual shelves in science fiction sections of real or virtual bookstores.

Bujold, Cooper, Donaldson, Stirling. Those are all authors which are omnipresent in the SF world.

Also, rape is very present in many other novels by many other SF authors. Friday immediately springs to mind. She gets raped in her eponymous novel, by Heinlein.

Many other women SF authors than Bujold give us characters who have had a traumatic rape experience earlier in their lives.

152:

"Then you really don't read much science fiction"

At a guess I would say I've read about 3000 SF books. I have more than 1000 on my bookshelves. Maybe I just don't like the kinds of stories where rape is part of the plot. Although I have read most of Heinlein I have never read Friday, nor indeed Stranger in a Strange Land.

153:

The only military SF I have read is Haldeman and some Drake. I might have seen Stirling, but if so nothing of his sticks in my mind.

155:

[[ This ended up in the spam folder ]]

A couple of someones else out there on the internet articulated my key discomfort with the soi-distant "Strong Female Character" stereotype - the phrase they use to describe them is "fighting fucktoys". Which seems a fair description to me. As someone who is female, I'll believe that these "strong female characters" are meant to be achievable characters for women at around the same time we get the first one who looks believably forty (as opposed to Hollywood forty, which is a sort of ageless late-twenties), or the first one who isn't built like the nearest approximation to an anatomically realistic Barbie doll (large tits, small waist, small-ish hips). I'll really know women have achieved the next best thing to cultural equality when at least half the female detectives in crime shows look to be actual contemporaries of their male colleagues, running to plump just like their male colleagues, with large hips, sagging tits, and wrinkles on their faces, but with the brains behind those faces just as unimpaired by age as those of their male colleagues.

As it stands, the "strong female character" isn't a female power fantasy. She's a masculine sexual fantasy.

I suppose it's not surprising my favourite female characters, therefore are people like Granny Weatherwax, from the Discworld books. Older women, who gain power from being both older and female, in much the same way that the really powerful men gain power from their age. I've said repeatedly that I want to be Granny Weatherwax when I grow up (I'm forty-odd now). I also admire Sybil Vimes (who caught my attention because not only was she not a conventionally feminine woman, she also wasn't conventionally pretty; she failed at beauty to the point where her one attempt at being seductive is comedicly misread as her being a monster), particularly since she turned the private-sphere power she was allowed to have within the society she lived in (the power of family, of connections, of being the one who "keeps in touch" with everyone) into a public force equally as formidable as that of many of the men she associates with.

I also quite like some of Charlie's female characters - in particular Liz Kavanaugh and Elaine Barnaby from his near-future stories. I think the thing which appeals to me about them is that they're believably women living in this culture we all inhabit, who have to deal with the inbuilt sexism, the invisible rules that say women can't be as good as men.

(Oh, and have you noticed? It's "girls can do anything", but women are the ones who get discriminated against. "Girls can do anything" was a cute slogan back in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up. It's a lot less cute now, when I have to damn well come slap up against the realisation that since I'm not a girl any more, I'm having to fight up hill and down dale against the weight of social expectation).

156:

Dirk @ 135
Unless, the "victim" has become sensitised to this sort of thing ...
He/she then has several options, the first being, if possible to defuse it, by not making eye-contact, backing off slightly, etc, next ask "are you threatening me?" (and make sure others hear that), then the option of doing something the aggressor really ins't expecting, IF you can get away with it, & finally, especially if you have just pulled the previous one - RUN AWAY!
And, yes, I've done all of these, if only because I had no alternative at the time.

157:

Another fight-avoidance tactic worth noting: earphones, a smile, and a wave. At least around here, aggressive fight-spoiled drunks of the "you looking at me?" variety usually need to generate a hostile verbal interaction so that they can wind themselves up to punch a random stranger. If you obviously can't hear them and don't respond in a hostile manner, this confuses them for long enough for you to swiftly walk away.

This doesn't work on the really keyed-up aggressors who will simply attack a random stranger from behind without warning, but those are relatively rarer: your run-of-the-mill aggressive drunk needs the social framework in which to start a fight, and if you don't give it to them they'll go in search of other prey.

158:

This may be an unpopular view here, but I felt like Mo was one of the least developed of Charlie's female characters. She's powerful and dangerous, sure, but I always felt like she was more sketched than filled in (unlike our protagonist in Halting State, for instance, or Wednesday in Iron Sunrise, or even Freya -- who is in a sense a counterpoint to the intensely over-the-top and unbelievable characterization in Heinlein's Friday).

That said, this may be because I've been paying less close attention to the Laundry series.

