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
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
- 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:
am I? I am Susan Ivanova, commander, daughter of Andrei and
Sophie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance, and the boot
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- (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 Aoibhell.is 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
- (Oathbound, Oathbreaker, By the Sword, and the latest
- 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
- (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
- 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
- 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
last modified 1 February 1998
copyright 1997, 1998 by Cynthia