Did You Just Misgender Leigh Brackett!?

Okay, there’s been this long-running narrative myth that while Leigh Brackett didn’t have to change her name to hide that she was a woman, she somehow flew beneath the radar with a masculine sounding sound name and found success that would’ve been denied to her if it were more commonly known she was not a man.

Well, I’ve found a smoking gun.

Not only was it known that Leigh Brackett was a woman, Wilbur Peacock, the editor of Planet Stories at the time, went out of his way to correct someone who referred to Brackett as “he” in a letter to the Vizigraph (Planet Stories’ letters section).

Brackett Planet Stories

Planet Stories, May 1943 Issue, P 124

This was relatively early in Brackett’s career, too. She’d only been publishing scifi in the pulps since around 1940, but in 1943 Peacock stated with confidence (and accuracy) that she would be one of the greats of science fiction.

So, a couple things. Sometimes the pulps, SF pulps in particular, are painted as some kind of boys’ club, yet most evidence I’ve seen implies that couldn’t be further from the truth. Weird Tales had several women writing both stories and letters. The issue of Thrilling I read had a pretty even split in the letters section. This is one of the earlier Vizigraphs I’ve read; here you have the Editor not only praising Brackett and confirming that she’s a woman, he even encourages the female readership he’s certain exists to interact more and get involved. Given that the later issues I’ve read tended to have more women writing into to the letters section, it seems they did!  Even if there wasn’t anything close to gender parity, the picture of the pulps and sci-fi as hostile and closed off to women just doesn’t jibe with reality.

Anyway, I would’ve included some more links, but Jeffro scooped me on writing the actual article, since I found this over the weekend and was gonna wait (but clearly this was important enough that it couldn’t wait!)

 

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Greater than Gods

Given the Google nonsense, I think it would be fun to give a little synopsis of C.L. Moore’s Greater than Gods.

Male babies are dying out, and a scientist is working on a means of using X-Rays to ensure a balance between the genders. More importantly, though, he’s trying to decide between Betty and Veronica (their real names are unimportant). His friend comes in and tells him how crazy it is that the future exists in a quantum state and how our choices can cause entire universes to come into or flash out of existence. Coincidentally, the scientist is psychically contacted by his future descendants at the same time… But they are from completely different timelines!

Short version, if the Doctor marries Betty, he spends more time with his beautiful but vapid wife, he has a kind and sensitive daughter, his work fails, and mankind slouches into a decadent feminist dystopia in which everyone is hippie-dippie and living in peace and harmony in little groves as all knowledge and technology is lost, dooming the race of man to end in a whimper.

If the Doctor marries Veronica, the sexy brilliant scientist gives him a brood of strong and virile young men, his work succeeds but leads to endless war and conquest of earth and someday the stars, with a mankind bred to rule and be ruled.

One of his lines of descendants will be wiped from existence, and he can doom mankind to a future of decadence and death or galactic immortality and perpetual war.

Given the choice between feminist dystopia and war world, he immediately proposes to his secretary instead, wiping out both possible futures and  opting instead for the unknown.

Women in the Pulps Weak Damsels? Think Again!

How were women really portrayed in the pulps? If you go by what you’ve heard, women in the pulps were portrayed as weak and helpless, damsels who were always finding themselves needing rescued, incapable of doing anything without the big strong man to come along and help them. Rather than post a lengthy rebuttal, I’d ask that you take a few minutes and read these exciting excerpts from Tarzan at the Earth’s Core to see what a great female character from the pulps really looks like. I’ve selected passages that show what a tough cookie this lady is and to what lengths the male protagonist will go for her. The full book can be here at Gutenberg (http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601071h.html).

JANA, The Red Flower of Zoram, paused and looked back across the rocky crags behind and below her. She was very hungry and it had been long since she had slept, for behind her, dogging her trail, were the four terrible men from Pheli, which lies at the foot of the Mountains of the Thipdars, beyond the land of Zoram.

For just an instant she stood erect and then she threw herself prone upon the rough rock, behind a jutting fragment that partially concealed her, and here she looked back along the way she had come, across a pathless waste of tumbled granite. Mountain-bred, she had lived her life among the lofty peaks of the Mountains of the Thipdars, considering contemptuously the people of the lowland to which those who pursued her belonged. Perchance, if they followed her here she might be forced to concede them some measure of courage and possibly to look upon them with a slightly lessened contempt, yet even so she would never abate her effort to escape them.

