• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



Gender in Speculative Fiction Part II: Early Works by Kim Falconer

Lilith (1892) by John Collier - one of the most potent and misunderstood faces of the feminine

After contemplating gender roles in speculative fiction, I thought it might be interesting to look at portrayals of women in earlier literature. How much has changed in the last five thousand years?

In classical times, many female protagonists were touched by the gods or divine themselves. Some were ‘virgin goddesses,’ a term having nothing to do with sexual innocents (they often had many lovers and offspring). Here ‘virgin’ means intact, self-contained—no need for the auspice of a man. Examples include the Egyptian Neith who says, I am all that has been, that is, and that will be. No mortal yet has been able to lift the veil that covers me. She reminds me of Tracey O’Hara’s Antoinette Petrescu, or Traci Harding’s Tory Alexander, at least until they ‘fall’.

The motive of female characters, ancient or contemporary, is often love. Stephenie Myer’s Bella Swan falls, of course, just like her two thousand year old predecessor, Psyche in Lucius Apuleius’ Metamorphoses. Psyche, much like Bella, is young, beautiful, despondent, clumsy and suicidal. She complains (and cries) a lot, needs rescuing and falls for an immortal. Aphrodite is jealous and sets her a series of impossibly tasks. She fails each one until aid comes unbidden and is saved from death, finally, by Eros. It’s a beautiful story though, not so much romantically but spiritually. This redemptive/divine aspect of love is echoed in Tanith Lee’s character Jane who initially has the same despondency (over her perfect ‘man’) though she grows from her experience, possibly much more so than either Bella or Psyche. Jane’s love becomes a spiritual awakening, a connection with the divine.

The Sumerian story of Inanna and her dark sister Ereshkigal is about psychological transformation. It is one of the oldest narratives—surviving thousands of years in buried coniform text. Inanna finds herself face to face with the queen of the underworld, not unlike Rosette’s first encounter with Kreshkali in the catacombs beneath Los Loma. This is the image of feminine initiation. In both cases the meeting leads to dire events and eventually to individuation and self-awareness.

The ancient Greek Medusa portrays yet another face of the feminine—one seen as the embodiment of evil. But she was not always so! A daughter of sea titans, Medusa was once extremely wise and beautiful. Men found her enchanting and came to ask her ‘favour’ but she was devoted to Athena and ignored them. When raped by Poseidon, she was turned into a monster with dragon wings and snakes for hair. Medusa embodies the outrage of subjugated women. She is angry and poisonous. Any man who ‘sees’ her is literally petrified. This portrayal of the dark feminine is echoed in Sara Douglass’ Ariadne and her decedents. These ‘evil’ women may not find peace or redemption save in death, but they certainly know how to move a story forward!

The fabric of the many-worlds is starting to unravel ...

Who are your favourite female characters? Do you see roots of their personalities in literary works of the past? Amazons? Healers? Leaders? Seers? Wanderers? Lovers? Mothers? Comments most welcome.

Kim Falconer is the author of the Quantum Enchantment trilogy, which starts with The Spell of Rosette, continues with Arrows of Time and will conclude come February with Strange Attractors … until it all begins again with The Quantum Encryption series in October 2010.

16 Responses

  1. Wow, you sure know your stuff! Another interesting post.

    I don’t think I would ever write love-driven women like those, though. I’m not very good at romance. In real life or in books.

  2. Thanks Katie.

    My experience of ‘good romance’ stems mostly from my vivid and (to some) overactive imagination 🙂

    Although I must say, the more we imagine a thing, the more it paves its way to our door!

    Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Wow is right! You continue to blow my mind! (lol) You’re a magic women for sure,Sharp as a razor,but soft as a prayer!

  4. Lovin’ it,Kim! xos!

  5. Cool post Kim (as usual!)

    Women protagonists are loads of fun to write as I suspect we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. As the modern ‘psychological novel’ has its roots in the nineteenth century, I’d love to know your take on more recent female protagonists created by people like Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, Henry James and beyond – do you like any of those writers? Do they speak to you? I personally love Hardy and Austen for wildly different reasons, become impatient with the Brontes and am stumped by, though infinitely admiring of Henry James. (Those horrifically trapped people – what a life. I want to bust open a window and breathe deep lungfuls of air every time I make it through one of his books.)

