Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Heroic Women of Speculative Fiction #6: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer played by Sarah Michelle Gellar
Okay, this may be my favorite guilty pleasure.   What can I say- I love Buffy.  Who else can carry a wooden stake and a lipstick in her purse and look fashionable while kickboxing a vampire's face?  I started watching it out of curiosity when it first air and was prepared to hate it, but it instantly  hooked me.  For the seven wonderful seasons it aired I never stopped loving it-even when the show sideways at times.  The TV show had great casting, from the wonderful Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy to the tweedy Giles played by Anthony Stewart Head.  It had a great combination of humor, suspense, action, drama, and mythology,(which included consistent demon/vampire rules).  Buffy was an innocent girl compelled to face horror and darkness because she was chosen.   The one girl in the world chosen to slay the vampires and demons.  So not fair-the world is filled with these evils and she had to carry this all alone?  She did of course.  Buffy saved the world on a weekly basis from vampires, demons, obnoxious jocks, and soured-faced high school principals.   
Unlike current "glossy" vampire shows, it showed vampires as being, well, hideous, nasty demons that want to feed on you.  The exceptions to this, Angel, a vampire cursed with a soul, made her fleeting and doomed romance with Angel tolerable.  It was not about vampire love and longing.  The relationship between Angel and Buffy was always doomed, but he had a human soul.  If you are not familiar with the mythology rules on Buffy, if you were turned into a vampire the demon got your body, memories, and even your personality, but it did not get your soul.  The person they killed and turned no longer existed.  This made Angel an acceptable hero and tragic.  Before Angel got his souls back, he was a vicious vampire named Angelus.  When when a gypsy cursed him and his old soul inhabited the body again.  The real person is then restored, but they are still vampires.  No weak misunderstood demon who loves you and just wants to feed on you.   No glorification.   
Even in the last couple of years when Spike (another vampire) loved her, her relationship was out of pain and clinical depression.  But Spike loved her so much, that he went to a powerful demon to ask for his soul back.  This relationship was shaky for me, but that fact that she was depressed (being ripped out of paradise with good intentions) made it an acceptable relationship. 
Like most heroes, Buffy faced a lot of difficult battles alone.  She never fit in at school.  She was never understood at home.  Never special academically (C average). Buffy was rejected by most of the usual high school cliques, so she was out of step and often mocked by her peers.  Principals did not trust her (it is hard to explain burning down a gym chock full of vampires) and even her mother regarded her as a delinquent.   Thankfully, Buffy had her sidekicks Xander and Willow, plus her mentor, Giles.  Even an outcast needs other outcasts to make a support group. 
Like most heroines, Buffy often had to make sacrifices and endure a lot of personal and physical pain.  She did it bravely and accepted her duty.   It was hard, as it ruined her dating life and shopping time.  She protected her friends and family, and all of Sunnydale, even though she knew she wold never get credit for it.  She was human, despite her super powers, and moaned her curfew and lack of a good hair conditioner.  She was devoted to her friends and family.  She would give her life for the ones she loved and the greater good-which she did more than once.  She never whined and slayed vampires into dust with flare and gusto.  I know that the stories have continued in comic book form, but it is not enough.  I miss Buffy.    It had something today's shows are missing-heart.    
Until next week, read more fantasy!  And watch some Buffy!
Verna McKinnon-Hipps 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Heroic Women of Speculative Fiction #5: Samantha Carter of Stargate SGI & Stargate Atlantis

The Amazing Amanda Tapping as Samantha Carter of Stargate SG1

Samantha Carter.   I miss seeing her every week on Stargate SG1.  People scream about the lack of good role models for young girls, and yet all you have to do is watch some decent science fiction, people!  That's where they are!  Samantha Carter is one of the best role models for women and young girls anywhere, anytime, any galaxy-and Sam Carter has been to more than a few of them.  For 10 happy years on Stargate SG1, and 1 season on Stargate Atlantis, plus two Stargate films, she ruled as one of the great leading heroines of science fiction.

I do not know where to begin in praise of  the fantastic Samantha Carter, one of the major stars of the long running science fiction shows Stargate SGI and Stargate Atlantis.  An Air Force officer, her military rank over the years advanced from Captain, to Major, to Lt. Colonel, Colonel, and finally to Brigadier General.  Oh, and she could also be address as Doctor, since Sam Carter earned her PhD in astrophysics, and was also an engineer and a savvy pilot.  She even commanded a Daedalus class spaceship (if you watched the show you will know what I am talking about).  She invented scientific defenses and was awarded just about every honor an officer could hope for. 

Sam Carter helped save the world and the universe on a regular basis, yet never gloated or bragged about it.  It was just her daily duty.  Duty was important to Sam, as was loyalty, friendship, compassion, and honor.  She was a great friend and possessed a sense of humor.  The character of Samantha Carter is an incredible example of equality for women on television.  She never fought with her male characters about equal treatment or was treated differently in any way.  I loved that.  The writers treated her with respect and equality.  I am so tired of hearing how women have to work twice as hard to get same recognition as men.  It is an old chant that deserves to be obliterated with a laser pistol like a nasty Goa'uld (watch the show and you will know what I am referring to.  Seriously-WATCH IT!) 

Then there was Samantha Carter the warrior.  She fought battles on earth and in space.  She could handle herself in hand to hand combat and could master any weapon, including some powerful alien weaponry.  She could kick ass while punching calculations into her computer and powder her nose all at the same time.  Sam was a brainy scientist that I am sure all the world's geeks and nerds pay homage too.  She was also so damned gorgeous you wanted to hate her-but you can't because she is so wonderful.

