Female Characters in Sci-fi (and Other Genres)

            Anyone who has read my novels should know that I am no chauvinist.  The majority of prominent characters in Proving Ground are female and there is a consistent theme of self-reliance, not waiting for a man to intervene as savior.  Of the four main characters in Duality, two are sisters Sirima and Kinnara; both hold their own in battle with their peers and their enemies.  So when I read a Twitter post (by @elliesoderstrom, for the curious) concerning stereotypical portrayals of women in sci-fi, I figured I had nothing to worry about.  The sci-fi novel I was working on at the time, Echo, primarily revolves around the protagonist’s relationship with two vastly different women.  My action-driven story was more than just guys shooting and beating people up, it was about love and loss and finding connection in strange places.  Regardless, I began to question various decisions I had made throughout the novel.  Was I guilty of using any sci-fi female stereotypes?

            My conclusion: maybe.

            First, a brief overview of the novel for the sake of context.  Echo is the story of a 23rd Century Earth where humans have been extinct for over a century.  We are survived by our machines: worker drones, androids, and intelligent computer networks have reshaped our world into their world.  In an attempt to discover the secrets of the human mind, 21st Century MI-6 agent Nick Bridges is cloned and brought into the world of machines as a scientific curiosity.  Nick spends much of the novel caught between his feelings for two women: Claire Bridges, the wife of the original Nick Bridges who exists only in Nick’s memories, and Lina, a female android with a strong desire for human interaction.  The latter brings me to my central point: Lina’s reason for wanting to interact with Nick.

            In the first draft, Lina was what you might call a “lovebot.”  Her desire for human contact came from the fact that she was designed to interact with humans, albeit in a sexual context.  When humans became rare and eventually extinct, she experienced a loss of purpose until she was assigned a new role in society, but her base programming caused her lingering regret at the loss of humanity.  I also thought it would be interesting to have her only interaction with humans to be in a manner that she—as a machine—would have difficulty fully understanding.  The problem was, when I took a second look at her motivation, I realized that since all of her interactions were based on casual sex, there would be little reason for her to associate humans with any sense of affection; she would merely be acting out her limited role, not forming any sort of lasting bond with a person.  That was when the whole idea fell apart for me.  I was presenting Lina as a literal sexual object and my reasoning for doing so was no longer valid.  If Lina was truly going to miss interacting with humans, I wanted her to have actually felt a personal connection with them.  For that, she had to change jobs.

            In the current version of the novel, Lina is a former caretaker android, designed to care for the very young or very old.  This necessitated the ability to interact with humans on a personal level as well as exposure to both ends of the human aging spectrum.  She learned to appreciate humans in every form, and as such she formed real bonds with her wards.  Her need for—and attraction to—Nick makes far more sense, as does her appreciation for humanity in general.  With my revisions complete, I found myself much happier with the new version of Lina: strong but innocent, with a real devotion to humans. 

Sometimes looking at your work through the eyes of a critic pays off.

Echo is scheduled for release 1/8/2013.

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