“Complex” is definitely better than “strong”

Here’s a post by Sam Maggs at tor.com that caught my eye for a couple of reasons.

a) The title is “Five Books About Kick-Ass Chicks in Space,” but

b) Maggs immediately shifts from “kick-ass” and “strong” to “complex.”

What’s better than a book with a complex female protagonist? I’ll tell you what’s better: a book with a complex female protagonist in space.

I am actually perfectly fine with any complex, well-written protagonist — female, male, or something else — but I definitely do prefer the term “complex” when applied to protagonists, versus “strong” or “kick-ass.” Not every female (or male!) protagonist needs to be great at physical battle! It’s fine if they’re not!

Ahem, well, anyway, that’s a fine topic for a post, but what particularly made me want to mention this post is this bit:

Easily my favorite book of 2015, Chambers’ debut novel [A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet] is equal parts Firefly and Mass Effect, a perfect combination. On the run from her past, Rosemary joins a rag-tag space crew on their wormhole-tunneling ship as their on-board accountant – but life catches up quick in the darkness. With a diverse cast of fully-realized characters (human, alien, and robot alike), it’s hard to not fall in love with every single member of the Wayfarer. The follow-up, A Closed and Common Orbit, is out this month, and it will break your heart. I know you’re into that.

See there? A sequel. Yay! I knew Chambers had a sequel coming along, but I had no idea it was coming out so soon.

It probably won’t surprise any of you that this sequel focuses on Lovelace:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

Sounds good — well, at least, I doubt this would sound like my kind of thing except I really loved the first book. I’m looking forward to this sequel.

Some of the other books mentioned in the post sound good too, especially Gilman’s Dark Orbit: “…a fascinating look at how a truly alien culture might evolve, both sociologically and biologically.” Doesn’t that sound promising?

Okay, while we’re on the subject of SF featuring female protagonists in space: Off the top of my head, I think my pick for this category might be Hunting Party by Elizabeth Moon.

How about you all? Got a pick for a novel with spaceships and a woman protagonist?

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9 thoughts on ““Complex” is definitely better than “strong””

  1. Umm… Cordelia Vorkosigan in her first book?

    CJC has a couple, not just RIMRUNNERS, but that one with the hunter ship.

    C.S. Friedman’s early novels I think, it’s been a very long time …. what were the titles…. IN CONQUEST BORN and THIS ALIEN SHORE.

    I haven’t read much on the science end of SF recently. There’s a Sarah Hoyt, DARKSHIP where the science isn’t the best (even I caught the orbital mechanics being impossible) and the plotting, according to my husband non-existent(I thought there was one), but Athena is definitely IN SPACE and formidable, if probably clinically nuts.

    Unread by me, but not by family: Weber’s Honor Harrington.

  2. Oh, gosh, women in space is my favorite SF subgenre! I will try to limit myself to just a few recommendations. :)

    – So many Melissa Scott titles. Off the top of my head: Burning Bright, the Silence Leigh trilogy (alchemy-powered starships!), Dreamships, and Mighty Good Road- a lot of her books are republished and fairly cheap in ebook, and I highly recommend them all.

    – Helen S. Wright’s A Matter of Oaths has an older woman starship commander as one of two protagonists (the other is an amnesiac pilot), warring immortal empires, intrigue- Ancillary Justice reminded me a lot of this, and I think people who liked one will like the other. The print version is out of print, but the ebook is available for free/pay what you want from the author’s website: http://www.arkessian.com/

    – Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s sprawling Liaden space opera/fantasy of manners/sci fi romance series has a number of very cool heroines. My favorite books in the series are Scout’s Progress and Conflict of Honors, available in the omnibus The Dragon Variation (but the first novel in that omnibus is a little weak), but these are technically sort of prequels so a better starting place is probably Agent of Change (free ebook).

    – Melisa Michaels’ Skyrider series, adventure stories a tough and grouchy female pilot with a heart of gold and her sidekick, a single father who can’t tolerate gravity and his stepson who can’t tolerate weightlessness- I love these to pieces but they are not available in ebook, well worth tracking down print versions though.

    – Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension, a very good “motley crew on a ship” book with a mechanic heroine. This one was billed as a romance, but it’s as much about the heroine’s relationship with her sister as it is her falling in love with the captain of the ship she stows away on, and it gets pretty dark and tense, with intrigue and eventually (sort of a spoiler?) parallel universes in play.

    – Tara K. Harper’s Lightwing: This is a book about a young woman with a mild psi talent who becomes part of a human-alien team of scientists researching faster than light travel so that humans and the aliens they are working with can finally take their place among FTL civilizations. It’s really good!

    – Aliette de Bodard’s On a Red Station, Drifting: Technically a novella- a space station commander not confident in her abilities, a woman who is a distant relation and a scholar fleeing persecution, and an AI who is also family. A very tense and engaging story despite very little on-screen violence.

    Other recs: Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War, M.C.A. Hogarth’s Earthrise trilogy, K.D. Wentworth’s Black on Black/Stars over Stars, Kate Elliott/Alis A. Rasmussen’s Highroad trilogy, Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer, Catherine
    Asaro’s sprawling Skolian Imperiate series (start with Primary Inversion), Annette Curtis Klause’s Alien Secrets (an older YA I really need to reread).

    Also, women having very cool adventures in space but technically mostly on planets (stretching the theme a bit!): Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed, Eleanor Arnason’s A Woman of the Iron People, and Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen.

  3. Re: CJC heroines, could Elaine T be referring to Mallory in the Alliance Union series? Totally agree on Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta series, quite a few strong female protagonists there. Also I would recommend Tanya Huff’s Confederation series – really love that her main character is a Marine sergeant. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series is another example of excellent female protagonists. And for a female in space whose power seems to have no upper limit, Kira in Julie Czerneda’s Clan Chronicles.

  4. Lots of good suggestions! Listen, Sandstone, if you haven’t read HUNTING PARTY you definitely should. I’m certainly going to try A MATTER OF OATHS.

    Tanya Huff’s VALOR series might be my favorite military SF series of all. I’m so glad she’s gone on with it.

    I have to say, though, despite the pronouns, Breq is not actually a gendered person. Actually, Breq is a good example of “complex protagonist, neither male nor female.”

  5. I have not! I’ll go and add the sample to my Kobo right now, and the Tanya Huff too- I’m not very well read in military SF, I tend to like my space opera to skew towards the intrigue side over the space battles side :)

  6. Well, you may get enough of the intrigue stuff in the Valor series. I am heroically not giving away major spoilers at this very moment.

  7. Mallory certainly counts, but I was actually thinking of the navigator in TRIPOINT.

    I much prefer complex to ‘strong’. And can never forget the book that should have had a ‘strong female’ who registered as sexless even though she was a mother with very small children, and we spent most of (what I read of) the book in her head.

  8. Some of my favorite books fit this category, pretty much everything by Cherryh with characters like Mallory, Bet Yeager and Capella (the navigator in Tripoint) and even Ariane Emory (she pulls the strings of all the Union starships).
    Someone at tor.com mentioned Jo Clayton’s books and I agree about the Skeen trilogy if not so much with Aleytys in the Diadem books, but yes to Shadith when she breaks free with her own set of books.
    F.M. Busby’s Hulzein Dynasty series features Rissa Kerguelen and even the books centered on Dread Space Pirate Bran Tregare she still manages to be a strong presence

  9. I’d forgottena bout the FM Busby series. Yes, I really enjoyed most of those books and still re-read them occasionally. Zelde M’Tana is one of my favorite characters and I my pick her book out as my favorite, even though it’s a little offset from the main storyline of Rissa and Tregare.

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