Mo behaves realistically, but I feel like there's a hole in the middle where she should be (which is not unusual in novels, and is not unusual in science fiction, but is quite unusual in terms of important supporting characters in Stross novels). Hopefully she'll get a much bigger role in upcoming books (and if not, I'll need to re-read the Laundry series closely, because I feel like I'm alone in this).

159:
Mo behaves realistically, but I feel like there's a hole in the middle where she should be

I kind of agree, having reread all of the Laundry books earlier this year, but I actually find the hole rather intriguing.

SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT READ THE BOOKS

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  • The Atrocity Archives - We understand everything that happens to Mo. She's "there" for large chunks of the book.

  • The Jennifer Morgue - Mo's there at the start, and saves the day at the end. We get indirect references to Mo's training but Bob doesn't really go into details. She is manipulated - at least initially - into the position of saving the day by the management layer. This is still a Bob & Mo plot - even though Mo is absent through most of the book.

  • The Fuller Memorandum - Mo is, at this point, basically a soldier. She's sent into extreme physical danger as a matter of course. It's her job. Bob is on the management track. Mo is very much not. She's not manipulated into taking action. She acts. Kicking ass and takes names. We also get hints to Mo's life when she's not around Bob. The burden and responsibility of that violin. She doesn't really end up saving the day. Bob does. By getting a little taste of soul eating.

  • The Apocalypse Codex - Mo is basically absent outside of Bob's domestic life. Bob falls into insane danger (again), but manages to get himself out of it. Occasionally by talking to demons and eating souls. What's Mo doing during this? Off saving the world somewhere else I imagine.

  • So we have a lot of insight into Bob's POV throughout. Admittedly filtered through the security cleared unreliable narration of his memoirs.

    Whereas we have been getting fewer and fewer insights into what Mo's been doing as the books progress.

    I find it hard to believe that is accidental.

    Of course I'm almost certainly misreading what OGH has in mind for our happy crew in the Laundryverse - but what I see is this.

    Bob - who has become better and better at saving the world by become a little bit more monstrous.

    Mo - who has become better and better at saving the world by killing monsters.

    Yes. That'll end well.

    160:

    An excellent analysis; my, more simplistic, thought was that so far "The Laundry Files" are Bob's memoirs, and no-one else appears except where they actually impact what Bob felt to be important about what happened to him.

    Complaining about Mo being largely absent during the action of The Apocalypse Codex is a bit like complaining that BASHFUL INCENDIARY doesn't appear in The Atrocity Archives.

    161:

    Surprised to see no mention of Rachel Mansour from Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise,kick ass on par with many characters, nerves of steel...
    Eliza from Neal Stephenson's System of the World is without doubt a courageous character too...

    162:

    Cory Doctorow also has valorous and competent female characters, Mala, in For the Win, for example...

    163:

    Lots of actual women have rape or sexual assault as part of their lived experience. I'm one of them! I don't have a problem with stories with rape in them because I think art should be able to deal with difficult things. I have a problem when it's used as a cheap plot device, or some kind of shorthand for A Very Bad Thing, or used as motivation in place of proper character development, or when it's used for shock or for titillation. If you're going to write about rape, it behooves you to do some proper reading and research about the ways it actually does affect people rather than just relying on tired, sexist tropes.

    164:

    I should add that wasn't meant as a reply to Dirk's comment particularly but to the discussion in general. I shouldn't try and comment at 4AM!

    165:

    "Bob - who has become better and better at saving the world by become a little bit more monstrous. Mo - who has become better and better at saving the world by killing monsters. Yes. That'll end well."

    Ohhhhh, NICE observation there. Interesting.

    166:

    It's far more common than most males prefer to think. It's certainly more common than society prefers we discuss.

    I'm so sorry that it happened to you.

    "I don't have a problem with stories with rape in them because I think art should be able to deal with difficult things."

    I very much agree.

    167:

    Elizabeth Moon has two space opera series with mainly female characters. Some of the characters are almost Heinleinian in their overall competence but they aren't just male characters with the names changed. I'd describe both series are having a retro feel, as they have spaceships trading between worlds, a space navy, rich and powerful characters behaving nobly (the way that real rich and powerful people don't), etc. I enjoyed them both.

    I'd also nominate the entire crew of C.J.Cherryh's The Pride of Chanur. You didn't say the characters had to be human!

    168:

    I see what you mean about Elizabeth Moon, at least in regard to the "Vatta's War" series. Personally, I suspect that I overlooked that series because "Speed of Dark" and "Remnant Population" made much more of an impact on me. You have prompted me to add a nomination for Ofelia Fulfarres from RP though.

