Military, science fiction

Military Science Fiction and Females

I’m a huge Mil-SF (military science fiction) fan. I have been since I discovered Drake and Ringo and I haven’t looked back. I find I’m much more partial to the books by those two authors: epic, ground battles, and the struggle of the common soldier. The grand sweeping space battles tend to leave me cold. But as I am watching my friend Amanda Green deal with reviews on her Mil-SF novel published under a male penname, I am beginning to question my own decisions to write Mil-SF. Like Amanda, I come from a military family, have been exposed heavily to the culture, and studied it for years. She’s better prepared for this than I am, though, and still, she gets reviews from people who know that a woman wrote the book through her open penname, excoriating her for daring to write SF or Mil-SF as a woman.

There is no reason femaleness should preclude being able to write authentic military fiction. What there is is a strong sense of rebellion against having all-female casts pushed down their throats, and fans who have had enough of improbable females in combat settings. But the lashing out needs to some under restraint. Equality and respect as I always argue for. Give Vengeance for Ashes an honest, unbiased read, and see what you think.

Keep in mind something else: her book, my book, and the other book I’m mentioning because it’s on a really good sale (it’s an omnibus edtion for only a dollar, folks, how can you resist that?) are all science ficion. Far from being a representation of the military here, now, it is an attempt to extrapolate outward and forward.

James’s book in particular plays homage to the traditional aspects of the military, with archaic terminology. He also addresses the seemingly impenetrable civilian incomprehension of duty and honor.

Amanda’s book (as Sam Schall) addresses that concept even more closely: when a military officer, betrayed by her political masters, is offered the chance to serve again, what to do?

I find myself musing over the concept of attempting, as a female to break into the difficult field of Mil-SF. Could I do it under my own name, or should I hide under a masculine pretense to avoid the ignorant scorn? Well, I have a while before I’m done with this book to decide. I’ll be watching to see what happens to Sam Schall.

0 thoughts on “Military Science Fiction and Females

  1. For myself, though a large portion of my cast of thousands are soldiers — and special forces operators at that — I am deliberately eschewing the label or appearance of MilSF, because I don’t trust that, despite a background similar to yours in this regard, (military family, CAP training, love of MilSF), I will be able to write authentically. For whatever that’s worth.

    1. I don’t think you can avoid the label as given by others, though. Plague War, the book I’m working on now, will mostly be about disease. But the central characters will be military, just not in battle. So… Like you, I can label it science fiction, or space opera, but the Mil-SF label will get applied.

  2. Since I served in the Navy and was on several Army bases, I know the culture pretty well. In my humble opinion Amanda did an excellent job of describing the culture. However, a lot of the milSF is in the viewpoint of the officer. I enjoy the viewpoint of the grunt (probably why I really enjoyed Ringo’s stuff). Anyway, I think if you can do it, then do it.

  3. Cedar, if you like “epic, ground battles, and the struggle of the common soldier”, then you *really* should give Dan Abnett a try. His Gaunt’s Ghosts series in particular.

    And I’d say publish as you. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Selfishly speaking, it will certainly make it easier for me to find it, once it’s published 🙂

  4. Honor Harrington brought me back to SF after a looooooong hiatus. Maybe it’s just in comparison to PCSF, but I like the trend. I enjoy the fighting women characters, too. I don’t think an intimate knowledge of military life is a prerequisite. In fact, some of the guys who have obviously been there, tend to get a little lost in the detail.

    Too bad you killed off your sword dancer. She could have lead the charge.

    Or did you? ;o)

  5. I served in the Navy, Mil-SF is my favorite sub-genre, and yes, Ringo and Drake are two of my favorites. That being said, I think if you don’t go ahead and use a female name (pen name or not) then the bias towards female authors in that arena will just continue. Let’s see good Mil-SF, written by female authors and eventually the bias will lessen. I start under the assumption the author knows their subject matter regardless of their sex and it’s up to them to prove me wrong.

  6. I’m confused this is even a topic. :p

    Lois McMaster Bujold writes what I would call some of the best military sci-fi.

    Then we have C. J. Cherryh, Tanya Huff, Sharon Lee, Sandra McDonald, Elizabeth Moon and so on and so on.

