Ever read a fantasy book, or any book for that matter, that left you scratching your head wondering if the writer had ever met a living, breathing female in his life? We’ve come a long way in the literary world, but some women (especially in some genres) are still portrayed as superficial sex objects whose sole purpose is to serve the protagonist.
It doesn’t help that within the speculative fiction genre, which includes both fantasy and science fiction, story is king; everything else is fluff. I think the problem is, I’m a character person. All of my work is character-driven. The story, the world, the culture–these are important, but they are secondary to me because people are the most fascinating thing about life. The journeys they take, the emotions, the rise and fall of their lives, their relationship to others, their thoughts, fears, crushed hopes, and newly birthed dreams–these are what I connect with as a reader and for me, that is the story.
Change is coming to the genre, but it’s not fast enough for me. And if I’m honest, I don’t want to give up on the books that have already paved the way within the genre. Some people may argue with me, but those stories deserve to be read, even if the books are sprinkled with two-dimensional characters or the traditional big-breasted gals in bikini armor.
As I tell my kids, they can either change things, or accept them. I can either do something about adding to the stories of worthy women out there, focus on those women who are written well, or continue to rant to whoever will listen about the distinct lack of realistic women in science fiction and fantasy.
I chose two out of the three, but reserve the right to indulge in the third choice after reading particularly dreadful novels.
This year, I published my first fantasy novel, Ashborne, and over the summer, I published my first science fiction story, Orbital Extraction. The women in these stories are multi-layered. Riatha, a member of a proud race, fled the destruction of her world and has risen from the ashes to restore her people. Her journey takes her through bitter grief, pride, an intense desire for retribution, joy, and even compassion, though not in that order. All of the women experience sorrow, frustration and triumph and they grow through each experience. By the time you turn to the last page, these women are not the same. I’ve tried to do the same with the men. Authors are realizing how important it is to fully flesh out their characters, to give them depth and a past, to give them hopes and a dream, to give them a distinct personality, in other words, to breathe life into them. Give it another few years and the entire speculative fiction spectrum will be transformed, in a good way.
As we progress along this journey, it’s important to look at women who defy the floozy norms. In that vein, I’ve decided to showcase some of the amazing characters I’ve stumbled across in my reading. Whether these ladies are the protagonist or a secondary character, or even a minor character whose appearance lasts for the breadth of only a few pages, they all have something in common: a depth and complexity to them that establishes them as a force to be reckoned with, quickly throwing off the mantel of ‘traditional bimbo hanging on the mighty hero’s arm.’
I figure you can find plot outlines and detailed character analysis in other places so you won’t find that here. In my world, whether I trust this woman with my child, if she can out-maneuver like a pro in political arenas, if she can voice an original thought, and her skill with a stiletto are all more important than the clothes she’s wearing. You also won’t find a stiff profile template with detailed descriptions of liquid blue eyes and inky ringlets that fall down her back and her exact height listed in inches, because none of that matters. Upon further examination, you’ll notice a lack of strength and weakness analysis, along with any in-depth study of symbolism, because while that does matter, I’ll leave all of that to the experts. I read for fun and what I offer is a quick glimpse of women’s lives, and hopefully it’ll inspire you to read more about some of them.
At least twice a month (barring emergencies, of course), I will post a Female Character Spotlight for women from fantasy, science fiction (and sometimes mainstream literature) that runs from funny and lighthearted to serious. I hope you’ll walk away curious and with a desire to meet them, or at the very least, begin looking at women characters differently.
Without further ado . . . welcome to the first ever . . .
Female Character Spotlight: Adora Belle Dearheart
***Warning: Minor spoiler alert***
In which book does she make her introduction?
- Going Postal written by Terry Pratchett. In the book, Moist von Lipwig, a career fraudster, is hanged for his crimes only to be rescued and given one last chance of redemption by restoring the defunct postal system. He meets Adora Belle Dearhart after inquiring about a Golem ordered to watch over him in his new role as a government employee.
Where else can we meet her?
- A voice in the dark anxious to shoot something.
‘It was one of those hopeless little shop fronts that house enterprises with a lifetime measured in days, like Giant Clearance Sale!!! of socks with two heels each, tights with three legs and shirts with one sleeve, four feet long. The window was boarded over, but just visible behind the graffiti above it were the words: The Golem Trust.
Moist pushed open the door. Glass crunched under his feet.
A voice said, “Hands where I can see them, mister!”
He raised his hands cautiously, while peering into the gloom. There was definitely a crossbow being wielded by a dim figure. Such light as had managed to get round the boards glinted off the tip of the bolt.
“Oh,” said the voice in the dark, as if mildly annoyed that there was no excuse to shoot anybody.’
—Terry Pratchett, Going Postal, (Great Britain: Doubleday, 2004), 62.
- Spike (a pet name Moist von Lipwig gives her) and Killer (the name her brother called her)
- She runs The Golem Trust, an organization that buys Golems from their owners. The bought Golems then buy their freedom from the Trust at cost.
- In Making Money and Raising Steam, she also runs the clacks towers (communication towers).
- Smokes like a chimney
- Calls it like it is
- Wears dark, somber clothes
- Wears her hair in a bun
- Champions the rights of 60-thousand-year-old towering creatures made of baked clay
Why do you want her on your side in a post-apocalyptic world, or even the current mundane one?
- She’s a crossbow-wielding woman who isn’t afraid to start her own revolution against greedy corporations
- She runs the entire communication operations for a small country
- Her friends are powerful creatures that could flatten a small town simply by taking a stroll, while blindfolded
- Knives, axes and fireballs do not frighten her
- She wears ‘the most dangerous footwear in the world’
- She’s not afraid to stab a troll with her shoe (see above)
- Patricians, leaders, and police officers do not intimidate her, especially notable when she’s opposing slavery
Great Quotes:“Doesn’t this place give you the creeps? You could perhaps do something with some floral wallpaper and a fire-bomb.” Adora Belle Dearheart, Going Postal
Epic historical moments:
- Stabbing a troll sergeant of the guard with her shoe
- Calling a Golem army to Ankh-Morpork
Where would I meet her for drinks?
- Some place where the drinks come with a layer of flames licking the top of the mug. Also, there must be an outside smoking area; I don’t want her going into withdrawals while I’m around.