Tag Archives: stereotypes

Military Sci-Fi & Fantasy – Who gets it right?

The Military SF panel I was on at DetCon1 did not get to a lot of the topics we had hoped to cover (partially due to a ‘hijacking’ panel member and partially due to the fact that we only had 50 minutes!) and several con attendees asked me follow-up questions in the days after. I love Military SF&F, and enjoy talking about it, so I’m glad so many others wanted to keep talking about it, too.

The most popular question is always: so who gets it right? Not every Military SF&F writer who has been in the military gets it right. Sometimes this is because the person is far removed from their time in the service, other times because they are writing what they don’t really know (a desk jockey writing about special forces missions, for example), it’s possible they aren’t that great at writing or storytelling, and sometimes they are just sensationalizing it or following a cheesy trope trend in order to supposedly give the audience what they want.

That last one disturbs me the most, because I like to think that SF&F readers are smarter than that, and because it is damaging to military members to continue to be stereotyped. There are especially quite a few military SF&F stories that get women in the military wrong (really badly wrong) and even take us a step – or many steps – backwards, despite supposedly taking place in a better future.

People are still writing books where the square-jawed, beefy, swashbuckling white male hero serves in an all-male unit while blowing many things up and saving the day. If there are women, they are often just there as a sex object, motivation tool for the main character, or a secretary.  One panel member last week rightly called some of the worst stories “war porn” – that is, nothing but loads of gore and things going boom, and glorifying war… with no real plot to speak of and very cliche’d one-dimensional characters.

But enough on all that depressing stuff. What I really like to talk about is the people who get it right. These include both people who have served and those who have simply done their homework very well. I’ll list them here in both categories, and the branch the author served in if applicable, if I can easily find it. This list is, of course, limited to what I have read and what I enjoyed. Please share your own recommendations in the comments!

Note that there can be some debate about how ‘military’ some of these are. I include anything involving professional military members, mercenaries, civil defense forces, rebel fighting groups, and fights big enough to be considered battles under the umbrella for my own personal definition. That can be debated in the comments as well!

Good Military SF&F written by authors who have served (in no particular order):
Paksennarion series (fantasy, Elizabeth Moon, US Marine Corps)
Familias series (sci-fi, Elizabeth Moon)
Valor series (sci-fi, Tanya Huff, Canadian Naval Reserve)
Forever War series (sci-fi, Joe Haldeman, US Army)
Starship Troopers (sci-fi, Robert Heinlein, US Navy)
Dune (sci-fi, Frank Herbert, US Navy)
Lost Fleet series (sci-fi, John Hemry writing as Jack Campbell, US Navy)
Stark’s War series (sci-fi, John Hemry)
Paul Sinclair series (sci-fi, John Hemry)
The Healer’s War (fantasy, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, US Army)

Good Military SF&F written by civilian authors (also in no particular order):
Old Man’s War series (sci-fi, John Scalzi)
Vorkosigan series (sci-fi, Lois McMaster Bujold)
Ender’s Game series (sci-fi, Orson Scott Card)
Liaden series (sci-fi, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller)


Filed under Book Reviews, Geeking out, Opinion pieces

To the Best Dad I know

For those who don’t know, my husband is a grad student, writer, and stay-at-home dad; and I am active duty military. In the four years since our daughter was born, we have learned that this country still has a very long way to go in the arenas of gender equality, family structures, division of labor, and sexism.

We’ve seen moms shoo away their kids from the ‘strange man’ at the playground, and a neighbor who muttered remarks just loud enough for us to hear about him being ‘not a real man.’ The most common reaction I get when I tell people what he does is an incredulous, “And you’re okay with that!?”

People have told me I’m a bad mom because I might deploy and leave my kid – but no one would ever tell a guy he’s a bad dad for doing the same thing.  Military spouse groups have been renamed from “wives’ clubs” to “spouses clubs” but the few he has attended have been less than welcoming.  Military spouse appreciation events usually include things like fashion shows, free mani-pedis, makeovers, and afternoon tea.

I am here to tell you that I am, in fact, ok with my husband being the primary caregiver in our house. I am so ok with it. Because let me tell you a few things about my husband that might conflict with what the stereotype tells you.

He isn’t just a real man. He’s a good man. He’s the best man I know. He’s an incredible father. I wouldn’t have married him if I thought otherwise, and I’m fully aware that I’m pretty much the luckiest woman on Earth.

He is patient, thoughtful, smart, funny, and strong enough to call me on my bullshit when I’m being the pushy, loud, thoughtless person I’m unfortunately all to capable of being – instead of the smart, levelheaded, and caring person he helps me be when I’m around him.  And yes, he is decidedly masculine.  Being masculine and being good at parenting are not mutually exclusive.

He meets all the criteria for the best marriage advice I received throughout my life from my most trusted advisors.  First, I was told to find someone who made me a better person when I was around him. I did. He does.  I can be incredibly selfish and awfully obnoxious, and he helps me avoid both of those.

Second, I was told to find someone who I could picture raising my children with. I did. He does an incredible job at it. I will fully admit that he is the patient one in our relationship and he is by far the better parent. We also complement each other well in our child-rearing, and are good at the ‘handoff’ when one of us reaches the inevitable point where we have just had enough.

Third, I was told to keep careful track of the good and bad traits of men in my life – boyfriends, dads, brothers, friends, coaches, you name it. I was told to keep a mental tally of the good traits and how to recognize them. I did. Neither of us is perfect, but he comes closer than I ever will.