    Thanks for bringing up the fun stuff, anyway… 😉

    • I love Jane Austen! Her women are contemporary for the times–concerned about making a good match, the only occupation open to females (survival in a man’s world)– but many of them have an audacity and sense of self that foreshadows feminist ideas and literature.

      Elizabeth Bennet is a strong female character and through her, and Emma, and Fanny Price, Austen tells us much about the limitations and gender biases of her time. She writes about ‘fluff’ but really it is a mask for a deeper social commentary.

      The same is true of Oscar Wilde. The ‘Importance of being Ernest’ his transparent 1890 stage play takes a poke at high society and, as Wilde put it, ‘treats all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.’ His statements on gender and class structures seem to favour neither sex over the other.

      I particularly love his character Cecily Cardew! Embedded in her lines written over one hundred years ago is a message only just becoming mainstream—a message based on the law of attraction. It’s a beautifully portrayed scene of ‘journaling’ for what you want, ie ‘deliberate creation.’ When Cecily first meets her ‘Ernest’ she tells him about things that have already ‘happened’ in their relationship—they were engaged, broke it off for a week, then got back together when she received his sweet letters. She shows him entries in her diary. Ernest is baffled by this as they have only just met. He’s never written her any letters! She says, ’Of course you haven’t, that’s why I had to write them myself!’ Cecily is a metaphysical treat for those who can recognize her wisdom.

      Was Oliver Parker aware of this when he adapted it to film? Who knows, but the scene is retained and that makes the whole experience even more worthwhile. Have you seen it? Fabulous magical realism!

      I haven’t been able to stand the claustrophobia I get with the ‘trapped people’. I need more hope. More ‘land in sight,’ to stay with it.

      What do others think?

      Thanks for dropping by, Mary 🙂

      • The claustrophobia in some novels is visceral, isn’t it? Very hard to stick with, though the writing does make it worthwhile in the case of James or Hardy (if you want claustrophobia, try reading ‘Jude the Obscure’ while breastfeeding an infant. Yikes!) The exploration of stricture is something the ancients did endlessly, too. All those characters struggling against horrible fates imposed by whimsical gods. Antigone, Cassandra, Deirdre… Not just the female protagonists, either.

        I must say I sometimes throw in the towel, too, when a book becomes too drearily harsh. Hurrah for Oscar Wilde.

      • Jude the Obscure’ while breastfeeding!! Oh No, not the most supportive choice. I reread LOTR while breastfeeding. Aloud. I think that’s why my son is such a fan of the genre 🙂

        Fate imposed by the gods (or imposed on them)is very interesting territory. Cassandra rejects Apollo (you’d think he’d have gotten used to it)so Apollo gifts her with prophetic skills that nobody will ever believe. Antigone is a product of mistaken identity and inherits her father’s curse, (interesting how fate travels the family lines) and Deirdre’s whole life is mapped out because of a prophecy before she was born!

        And you’re right about it not being female protagonists only that get caught up in the strands of Fate. Orestes line–the curse of the House of Atreus–was a ripper. Each hubris leading to yet another curse/retribution.

        But the ancient portrayal of Fate is always feminine. That might be an interesting topic to explore more deeply.


  6. Isn’t it interesting that in these ancient myths it is often women who strike down other women? There’s a definite sense of competition, jealousy and sometimes a lack of confidence in one’s own power to keep your chosen consort’s eyes upon you – or perhaps it’s rather that the males portrayed in those times were wild rovers! The vengeance does seem to fall upon happless innocents whose only crime was to look pretty while gathering water from the well ;). I do think literature has changed substantially since – not in all cases, and certainly in a lot of Austen’s works I recall some rather vile and catty women but I think female characters today tend to band together in writing I have read – and form sisterhoods rather than covens of cruelty. Not in all cases though …

    • That’s very true. I remember someone reviewing Batman & Robin (the worst of the Batman movies), and at one point suggesting that the extraneous character of Batwoman was only introduced so that when the confrontation with Poison Ivy arrived the audience wouldn’t have to watch Batman and Robin beating up a woman.

