Shrine to the Warrior Goddess

I've noticed lately that my taste in science fiction and fantasy has shifted to favoring books featuring heroines that aren't afraid to kick butt and take names. If this is an expression of some inward need to emulate the warrior within, I haven't figured it out completely yet, and I'd much rather spend my hard-earned discretionary income on sf/fantasy than on a shrink.

Lately, I've been spending some time in thought considering why I find warrior heroines so appealing. A lot of female science fiction and fantasy characters (written by authors of both genders) turn out to become mere cartoons or male characters in feminine guise. When I consider other fiction genres' portrayal of women or read a lot of non-fiction on women's issues, I yearn for a truly transforming vision of what women's lives can be like. Even though the tales of the warrior heroine aren't truly new visions of women's lives, they do speak to a often hidden corner of my soul. There's a dark corner in all of us that holds the anger and frustration modern life so often engenders. Women, perhaps even more than men, have a lot of unsolved conflict in the clash of what our cultures expect of us with what our spirits may yearn for and the hidden corner of the soul ends up the repository of that conflict. Sometimes, when I take the time to dare to tap into the hidden corner, I imagine a scream coming out of my mouth and not stopping for a good long time. If you think about it, I'm sure that most of you would admit that you too have a nice little mental corner for screaming your pain out. The warrior heroines, for better or worse, give this scream an embodiment that almost never gets expressed in our everyday lives, but takes shape in the world of our imaginations. Therein lies their appeal.

It is just so much fun finding strong women with endless adventures to enjoy, and there's been a increase in them lately, so I'm being kept busy. Any time I find the treasure of a great heroine, I want to make sure that they'll be around growing and developing while I'm on my own path, and I bless their creators for putting them out in the world for the rest of us to share. My little shrine to the Warrior Goddess is my own way of saying thanks to their makers.

Please let me know if there are some fabulous warrior heroines I've missed or if you've got some new insights into the appeal of the warrior woman. I've gotten some helpful messages from fellow devotees that have pointed my way to some new candidates for the shrine or reminded me of some that I had read about and loved, but neglected to add to the list. Thanks a lot! You know who you are...

I had a very interesting conversation with a new friend, Cheryl Morgan, who is part of Bay Area fandom, while I was at Potlatch 8 in Oakland a couple of weeks ago (1/16-18/1998). We had a very small nanoprogram devoted to Warrior Goddesses (which consisted of Cheryl and I sitting in a corner of the consuite late at night over a couple of beers). Cheryl has a fanzine, Emerald City, which is quite interesting. The latest issue, #29, has her take on the Warrior Goddess phenomenon from our discussion at Potlatch. We would both like to hear from you if you have anything more to add to what we discussed, so please check Cheryl's fanzine out and let us know.

Here's a selection of my current favorites:

Science Fiction Avatars of the Warrior Goddess

David Weber's Honor Harrington series
Take Horatio Hornblower and Horatio Nelson, push them 2000 years into our future, and make them into a woman who is a damn fine starship captain. I've written a summary of this series to date describing why I willingly go on death rides with Honor Harrington. Check it out, and let me know what you think.
Jade Darcy and the Affair of Honor/Jade Darcy and the Zen Pirates by Stephen Goldin and Mary Mason
These two books are a mini-series called The Rehumanization of Jade Darcy, and I really want to know why Signet/Roc only published two of them. Jade Darcy is a computer-augmented soldier who deserted from her indenture in the Earth armed forces to become a mercenary and bouncer in a restaurant/bar which makes the cantina scene in Star Wars look like a high society tea party. This series has a lot of humor in it, anytime a pet gets named Pita (for pain-in-the-a**), you can tell there is a lot of fun in store, but you also get to see her struggle with making real contact with others and grow up a lot.
Commander Susan Ivanova, Babylon 5 (played by Claudia Christian)
What can I say? She lives to kick butt and has a well-developed art of finding the perfect sarcastic remark. This is not a woman to annoy. She's perhaps the only woman in a current science fiction show that really has the art of command down. She's also quite human and vulnerable underneath, and I love to watch the interaction of her professional strength and emotional vulnerability. She even has a resident knight in shining armor armed with a Minbari pike who is trying to break through to her heart. The romantic undercurrents between Marcus and Susan are manna in the desert.
She's not going to be in the fifth season of Babylon 5, but here is an excellent speech in one the last episodes of Season 4 that sums it all up just before she attacks the Earthforce
ships with Shadow enhancements in "Between the Darkness and the Light". Ivanova is commanding the White Star fleet and refuses to surrender, asking for a open comm channel and the firing control. After the Earth task force commander asks her who she is, she replies:

