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[GUEST POST] Christie Meierz (THE FALL) on The Women of Lee & Miller’s Liaden Universe

ChristieMeierz_200x300 (2)Award-winning writer Christie Meierz writes space opera and science fiction romance set in a civilization of empaths on the edge of a dystopic Earth empire. Her published works include her bestselling debut novel, The Marann, and its sequel, Daughters of Suralia, and two prequel short stories published in Into Tolari Space ~ The First Contact Stories.

Christie has spent a night and/or eaten a meal in all 50 U.S. states, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Currently, she lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her mathematician husband and an assortment of stuffies. When she’s not writing, she writes about writing on her blog, Meierz Musings, and Facebook, where she welcomes comments and friend requests.

The Women of Lee & Miller’s Liaden Universe™

by Christie Meierz

Women portrayed in science fiction run the gamut from the kick-butt heroine to the helpless princess, although the helplessness of the latter has been seeing a gradual decline. Today, the topic of women as characters in SF tends to ignite vigorous, even contentious, discussion centered around the concept of the “strong” woman character and how to make sure We’ve Got One Here Somewhere.

Some writers respond to the challenge by creating women characters who act like men, which to my mind begs the question: why do women have to act like men to be considered strong? What’s the point of creating a woman character, if you could give her a man’s name and a deep voice and the reader wouldn’t notice the difference?

Other writers take a more balanced approach, notably married co-authors Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. In their Liaden Universe™ novels, they chronicle, for the most part, the adventures of various members of a rather eccentric Liaden family. I will, if you will allow me, introduce to you a few of their more influential women characters.

Anne Davis is one of the main characters in Local Custom, which placed 2nd for the 2002 PRISM Award for Futuristic Romance. She’s a Terran woman, a master of comparative linguistics, and a talented musician to boot, but she is also, when we meet her, a mother who loses control of her life when Clan Korval discovers that she has given birth to a child of the clan. Anne is no pushover, but she doesn’t hold all the card s either; and the politically-sensitive nature of her chosen research topic will have an impact on her son’s life as well as her own.

Many of the Liaden stories and novels are, at base, a dialogue between choice and necessity. One can argue that a strong woman should always be at the helm of her own ship, but none of us can control everything that happens in our lives. Anne Davis’ strength comes from making the best choices she can, given the necessities of her situation, even when that choice is forced and not entirely to her liking—something many a woman has had to face. She goes on to become a major influence on the rest of the series, not because she survives (she doesn’t) but because she is mother and foster-mother to four important characters who carry her legacy, each in his or her own way.

Scout’s Progress, which won the 2002 PRISM Award for Futuristic Romance, introduces us to Aelliana Caylon. She’s Liaden, of the relatively unimportant Clan Mizel, and a brilliant mathematician whose contribution to piloting equations saved lives and earned her the respect and admiration of the Liaden Scouts, a tight-knit but unpredictable organization of interstellar explorers and first contact specialists. Yet at home her own family disregards her utterly. Beaten down by abuse and neglect, she cannot thrive, but she shows her strength in finding a way to survive—by keeping her head down and avoiding notice. She’s not your typical heroine. She doesn’t doubt her intellectual abilities, but she’s timid and self-effacing. It takes a lot of strength to live with the kind of loneliness that Aelliana must endure, living in a family that doesn’t truly care for her well-being, and the authors seem well aware of this. However, when love does find her in the end, she blooms in spite of her scars, and she becomes an enduring force in the life of my favorite of all the Liaden characters, Daav yos’Phelium.

The last woman I’ll mention is one of the main characters of Lee & Miller’s first novel, Agent of Change: Miri Robertson. She’s definitely a much more stereotypical strong woman character: a former mercenary sergeant, a natural leader, she’s both a match for and a counterpoint to Scout Commander Val Con yos’Phelium, the man who rescues her and in turn is rescued by her, back and forth until neither of them really knows which owes the other more. She and Val Con struggle with some of the same issues, and their repartee is a delight.

Unlike the two women above, Miri becomes a visible presence and a force to be reckoned with throughout the series, and the reader has the opportunity to watch Miri change and grow, first as Val Con’s wife and, later, as half the leadership of Clan Korval itself. With her, the writer’s challenge is that she is, indeed, a soldier and a very strong character, and it takes a deft hand on the part of the authors to keep her undeniably female. The really interesting thing about Miri, to me, is that she and Val Con together become the head of the clan, halves which together make up the metaphorical whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Even when the minor female characters in the Liaden series—the Wise Mentor (and master trader), the Meddling Aunt, and the Older Sister—have real presence; you’re left with the feeling that you might recognize them if they walked into the room. (And I haven’t even mentioned Theo Waitley, who could take up an entire post to herself.) Each woman you meet in the Liaden Universe™ is singular and real without needing to shout her strength at the reader; they are complex characters with histories that matter to them, and not one of them could be reduced to a one-sentence description.

