In an effort to keep with the theme of my upcoming book launch, I think we’ll talk a bit about the women of sci-fi! Well, to be honest, my #2 suggested I “blog with a theme” until The Antaran Legacy launches (well, he’s more like #1.5 now, as he doesn’t fall into the “#2 or lower” category any more). So, this idea is his, and God bless him for it!
I was originally thinking of posting a top-5 list (good and bad) or something like that, but it’s been done many times before. Instead, I’m going to post my thoughts on “the good and the not-so-good” of Sci-Fi women. I’ll call-out somebody and discuss why I placed them in their bucket and I will also discuss the ‘archetype’ and why I like/dislike it. Hopefully, this provides a unique read to you as you shirk your responsibilities… you slacker.
Keep in mind, I haven’t watched every sci-fi movie or read every sci-fi book. If I leave some hottie off this list that you feel should be recognized, please don’t hunt me down at the airport and knife me. Instead, post a comment! That’s much better for my New Year’s resolution to not get knifed in an airport.
Anyway, here we go!
Maybe I’m looking through rose-colored glasses because I watched her at a time in my life when my boy parts were starting to turn into man parts. (here’s a barf bag for you)
I dunno. Colonel Wilma Deering was the classic triple-threat: she was hot, she carried a gun and she was uber-intelligent. What more could we ask for?
I’m going to look at her character from the 1979 movie and 1st season of the TV show. I think these two sources best illustrate the character, and Erin Gray was quite amazing in the role. I actually watched the first episode to prep my thoughts here, and I was amazed at how well it holds up. (maybe more on that in another blog post)
Right out of the gate, we’re introduced to Col. Deering as the commander of Earth’s defenses. This is no wilting flower. Deering is tough and distrusts Buck right out of the gate. After he touches her arm in an attempt to lighten the mood, she arrests him:
“Take this barbarian in for interrogation.”
I’m already ready to leave my wife for you, Wilma! Now, if the character remained an ice queen, that’d be acceptable in the world of sci-fi. The cold female villain is quite common for this genre (Diana/Anna from V) and the calculating female sidekick is also well-used (Scully from X-Files), but Deering has a softer side to her. We see her as both a daughter archetype to Dr. Huer and love interest to Buck. Instead of being trapped by her desire to protect Earth (thus becoming one-dimensional), we see her struggle through the facts and assumptions surrounding Buck as she reluctantly watches him through his trial and incarceration.
Classic sci-fi tends to portray the females as damsels in distress. Well, Deering saves Buck twice in that first movie/episode – once from zombies (hellz yeah!) and then she flies her ship into an exploding carrier to save him. In 1979, this was quite progressive! Hell, today this would qualify as progressive. Adventurous, beautiful, dutiful and intelligent – Deering breaks free from the earlier sci-fi ‘molds’.
The only aspect of Deering that remains in-line with sci-fi women is the need of a man to “complete her.” Unfortunately, the name of the series is Buck Rogers, and we are basically living the tale through his eyes. So, Deering is attached to him from a story perspective.
Certainly, other sci-fi women have even broken this containment of needing a male counterpart. Some would argue that they are more ‘complete’ characters. For me, sometimes they come across as trying to hard (Capt. Janeway) or too one-dimensional (Sarah Connor, consumed with her anger). Ripley from Alien/Aliens certainly stands out as an independent, strong female character, but I find her only ‘ho hum.’ I dunno, maybe that’s blasphemy! The new Battlestar Galactica boasts dynamic and interesting females aboard. I’d say Laura Rosalin was my favorite from the bunch because Mary McDonnell did such a superb job playing the reluctant leader.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Molly Millions from Neuromancer. Here we have the ice queen, but in a bodyguard role to the male protagonist. Neuromancer launched the cyberpunk genre into the spotlight and is worth a read. Though Molly isn’t entirely fleshed-out, we do get a female character ‘doing her own thing.’
But Matt, what about Princess Leia? Yeah, I’m always so on the fence about her but I think I’ll put her here. True, she needs savin’ in all 3 movies and she’s a wisecracker (typical sidekick duty, as defined by the first popular space opera: Triplanetary by EE “Doc” Smith), but she is a strong leader who risks her life to bring the Deathstar plans to someone who can help her. Revolutionary who helps bring down an unstoppable empire? Okay, that’s pretty monumental.
Sigh. Let’s start with the horrendously written females of sci-fi.
Queen Amidala from Star Wars is the sharpest thorn in my side. We know nothing about her. She’s a queen, yay. She masquerades as one of her servants, whoopee. What are her hopes? What does she find important beyond her queenly duties? Does she have a friggin’ family? Nah, she’s what I classify as a cardboard prop… until the epic fail that is Episode 3. Now, I know for a fact George Lucas is a father (and I have some info to suggest he’s a damn good father at that). Why on earth would this character (who’s supposed to be the mother figure), give up on life moments after her children are born?
For you mothers out there, I’ll give that time to sink in. She decides life isn’t worth living right after seeing her children for the first time!
Yeah, good luck reconciling that! Her estranged husband (who murders villages for fun and turned to the dark side) just went dead. Here, you have a chance to start life anew with your children and you decide to call it quits. Self-induced broken-heart attack. Dead cardboard character.
I mentioned Captain Janeway from Star Trek, Voyager earlier. While Amidala was written poorly, Janeway has a similar fate of being written with too much “I’m going to change the sci-fi female archetype” mentality. Here’s the crew of that affirmative action starship: Female Captain, Native American 1st Officer, black Vulcan, Asain techy guy, female half-Klingon engineer and a hologram doctor (because holograms deserve a voice too).
Holy fucking shit – are we trying too hard here? I’m all for moving away from the white dude hero (with an awesome chin) and white chick sidekick (with awesome tits), but seriously. Seriously?! Janeway was motherly and strong, but I always felt like the script and actress were just trying too hard to get some sort of point across, rather than feeding me good stories about the characters.
Star Trek didn’t even try to break any sci-fi molds until Voyager. Sure, they had a black woman on TV in the 50’s and 60’s, but she was little more than a secretary answering the phones. The Next Generation’s women were all faithfully serving the men of the crew: counselor, doctor and bartender. Actually, to be fair, Denise Crosby as Lt. Tasha Yar was badass until they killed her.
This post is already long enough, so I won’t bore you with countless records of females serving the role of love interest or sidekick. Trinity from The Matrix personifies that love interest/sidekick role perfectly. We know next to nothing about her, she is the obligatory love interest for our hero and she follows him along as he changes the world/universe. Don’t be fooled, even though she can kick ass she’s not very different from female sci-fi sidekicks from the past. Of course, I stopped watching the Matrix movies halfway through the second one, and I haven’t seen any of the other material out there. I’ve heard she’s well-rounded elsewhere.
Damn, that was long
Yeah, I know. In popular science fiction, (besides a few notable exceptions) women still fall into familiar archetypes while the men are off saving the world. Though this has been changing and the lines are blurred as we move away from the story patterns of the past, I think it’s certainly worth watching. Battlestar Galactica brought us meaty sci-fi back into primetime and also destroyed some of those gender roles. We just need more stuff like it! Sci-fi isn’t dead, and it doesn’t need to be as unapproachable as it was in the past.
(no cylons were boxed during the making of this post)