Rocket Gyrls Reading Club – No Boyz Aloud
Image Credit: Earle Bergey
Frequent visitors to Out of the Cradle know that I have a soft spot in my heart for the women of our space future. (Astronautix’ ‘Women of Space’, past and present) Whilst preparing the Summer Space Reading Camp, Megan McArdle, a blogger at The Atlantic.com (and tall, brainy economist on whom I have a bit of a crush because I’m a tall, brainy banker) posted a blog entry on how sci-fi might be considered unfeminine entitled That’s for girls, he said scornfully . . . This got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing), and I decided to add a special edition to the Summer Space Reading Camp on Solar system science fiction in the Lunar Library that is geared towards a female as opposed to the ‘traditional’ male audience.
Please note, this time around we go all the way up to adult. It’s not just juveniles! In part this is so that I could include the pair of sci-fi bodice-rippers that I’ve found, but also so I can show some of the beautiful artwork of Pamela Lee. Additionally, I’ve had to throw in some video and other media because face it, there’s just not a whole lot of material to work with in this particular niche category.
Which is not to say that there isn’t all kinds of feministic scientifical fiction out there, but I do make a distinction for the Lunar Library between near future, near-Earth science fiction and far-future, deep-space sci-fantasy. I also try not to include things like psychic powers, aliens, werewolves, vampires, and some of the other strange fantasies out there right now in the juvenile fiction for girls.
What’s so hard about girls in space?
I’ll admit, I do get a bit of flack from the post-feminist ladies about the Barbie stuff in the Lunar Library, including Shooting for the Stars. I’ll also admit that she has become synonymous with fantasy commercialism, and yes, her dimensions are unreasonable for most any normal, unadulterated woman. Still, she also represents the same doorway to imagination that a GI Joe does for boys. If a young girl is inspired to space adventures through Barbie, then I have zero problem with that. Actually, I try to encourage it, this year by donating 2 of the 3 Space Camp Barbies I ordered for the Lunar Library to local charity toy drives, each with a copy of the book.
At least one will go to the NSS of North Texas Santa Space Toy drive that goes to Santa’s Helpers, and I’m debating whether the other should go to the orphanage we help out at work each year for the holidays. I usually grab a Buckner Bear off the holiday tree in the cafeteria for the kids that are smart enough to ask for a telescope or bicycle instead of a gaming system, and treat them right.
Getting back to rampant commercialism, how about them Olsen twins? They’re going to have a space adventure of a lifetime! There’s a mystery on the latest shuttle launch, and NASA can’t get clearance for Go! until they solve it. Time to call in the Olsen Twins for The Case of the U.S. Space Camp Mission, which is based on actual events surrounding the STS-70 mission. For preparation, the twins are off on a musical trip to Space Camp, an adventure in itself! This one is also available in book form, but I have not yet been able to track down a copy.
Of all of the books in this list, these two are probably the most morally grounded. Miss Pickerell is concerned for all living things, and when the animals of her town get sick, she’s willing to go to the Moon to find a cure. Her personality is strong, and she’s a force to contend with when agitated. Countdown for Cindy is one of my favorites, as the story does convey a sense of the maturing of Cindy through the course of the book as she learns from her experiences. The insights she drew were pretty much right on, and she held her own against bully personalities. Both books also provide interesting insight into a kind of pre-feminism mindset on how a woman can find a place in a ‘world of men’.
Nancy Drew: The Secret in the Stars Okay, this one’s a stretch since all she does is look through a telescope and solve a mystery, but I have met some lovely astronomers in my time, and so have no issues with throwing this one into the mix. I can’t say that I read any Nancy Drew when I was a kid, as I was far more interested in the daring and dangerous Hardy Boys mysteries, and the Three Investigators, and Encyclopedia Brown. Still, the astronomers are a fun lot, and amateur astronomy has proven to be increasingly important in keeping an eye on our local neighborhood, as all of the pros are busy using the big scopes to peer billions of light years away. A good example of coolness is the local Texas Astronomical Society, which will have noted space explorer, and funder of the X-Prize, Anousheh Ansari as their guest speaker for their August 2008 meeting.