6 Comments on [GUEST POST] Christie Meierz (THE FALL) on The Women of Lee & Miller’s Liaden Universe

  1. To be fair, will you be doing a subsequent article on The Men of Lee & Miller’s Liaden Universe?

  2. sandstone78 // February 19, 2015 at 11:54 am //

    Thank you for highlighting this series! Scout’s Progress and Conflict of Honors in particular are some of my favorite books. I love the character-driven nature of the series, and most of the romances work really well for me as well. (I really disliked Mouse and Dragon, though- not because of the ending, but because I wanted more of Aelliana and it seemed so firmly focused on Daav, to the extent that a major milestone for Aelliana, her first piloting run, happened between chapters in a short story not included with the book.) In any case, I think this may in fact finally be my year to catch up on the Theo books I’ve not gotten to yet.

    However… I’m made a bit uncomfortable by some of your points, and your article isn’t the first time I’ve seen them, especially in articles about sci-fi romance. May I ask what exactly you mean when you say that Miri is undeniably female, and what traits make her so? Is more required for a character to be undeniably a woman than the character explicitly being referred to as a woman, by the authors and possibly the character herself?

    I would contend that the very _point_ of female characters who “may as well be men” is that, despite acting like men, they _aren’t_ men- even if they have deep voices, masculine names (given or chosen), or whatever other typically masculine attributes. A spacefaring romance starting deep-voiced Quinn who gets her girl is after all markedly different from the one about deep-voiced Quinn who gets his girl, and both are different again from the one about deep-voiced Quinn who gets her guy, or for that matter the ones about soprano Lynne who gets her guy or soprano Lynne who gets her girl. And yet, all but the deep-voiced Mr. Quinn are undeniably women, aren’t they?

    I would go so far to say, in fact, that the spectre of the “man with boobs” is in fact more of a boogeyman than a reality, as most heroines in the genre seem to fall into a moderate “not too masculine, not too feminine” tomboyish middle-ground. I will even reach a bit further, acknowledging I may be on fragile ground, and speculate that when many people say they are looking for women who don’t act like men, what they are really looking for is more women in the story total instead of the fairly common trope of the woman who is surrounded by men, accepted as “one of the boys,” and seems to hold other women (especially “weak” more feminine women) in contempt- female protagonists who are the one exception in a very sexist world, as opposed to older stories in the genre, set in the same sexist worlds but without even that much representation of women.

    • When I say Miri is undeniably female, I’m not looking at particular traits so much as the way she carries herself in the stories in which she appears. She is diminutive but not at all self-conscious about it the way a number of short men of my acquaintance are, and she switches gears and deals with necessity in a way that many women do. The women in the Liaden stories, even the mercenaries, are quite varied; and while Miri may be tough and laconic, when she’s relating to others I feel I recognize a woman’s approach to the world.

      Torin Kerr in Tanya Huff’s Confederation novels is equally difficult to pin down — like Miri Robertson’s, her actions are often indistinguishable from what a man would do in the same situation. It’s what’s going on in her head that distinguishes her as female and makes it hard to replace her with a male character.

      • sandstone78 // February 19, 2015 at 3:36 pm //

        Thank you for taking the time to reply! In general, the way that much of the cast of the Liaden novels is- or becomes- comfortable with themselves, regardless of gender, is one of the things that draws me to the series, I think.

        I think I at least partially understand what you’re saying- if I have it right, it’s the difference between a character who “is” a woman versus one who “happens to be” a woman- which I think partially comes from an author considering how different or similar experiences of men and women are in their created world, and how those differing expectations and experiences have shaped the character? So it’s like Miri comes across to you as grounded in the experience of women in the Liaden universe?

        I think the problem I have with female characters who aren’t “like men,” however that’s described, is that I see very people praising works for not doing it, but haven’t ever really seen someone condemn a work that does do it. Not being straight myself, I often find myself somewhat on the outside looking in when it comes to these kind of gender lines- I’m bothered by the type of science fiction and fantasy romance that very strongly divides men and women, for example a fantasy romance series I otherwise liked that was very staunch about all women being gentle healers and all men being dangerous protectors- I can take those tropes in characters, but not well when they’re generalized to _everyone_ inherently being like that. (One of the things that does bug me about the Liaden universe is the way that Crystal Soldier/Crystal Dragon seem to very explicitly set up dramliza/lifemate bonds as always male/female, despite Lee and Miller including many bisexual characters.)

        I have an omnibus of the first two of Huff’s novels in my TBR, I’ve enjoyed her fantasy so will move those up soon. I’ve picked up the sample of The Marann to try as well 🙂

  3. I found this and the above comments very interesting.

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