I credit much of this to the actress who portrayed Samantha Carter, the fabulous Amanda Tapping.  She is amazing and such an endearing goofball with a great sense of humor.  I love the special features on DVDS because you see these folks off screen and you can tell if they are jerks or wearing a mask or just normal nice people.  Amanda struck me as nice and silly.  You forgive her perfect blond beauty because there is character and personality under all that glamor.  Her subtle but sincere acting gave Samantha depth, and I know that she fought for it.  I mean, in the pilot they had her say a couple of stupid things that the actress did not like and was nothing a feminist would say.  Feminist is a word women need to take back.  We need it today more than ever.  Amanda Tapping worked hard to make Sam Carter not only a worthy and important character, but one that to me is a role model and example of what women should try to achieve.  Forget the mythic warrior and perfection and think about the bedrock of her character.  She was brave, honorable, and worked for what she wanted in life without betrayal or relying on the superficial foundation of looks or nepotism, or stepping on anyone.  She did not accept roadblocks to her life goals.  She pursued them with tenacity and grit.       

I know she sounds mythological, but that is fine.  Most of our greatest heroes are a bit on the myth side.  They are supposed to inspire us!  Sam Carter was very human and had issues like any normal human woman.  She had issues with her father, lost her mother at a young age, and had trouble in the romance department.  I guess it is hard finding the right guy when you are saving the universe.  But that was just background sprinkles for her character.  In science fiction shows like this, the lead actress is not moaning about the lack of a husband or howling in terror of her biological clock.  She has better things to think about, like saving the world from being sucked into a black hole and fighting evil aliens who want to dominate us. Sam had friends and a great life that she enjoyed.  She made her own choices in life.  She was fearless.  She knew what she wanted and did it.  

Not that men did not love her.  Many a human and alien fell for Sam's charms.   Even Jack O'Neill loved her, but their roles as work comrades prohibited their romance.  She was open to love, but also refused to compromise.  Life is complicated, and no one's life is perfect.  But you can try to find a life that is perfect for you.  You can achieve great things in life if you work for it with your whole heart.  That is what Samantha Carter achieved.     

People also complain about the lack of young women entering the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering.   A show like this would encourage young girls to have an interest in science.  Sam Carter made science cool.  And science should be cool!  They did some great things on the show and it can be inspirational to a young mind.  We are often shown images of scientists as being weird, misfits, awkward or wallflowers with poor fashion choices.  They have made being a nerd or geek as something beneath everyone else.  A laughable image that normal people can mock.  This has become a stigma.  I do not like it. Normal never gets anything done anyway.  It is the geeks and nerds who make change in the world.  Hence, I forbid it in the future and you should too.  Sam Carter was none of those things.  Embrace the science! 

I miss seeing Stargate, but I have all the DVDS.  Again, science & technology at work.  So check out some Stargate SG1, one of the better science fictions shows that was ever filmed.  And it was real science fiction!  Aliens, space travel, and a big dash of mythological mystery with Ancients and the Ori makes Sam Carter and her team of intrepid heroes worth checking out.  Plus, it was not dystopic and depressing, and the the main characters were not betraying each other in a doomed storyline.  They were a team, that trusted each other and loved each other.  They never left anyone behind.  They were bonded like glue, and I believe the heart of the bond of that team was Samantha Carter.  Stargate SG1 was about hope and making a better world.

Next week I will review another great strong woman of science fiction and fantasy.  Until then, watch some Stargate SG1!  Enjoy the aliens til then. 

Verna McKinnon


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Heroic Women of Speculative Fiction #4: Juliet Parish of V (the original)

The wonderful Faye Grant as Juliet Parish of V
In the 80's (1983-85) there was this great miniseries called V.  V was about us, in modern day US, dealing with alien invasion under the guise of "we come in peace." It was also about heroes and the unsung freedom fighters, to which the first mini series was dedicated.  It was also about heroes and villains that arise in such times.  Some people we just look at on the street and would never guess if they would be a great hero in times of great darkness or a sniveling coward collaborator.  The main characters in the series and its sequels & short-lived but beloved show were not soldiers or beings with super powers.  They were just normal people who found courage.  A street kid, factory worker, teacher, journalist, cop, housewife, and more, became heroes when their world was threatened by alien forces beyond their imagining.
I know most of you are more familiar with the recent "reboot" of V, but check out the original two miniseries and show.  It holds up because there was decent writing.  I do not want to hear whining about the lack of fancy CGI effects.  It's about the characters.  One of my favorites in this series was Faye Grant as Juliet Parrish.  She was a main character who at first glance you could never imagine running a resistance, and doing scientific research and being a doctor, all at once. 
Juliet is a great example of the unexpected hero.  She is this tiny little blond, and though smart (a med student putting herself through school on scholarships),  you could never imagine she could be tough enough to become a leader of the resistance.  Not even she could!  She was amazed and flummoxed that people, tougher and bigger than her, looked to her to lead them through the darkness.  She was brave in the ways that mattered.  A soldier will understand the trust you put in your fellow comrades at arms.  While stealing some lab equipment, the "visitors' opened fire on her and her companion.  These were advanced laser type weapons.  Her partner was mortally wounded.  She risked her life to drag him into her little car, even shot in the hip and in pain, hauled a man twice her size to safety.  She was not trying to be brave.  She was a soldier who refused to leave one of her own behind.  That was kind of hero Juliet was.  In the series, she was brave though you knew she was scared to death inside.  But she did what was needed.  She did not whine.   She was a hero.  And because of Juliet and her resistance fighters, they had V for Victory.
Next week, another great female hero.  Until, read more fantasy and science fiction.  And check out the original V!
Verna McKinnon