"Who am I? I am Susan Ivanova, commander, daughter of Andrei and
Sophie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance, and the boot that
is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart!
I am Death incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see!
God sent me!"
*Then* she hits the firing control! Yeee-haaa!
Here are some other classic Ivanova comments:
Sheridan: "You have a face people trust." Ivanova: "I'd rather have a face people fear."
Corwin: "So from now on I guess the operational phrase is, Trust no one." Ivanova: "No!
Trust Ivanova. Trust yourself. Anybody else: shoot 'em!"
and of course, the B5 mantra, "Ivanova is always right. I will listen to Ivanova. I will not ignore Ivanova's recommendations. Ivanova is God. And if this ever happens again, Ivanova will personally rip your lungs out. Babylon Control out. [Sigh] Civilians. [Looking up] Just kidding about the God part -- no offense."
Kathryn Janeway on Voyager currently can only dream of being like Ivanova, because of the swill the writers are putting in Kate Mulgrew's mouth (a colossal waste of a good actress, IMHO). I live in a perhaps forlorn hope that Janeway will get really fierce one day.
Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5 (played by Mira Furlan)
Delenn is an interesting combination of steel and satin. I tend to enjoy her more in fierce mode and lately the developing epic romance with John Sheridan has tried my patience at times when it seems like the only thing coming out of her mouth is a breathless "Oh, John!"
However, the Great Maker also gives me fabulous scenes like her attempt to end the Minbari civil war through the test of the Starfire Wheel and her willingness to die for the rightness of the religious caste's cause, only to be supplanted through Neroon's sacrifice.
Delenn is a source of many excellent philosophical quotes, but my favorite quote of hers in fierce mode is from the Hugo award-winning episode "Severed Dreams":
Delenn: "This is Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari. Babylon 5 is under our protection. Withdraw, or be destroyed."
Captain Drake: "Negative. We have authority here. Do not force us to engage your ship."
Delenn: "Why not? Only one human captain has ever survived battle with a Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else."
Assorted Klingon women from ST: TNG, DS9 and Voyager
Their motto is "Girls just wanna have fights."
Am I the only one who was bummed when Lursa and B'Tor were killed off in ST: Generations? Or when K'Ehleyr died on TNG? Worf was better off with her than with Dax, although Dax has some good warrior tendencies. Unfortunately, the only Klingon women that have any real roles and haven't gotten killed off yet are Grilka, Quark's ex on DS9, and B'lanna Torres who is off in the Delta Quadrant on Voyager. We need more Klingon women to show us how to get in touch with our inner Klingon! Qapla'!
Heris Serrano and Esmay Suiza in Elizabeth Moon's books
(Hunting Party, Winning Colors, Sporting Chance, and Once A Hero)
Elizabeth Moon has created another couple of keeper heroines. Heris Serrano comes from a noted Fleet family and was working her way up to flag rank when she runs afoul of a corrupt admiral and is reduced to commanding a rich old woman's space yacht. The first three books in this series cover Serrano's adventures with her patroness and eventual return to the fleet. Esmay Suiza is the heroine of the fourth book, Once A Hero. She had a minor role in the third Heris Serrano book, and the fourth book deals with the aftermath of her heroic actions and some horrible past traumas that she needs to work through. Her character is a compelling portrait of a young officer with a lot of potential for greatness if she can only deal with her past.
Dirisha Zuri in Steve Perry's Matador books (especially in Matadora)
An email reminder brought her back to mind. I loved all of Perry's Matador books, but Dirisha's story was really terrific. This whole series (three Matador books with some related standalone titles) was interesting because it featured the development of a new martial art as a tool for revolution. Matadora tells the tale of how Dirisha leaves a backwater planet and follows various martial art paths until she finds herself among the matadors. Go out to your local used book store and haunt the shelves for Perry's stuff. Most of the Matador universe books are either out of print or hard to find, but shops that specialize in sf and fantasy may well have some on their shelves.
Rissa Kerguelen and Zelde M'Tana (and others) in F.M. Busby's Hulzein/UET universe
I had the good fortune to meet F.M. Busby and his wife Elinor at this year's Potlatch (#7) in Oakland, CA. Meeting them reminded me that he had created many interesting female characters in his Hulzein/UET universe, which is a quite brutal vision of the near future that grows out of a transition to a corporate form of government and first alien contact. Rissa Kerguelen and Zelde M'Tana are probably the two that stick in my mind the most. Both of them pulled themselves of brutal childhoods to escape from UET-controlled Earth and its colonies and become key figures in the overthrow of the evil corporate empire. This universe is quite gritty and not for the faint of heart, but well worth the effort.

