Monday, January 23, 2012

Someone has jumped the shark: women and military scifi.

UPDATE: There is a PART II to this article. If you have serious issue with what I've written here, I suggest reading the next one.

[Update: the Miriam mentioned below is no longer Ringo's girlfriend. She is now Ringo's wife.]

Just when I thought I ran out of material, someone on the internet goes and says something unbelievably stupid.

I don't know who set off one of the people at Tor books, but a recent blog focused on how women don't get a fair shake in military science fiction. Toward this end, they make a rather passing mention to David Weber's Honor Harrington, damning her with the faintest of praise.  They they follow it up with an attack on John Ringo, Tom Kratman, and David Drake, crying horror! Horror! at how women are treated in those novels.

Ahem ....

I'll start small, mostly by throwing David Drake under a bus. I've read some his stories, I found them as dry as dust. It could just be me, and my family, and my friends. Sorry friend, but it's true.

Now, onto some books I do know very well: those of Tom Kratman, John Ringo and David Weber.

While the Tor blogger does acknowledge that Weber's Honor Harrington is a good female character, an equal to the male characters around her, it immediate turns into a backhanded compliment, complaining that Honor didn't get laid for the first half-dozen novels -- even though it was pointed out in book one that Honor was sexually assaulted at the naval academy (well, "nearly" assaulted ... she completely trashed her attacker into next Tuesday. It was awesome).

And did I mention that she has a sword?
I'm sorry, but the rape victims I've read of and those I know personally (nine and counting) go one of two ways, nymphomania, or celibacy ... would the Tor blogger have preferred nymphomania?

Not to mention that the article focuses on Honor Harrington as if she were the only woman in the entire "Honorverse" series -- ignoring, for instance, that the heads of state of the major governments are both women. And, since she whined about everyone being white, the article seems to gloss over the fact that the ruling family of Honor Harrington's government is all black. One wonders if the blogger even read the Honor Harrington novels.

Anyway, after bitching about the "racism" in the Honor-verse, and Honor Harrington's lack of a sex life, they then go into how John Ringo's character Ghost treats women like sex objects.

I'm sorry, but who goes into a rant about over-sexualizing women after complaining that a woman lead isn't sexualized enough?  You know, aside from hypocrites. [more below the break]

Not to mention one tiny little detail ... Ghost, the novel, isn't even science fiction!

The article jumps the shark altogether at this point, in reference to Ringo and Kratman.
Their female characters tend to suffer unpleasant fates, or to be relegated to backwaters of the narrative, and the old canard of “no women in the special infantry” is once again in play 
At this point, I know from personal experience that this writer hasn't read Kratman and Ringo.  John Ringo has written over 33 novels in the last dozen years. The blogger focused on one.

In the category of "unpleasant fates," when people die in military science fiction, they don't die well.  Going through Ringo's Gone with the Wind-sized epic of The Posleen Wars, most of the main characters who die, die horrible, painful deaths -- they are either vaporized, eaten alive, or blown to pieces.  There is no good way to die in a John Ringo novel. This guy kills off so many people per book, he has contests dedicated to being a red shirt in his novels.

In Tom Kratman's series of A Desert Called Peace, et al, the women are essential to the novels: at first, by keeping our main characters sane (which is a job in itself at the best of times) and, later, serving as front line troops. As the series progresses, there are no civilians in war zones -- culminating in The Amazon Legion, which is all about women soldiers.

"Sexist" military sci-fi
... with a woman
And, looking at John Ringo's post-Posleen War novels, the Cally series, revolves solely around a female special forces assassin -- so much for "no women in the special infantry" whine-ery.  Even before that, if one were to read the joint Kratman-Ringo venture Yellow Eyes, one of the main fronts of the Posleen war in Latin America is held by -- wait for it -- a female commander of an artillery unit. The other major lead: the female artificial intelligence of a battleship (artillery barrage to the tune of O Fortuna, for the win!).

