My mother said a Cool Thing several years back when she first started to realize that she was getting older faster than she was getting younger. She says “why do I have to be a mother, a maiden or a crone? Can’t a woman just be a woman? I’m not a crone yet and I’m not a mother any more. What am I for the next thirty years? A void?”
A while back I started and abandoned several posts about the age of characters in SF/F and about how I am feeling very disenfranchised by my inability to identify with or care about the characters I was encountering. There are lots of young folks from children to mid-twenties. There are some about grown-up men, fewer about old men. There are not so many about women who are my age or older, and even fewer about women who are childless or whose children are grown.
I’ve discussed before my Epic Quest for Epic Fantasy, yes? I’ve convinced myself that I’ve missed some really great reads that have fallen under the radar and am seeking those titles and authors out. I am finding that I really prefer what is called “midlist”, that many of these books are out of print, that they were at the time that they were published considered to be soft science fiction. Now, reading these in a retrospective manner, I would have to define “soft science fiction” as a science fiction story in which there are really great characters spanning ages and gender. I am falling in love with these finds! The characters are so … so…. PEOPLE-Y! This book has real people in it! In space! with airlocks and aliens! And the women are grown ups! I’m very excited.
Sigh. In convention panels on “strong female characters” no one can think of any except for (you guessed it) Princess Leia and Pick-Your-Urban-Fantasy main character. I suggest books, but no one’s heard of these authors. Really? Am I imagining how wonderful these books are? Am I seeing something that’s not there? I’ve given up on these panels.
At Patrick Rothfuss’ Guest Doo-Dad speech, he read to us from the beginning of a story he’s starting. This story idea was generated by a discussion he had with Ellen Datlow (a long-time revered editor of anthologies) and Teri Windling (artist). They were trying to identify fantasy novels in which the main character is not defined by her children: she isn’t defending children, she isn’t trying to get her son to become king, and so forth. Ok, great! I’m not just a bitchy feminist whining about something better left to The Men. There are other people elsewhere thinking about this.
His talk and short story (just the beginning!) reaffirmed my sensation of being an outsider, having chosen not to have children. Sometimes it’s like I don’t exist, people find they have nothing to say to me, it gets awkward. I’m thirty years early for that thirty-year-long void between Mother and Crone. It’s reflected in my reading life, too. One of the reasons that a book will resonate with us is because we find the one of the characters to be an acceptable role-model. Going through this “What Am I?” renaissance, I realized that I’m doing this too when I read for my Epic Quest for Epic Fantasy. Let me tell you, mid-thirties and no children, it’s been a LONG TIME since I’ve found a valid role model in a book.
Paula and I put our heads together and thought of…two…fantasies. Juliet McKenna’s Livak from her Tales of Einarinn which starts with The Thief’s Gamble is not in the story because she has children who are important to the story. She’s not married and doesn’t have children, but isn’t a spry young maiden either. Livak’s motivations are her own. She’s concerned about her potential relationship with Ryshad but her actions aren’t limited to her romantic hopes, and in fact, spends a couple of books deciding if she wants to pursue this relationship. She earns her own money, does her own thing, and yet, the books are neither ABOUT Livak nor ABOUT how Livak is not your typical gal. The story is about finding a lost magic system with which to defend themselves against a previously unknown foe.
Paula’s entry is The Deeds of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. I’m hoping that one of Paula’s Saturday posts will cover this book.
Some of the sci-fi Paula and I came up with over the weekend: Julie Czerneda’s Species Imperative series; Jo Clayton’s Skeen’s Leap series, Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War.
So, do you have any entries?