Bred in the bone of The Red Flower was loathing of the men of Pheli, who ventured occasionally into the fastnesses of the Mountains of the Thipdars to steal women, for the pride and the fame of the mountain people lay in the beauty of their girls, and so far had this fame spread that men came from far countries, out of the vast river basin below their lofty range, and risked a hundred deaths in efforts to steal such a mate as Jana, The Red Flower of Zoram.

The girl’s sister, Lana, had been thus stolen, and within her memory two other girls of Zoram, by the men from the lowland, and so the fear, as well as the danger, was ever present. Such a fate seemed to The Red Flower worse than death, since not only would it take her forever from her beloved mountains, but make her a low-country woman and her children low-country children than which, in the eyes of the mountain people, there could be no deeper disgrace, for the mountain men mated only with mountain women, the men of Zoram, and Clovi, and Daroz taking mates from their own tribes or stealing them from their neighbors.

Jana was beloved by many of the young warriors of Zoram, and though, as yet, there had been none who had fired her own heart to love she knew that some day she would mate with one of them, unless in the meantime she was stolen by a warrior from another tribe.

Were she to fall into the hands of one from either Clovi or Daroz she would not be disgraced and she might even be happy, but she was determined to die rather than to be taken by the men from Pheli.

Long ago, it seemed to her now, who had no means for measuring time, she had been searching for thipdar eggs among the lofty crags above the caverns that were the home of her people when a great hairy man leaped from behind a rock and endeavored to seize her. Active as a chamois, she eluded him with ease, but he stood between her and the village and when she sought to circle back she discovered that he had three companions who effectually barred her way, and then had commenced the flight and the pursuit that had taken her far from Zoram among lofty peaks where she had never been before.

Not far below her, four squat, hairy men had stopped to rest. “Let us turn back,” growled one. “You can never catch her, Skruk, in country like this, which is fit only for thipdars and no place for men.”

Skruk shook his bullet head. “I have seen her,” he said, “and I shall have her if I have to chase her to the shores of Molop Az.”

“Our hands are torn by the sharp rock,” said another.

“Our sandals are almost gone and our feet bleed. We cannot go on. We shall die.”

“You may die,” said Skruk, “but until then you shall go on. I am Skruk, the chief, and I have spoken.”

The others growled resentfully, but when Skruk took up the pursuit again they followed him. Being from a low country they found strenuous exertion at these high altitudes exhausting, it is true, but the actual basis for their disinclination to continue the pursuit was the terror which the dizzy heights inspired in them and the perilous route along which The Red Flower of Zoram was leading them.

From above Jana saw them ascending, and knowing that they were again upon the right trail she stood erect in plain view of them. Her single, soft garment made from the pelt of tarag cubs, whipped about her naked legs, half revealing, half concealing the rounded charms of her girlish figure. The noonday sun shone down upon her light, bronzed skin, glistening from the naked contours of a perfect shoulder and imparting golden glints to her hair that was sometimes a lustrous brown and again a copper bronze. It was piled loosely upon her head and held in place by slender, hollow bones of the dimorphodon, a little long-tailed cousin of the thipdar. The upper ends of these bone pins were ornamented with carving and some of them were colored. A fillet of soft skin ornamented in colors encircled her brow and she wore bracelets and anklets made of the vertebrae of small animals, strung upon leather thongs. These, too, were carved and colored. Upon her feet were stout, little sandals, soled with the hide of the mastodon and from the center of her headband rose a single feather. At her hip was a stone knife and in her right hand a light spear.

She stooped and picking up a small fragment of rock hurled it down at Skruk and his companions. “Go back to your swamps, jaloks of the low country,” she cried. “The Red Flower of Zoram is not for you,” and then she turned and sped away across the pathless granite.

To her left lay Zoram, but there was a mighty chasm between her and the city. Along its rim she made her way, sometimes upon its very verge, but unshaken by the frightful abyss below her. Constantly she sought for a means of descent, since she knew that if she could cross it she might circle back toward Zoram, but the walls rose sheer for two thousand feet offering scarce a handhold in a hundred feet.

As she rounded the shoulder of the peak she saw a vast country stretching away below her—a country that she had never seen before—and she knew that she had crossed the mighty range and was looking on the land that lay beyond. The fissure that she had been following she could see widening below her into a great canyon that led out through foothills to a mighty plain. The slopes of the lower hills were wooded and beyond the plain were forests.

This was a new world to Jana of Zoram, but it held no lure for her; it did not beckon to her for she knew that savage beasts and savage men of the low countries roamed its plains and forests.