    I would say use your real name. Granted C.J. used her initials but that was some time ago.

    I would rank Bujold and Moon over Weber in military science fiction any day. Easily.

    1. De gustibus, but that’s not really the problem we’re encountering here. You prefer Bujold and Moon, but much of the military portion of their work fell flat for me, whereas Ringo, Drake and Weber are more or less consistent re-reads. But it wasn’t that these are MilSF and thosearen’t; it’s that they’re different styles of writing similar things, and you happen to prefer one and I happen to prefer the other. Incidentally, Tanya Huff’s Valor series feels about like Ringo, et al. to me.

      What Amanda’s bumping into are people whose identity is somehow threatened by women writing MilSF. And I think we can work around this, though it’s going to take some concerted effort. I wonder if we can convince Larry to book bomb it.

      1. Call it flat but it’s still military sci fi. They aren’t Drake in visceral gut punches nor Williamson in pure military atmosphere, but they have their own unique qualities.

        Sassinak is another example. Sure, McCaffrey dialed it in the later part of her career but this came out what, 1991? I read the Planet Pirate books before I started reading Weber. Love me some Weber, but his later books are just meh.

        Which is beside the point. I was introduced to military sci fi as a genre by women authors.

        Maybe my age is showing, ha.

  7. Two unrelated statements:

    1) Growing up, I knew quite a few WASPs, WACs, and various other elements of the “women’s” military in the Second Great Unpleasantness; I have no problems seeing women in military SF — as characters or as writers.

    2) I write what I want — if I should decide to write a Romance, it’s going out with my name on it. If you think “he shouldn’t be writing that”, well, that’s *your* f—in’ problem. In most cases, saying “author[x] should not write style [y]” is just another form of censorship (I will make the obvious exception for an author who not only knows naught of a subject, but deliberately chooses to Not Learn).

    1. I started a male romance story a while back, more as a ‘proof’ to my son that a writer is a writer is a writer – and observation and research covers a lot of sins.

      I sort of dropped the idea when he complained about me wanting to use his picture instead of mine.

      Ladies: seriously – which would be more of a sell point. A picture on a male romance of a 50-ish, balding and fat man, or that of a trim, clean cut Air Force vet? He was in his 20’s at the time. I think he feared seeing middle-aged women clutching ‘his books’ to their bosoms, in lieu of him ….

  8. =>Keep in mind something else: her book, my book, and the other book I’m mentioning because it’s on a really good sale (it’s an omnibus edtion for only a dollar, folks, how can you resist that?)

    Which? Where?

      1. You think this is bad? Imagine being a poor author, buying books for research *shifty eyes* yeah, that’s it. So, the latest John Ringo, two Mickey Spillane’s (for Dragon Noir), and um, a few for blog reviews. And my apologies, but there’s another going to be recommended tomorrow, just found out Dave Freer is running a sale…

        1. Ramen and water here I come. Curse you blue SF authors. I hadn’t bought a new book in two years before I stumbled across you during the SFWA/MZB flap

          1. Well, we’re happy to have been found! One thing you’ll note is the indie authors are a lot more affordable than, say, a paperback. Also, we do try to run promotions and freebies every so often… say, do you know about the Baen Free Library?

            1. I found then and am working my way through them.
              BTW do you need some research help? Being disabled at home I read 2 or more books a day and would happily direct that reading for a purpose.

            2. Not at this time, a lot of what I have to do, for instance with the Spillane, is to absorb the diction and ‘feeling’ so I can get back into writing Noir.

              However, when I do start on Dragon I may take advantage of your kindness and ask for help creating a series bible of the Noir series, to which end I’d give you copies of the book if you don’t already have them Incentive 😉

  9. I think there is a bit of “fool me once” etc, in the reaction to Amanda’s book. Some readers may be afraid of “oh Lord another Buffy?” – not defending the reaction, in fact I think it’s a damn shame if that’s the truth, but yeah also don’t forget that there really are a lot of us who never liked Janeway too.

    1. Janeway?

      And yes, I do think that is part of it. This is a backlash to neo-feminist screeds being pushed as SF. It’s getting all women caught in the undertow. Hopefully we who are not seekign to subjugate all men will be able to convince readers to look for good story before they worry about the gender of the author/characters.