Ah, the originals. The Menace from Earth floored me the first time I read it. Flying. On the Moon. And a young woman with a strong but not necessarily dominant personality. Wow, boy crush, almost as big as the one I had on Princess Leia, or Maya before that. Then you have Podkayne of Mars, another strong young lady having a space adventure. Heinlein may not have truly understood women (then again, who does?), as his later books aptly demonstrate, but I think in these two he crafts good strong role models for young ladies. He also wrote a number of short stories as well for the young misses, such as ‘Holiday on the Moon‘.
These two are in a way the modern day equivalent of the previous two, but through the much more modern metaphor of juveniles transplanted from their ‘normal’ lives on Earth to the ‘alien’ cultures found on the two next space targets for humans. The style of writing is much more contemporary, and benefits from having female authors to address the target audience. The kinds of issues faced by the protagonists are both timeless and new, but in all honesty I didn’t get the same sense of the degree of maturation in the heroines to the extent seen in ‘Countdown for Cindy‘. Since it is set on the Moon, This Place Has No Atmosphere is my preferred choice, but Journey Between Worlds has its merits as well.
L5: Behind the Moon was featured in the New High Frontier part of the Summer Space Reading Camp. I’ll note again that one of the particularly interesting features of this book is the ‘handicapped’ protagonist Amelia, who learns that in space disabilities are not necessarily so. Since we’re on the topic of learning, let’s take a look at an interesting comic put together by some folks at UT Dallas, who are preparing an instrument for use in space called CINDI. The functioning of this instrument is described for budding high school age scientists in the manga-style comic book Cindi in Space that’s available online. It’s an unusual approach to educational outreach, but shows a degree of creativity that the space field could probably use a bit more of.
Lunar Pioneers I’m a little disappointed in. Not the story, as I haven’t had a chance to read it since it’s brand-new. Rather, the unmet high expectations, as the publishers didn’t indicate that the book was sold out/not available when I ordered it back in July for this article, and I only recently got a response indicating that the book is at the printers and should be available soon, certainly by the middle of next month. I’ll just have to wait like everyone else for the next batch to be printed up. It seems like an interesting story of a 13-year old young lady transplanted to the Moon. I’ll update when the book arrives [Update: Review is here]. From the Media Kit:
“All her life, Blair Kelly has listened to the stories of her ancestors on the American frontier. Now it’s her turn to follow in their footsteps â€“ but she’ll be helping settle the new frontier of the Moon. Soon, an ordinary 22nd century Earth girl is learning how to wear a spacesuit, discovering the wonders of space flight and exploring the Moon’s mysteries. But is she ready to leave everything she knew behind and face the challenge of a new world?”
The Moon Goddess and the Son was recommended to me by Eva-Jane, a young lady in the financial world, at one of the ISDCs. Since it was Moon-themed I immediately added it to the Lunar Library, but the review proved a bit more problematic. Earlier in the book, young Diana is rather severely disciplined by her father in a couple of scenes. That’s something I’m not terribly interested in reading, so I had to put it aside to try again later. Her development throughout the story is interesting, and a lot more direct in the short story version compared with the novel. She ends up behaving much better than the main male astronaut in the story, for what it’s worth, and she is content as a Moon Goddess, never returning to Earth.
I’m not quite sure what to make of these. From 2003/04, the Stratos anime tell the story in Flight 01 – Blast Off of a team of young women who pilot the Meteor Sweepers, high-performance high-altitude aircraft used to destroy incoming Big Rocks from Space before they can impact. There’s no margin for error, and all the girls have to be in top form all the time to protect the Earth, meaning there’s lots of drama both in the air,and upon Return to Base, especially as they’re competing to be Comet Sweepers. What makes me uncomfortable about these is the abundant use of, um, how to phrase this delicately…well, uh…pantie shots. They’re ‘suggested’ for ages 16 and up, so I’m not entirely sure if these are geared more towards young women aspiring to a high-tech space future protecting our planet, or horny young men that like hot anime babes in powerful machines blowing things up.