To her right rose the mountains she had rounded; to her left was the deep chasm, and behind her were Skruk and his three companions.

For a moment she feared that she was trapped, but after advancing a few yards she saw that the sheer wall of the abyss had given way to a tumbled mass of broken ledges. But whether there were any means of descent, even here, she did not know—she could only hope.

From pausing often to search for a way down into the gorge, Jana had lost precious time and now she became suddenly aware that her pursuers were close behind her. Again she sprang forward, leaping from rock to rock, while they redoubled their speed and stumbled after her in pursuit, positive now that they were about to capture her.

Jana glanced below, and a hundred feet beneath her she saw a tumbled mass of granite that had fallen from above and formed a wide ledge. Just ahead the mountain jutted out forming an overhanging cliff.

She glanced back. Skruk was already in sight. He was stumbling awkwardly along in a clumsy run and breathing heavily, but he was very near and she must choose quickly.

There was but one way—over the edge of the cliff lay temporary escape or certain death. A leather thong, attached a foot below the point of her spear, she fastened around her neck Letting the spear hang down her back, she threw herself upon the ground and slid over the edge of the cliff. Perhaps there were handholds; perhaps not. She glanced down. The face of the cliff was rough and not perpendicular, leaning in a little toward the mountain. She felt about with her toes and finally she located a protuberance that would hold her weight. Then she relinquished her hold upon the top of the cliff with one hand and searched about for a crevice in which to insert her fingers, or a projection to which she could cling.

She must work quickly for already the footsteps of the Phelians were sounding above her. She found a hold to which she might cling with scarcely more than the tips of her fingers, but it was something and the horror of the lowland was just above her and only death below.

She relinquished her hold upon the cliff edge with her other hand and lowered herself very slowly down the face of the cliff, searching with her free foot for another support.

One foot, two, three she descended, and then attracted by a noise above her she glanced up and saw the hairy face of Skruk just above her.

“Hold my legs,” he shouted to his companions, at the same time throwing himself prone at the edge of the cliff, and as they obeyed his command he reached down a long, hairy arm to seize Jana, and the girl was ready to let go all holds and drop to the jagged rocks beneath when Skruk’s hand should touch her. Still looking upward she saw the fist of the Phelian but a few inches from her face.

The outstretched fingers of the man brushed the hair of the girl. One of her groping feet found a tiny ledge and she lowered herself from immediate danger of capture. Skruk was furious, but that one glance into the upturned face of the girl so close beneath him only served to add to his determination to possess her. No lengths were too far now to go to achieve his heart’s desire, but as he glanced down that frightful escarpment his savage heart was filled with fear for the safety of his prize. It seemed incredible that she had descended as far as she had without falling and she had only commenced the descent. He knew that he and his companions could not follow the trail that she was blazing and he realized, too, that if they menaced her from above she might be urged to a greater haste that would spell her doom.

With these thoughts in his mind Skruk arose to his feet and turned to his companions. “We shall seek an easier way down,” he said in a low voice, and then leaning over the cliff edge, he called down to Jana. “You have beaten me, mountain girl,” he said. “I go back now to Pheli in the lowland. But I shall return and then I shall take you with me as my mate.”

“May the thipdars catch you and tear out your heart before ever you reach Pheli again,” cried Jana. Skruk made no reply and she saw that they were going back the way that they had come, but she did not know that they were merely looking for an easier way into the bottom of the gorge toward which she was descending, or that Skruk’s words had been but a ruse to throw her off her guard.

The Red Flower of Zoram, relieved of immediate necessity for haste, picked her way cautiously down the face of the cliff to the first ledge of tumbled granite. Here, by good fortune, she found the egg of a thipdar, which furnished her with both food and drink.

It was a long, slow descent to the bottom of the gorge, but finally the girl accomplished it, and in the meantime Skruk and his companions had found an easier way and had descended into the gorge several miles above her.

For a moment after she reached the bottom Jana was undecided as to what course to pursue. Instinct urged her to turn upward along the gorge in the general direction of Zoram, but her judgment prompted her to descend and skirt the base of the mountain to the left in search of an easier route back across them. And so she came leisurely down toward the valley, while behind her followed the four men from Pheli.

The canyon wall at her left, while constantly lessening in height as she descended, still presented a formidable obstacle, which it seemed wiser to circumvent than to attempt to surmount, and so she continued on downward toward the mouth of the canyon, where it debouched upon a lovely valley.