    169:

    It's far more common than most males prefer to think. It's certainly more common than society prefers we discuss.

    That is too true.
    I've met quite a few survivors--men included. It is one of those unexpected things that you sometimes learn about someone. Unfortunately that term: Survivor, doesn't always seem appropriate. They may have physically survived, but they aren't necessarily the people they were, or might have been.

    170:

    J P R @ 166
    Tell me about it!
    Been there, err.. experienced that.

    171:

    The Lady, from glen cook's black company. She is the most awesome character in the books, not only because of her powers, but first and foremost because of her cunning, sharp mind and ruthlessness.
    He's got a few great female characters, too, 2 of them even becoming narrators in some books.
    I also remember fondly the time when the company's cadre is basically all-female

    172:

    Which is why people who want "self defence" should go to classes in situational awareness, not a martial art where being merely proficient takes several years. OTOH if the art is realistic enough being beaten up in real life will be nowhere near as traumatic because you will already have sustained a wider range of injuries.

    173:

    " If you're going to write about rape, it behooves you to do some proper reading and research about the ways it actually does affect people rather than just relying on tired, sexist tropes."

    True, but consider the standard military SF trope where the hero guns down X number of people, sees his friends maimed and killed and then shrugs it off with a quip and a drink with the survivors.
    It doesn't happen unless the hero is a total psychopath, hence the very high incidence of PTSD. And people don't die neatly a lot of the time. They spend it screaming or crying for their mothers. Their hardcore military pals cry as well, even if just from the lifting of the stress after a battle. But nobody talks about that.

    174:

    It's not a competition, Dirk. It's better writing and makes for better art if authors deal with all kinds of mental and physical trauma in a sensitive and informed way.

    Besides, how can you say "nobody talks about that" on the blog of an author who has explicitly written characters dealing with the traumatic aftereffects of combat? Hell, some of the most famous novels in the SF canon deal with the horrors of war. Did you miss the whole point of Slaughterhouse Five, or just not read it?

    175:

    Well "nobody talks about it" is rhetoric. I really mean opinion forming mass media and conventional movie portrayals - the stuff the vast majority of people see. Also, I think with one or two very few exceptions almost all military fiction is very much that and glosses over the really nasty bits. Even conventional reporting does that. How many pics have you seen of soldiers returning from Iraq/Afghanistan missing their faces? We live in a sanitized environment.

    177:

    That underlines Dirk's point: Weston got badly burned in the Falklands Conflict, 30 years ago. (And his face didn't become famous until the shooting was pretty much over.)

    Since Vietnam, all western military forces have taken the lesson to heart that the war can be lost on the home front if you don't adequately manage media perceptions. I've seen it said that the British press management at the Falklands was taken as a model by the Pentagon for the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq invasion; journalists were "embedded" and under constant monitoring, with the implication that uncontrolled journalists could be expelled/barred from entering the zone of control. And a number of non-embedded journalists working for foreign media outlets -- notably Al Jazeera -- were killed by allied fire which appears to have deliberately targeted them.

    178:

    A lot of junior US military people I knew at the time took a lot of persuading that Al Jazeera weren't the journalism wing of Al Qaeda. I made the point that this was like blaming the San Francisco Chronicle for the Zodiac murders, and gave them a wiki and google-assisted lecture about Al Jazeera that eventually changed their minds.

    But at the start every single one of them believed that Al Jazeera reporters were enemy propagandists who also worked as spotters, and that in any case "a camera looks like a rocket launcher" and that they were fair game.

    I'm talking about very young servicemen, not their NCOs and commanders, but I think there was an institutional thing going on.

    My impression from the right-wing US media was that this was the "party line".

    179:

    What you won't see on TV (and may not want to see here).
    The dead US soldier (not Iraqi) has a wound that is *almost* survivable with current medical technology. Some soldiers have been wounded almost this badly and are alive now.
    http://mindprod.com/image/restricted/iraqmissingface.jpg

    180:

    Whereas, in fact, Al Jazeera was the reconstituted former BBC World Service middle eastern service, after the BBC downsized in that part of the world. Running as an independent company out of one of the less oppressive Gulf Empirates, and basically doing what the BBC used to do in the region.

    181:

    For the original topic, my favourite female characters have mostly been mentioned. Personally, I'm a fan of Arya Stark, and I can't believe that no-one has mentioned Ellen Ripley...

    My preferences may be skewed, however; an upbringing as an army brat, and a later education at a male-only boarding school, meant that the only adult women I met while going through puberty were colleagues of my parents. As a result, I arrived at university and couldn't believe it when I actually met airheads (of either gender). "What do you mean, you can't read a map / do first aid / travel abroad / wire a plug / change the wheel on a car? My mum (in fact all the adult women I know) can."

