Thursday, October 30, 2014

                               Heroic Women of Speculative Fiction #3

                                           Polgara the Sorceress

This week, we are moving from TV to the land of literature.  Fantasy is filled with incredible women characters that are a wonderful inspiration.  This week I am reviewing one of my favorites: Polgara the Sorceress.

David & Leigh Eddings created a wonderful magical character in his Belgariad and Mallorean series- Polgara the Sorceress.  The series was so popular that it even had spin offs novels just about Belgarath the Sorcerer, and his daughter, Polgara the Sorceress.   I have posted the book cover above because it is one of the better visual examples of Polgara-beautiful, proud, independent, and strong.

Polgara is a powerful natural sorceress who has devoted her life to protecting the rightful heir to the Rivan throne in Edding's epic saga.  For those interested, the Belargiad is 5 books and the Mallorean is 5 books, plus the individual books on Polgara and her father, Belgarath.  The books are not huge, so it is actually a good read. 

Polgara is extremely complex, noble, volatile, moral, virtuous, lovely, brilliant, and the best cook in the world.  She is a multi-tasker.   She has sacrificed her whole life to protect what is good and the people she loves.  She has sacrificed eons to this task.  Polgara is devoted to saving the world from the evil god, Torak, and his followers.  Magic in this world is normal, but to only a few.  So Polgara is precious.  She is a disciple of one of that world's seven gods, Aldur.  Aldur is the supreme of all the seven gods, and the most caring.  This is a secondary world, so the world is not earth, just earth-like.  So in many ways she is like a great religious figure as well.  Her legend in that world is long, and people adore her-and fear her a little too.   She is funny-though her humor is very dry and subtle.  Whether she is Aunt Pol or Mistress Pol, or Polgara the Sorceress, she is loved and respected. 

Polgara is not a "save me" type of girl.  She saves others.  Polgara is strong and not just magically.  A strong woman is jot just about her fighting capabilities or magical destructive skill.  It is about what is inside and the depth of character.  You had better not prick her temper too.  There are passages in the series when she loses her temper and raises such a thunderstorm that kings, one of which is seven feet tall, cower and run for safety.   The one quirk in this world is that it has some very old fashioned sexist attitudes.  There are a number a smart and strong women in the series, but they are nudged into the shadows by the men.  They still manage to shine, but it is still irritating.  One character that could never be pushed into the shadows was Polgara.  Her reputation one of the great heroes in her world is revered by all.     

Polgara never uses "weapons" but she uses her sorcery to great effect.  The concept of Edding's magic is unique.  It has nothing to do with gods or chants or spells or rituals.  It is the will and the word.  If you have this power, you can do a great deal.  But it also takes discipline and skill, and much practice.  The magic also has limits and consequences too.  There is almost this great element of physics and science in the magical system of Edding's works.  I found this very interesting and loved its application in the novels.   

Polgara's looks are unique.  In the books, many remark on her being a magnificent beauty. Even her ultimate nephew, Garion, thinks his Aunt Pol is the most beautiful woman in the world.  Her long lustrous black hair with the single snowy lock above her brow, fair skin, blue eyes, and voluptuous figure, melodic voice, have encouraged many a poet in her world to praise her.  Despite this, Polgara is never vain about her appearance.          

What is satisfying about the series is that the main characters get what they deserve.  the good suffer sacrifice, loss, and trauma, but are rewarded at the end with a happy ending.  The evil ones suffer the terrible end.  Very satisfying.

So, so yourself a favor and check out this David Edding's classic series!  as it has been around for awhile, you can find it in used or new bookstores and it is also on Kindle.  The books have never been out of print.  There is a reason.  This is good stuff.  Read it.  I will not tell you how many times I have read it.  That's what a good book or book series will do, keep calling you back.  I usually obey.

Until next week, read more fantasy!

Verna McKinnon



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Heroic Women of Speculative Fiction #2: Susan Ivanova of Baylon 5

                                        Commander Susan Ivanova

How can you not love Commander Susan Ivanova of Babylon 5?  An officer of great integrity and sacrifice, her character on Babylon 5 was a favorite for many of us-including me.  Her character was strong and thoroughly Russian in character, morose yet determined to do the right thing no matter what the cost  Her humor was dry and if you vexed her, that seething glare would have sent one of the Shadows running for cover.  Do not confront Ivanova in battle, for wrath of god would be inflicted up on you.

For those of you out of the loop on Babylon 5 or the era it was filmed (90's era), find the series on DVD and watch it.  It is worth the time to see real science fiction.  There was an evolution in the 80s through the 90's in science fiction and fantasy on TV that is now sadly lost.  Babylon 5 is not flashy, oh look at the pretty special effects science fiction, though the series was one of the first to use computer generated special effects.  Babylon 5 had a specific 5 year story arc.  There were alien races galore and the main characters are a variety of ages (and alien races).  There is a mix of science fiction, multi-layered characters, mythology, epic battles of dark and light, mystery, political chaos, and heroes that emerge over that time.  The evolution is slower paced but more satisfying.   There were many amazing characters on B-5, as we fans have nicknamed it. 

Commander Ivanova was a fantastic evolution of women on television.  Of course, it was through science fiction that we received that gift.  Ivanova was not a cardboard one-dimensional warrior figure, but a fully developed woman with flaws and gifts.  She had personal tragedy in her past, as many heroes do, but rose above it with her stubborn Russian  sense of duty.  Romance was hinted for her character, but she had a universe to save.  That came first.  You can try to hide secrets from Susan Ivanova, but she sees everything.  So do not even bother, foolish mortal. 

One thing about Ivanova, is that while she had a few secrets of her own, you could always trust her.  That space station would have gone up in flames without her.  Her co-workers respected and admired her, and I think a few even worshipped her.  She was professional and a great example of a female officer. 

