More epic fantasy, military SF, invisible friends, Sarah Jane Smith and the awesome women of SF

The current debate about epic fantasy is still raging, fueled by the premiere of the Game of Thrones TV adaption.

Now, even the creator himself speaks, for George R.R. Martin breaks his policy not to respond to reviews and weighs in on the negative Game of Thrones review from the New York Times, particularly on the assertion that women don’t read fantasy. Turns out that George R.R. Martin had no idea that he is writing “boy fiction”.

Here’s a quote:

I am not going to get into it myself, except to say
(1) if I am writing “boy fiction,” who are all those boys with breasts who keep turning up by the hundreds at my signings and readings?
and
(2) thank you, geek girls! I love you all.

Now that was a very classy response to a truly awful review.

More on the subject of epic fantasy: Sherwood Smith attempts to define the appeal of the genre.

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However, epic fantasy is not the only subgenre people are discussing these days. For example, Damien Walter has an interesting article on military SF at the Guardian site.

One tiny niggle: While Baen is certainly successful with what they’re publishing, Baen books don’t regularly hit the New York Times bestseller list, as Damien Walter believes. I have been analyzing the New York Times bestseller lists for two years now and the only Baen book I clearly remember seeing on the list was Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. David Weber may also have hit the list at some point, but since his books fall outside my research subject, I don’t clearly remember. But in general, SF does not make the New York Times bestseller list very often and if an SF book does make the list, it’s usually either a media tie-in or a long awaited new book by a beloved author and/or in a beloved series. It’s the second factor that puts Lois McMaster Bujold and David Weber on the list, not the fact that they write military SF (besides, I’d argue that the Vorkosigan series has long moved past military SF, if it ever was in the first place) or that they are published by Baen.

Besides, I always find it a bit baffling that Baen is almost exclusively associated with military SF in the minds of many fans. Because for me, Baen has always been the go-to publisher for good old-fashioned space opera of the sort that made me an SF fan in the first place. Besides, Baen has been bringing a lot of older, out of print SFF back in print. Of course, Baen also publishes books that are too focused on military issues and warrior honour rhetoric for my taste and they also publish some unabashedly rightwing authors, but those books are easy to avoid. But I don’t know where this whole impression of Baen equals ultra-rigthwing, military SF comes from, because it doesn’t.

***

The Wall Street Journal offers this review of a book on the so-called Third Man phenomenon, namely that people in extreme circumstances sometimes report feeling the presence of an invisible friend/helper/companion. Found via Theodora Goss.

This sounds absolutely fascinating and as someone who had more than one invisible friend during childhood (okay, so I never climbed Mount Everest, but if you’re five being stuck in a strange country among people whose language you don’t speak is probably extreme enough) it resonates a lot with me. Though I now wonder why I have never heard Reinhold Messner mention his invisible companion, considering that Messner never shuts up about his mountaineering adventures.

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Finally, here are some lovely tributes to Elisabeth Sladen a.k.a. Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who at Tor.com. And at the CBBC site, the young viewers for whom The Sarah Jane Adventures was made remember Elisabeth Sladen. It’s rare that an actress and the character she played manage to touch so many different generations, but Elisabeth Sladen did.

The tributes to Elisabeth Sladen and her character Sarah Jane Smith also remind me of an important factor that drew me to science fiction in the first place. Yes, the spaceships and the monsters and the adventures were wonderful. But if you were a girl growing up in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, science fiction – in particular filmic and televised SF, because the entry barriers were lower – was also the one place where you could see strong and awesome women. Science fiction gave us Emma Peel and Uhura and Tamara Jagellowsk and Princess Leia and Ripley and Sarah Connor and the many women of Doctor Who, including of course Sarah Jane Smith. These women showed countless girls that you can have any job you want and kick arse and look fabulous and take shit from no one and still catch the hottest guy in the universe, if that’s what you want. To a girl growing up in the 1960s to 1980s, that was a very empowering message.

Viewed in this context, I’m not surprised that among all the Doctor’s companions, Sarah Jane is so well remembered, aside from the fact that Elisabeth Sladen seems to have been a genuinely wonderful lady. Because while the Doctor had many awesome female companions, particularly in the 1970s, Sarah Jane Smith was both strong and accessible. Of course, Leela and Romana were both wonderful, but very few young girls are either an amazon warrioress from a distant planet or a timelady. But Sarah Jane Smith was a normal human woman, albeit an exceptionally smart and brave one. Any girl could aspire to be Sarah Jane Smith.

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1 Response to More epic fantasy, military SF, invisible friends, Sarah Jane Smith and the awesome women of SF

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