Never before in all her life had Jana approached the lowland so closely. Never before had she dreamed how lovely the lowland country might be, for she had always been taught that it was a horrid place and no fit abode for the stalwart tribes of the mountains.

The lure of the beauties and the new scenes unfolding before her, coupled with a spirit of exploration which was being born within her, led her downward into the valley much farther than necessity demanded.

Suddenly her attention was attracted by a strange sound coming suddenly from on high—a strange, new note in the diapason of her savage world, and glancing upward she finally descried the creature that must be the author of it.

A great thipdar, it appeared to be, moaning dismally far above her head—but what a thipdar! Never in her life had she seen one as large as this.

As she watched she saw another thipdar, much smaller, soaring above it. Suddenly the lesser one swooped upon its intended prey. Faintly she heard sounds of shattering and tearing and then the two combatants plunged earthward. As they did so she saw something separate itself from the mass and as the two creatures, partially supported by the wings of the larger, fell in a great, gliding spiral a most remarkable thing happened to the piece that had broken loose. Something shot out of it and unfolded above it in the air—something that resembled a huge toadstool, and as it did so the swift flight of the falling body was arrested and it floated slowly earthward, swinging back and forth as she had seen a heavy stone do when tied at the end of a buckskin thong.

As the strange thing descended nearer, Jana’s eyes went wide in surprise and terror as she recognized the dangling body as that of a man.

Her people had few superstitions, not having advanced sufficiently in the direction of civilization to have developed a priesthood, but here was something that could be explained according to no natural logic. She had seen two great, flying reptiles meet in battle, high in air and out of one of them had come a man. It was incredible, but more than all it was terrifying. And so The Red Flower of Zoram, reacting in the most natural way, turned and fled.

Back toward the canyon she raced, but she had gone only a short distance when, directly in front of her, she saw Skruk and his three companions.

They, too, had seen the battle in mid-air and they had seen the thing floating downward toward the ground, and while they had not recognized it for what it was they had been terrified and were themselves upon the point of fleeing when Skruk descried Jana running toward them. Instantly every other consideration was submerged in his desire to have her, and growling commands to his terrified henchmen he led them toward the girl.

When Jana discovered them she turned to the right and tried to circle about them, but Skruk sent one to intercept her and when she turned in the opposite direction, the four spread out across her line of retreat so as to effectually bar her escape in that direction.

Choosing any fate rather than that which must follow her capture by Skruk, Jana turned again and fled down the valley and in pursuit leaped the four squat, hairy men of Pheli. At the instant that Jason Gridley had pulled the rip cord of his parachute a fragment of the broken propeller of his plane had struck him a glancing blow upon the head, and when he regained consciousness he found himself lying upon a bed of soft grasses at the head of a valley, where a canyon, winding out of lofty mountains, opened onto leveler land.

Disgusted by the disastrous end of his futile search for his companions, Gridley arose and removed the parachute harness. He was relieved to discover that he had suffered no more serious injury than a slight abrasion of the skin upon one temple.

His first concern was for his ship and though he knew that it must be a total wreck he hoped against hope that he might at least salvage his rifle and ammunition from it. But even as the thought entered his mind it was forced into the background by a chorus of savage yelps and growls that caused him to turn his eyes quickly to the right. At the summit of a little rise of ground a short distance away he saw four of the ferocious wolf dogs of Pellucidar. As hyaenodons they were known to the paleontologists of the outer crust, and as jaloks to the men of the inner world. As large as full grown mastiffs they stood there upon their short, powerful legs, their broad, strong jaws parted in angry growls, their snarling lips drawn back to reveal their powerful fangs.

As he discovered them Jason became aware that their attention was not directed upon him—that they seemed not as yet to have discovered him—and as he looked in the direction that they were looking he was astounded to see a girl running swiftly toward them, and at a short distance behind the girl four men, who were apparently pursuing her.

As the vicious growls of the jaloks broke angrily upon the comparative silence of the scene, the girl paused and it was evident that she had not before been aware of the presence of this new menace. She glanced at them and then back at her pursuers.

The hyaenodons advanced toward her at an easy trot. In piteous bewilderment she glanced about her. There was but one way open for escape and then as she turned to flee in that direction her eyes fell upon Jason Gridley, straight ahead in her path of flight and again she hesitated.

To the man came an intuitive understanding of her quandary. Menaced from the rear and upon two sides by known enemies, she was suddenly faced by what might indeed be another, cutting off all hope of retreat.

Acting impulsively and in accordance with the code that dominates his kind, Gridley ran toward the girl, shouting words of encouragement and motioning her to come to him.

