Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Women in novels, and A Pius Man

On Monday, when I ripped a Tor Books blogger a new one, I wanted to go into an compare and contrast version of how to treat women in novels, mostly with novels I know, or novels I've written.

Then I looked at how long the bloody piece was, and decided to not bother.

After talking with a critic yesterday, I've decided to go ahead and do just that.

Unfortunately, it's a hard to find a good beginning.  Seriously, where does one start?  With the fact that one of my favorite stories of the Judges (biblical warlords) is a woman, Judith, walking into the tent of an enemy of Israel, and taking his head off, literally? Or, that when growing up, I found that the best part of Xena, Warrior Princess was not her leather outfit, but the glint in her eye right before she beat the hell out of everyone?

Do I start with Fr. Andrew Greeley, and his novels where the female and male leads have this tendency to save each other?

See these women? These are
what the really kick-ass scifi women
are wearing this year.
Maybe I could cover J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5, where the female leads practically dominate the series, and they have some of the best, strongest, most kick ass sequences -- usually without throwing a single punch, wearing clothing that's as revealing as your average monk's robes.

Perhaps I should start with the Irish mythology I grew up with, that had the belief that a woman was required for spirituality -- as in "a man could only go onto the afterlife after his woman drags him there, because otherwise the poor daft fool would probably just get himself lost along the way."

Or, perhaps I should just give my opinion in general, cite some specific examples, and move on.

Let's start with examples from the Tor article -- John Ringo's Ghost.  The premise is that a former SEAL, code-named "Ghost," finds himself in the middle of a terrorist plot, and literally gets dragged along for the ride. The blogger at Tor uses Ghost's internal struggle between his instincts and his ethics (Ghost believes himself a rapist by nature, while on the other hand, he hasn't actually raped anybody, and he knows it's wrong), and the blogger uses that to paint all of John Ringo's work with one brushstroke -- even though she had not read Ghost, any of John Ringo or anything more than a blog post excerpting small parts of the novel.

However, looking in Ghost, the FIRST novel, we see multiple instances of women coming to the rescue. During a firefight with the terrorists in question, Ghost only has a room filled with female college coeds for support. Over the course of one mission, he's saved by a gunship piloted by a female pilot (said pilot makes a comeback and also saves his butt a time or two in later novels).  Sure, Ghost has issues, and the character knows that he has issues, and most of the character moments involve how he sublimates his own violent desires into something more socially acceptable ... which, alas, leads into sequences of more bondage porn than I ever wanted to read ... but the problem the character has is not a problem that John Ringo shares, and it's quite evident in practically every book Ringo has ever written -- even in later volumes starring Ghost.

And, of course, there is always Princess of Wands -- Ringo's novel where the hero is a tough, physically and spiritually fit, very beautiful and sexy .... suburban housewife who goes to church every Sunday, and married to the same man for years, with several children.

Like I said, Ghost's problem is not John Ringo's problem.

My point? In John Ringo's novels, no one is a passive participant. Even his civilian female protagonists make for strong characters, and are just as likely to pick up a gun and return fire, or throw grenades as needed.

With David Weber, another victim of the Tor hatchet job, his Honor Harrington character was criticized for not having a sex life for multiple books.  Leaving out Honor's personal reasons for that (covered in the last blog), what the hell is a sex life supposed to add to a character, man or woman?

For the record: I don't write sex scenes. Period. My characters don't necessarily need to have a sex life. They're usually too busy being shot at.

In my novels, women are people, that they are women isn't all that special to me.  Of the main cast of A Pius Man, I have four women -- a secret service agent, a spy, an Interpol cop, and a forensic scientist.  Three out of four of them handle themselves well in combat -- two out of the three of them can give most of the main characters a run for their money (#3 is in IT).

In fact, I think the women are better action stars than my male characters -- Sean Ryan is the only main character who is overly equipped for combat (mostly through skill than through muscle). Giovanni Figlia has some combat experience, but he's mostly in a position of management, performing the job as detective and commander of the Swiss Guards. Egyptian cop Hashim Abasi is, literally, a member of a think tank. Scott Murphy, while he is a spy, can't even fire a gun well (which is why his trailer has him being knocked back by the recoil of his own gun).

Over the course of my life, I have found most women to be my equals, if not my betters. Of course, as I grow older, I have discovered that there are plenty of women who are just as screwed up, just in different ways than I'd expect.  But, in my books, I don't really have a weak female character. Ever. Man or woman, my characters can always find some sort of inner strength, even if it's pure, unadulterated stubbornness.  Though, as I think back on it, I think my female characters all have more combat training.

Are all of my female characters beautiful? They are in my head, though I don't know if they are on the page. For me, I find that there are few truly ugly women, and it usually takes effort.  I very often find that personality does make an appearance, and mar or improve the features. I'm told that none of the women I've dated have been beautiful, but, apparently, I've always managed to find something special in them. Give me time, I can usually find something in them that is lovely.

And, while on the other hand, there have been more occasions than I can think of where I have looked at a woman who is, superficially, quite attractive, but I can never really pass judgement if they're "beautiful" until they smile, or get excited about something -- even then, I concentrate more on the eyes. That's where I find the real beauty more often than not.....

And I'm starting to sound like a romantic sap, I apologize.  But that's pretty much how my brain works ... or doesn't. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? You decide.

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