For women who prefer their protagonists to have a bit of an edge, there’s the graphic novel Tranquility. She’s an enforcement agent on the Moon who wields an artificially intelligent mega-destructive handgun named Rodney who really likes to shoot people. This makes Tranquility one mean customer, and so she gets all of ickiest jobs from her bosses at LDEC. This leads to a lot of demons in her life, and she also seems to have stumbled onto some secret of her past, and so she soon has everyone chasing after her. Lots of senseless violence and gore, but the comic does try (not very hard) to address issues like cloning and the treatment of female clones.
While not set in space, but does include senseless violence, Tank Girl is apparently a popular DVD amongst women astronauts (noted towards the end of the article) and has been smuggled to the ISS. A young lady who has some violence-induced issues is fighting the good fight against the water and power megacorp in a post-eco-pocalyptic future. She teams up with a young lady with a gift for engineering, and they have all kinds of high-tech big-gun battles interleaved with comic book illustrations. Never read the comics, so no idea there, but the character of Tank Girl in the movie reminded me a lot of Tranquility. I’m not sure I really like the whole ‘damaged woman/senseless violence’ theme in these two, but in the same way that boys comics provide an imaginative (rather than actual) outlet for aggression, perhaps the same is also true for women.
It has been said that music hath strains to soothe the savage breast, so let’s take a pause for some space music sponsored by young space advocate Elaine Walker. She recently dropped me a line from the Haughton Mars Project way up north, where she almost got to see the Lunar eclipse, except for clouds. I first met Elaine in late 1999 at the newly founded New York Space Society, which she had just formed. The last time I saw her was a few months later at Mars 2112 in NYC, right before I left for a year in France at ISU. Now, like wanderers on the new frontier, our paths only cross every now and again, with me on the Moon and her on Mars. This song is from the Frontier Creatures CD she published in 1999.
With a wandering spirit
We’ve been here for a millennium
Then it happened in an instant
We became so unadventurous.
But we’re surrounded by an ocean
And boundaries can be broken
An ancient voice has spoken.
Let’s sail upon the solar wind
Sail in three dimensions
We’re frontier creatures again.
We’ve been traveling in circles
Finding places we’ve already been
Now we’re closing in upon ourselves.
But we’ve found a new direction
And boundaries can be broken
An ancient voice has spoken.
When we’re settled on another world
When we’ve made ourselves comfortable
It won’t seem like we are out of place
It will feel like we are home again.
Houston, Houston Do You Read? was a groundbreaking story when published in 1976, winning all kinds of awards, but also making people wonder about this ‘James Tiptree, Jr.’ character who, it was revealed in 1977, was actually Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon, a fact which stunned the muy macho world of science fiction. In this story, several astronaut explorers are caught in a Solar flare whilst between worlds, and end up being hurled several hundred years into the future. They are retrieved by a ship staffed by women. Their thoughts are getting fuzzy, they’ve been drugged…and thereby reveal the true character & nature of the men. The women aren’t necessarily interested in keeping the men around, they’ve got cloning, after all… Daughters of Earth is an interesting trilogy of novellas woven around generations of women who travel to the Moon, to the planets, and ultimately to the stars. The characters range from nurses to matriarchs, offering an interesting perspective on the ways that women shape the future without it necessarily being obvious that they are doing so.
With the Women of Wonder and More Women of Wonder titles we start to wander a little farther afield in space and time as far as setting goes. These first two appeared in 1975 & 1976, an age of things like the Equal Rights Amendment and the aggressive young bra-burning women of the Baby Boomer generation who were going to be heard in every corner of the nation. No bastion of man-dom was left alone, women could do everything! The women of the Baby Boom generation then proceeded to smash ‘glass ceilings’ left and right in many professional fields over the next several decades, and the cultural landscape of America shifted in a big way. The stories in these first two wander from medieval fantasist to deep space empires, whilst some never venture from Earth. They had typically appeared as novellas in either sci-fi magazines or anthologies, but this was the first notable effort to gather tales together specifically geared towards women. They also helped break sci-fi’s forcefield ceiling.