Fourth, I was advised to find someone who I have multiple common interests with, but not too many.  That way we can enjoy some activities together, but also have our own interests, to allow for a nicely balanced relationship.  This has worked splendidly for us – we both love books, sci-fi, space, general geekery, and good wine and food.  But we can also quietly split off into our separate activities (writing, gaming, cars, and soccer for him; sewing, piano, blogging, hiking, and cooking for me).

But as amazing as he is as a husband, he is even better as a dad.  He isn’t just a father, he’s daddy.  That’s daddy pronounced with all the love and adoration a four-year-old can muster.  He’s a full-time parent and partner. He doesn’t just show up and go through the motions. He crawls on the floor into the cardboard box fort, he allows himself to be the human jungle gym, administers much-needed timeouts in the face of wailing crocodile tears, teaches, cleans up, nurtures, loves, and always knows the right way to cut up sandwiches.

He does the things that all good dads should do, and many get a free pass on.  Some dads get praise just for forking over their monthly bit of a check sometimes and occasionally remembering birthdays.  Most dads get praise for taking the kids to the park or grocery store or sports practice once in a while.  He does 90% of that kind of day-in-day-out stuff.  He’s living, everyday proof that dads in this country can – and should – be held to a higher standard.

This Father’s Day, I want the world to know I’m not just okay with him staying home, I think it’s the best thing we could have chosen. Yes, there are days when I wish I could have more quality time at home with our daughter. But there are also days I’ll admit I’m relieved to be able to escape to work. There are days I come home and they are giggling over in their cardboard box spaceship and I am a little jealous. And there are days when I walk in the door and I’m met with a wailing kid and a grumpy husband who mutters, “Take the kid and the dog, I need a break.”

And I know how very, very lucky we are that we can even make the choice for one of us to work from home. Most people don’t have the luxury of flexibility that we have. I always assure people that this was, in fact, a choice. It was a very carefully thought out choice made by two people, together, equally, to do what we think is best for our family and forget what anyone else says or thinks.  Forget the mommy wars and the sexist jerks and the busybodies, we have a kid to raise and things to do.

Marriage and parenting are tough partnerships, and I thank my lucky stars that I’m in a good one. So I would like to wish a Happy Father’s Day to the best dad in my life.  Thanks for all you do, and thanks for breaking the mold with me.

And don’t worry, this is the mushiest thing you will probably ever have to read from me.  At least until I start writing something similar for my daughter.  Then I might even get a little weepy while I write.  So I’ll hold off on that one for a while…

Do you have stories to share about a special dad in your life? Do you have preconceived notions about families whose structure is different than what you consider the norm?


Filed under Equality, Opinion pieces

Smart and Beautiful Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Cover of Danica McKellar’s first of several math books, from http://www.mathdoesntsuck.com/images/mds.png

One of the more obnoxious trends I’ve seen lately is these taobloid-website lists of ‘famous women who have both beauty and brains!’  or ’50 hottest smart girls’ or some title to that effect.  They make it sound like it’s this totally shocking thing that almost never happens.

I couldn’t put my finger at first on all of the many reasons I was so completely horrified and offended by these.  So I’ll break it down into smaller pieces.

First, for a woman to become and stay famous, she already usually has some sort of talent (not always, I’ll grant you, but usually).  Is it that big a stretch that her talents for politics, singing, acting, photography, dance, or whatever made her actually famous might be only one of the things she’s good at?  Should it really be a surprise that in addition to drive and charm she’s got a good head on her shoulders?  Brains and beauty are certainly not mutually exclusive.

Second, some of these lists say ‘girls’ rather than women.  Every single person I saw on the lists was in her twenties or beyond.  You would never see a list like this with ‘boys’ in the title if any of them were over 18.  Stop infantalizing women, mass media.  They are women.  Ladies.  Grown Females.  Pick a word that addresses them correctly – these are not little girls.

Third, the stereotype of smart women being ugly is obnoxious and incorrect.  I think the majority, not a minority, of smart, successful women are beautiful.  And that being smart and well-educated just makes them even more beautiful and interesting people.  I know and work with a lot of very smart, very lovely women.

Fourth, I disagree with our country’s ridiculous standard of what is ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’ anyway.  I think that will probably be a post of its own one of these days, but for now let’s just say I don’t think that super skinny with caked-on makeup and a skimpy, ‘fashionable’ outfit is the end-all, be-all of attractiveness.

I love that Danica McKellar has a degree in math and writes books for young girls encouraging them to like and be good at math.  I think it’s fantastic that Kate Beckinsale speaks four languages fluently, and that Natalie Portman went to Harvard.  What drives me nuts is that because they also are public figures who meet a certain current Hollywood standard of beauty, people assume they are stupid.  That they are freakish outliers.  I assure you they, for the most part, are not.  So let’s give all women the benefit of the doubt and assume brains until proven otherwise, and not judge on looks, stereotypes, clothing, or any other silly external factor.

Speaking of Danica McKellar, when I went to search for an image for this post, I thought it would be fun to find one of her books to show in this post.  When I started typing her name in to google, it auto-filled for me to ‘Danica McKellar hot.’  That alone says a lot.  It says that’s what way more people care about – finding steamy pictures of her, not her great work in STEM outreach and making math more accessible for girls and young women.

Do you think that smart women really fit the stereotype?  Who are the smart and beautiful women in your life?  How do you bust the stereotype when someone starts making false assumptions?

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Filed under Opinion pieces, STEM outreach