Fantasy Avatars of the Warrior Goddess

Xena, Gabrielle, and Callisto on Xena:Warrior Princess
Next to the definition of warrior goddess in the dictionary, we need a picture of Lucy Lawless in full Xena regalia. I love this show, even though it takes more liberties with history than Star Trek writers at their worst. Only Xena could pull off storylines where she is involved both in the Trojan War and with Julius Caesar. Xena is a great character who is constantly struggling with her evil warlord past in her current dealings with gods and man.
Her sidekick Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) has learned how to wield a mean stick and isn't just a parasite any more. Then, we've got Xena's major nemesis Callisto (Hudson Leick), who has refined revenge into an art form. I also love to watch the interplay between Xena and Gabrielle's characters. They are true friends, and some Xenites are devoted to exploring the lesbian subtext between the two of them. I look at the subtext discussion as some interesting entertainment in itself. I could care less who they sleep with as long as they continue to kick booty. Just my two dinars here folks.
Aeron Aoibhell and Athyn Cahanagh in Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's Keltiad
(Aeron: The Silver Branch, The Copper Crown, The Throne of Scone, Athyn: Blackmantle)
The seven Keltiad books are great fantasy reading, you should check them out. Two warrior heroines stand out among all the wonderful female characters Kennealy-Morrison brings to life.
Aeron one of the greatest high fantasy warrior heroines to come my way since Eowyn of Rohan in Lord of the Rings. Patricia Kennealy-Morrison takes Celtic myth and sends it out into space. Aeron is born to be High Queen of Kelts and one of the mightiest sorceresses and warriors in Keltic history. She needs all of her skills to face the greatest threat to her realm in 1500 years as well as reach out to Earth, the Kelts' ancient home. This series is full of fascinating characters and a well-developed history. This series is a series of trilogies and stand-alone books. Aeron's story is told in the three books listed above, and Kennealy-Morrison also takes a fresh look at the Arthurian legend by placing him in Keltia, not on Earth. The Tales of Arthur (The Hawk's Grey Feather, The Oak Above the Kings, and The Hedge of Mist) also have some excellent warrior heroines, but Aeron is still tops so far. Kennealy-Morrison also promises another trilogy featuring Aeron and her consort Gwydion in the future (hurry up please!).
The latest installment in the Keltiad, Blackmantle, tells the tale of Athyn of the Battles, High Queen of Keltia two hundred years before the time of Arthur. When she was born, Keltia was under the control of foreign invaders, and had no High King or Queen. Her parents had been mortally injured in battle against invading armies, and her mother was close to giving birth to Aeron. (What an image, a really pregnant woman in battle! Never saw that one pulled off before...) The newborn Athyn ends up getting rescued by another warrior who brings her to his home and raises her with his own children. Athyn gets training as a brehon (guardians of the Keltic laws) and as a warrior. When she grows up, she finds out that she was the lost daughter of a noble Keltic family that was among the heirs to the Keltic crown. She leads the rebellion against the invaders and ends up being acclaimed High Queen by right of birth and conquest. This story has a much more autobiographical flavor than Kennealy-Morrison's other Keltic books because Athyn's love story ends up a fairly thinly disguised retelling of the author's own relationship with the late Jim Morrison. It turns out to provide some great fodder for displaying Athyn's great eloquence and passion for justice as well as her skills at war when Athyn takes revenge on those who killed her husband. There's also a fabulous portion of the book where Athyn ends up challenging the Keltic gods and goddesses that has to be read to be believed.