      (Funnily enough, now I think about it, in my own second trilogy my new, female protagonist winds up having a rival who is also a woman. And it was just a coincidence that it turned out that way, too).

    • That’s a good point, Natalie. Hera, queen of the gods, did some terrible things to the woman Zeus fancied and their offspring. It was part of their co-dependent-destructive relationship dynamic. In the case of Psyche though, Aphrodite does treat her (and Eros) cruelly but it is also a trial by fire. Psyche grows from the experience, as does Inanna from the horrors or Ereshkigal’s realm.

      Marie-Louise von Franz, a follower of Jung, has written extensively on the dark feminine, shadow and evil in fairy stories. I’ll come back and write a bit on that…it’s a very interesting topic!

      Thank you 🙂

  7. I forgot to actually mention some of my favourite ladies from literature! As I have said to you before, Kim, Kassandra/Cassandra is certain one – a seer/prophet who was unfortunately doomed to prophecise the fall of Troy and was disbelieved by her own family. I think Marion Zimmer Bradley’s retelling of Troy through ‘The Firebrand’ is a superb rendition.
    Another character I love is Boudicca/Boadacia in Rosemary Sutcliffe’s ‘Song for a Dark Queen’ in which Boudicca is daughter, wife, mother, queen, leader and lover … and symbol of hope for her people – that’s an amazing book which ends in tragedy but is awe-inspiring for the strength of Boudicca through all that life throws at her – not least being strong enough to let herself love someone.

    • Oh good mention of Firebrand!

      Boudicca is a beautiful but tragic story. I read Manda Scott’s series. I thought it was very well written. Tragic, the subjugation of the Iceni tribe.

      A new film is planned for release in 2010 entitled Boudicca, written by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, directed by Gavin O’Connor, and produced by Mel Gibson! Sounds like something he’d take on!

  8. AGHH – been at work all day dying to post to this post. And WOW great post. I love the story of Psyche – I adored ancient mythology when I was younger. Still do but like else I don’t have time to read it as much as I used to.

    And you mentioned Antoinette – 🙂 who is of course one of my favorite characters – damn minx won’t leave me alone. In a lot of ways Antoinette was a woman, strong, powerful and independent. She needed and wanted no man. But she is a shoot first ask questions later kinda gal.

    And when she did falls – she discovers a lot about herself, her flaws, her impatience and her selfishness. Now with book two, Antoinette has come into a new phase in her life, she has freed herself of some of her burdens and has gained a new independence. I can’t wait to explore her path with her and see where it leads.

    Elizabeth Bennett I love. She was strong and independent. And the thing with hers and Darcy’s story is that they complimented each other, she is strong willed and outspoken, and that is what he loves about her. And she loves him because he doesn’t want her to be any different. That is what I get from the story anyway.

    • Hi Tracey,

      It’s great to hear more about Antoinette. I love how she is totally kick-ass individuated but also not impervious to her inner world–not immune to love. (What did Nat say? Strong enough to love? I liked that.) Looking forward to seeing where Antoinette is headed!

      Elizabeth Bennett is brilliant. I love her emotional honesty–her integrity to herself. A brilliant female character in a book I’m reading right now reminds me of her–save for a certain relationship to her sexuality that Elizabeth doesn’t have. Miss Mae Ruth Perkins in Linda Jaivin’s a most immoral woman is so utterly, refreshingly, unconditionally comfortable in her sexuality and sensuality (in the early 1900’s I might add) that she put modern, individuated, liberated women to the test. The most emotionally honest character I’ve read in a long time. Fabulous.

      Glad you stopped by!! 🙂

  9. […] Falconer shared a continuing series of ideas regarding gender in SpecFic. Much of what I believe in relation to the subject is summed when she says “The motive of […]

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