Monday, July 22, 2013

From "Alien" to "Pacific Rim": PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN SCI-FI



 “Get away from her, you bitch,” Ellen Ripley cries out, emerging with full tech armor to battle the alien queen at the end of Alien.

It was a seminal moment in film history, watching the Sigourney Weaver character kick some serious alien butt to save the life of a child.

It worked because we were willing to believe in Ellen Ripley, a woman with courage, fighting a monster from hell, adapting her body to the available technology to meet the challenge.

It was innovative because it was forward thinking at the time, having a woman fulfill the traditional, heroic, male role—in space no less. But times change, and now we have many women characters fulfilling the traditional male lead in many genres. Give them a weapon, short hair, and a few surly lines—in effect have them become men in the guise of women’s bodies to suit an already overused archetype. 

Then again: How many women have to rise to the iconic status of motherhood to be counted? As if these women can’t become pregnant with something other than Rosemary’s baby, if not the birth of another Christ-like figure, to save us from ourselves?

It’s all very tiring, even regressive, and unnecessary: having another story written in “code” only men can grok, having another machine achieve consciousness—and have it speak in a women’s voice to give it some cache.

I stopped reading sci-fi when it became so dry and plot oriented that it parched my imagination. As a result, I decided to write something different, a sci-fi series that combines cutting edge science with the tenets of five major religions and highly developed characters—many of whom are women.

During the process, I again realized how intrigued I was writing women characters. It could be that as a man I am forced to use a great deal more of my imagination to think and feel like a woman; it could also be that women tend to be more detail oriented and even more interesting to me.

In any event, I believe I created realistic characters, portraying men and women as they really are, projecting them into the future, without exploiting or sensationalizing their differences. As if women don’t have an equal stake in our future? As if they won’t be joining us in space; as if they haven’t already?

In my sci-fi construct, women are not ascending or over compensating. They are the casual equivalent of the men, doing what is required to meet a given challenge. In this example from The Astral Imperative, Gerta, a gay spaceship engineer, is marooned on Mars with two other male crew members—both Russians who despise each other—all struggling to survive another day: 

“Is it not enough that six are already dead?” Gerta pressed, barely able to contain her anger at Vladimir and Yuri, who nearly came to blows after three months of containment in a small shelter. “Should we become seven, eight and nine because we lack the ability to share ourselves in deeper way, because it is somehow unprofessional?”
Yuri and Vladimir looked at each other before turning their eyes to the floor, embarrassed.
Gerta lowered her voice and continued, “We spend so much time together, then too much time alone trying to avoid each other in this small space. I escape to the grow room to nurture the plants. Yuri spends most of his time writing, also looking within himself and avoiding us. And you, Vladimir, you spend most of your time exploring the surface of this planet and away from us, looking to lose yourself much more than you are inspired to discover something new.
“But six of our comrades are dead. We are all that remain to fulfill the dream of billions on Earth, and we are failing them because we are missing one salient point: We are the aliens on this planet and because we continue to follow old patterns, we are becoming increasingly estranged from one another—which has only compounded our problems. Now we are fighting each other. In the end, we will be killing each other and nothing will be gained, because no one will return to Mars for another hundred years if we cannot survive this madness.
“God only knows how much I wish I could mean more to both of you, more of a friend; even more of a woman,” Gerta concluded, fighting back tears. “If only I were prettier and more desirable. If only I could desire one of you, or even both of you. But this would create even greater problems. We are who we are—chosen by fate—to die from our limitations or to survive them by joining at the depths of our despair, and by learning to respect our differences.”

Excerpt: The Astral Imperative (Vol. II The Machine)

No doubt this is an extraordinary situation—three astronauts marooned on Mars for two years—requiring an exceptional solution, beginning with one strong woman employing reason to quell the misguided emotions of two strong men. 

No ray gun was required to make a point and no vulgar language. Though gay, she is fighting back tears because she loves these two men in her own special way. More importantly, she is devoted to the success of the mission: She has deep feelings, loyalty, and strength, which are expressed within the confines of her character, and not imposed upon her.

She is the future of sci-fi, which can and should be accessible to all women.

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Robert Dresner has written six novels that marry fiction with philosophy and consciousness: from a junkie jazz musician struggling to survive another day, to an obscure old rabbi who finds God in the heart of his worst enemy; to the first manned missions to Mars, wherein great sacrifices and discoveries pose even greater mysteries to a crew struggling with the most basic elements of the human condition. He has studied in ashrams in India and is constantly moved by the soul-deep questions that drive us as a species. Robert lives in Boulder, Colorado, and you can find him online at his website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

THE ASTRAL IMPERATIVE (Virga Press, 2009) is available on Kindle and Nook, and at independent bookstores.

Amazon links:
Robert’s website: http://robertdresner.com/

Contact: Jessica McDonald, jessica@critg.com (publicist)