Is there room in fantasy for strong, healthy relationships…?
Raised in Tolkien, nurtured by the writings of Anne McCaffrey, a child of Star Wars, and an admirer of the writing of Joss Whedon, I found myself struggling with the question of whether there was a place for strong, healthy relationships in the face of the incest and rape at the heart of so much of G. R. R. Martin’s books. (He kills off every even remotely good relationship like he does all his ‘good’ characters. Sorry if that’s a spoiler.) One of the major flaws of the later Star Wars movies was that the ‘bromance’ (a word I hate) between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-wan overshadowed and was in some ways more compelling than the romance between Anakin and Padme.
With that legacy, I wanted to take my readers on a journey that looked at everything from prejudice to the price of war in a different, more intimate way. I also wanted to dispel the notion that women couldn’t fight alongside men, or lead them. Despite the fact that they had been doing that from time immemorial – many of the ‘goddesses’ of ancient times may have been female leaders demonized by their enemies. The ancient Persians were proud of their female warriors. There were complaints written in ancient texts about the independence of Egyptian women. It wasn’t until the more paternalistic religions took precedence that women were relegated to the sidelines – this despite Judith, and the Queen of Sheba, and the various successful women rulers throughout the centuries. Queen Victoria’s devotion to her husband Albert is well known, and proof that romance can exist even with a strong female ruler.
That’s something else I wanted to show – that a woman can be strong and capable, yet still have a good relationship.
In Star Wars it’s Leia who goes to rescue Han, until she’s unmasked.
I loved the romance between Zoe the warrior/first mate and Wash the pilot in Firefly, it was realistic, not without its struggles, but they were devoted to each other. As were Aeryn Sun and John Crichton in Farscape – another of my favorite shows.
As a culture, we’re oddly cynical about relationships. We focus on the 50% that don’t succeed rather than the 50% that do, and forget that until recent times good solid healthy marriages were the rule rather than the exception. It still makes me smile to think of one couple who were interviewed on NPR – they’d been together for 50 years and were still devoted. Both people were committed to the relationship through thick and thin.
What I didn’t want was to be consigned – as some very good writers are – to the female ‘ghetto’ of ‘romance writer’.
I struggled with that in a pretty deep crisis of conscience – until I came on-line. In one of those odd moments of serendipity, one of the first things I saw was a blog about the best relationships in Sci-fi, including some of my favorites.
Those were the kinds of relationships I wanted to explore in my novels, built on mutual respect and shared values that survive despite the turmoil of their lives. There might be centuries of difference between the two main characters in one of my books, and they might come from different ‘races’, but they recognize those shared values and develop the mutual respect over the course of the books. In another, despite being terribly damaged by her past, another character still finds a man strong enough to accept her for who she is.
I’m still in transition, and I don’t know if I’ve found the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m searching for a way through so I can still take my readers on wonderful, magical journeys.