Editor and author Pamela Sargent is back, this time in the mid-90s, with another round of woman-centric stories both fantastic and scientific. The Women of Wonder: Classic Years travels back many decades to visit early examples of women as strong protagonists, or writers of credible science fiction, whilst the Contemporary Years visits stories created after the original WoW series back in the 1970s, and up until the early 1990s. Again, the tales venture far and wide, from the fantastic to the downright bizarre, but also demonstrate an increasing acceptance of women as science fiction writers.
Frau im Mond/Woman on the Moon is a masterly crafted film by Fritz Lang from 1929 that benefited from the technical assistance of Hermann Oberth, an early rocketeer. Friede is beloved by Helius, a brilliant and wealthy engineer who is staking his future on the crack-pot theory of an old professor that there is gold on the Moon in abundance. Trouble is, though they constantly google-eye each other when together, Helius doesn’t yet think he is worthy and accomplished enough yet for so superior an example of femininity as Friede. Well, a girl’s got to survive in the world, so when one of Helius’ engineers, Hans, offers the security of marriage, Friede must take it since she’s not getting any indications from the man she truly loves and she wishes she was worthy enough of him to reveal how she truly feels. Man, who hasn’t been there. They end up on the Moon, tragedy, double-cross, terrible decisions, &c., and in the end Friede must make a fateful choice.
The Moon Conquerors is another science fiction story from that era (1930 in this instance) with a strong female character dominating the plot. In this case it is Dorothy Brewster, a brilliant young heiress who has dedicated her life to the refinement of her brains through intense scientific study. Her father bequeaths to her an enormous telescope, a 1,200″ beast that allows for unprecedented, even dangerous, levels of light-gathering. She uses this to study the Moon in anticipation of a visit, and is witness to the unfolding of a terrible drama. She puts all of her wealth at the disposal of the creation of a mag-launcher in Arizona. She is impatient to go, uncertain of the fate of the man she saw struggling for survival on the Moon, the only man worthy of her heart and mind. With her team she makes it to the Moon and rescues her heart’s true desire, only to learn of the civilization that lives on the Moon, one so advanced that it considers humans to be filthy disease-ridden animals. There’s no way the Crown-Prince could marry such a creature, and no you can’t go back to Earth either, you’ll just send more of your mangy kind to the Moon and destroy our civilization with your viruses and germs. Things are not looking good for Ms. Brewster and her team of explorers.
Clocking in at over 60 hours all told, and set in the year 2049, the Jupiter Moon series tells the soap opera story of Columbus College, created by the European space agencies and whose campus is a spaceship in orbit around Jupiter’s moon Callisto. Europe has decided on a vigorous exploration of the Solar system and has numerous projects underway in the Jupiter system. One of these projects is humanity’s next step, a visit to a new star system to explore strange new worlds. The ILEA is a creaky old ship with a creaky old Captain. The Director of the Daedalus Project is using the ship to support his work. And the homework on Quantum Theory in Bose-Einstein Condensates was due yesterday.
Image Credit: Louis Glanzman
Running through the many adventures and misadventures of the ILEA and Columbus College is a fairly sizable cast of dramatis personae. All of the major character archetypes are on display: the Mother Hen bursar, the pretty girl, the girl with the French boyfriend, the alpha female, the bad boy, the uber-nerd, the bookie, the religious girl, the daredevil, the short guy with the Napoleon complex, and so on. Throughout the 150 episodes that were made, a whole host of people come and go. Some die in horribly tragic ways, others are rotated offstage to other locations before returning later. Many stories are in play at any one time, and there are overarching themes such as the the struggles to put together the Daedalus Project to fly to another star, or the increasing labors of keeping an increasingly older spacecraft spaceworthy. The last episodes of the show were quite dramatic, and they sure went out in a way that was true to the show’s science roots. All of the scripts were vetted by scientists, and it shows. The great achievements in the show are human achievements, wrested from the grit and perseverance that underlies all great accomplishments. The stage is the very real system of moons in orbit around Jupiter. One thing that the show did was to take the pioneering elements of early sci-fi stories (back when they still wrote about own Solar system) and humanize them by having the women as a significant part of the story, if not key contextual elements in the unfolding of the plot. They aren’t idealized, either, displaying all of the human proclivities for good or ill that afflict us here on Earth.
