Women in Fantasy and science fiction, then and now


As a writer of genre fiction I have looked to the true masters of my craft in creating my own style.  There have been a lot of articles about so called strong women in fiction.  Both authors and characters.  What annoys me is that while in the fields of literary fiction, romance and paranormal fiction you will find a few rich characters, most people don’t think of the classics of other genres.  If they mention characters or writers in my field they will go to the Harry Potter or Hunger Games books.  While these are good books they are not classics yet.

CL Moore wrote Jirel of Joiry way back in 1934.  This was one of the first books that was written with a strong woman in the lead role in genre fiction.  While there were bits I would have changed, what was important is that the lead character was a woman who took charge of her own life.  Of course another strong woman written at this time was Red Sonja.  Both of these characters came from the sword and sorcery genre.  One written by a woman and one by a man.  While at the time these were both published in the early pulp fiction magazines with the characters dressed in little more than bikinis it was a start toward the fiction we read today.

Another writer of the time was Andre Norton.  Like CL Moore she published books with strong female leads starting in 1942.  While she had been published in the 30s it is the 40s when she started with female characters in lead roles.

In the 50s and 60swe started to gain ground with Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Her tales of Darkover held both strong women and different gender roles.  She wrote many tales dealing with gender inequality and of women deciding to take charge of their lives and their sexuality.  Writing characters who were no longer willing to stand by and let the abuse suffered the center of their lives.  These books showed the prejudice that exists could be changed if we had the strength to make it change.

70s the was an explosion in my view of amazing female characters and writers.  I was too young at the time to take advantage of these tales when they were first out but I made up for it quickly in the 80s.  At this time authors like Anne McCaffrey, CJ Cherryh,  and Jo Clayton were writing books will female protagonists that were so far from what was out there that they made the genre sing.  These authors managed to make cross overs between fantasy and science fiction, following the lead of Andre Norton and Marrion Zimmer Bradley, starting the new genre of science fantasy. 

With the 80s other amazing authors became known names.  Mercedes Lackey, Sherrilyn Kenyon and others have taken what their predecessors started and built on it.  By this time the tales started to be more accepted and publishers no longer turned stories down jut because it was written by a woman or had a woman in the lead roll.

In this current year, 2014, we have a lot of variety out there to read.  It is no longer surprising to find a lead character that is female.  With the advent of self publishing we are seeing even more.  as a writer I try to do a balance of female and male characters in my stories but at heart I will always pull for the female lead in a book. 

Indie authors are harkening back to those pioneers in my genre.  They write rich and strong characters in stories that are timeless.  While the rise of the paranormal romance field has taken over the field of fantasy, there are still a number of books out there that are soon to be classics.  We just have to take a chance on those new authors or existing authors that we may not have read before.

So go out folks.  Pick up a book or three.  Make sure you get a nice mix of classics like CL Moore and new like Linell Jeppsen’s Onio.  You will enjoy a field of fiction that has grown and expanded and truly have classics in it.

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