Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Coming March 18 - The Stars Down Under

The Stars Down Under by Sandra McDonald
ISBN: 0-7653-1644-7; March 18, 2008 by Tor Books

Monday afternoon mail delivery brought The Stars Down Under - an Advance copy from the author. Yes, I have the hardback edition on advance order, but this is sooner, and autographed, and I'm grateful and excited.

Science fiction is a broad genre, from stories rooted in hard science, to wars in space to alien societies to space opera. One thread all popular authors have in common in this genre, beginning with Jules Verne, is "novum". They imagine societies, places, inventions, that are something new and different, something beyond our science, or norms. Be it dreadful or admirable, they create aliens and future people who think and act in ways that are, well, alien to us. Sometimes a human character is thrust into this alien world, someone not so different from us, and we perceive the strange beings and strange places through their eyes, with their feelings that are what we might feel if we were in their shoes.

I've been reading science fiction since I was a teenager - five decades of a genre that has grown in many ways since the late fifties. There were few women in the early SF stories, and the heroes were nearly always men. But then, the writers were nearly always men, too. I read science fiction for the adventure, and the novum, and not because I could identify with any of the main characters. What they felt was not necessarily what I would feel in their shoes!

The world has changed in so many ways since then, that what was science fiction has become science fact, science history even! The roles of women in our world, and also in the world of fiction, are changed beyond what anyone imagined. Women are generals in our military, and pilots both military and civilian. I can't think of a field that excludes women - they go down in mines, up in spacecraft and qualify for every kind of job in between.

Women who write science fiction are not uncommon now, and they frequently (though not always) create protagonists who are women. Women are included in the genre novels written by men too now, in ways that were unheard of a few decades ago, as multi-dimensional characters with jobs, relationships, ambitions, feelings - the whole gamut.

All this pondering brings me to a particular author of science fiction, Sandra McDonald. Her blog lists being an officer in the U.S. Navy as one of her previous careers. She put her insider knowledge to good use in the first volume I read of hers - The Outback Stars, where a woman officer on a space navy ship is caught in dilemmas personal, professional, and dangerous.

In the sequel that just arrived, the themes which I hoped McDonald would develop from the first book are the main focus. I've been reading for two days, and my questions are being answered, delightfully.

This is not the review, since I haven't quite finished reading the book. So, this is just a note to commend women who write science fiction in general, because I find it much more enjoyable and accessible than sf written by men. Of women writers of sf, Sandra has blended in her own unique notes, in harmony with the whole yet entirely different and her own.


heather said...

interesting. my partner actually goes out of her way to read female writers (mostly sf/fantasy, too), and while i like it when i get a good female auther, i actually don't care who wrote it, as long as it's good. for me personally that seems to end up being guys more than girls, but that's probably more about the publishing industry rather than me being inadvertently biased.

Pandababy said...

I agree, Heather, that being a good book is more important than the gender of the author. I've certainly enjoyed the recent 'Old Man's War' trilogy by John Scalzi, and Vernor Vinge's "Deepness in the Sky" and "A Fire Upon the Deep" are among my best favorites.

That said, I have noticed that sf with women protagonists resound more fully with me, including some written by men, such as David Weber's Honor Harrington, but those are less common. And I adore the Foreigner series by C. J. Cherryh, a female author, but her protagonist in those novels is a man.

I think the first time I noticed an exceptional connection with a writer was Anne McAffrey's "The Ship Who Sang" - still one of my all time favorites.

I think it is like the sweet bread my grandmother used to make. She didn't use a recipe, and no one else could make it quite as good. So who knows what was uniquely hers that made it so special.