Tarma shena Tale'sedrin and Kerowyn in Mercedes Lackey's books
(Oathbound, Oathbreaker, By the Sword, and the latest Valdemar trilogies)
Tarma is a great character who has been sword-sworn to her Goddess in order to avenge the slaughter of her clan. With her oathsister the sorceress Kethry, the enchanted sword need, and the kyree Warrl, Tarma fosters the rebirth of her clan and avenges all sorts of injustices. Kethry's granddaughter Kerowyn leaves her sheltered upbringing to follow the sword like her grandmother and Tarma, and manages to become both one of the most noted mercenary captains in her world's history and a Valdemaran Herald.
Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I never got to see the movie (I should hunt it up at the video shop), but I'm rapidly getting very fond of this new TV show. I remember that high school was kind of hell at times, but my school was sweetness and light compared to Sunnydale High, which just happens to sit on top of the Hellmouth. Having the principal gnawed to death by a pack of students possessed by demonic hyenas is par for the course here.
Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter in Elizabeth Moon's Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy
(Sheepfarmer's Daughter, Divided Loyalties, Oath of Gold)
Here's one heroine I had to be reminded of by email. I guess it's because I read Moon's science fiction books long after I read this trilogy that Heris and Esmay made it in the shrine before Paks. After I got thumped by a clue stick, I went back and re-read this series.
It's a great tale of a sheepfarmer's daughter who ran away from home and enlisted in a mercenary army and ends up being one of the most renowned warriors of her age. Many of the races in this saga are similar to Middle-Earth's (elves, orcs, and dwarves to name just a few), but Moon's story isn't warmed over Tolkien at all, she puts her own spin on the classic fantasy saga genre. Paks is a definitely memorable heroine.
The Order of Renunciates (the Free Amazons), with their predecessors, the Sisterhood of the Sword, in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover universe
Another email reminder clued me in that I had a big hole in the fantasy section by not including any of Bradley's Free Amazons. Since they each have their own reasons for taking the Oath, I am hard pressed to name just one or a few of them as exemplars of their Order, but the fact that Bradley managed to create an outlet for Darkovan women in their patriarchal culture is one of the major reasons why I found her stories so compelling. It seems like a lot of other writers in the Darkover universe agree that the Guild is interesting, because it seems like a large percentage of the short stories in the anthologies have Free Amazon stories in them.
All the various heroines in the "Chicks in Chainmail" and "Did You Say Chicks?!" anthologies edited by Esther Friesner
Ok, you may be thinking that Cynthia's gone completely nuts, and you may very well be right, but I still think these stories are some of the funniest stuff I've read in a long while. Anyone who's spent any time at all in the fantasy genre would be severely humor-impaired if they didn't utter a chuckle or two while reading these stories which feature, in Esther's inimitable words, "Women Who Slay Too Much (And the Men Who Prudently Get Out of the Way)." My personal favorite in the first anthology was a story by Susan Shwartz called "Exchange Program" where Hillary Clinton finds herself sent to Valhalla by mistake and takes the opportunity to do some consciousness raising among the Valkyries. I'm also quite fond of the Elizabeth Moon and Margaret Ball stories in both of the anthologies. Definitely some good stuff there. I picked up my copy of the second anthology in the Dealer's Room at Potlatch, and it seems like it was one of the hottest sellers that weekend.

last modified 1 February 1998

copyright 1997, 1998 by Cynthia Gonsalves