  10. Cedar, I’ll add my thanks to James’. I appreciate the kind words and the shout out.

    Also, for those of you who haven’t followed either on my blog or over at Mad Genius Club my reasoning for going with a pen name for Vengeance from Ashes, part of it was because there is still a large section of the target audience that thinks women write fantasy and men write science fiction. But the deciding factor was because I have several other series out there that are very different genres. The last thing I wanted was for a reader to buy VfA, thinking it was an urban fantasy or romantic suspense or something other than science fiction.

    1. This last – genre sorting – is why I will use a penname when I release the project I’ve had under wraps for a while. It’s neither SF nor fantasy, and while I’ll let you all choose, Like with Amanda, it gives you fair warning you’re not expecting my usual (or vice versa if ‘something completely different’ goes over well).

    2. “Vengeance” is definitely on my “too-read” pile — though it is pretty massive. Luckily my “too-read” pile now resides on my Kindle, so I don’t have to worry about it falling over and squashing me.

      Myself, I don’t have a problem with my MilSF (or any other incarnation of SF) authors having girl parts as long as the story is good. And I’m sure there are a lot of us who feel that way Though, I definitely understand the need for a pen name — especially from a marketing standpoint: while many readers may be open minded, Amazon’s recommendation software IS NOT. Buy one bloody Star Wars book 15 years ago, and you will be plagued to this day with pages and pages of bloody recommendations for bloody Star Wars books. Click dozens upon dozens of “Not Interested”, give dozens more one-star rating, and the system thinks “Gee, he sure didn’t like any those hundreds of Star Wars books we’ve been shoving at him all these years… but MAYBE HE’LL LIKE THIS ONE! So let’s recommend it to him!”

      And I’m sure it works in about the same manner for selling books too.

  11. my issue was not with who wrote it, or what their standard issue plumbing is. My issue was with the underlying premise. that an officer of that military could be betrayed so hideously, without anyone calling them out on it, with no one willing to stand up, just a vague we’re working behind the scenes, and that officer is willing to put herself back into that same situation ? that was my problem with the plot. No one in that system is worthy of her loyalty and trust. It’s all fine and dandy to have your paladin, but that paladin must have something worth fighting for, something to believe in, a standard to strive for, and no one there does.

    1. I saw a trust between the character and the Admiral, initially, and then the pardon signing was a bit token of renewed trust. And horrible betrayals have happened in the military, sadly.

      However, every reader sees in a story what they see, and an author can’t predict that… nor can they make everyone happy.

      I do have a question, if the plumbing didn’t matter, why include this phrase in the review, particularly when the penname was not obviously female? “Women authors can write great military science fiction . This is not one of these authors.”

      1. only because you had mentioned prior that Amanda had written it using a pen name. otherwise I probably would not have gotten it. Not a known name, not a Baen author, but, since someone I trust did mention it, that makes it worth a look. :-). I’ve read everything Bujold has written, as well as Ringo, Weber, Flint, Drake, Moon and more. Rather like our International Lord of Hate has said, the story matters. I’ll read the next in the line, to see what happens, but I could have easily as seen her say, piss on all of this and its time to find a new home. on the gripping hand, then we would not have a story to follow either, so,

  12. There is some military stuff I want to write. But it is about history that happened to people I am related to. Even so, I’m going to enlist the assistance of real military people with the background and experience to help me out, should they choose to do so. Should the vociferous critics still feel inclined to snipe, I will take them about as seriously as your average GHHer. Clearly there is some snipe envy going on.

    It would be interesting to see if women who served get the same issue– like Elizabeth Moon. I know for a fact that there is a lot of anger going around about recent changes to the military. (I’m going back as far as 30 years… if not more.) This means a lot of anger that has no outlet, since the traitor with the knife is also the hand that feeds. That is going to have a lot of fallout– and the results will be ugly.

  13. My only real issue is that when women write Military Fiction, their female characters seem almost superhuman. Almost as if they feel they have to over compensate to prove some thing. There is also often what I call “Man with boobs” syndrome. The leads ARE female, but other than their name, there is nothing female about them.

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