    ...but in relation to the deaths of unembedded journalists, I'd strongly suggest that correlation should not imply causation.

    The 2003 Iraq invasion was probably the first time that journalists tried to operate non-embedded during a high-end shooting war, as carried out by first-world militaries; as a result, some of the journalists whose sum total of experience was in low-intensity conflict (who would have set their behaviours and expectations of "personal safety around uniformed men with guns" accordingly) died.

    Being within a mile of a gunfight is not a good place to be, given the likely list of weapons in use; at which point you have to ask exactly where the aspiring unembedded journalist is going to be. Being unembedded, they won't know what is going on, and can't rely on "locals who know what's happening", because there aren't any. If they are unlucky enough to be close to the battle area, it may visit them without notice (and somewhat faster than they can get away from it). We don't have a clear picture of how many journalists "got away with it" because soldiers acted carefully, we only hear of the cases where it all went horribly wrong.

    Note that said battles will happen without apparent notice, and that they will move very, very quickly. They will also be very, very, violent - the aim is to completely surprise and confuse trained soldiers who are expecting it, let alone someone who has only ever heard shots from a distance. Soldiers will not be doing the low-intensity thing of "being visible to deter rioters/insurgents", they will be doing the high intensity thing of "hiding, ambushing, and moving at sprint speed from firing position to firing position". They will not be operating as policemen in green (with associated concepts of "minimum force"), they will be operating as soldiers - they will be trying to close with the enemy and destroy them.

    strummist@177 - It's understandable that a tripod-mounted, shoulder-aimed, bulky TV camera with a team of people close to it can be mistaken for a tripod-mounted, shoulder-aimed, anti-tank weapon with a team of firers close to it. This isn't a "party line" from neocons, it's a fact; it's about as smart as reporting a UK riot while wearing black clothes and a balaclava, and then complaining when the police arrest you along with the looters.

    Pointing anything at an armoured vehicle during a high-intensity war is not something that you can buy life insurance against - a sign saying "Press" or "TV" written in foot-high and inch-thick letters can't be read from the probable employment range of an anti-tank weapon. Claiming that "it was well known that the Baghdad Hilton was used by the press" is delusional when the armoured vehicle crews are driving at best speed through an unfamiliar city for the first time, using maps that don't say "the top of that building that just came into view on your left, two streets over, next to the other three tall buildings, that's the Hilton".

    It's certainly a lot easier to believe than the implication that there were allied soldiers encouraged to, or tasked with, murdering unembedded journalists...

    PS Take a look at the articles by the Guardian journalist who was embedded during the 2003 invasion of Iraq (Audrey Gillan); IMHO she wrote some of the best articles that I read.

    182:

    @180
    Arya and Ripley indeed. Both awesome. One from fantasy and one from movies. I think many of us were hesitant to pick them from outside of book science fiction. We're trying to show that there ARE heriones in SF, you just have to look. Especially Arya.(My projection is that SOIAF ends with Arya, Tyrion and Daeneris riding back to Westeros on fully grown dragons to save the day against the evil from beyond the wall, which means Tyrion's new girlfriend has to die first, not enough seats. Or maybe Arya or Daeneris. Or Tyrion. Or all the Dragons. At Arya's hand. OK, I won't predict.)

    One of these days there will probably journalistic spy satellites and cheap journalistic camera drones that give a grounds eye view of everything, no need for journalists. Militaries would desperately try to come up with countermeasures.

    183:

    #180 and #181 - I wasn't reluctant to choose from outside "book SF"; I was reluctant to have too long a list and already had 14 seconds and nominates in #24.

    Nor was I about to nominate characters from a book/Tv series I've neither read not seen.

    184:

    I gotta go with Paksenarrion. Best rendition of a paladin I've ever seen in fiction, and she just happens to be female.

    185:

    One of these days there will probably journalistic spy satellites and cheap journalistic camera drones that give a grounds eye view of everything, no need for journalists. Militaries would desperately try to come up with countermeasures.

    They're already thinking about it, since recon drones are already in use. The camera drones run by journalists may be the exact same models as the camera drones run by military forces; opposing forces would be irrational not to shoot down as many as they could. For that matter, the camera drones will probably look a lot like the bomb drones; this makes countermeasures even more important.

    There might be some special cases where things go strange; if the battle is almost entirely robotic, humans might be the safest observers around.

    186:

    HERF gun, Vircator

    Specials

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