We can credit not only the writing of B-5, but the talent of Claudia Christian, who so brilliantly portrayed Commander Ivanova.  She was truly the best person for the role!  We love you, Claudia.   

Alas, will we ever see characters like Susan Ivanova on TV again?  One can hope-but I sadly doubt it.  But thanks to DVD we can cherish the stoic Ivanova standing on the bridge of Babylon 5, facing down the darkness with stoic and unflinching bravery, ready to fight the shadows.

Until next week, read more fantasy (and science fiction)!

Verna McKinnon






Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Heroic Women in Speculative Fiction #1-Nyota Uhura

Heroic Women in Speculative Fiction
Lt. Uhura
What can I say about Uhura of Star Trek?  Goddess of the Federation?  Yes.  Role model to all women?  How can you doubt it.  Iconic? Definitely.  Beautiful and smart?  Always.  Important to all women?  Absolutely!  Even if it took decades to officially give her a first name.

Uhura was one of my earliest influences when Star Trek first aired on TV.  Not only was she a woman and an officer, but she was on the bridge of a star ship!  That was cool.  She started out as a Lieutenant but advanced to the rank of Commander over the years.  Uhura was black and female-and portraying a professional women and an officer in an era that did not care to support or advertise women in powerful roles, much less women of color.  It is so important that she was not the maid, which was sadly the type of roles offered to women of color in that time.   Nichelle Nichols was also the first African American woman cast as a regular in a television show who was not in a menial role.  People take these things for granted now.  She was an equal in an era of inequality for women and race.  We love her because she not only gave women everywhere hope to be something more, but because there was warmth and humanity in her character as well, which sprang from the actress herself.  We love you Nichelle Nichols. 

Uhura's character and the actress who played her deserves a galaxy of tribute.  Uhura was brave and stoic, but that was only part of her appeal.  Though she was Starfleet officer, she never lost an ounce of her femininity or her authority.  She was warm and caring.  There was nothing stereotypical about the character or the way Nichelle Nichols played her.  She was not the helpless female that TV so often shown on television.  Despite many sexist attitudes that existed in that time, happily Uhura did not fall into those same traps.  It is important that Uhura was in a respected position.  She did not just answer the phone.  As an officer, Uhura had people under her command and was a linguist of skill.   She was not just the wife or girlfriend of the space scenario.  Uhura's character was free of those stereotypes.  It was refreshing.

Perhaps that is why characters like Uhura are so important.  I never understood why women had to be portrayed as weaker or not as important.  As a young child, I did not care what color she was.   I never understood why it mattered, yet it did to society.   Another reason why Uhura was important.  I was also becoming aware, even at a young age how women were portrayed on TV.  These things bugged me and still do to this day!  I am weary of romantic comedies or dramas where a woman's life is not fullfuilled unless she has a husband or a baby.  There is more to life.  Uhura did not moan about boyfriends or wanting a baby to make her life worth living.  There are elements of that attitude that are still in force.   Tune into any show with a young cast, and there is a lot of stereotype and shallowness going on with female characters, or they are just the tough lawyer or doctor.  Or a mom.  Don't get me wrong, I respect moms.  They are important.  But the entertainment world is narrowing the focus on women and their place even today, forcing us to fit into little easy open character boxes that they can easily control so they can feel in power. 

I do not like to be controlled, thank you very much.  I'll keep my power too.

I never knew about the difficulty Roddenberry and Nichelle's character faced until I was an adult.  Many years ago when I was in college, I  had the opportunity to see Gene Roddenberry lecture.  I was thrilled.  I learned a lot about how stupid TV executives can be.  He talked about the trouble he had convincing the studio to have a multicultural crew for Star Trek.  He spoke about how the studio executives insisted Roddenberry get rid of Uhura and that guy with the pointed ears.  So tragic and unfair how small minds singled out what became two of the most important and  fan favorite characters on the show.  It is a miracle Roddenberry saved Uhura and Spock from oblivion, but thank heavens and the alpha quadrant that he did!

Uhura was a strong women without martial arts or super powers, which makes her even more special.    There is a whole universe of possibilities, thanks to Star Trek and Uhura.  The courage of Gene Roddenberry fighting for her deserves a medal of bravery.  Uhura showed us that we can be anything we want to me-and that is what's important.  Uhura lived that dream.  The beautiful and talented Nichelle Nichols that played her gave us something very precious.  We must treasure that always.
Next week, a different heroine!  Until then, read more fantasy!  And enjoy some classic Star Trek.

Verna McKinnon



Monday, October 13, 2014

The Importance of Heroines

Greetings Familiar Friends,

As I will be in the process of doing a few polish edits for my new publisher and awaiting updates for the re-release of Gate of Souls from Sky Warrior Books, I decided that I will do a series on some of my favorite female characters in science fiction and fantasy.  These amazing heroines will be from many genres: TV, film, comics, and novels.  I will focus on a new favorite heroine each week.   Heroic females are a mainstay of my writings.   There are many different types of strong women in fantasy, and what makes them strong is not just kickboxing or that they carry swords.  I will do an in depth review of these characters that I love and admire.  These women are part of my inspiration.  I hope they will become yours too. 

I also dedicate these weekly heroic females profiles to my fellow geek girls in the world.  You never get the recognition you deserve.  I have always loved science fiction and fantasy.  I read it.  I write it.  I love gaming.   I love the imaginative artwork.  It makes me happy.  It is me.  I am a geek girl and proud.

I will post the first of my tributes to the science fiction &  fantasy heroic woman each Thursday starting October 16.   So check out my Heroic Women in Speculative Fiction post each week for some inspiration, a new perspective, and a jolt of courage.

More later.  Until then, read more fantasy!

Verna McKinnon