Continuing through the article, the author continues to screw up by focusing exclusively on John Ringo's non-scifi work, his Ghost novel.  And, even then, she shows her ignorance of the subject by focusing on the first book -- which even I criticized for having way too much sex -- and the point of the first book is in the opening quote: "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us." Ringo went out and invented the roughest person he could imagine. And, had this blogger read the rest of the Ghost novels, she would see that, not only did the main character's initial crude proclivities disappear over time, she would have also seen that women become major front-line military troopers (in particular, two helicopter pilots).

To be honest, I don't think this would bother me that much, except for that fact that she noted she hadn't even read the book. She took her impression from this novel, and all of John Ringo's work, from carefully selected excerpted lines posted on yet another blog. This is BS.
Buffy's demons weren't usually three
times her size, were they?

Because of this, the blogger skips over Ringo's Princess of Wands, which has a kick-ass female lead who fights demons that would make Buffy go "Aw crud."

And there's Ringo's Into the Looking Glass series, in which the spaceship, and most of their missions, is mostly held together by the primary female lead, Miriam ... who appears to be based off of Ringo's own girlfriend. (Whom I met. She was cute. And wry. And witty. And I can see what Ringo sees in her ... though the dye-blue hair is distracting.)

And with Ringo, as in Kratman, even the women who are not front-line troopers, or major political and military tacticians, or in communications and intelligence, they become instrumental in keeping our heroes from falling to the dark side (or, in some cases, deeper into the dark side).

This article was petty, starting with "Well, there's Honor Harrington, but she didn't get laid for a long time" -- if I were to judge my novels by how fast my female leads got laid, I'd go into writing erotica, thank you.

At the end of the day, the most interesting part of the entire article is this: most of the books attacked have something interesting in common.  Ringo and Kratman work for Baen books. The Honor Harrington novels? Published by Baen books. The David Drake series mentioned in the article? Baen books.

The books praised in the article? All Tor books ...

I'm shocked, shocked I say.

Welcome to Babylon 5
Not to mention one other tiny detail .... if this were a fair, open and honest look at military science fiction as a genre, there is one, gigantic, glaring omission.  A tv show called Babylon 5, where the fate of the galaxy hinges on at least two women (for fans -- would the series have ended well for anyone if Delenn or Lyta Alexander taken a bullet?).

But J. Michael Straczynski has never worked for Baen, so I guess it's too unimportant to examine.  So are the dozens of other genre writers out there.  But if they don't work for Baen, I suppose it doesn't matter.

Don't get me wrong. I like Tor. I read their authors all the time. There's a reason I found this article -- because I'm on the Tor newsletter.   But this was a hatchet job from start to finish; the sad thing is, the blogger isn't even listed as a Tor employee, but a graduate student in Ireland, and a sometimes reviewer. Which is depressing -- if the blogger is going to pretend to know about what is being written, you'd assume that reading the books would be a requirement.


  1. The article was all backhanded stuff aimed at pretending to follow gender studies, and the author of the article admitted she wasn't an expert at it, and just wanted to play straw man argument with a major touch of victimhood in it.

    Not only was the article one of the most tone deaf things I have ever read, it was intellectually dishonest. In the comments, Kratman actually chose to defend himself (and so did David Drake), but the author of the article never really *listened* to Kratman or Drake. And then shut things down when it was obvious that she couldn't "win" the argument.

  2. While we're at it, we could also look at the female leads in tv shows like Star Trek: DS9, StarGate SG-1 and Atlantis, and Firefly.

    Considering how lopsided the argument from the author was, and how blatant it tried to pimp Tor books, I'm almost hoping that Baen sends their lawyers after it. There's nothing but malicious intent to create misinformation and slander in that article.

  3. I'm late to the party and I just read the blog post and most of the comments under it. The original blog post was poorly written. It was more about not liking the politics, races and mores depicted in milsf than any real problem with women characters in milsf. I love the books by John Scalzi and John Ringo. I don't think Scalzi has written any milsf but I could be misidentifying. Old Man's War doesn't seem like milsf.


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