There is no ‘solving our problems here before going there’, one of the common objections raised to human spaceflight that is addressed in the series. Human beings cannot attain ideals, only strive to do so. Part of the solution to the problems ‘here’ is to go ‘there’. By going into space we can do things like deal with Big Rocks from Space before they make things like national debt and genocide in Africa the most trivial of our concerns, using them instead, and many others, to construct an infrastructure that will provide energy for 4 billion years (space-based solar power), and to take the life of Earth to where there is no life that it may fight it out with the cold indifferent universe and create a genetic diversity undreamed of before.
One of my concerns when I co-chaired the 2007 ISDC was that the Space Settlement track was going to be a bunch of guys talking about how cool space settlement would be, ignorant of the irony of not having any women speaking on the topic. My fears were unfounded, but underly an important point: without the ladies, space settlement is not going to get very far at all. I’ve been assured that it’s really not an issue, because for every 100 women who would not dare leave the cradle of Earth to share in the creation of life off-planet, there is likely to be one who will. In the end, it won’t take many for humanity to have a destiny not just on Earth, but throughout the high frontier of space.
Why yes, Zero-G flights are as much fun as her beautiful smile implies.
What follows is meant for mature audiences. Kids, that’s all for you, run along now. This next section is for the big girls who understand things you don’t.
I said skeedadle
A Woman in Space was one of the titles that got panned in the Lunar Science Fiction reviews, because it was not a very fun book to read. One would think differently given that it is supposed to be adult erotic fiction. AnaÃ¯s Nin would hang her head in shame if she ever had to read this one. I just got Prime Time for the Lunar Library in e-book form, weighing in at 170 pdf pages, and so haven’t yet had a chance to read it. Since it’s set on the Moon it will end up in the collection of Lunar fiction reviews, but it may take a little while. Deena works on the Moon, and meets a nice innocent newbie named Jake. They both end up fighting evil forces that want to corrupt the Moon.
I’ve tried looking for other sci-fi-romance books set in our Solar system, but not very hard because it is kind of embarrassing to be seen in that particular section of the bookstore. It’s hard to come across as manly when you’re examining a book with a title like Solar Heat, which cover features the most phallic use yet that this Librarian has seen of a stony asteroid (but the story’s set in a distant star system, not ours, so technically it doesn’t count for this collection). Since Amazon appears to be a bit embarrassed by just how manly and potently this asteroid miner is endowed in his craft, and has changed their cover image to de-emphasize it, I’ll go ahead and show the cover of the copy in the Lunar Library, which I actually find to be pretty funny in a crude and sophomoric way. As opposed to lovely, like the painting by Pamela Lee below:
And with that, ladies, we will draw the curtain on this week’s girls-only edition of the Summer Space Reading Camp.
Hopefully you’ve found at least a few titles of interest in the hundred or so (more if you count the anime and manga update) titles shown over the past several weeks, plenty to keep the young’uns diverted during those long summer hours out of school. Speaking of school, I’ve been procrastinating on my review of the Kids to Space Mission Plans for teachers to accompany the phenomenal book Kids to Space. (Full Disclosure: I co-wrote the Moon chapter, the longest one in the book because there were more questions about our Moon than any other topic) Once I’m done with that (I’m about half done with the lesson plans. Yes, I read every single page for my reviews), the next project is a round-up of available space educational materials for teachers and educators.
Stay tuned for more.