Skruk and his companions were closing in upon her from behind and from her right, while upon her left came the jaloks. For just an instant longer, she hesitated and then seemingly determined to place her fate in the hands of an unknown, rather than surrender it to the inevitable doom which awaited her either at the hands of the Phelians or the fangs of the jaloks, she turned and sped toward Gridley, and behind her came the four beasts and the four men.

As Gridley ran forward to meet the girl he drew one of his revolvers, a heavy .45 caliber Colt.

The hyaenodons were charging now and the leader was close behind her, and at that instant Jana tripped and fell, and simultaneously Jason reached her side, but so close was the savage beast that when Jason fired the hyaenodon’s body fell across the body of the girl.

The shot, a startling sound to which none of them was accustomed, brought the other hyaenodons to a sudden stop, as well as the four men, who were racing rapidly forward under Skruk’s command in an effort to save the girl from the beasts.

Quickly rolling the body of the jalok from its intended victim, Jason lifted the girl to her feet and as he did so she snatched her stone knife from its scabbard. Jason Gridley did not know how near he was to death at that instant. To Jana, every man except the men of Zoram was a natural enemy. The first law of nature prompted her to kill lest she be killed, but in the instant before she struck the blade home she saw something in the eyes of this man, something in the expression upon his face that she had never seen in the eyes or face of any man before. As plainly as though it had been spoken in words she understood that this stranger was prompted by solicitousness for her safety; that he was prompted by a desire to befriend rather than to harm her, and though in common with the jaloks and the Phelians she had been terrified by the loud noise and the smoke that had burst from the strange stick in his hand she knew that this had been the means that he had taken to protect her from the jaloks.

Her knife hand dropped to her side, and, as a slow smile lighted the face of the stranger, The Red Flower of Zoram smiled back in response.

They stood as they had when he had lifted her from the ground, his left arm about her shoulders supporting her and he maintained this unconscious gesture of protection as he turned to face the girl’s enemies, who, after their first fright, seemed on the point of returning to the attack.

Two of the hyaenodons, however, had transferred their attention to Skruk and his companions, while the third was slinking bare fanged, toward Jason and Jana.

The men of Pheli stood ready to receive the charge of the hyaenodons, having taken positions in line, facing their attackers, and at sufficient intervals to permit them properly to wield their clubs. As the beasts charged two of the men hurled their weapons, each singling out one of the fierce carnivores. Skruk hurled his weapon with the greater accuracy, breaking one of the forelegs of the beast attacking him, and as it went down the Phelian standing next to Skruk leaped forward and rained heavy blows upon its skull.

The cudgel aimed at the other beast struck it a glancing blow upon the shoulder, but did not stop it and an instant later it was upon the Phelian whose only defense now was his crude stone knife. But his companion, who had reserved his club for such an emergency, leaped in and swung lustily at the savage brute, while Skruk and the other, having disposed of their adversary, came to the assistance of their fellows.

The savage battle between men and beasts went unnoticed by Jason, whose whole attention was occupied by the fourth wolf dog as it moved forward to attack him and his companion.

Jana, fully aware that the attention of each of the men was fully centered upon the attacking beasts, realized that now was the opportune moment to make a break for freedom. She felt the arm of the stranger about her shoulders, but it rested there lightly—so lightly that she might easily disengage herself by a single, quick motion. But there was something in the feel of that arm about her that imparted to her a sense of greater safety than she had felt since she had left the caverns of her people—perhaps the protective instinct which dominated the man subconsciously exerted its natural reaction upon the girl to the end that instead of fleeing she was content to remain, sensing greater safety where she was than elsewhere.

And then the fourth hyaenodon charged, growling, to be met by the roaring bark of the Colt. The creature stumbled and went down, stopped by the force of the heavy charge—but only for an instant—again it was up, maddened by pain, desperate in the face of death. Bloody foam crimsoned its jowls as it leaped for Jason’s throat.

Again the Colt spoke, and then the man went down beneath the heavy body of the wolf dog, and at the same instant the Phelians dispatched the second of the beasts which had attacked them.

Jason Gridley was conscious of a great weight upon him as he was borne to the ground and he sought to fend those horrid jaws from his throat by interposing his left forearm, but the jaws never closed and when Gridley struggled from beneath the body of the beast and scrambled to his feet he saw the girl tugging upon the shaft of her crude, stone-tipped spear in an effort to drag it from the body of the jalok.

Whether his last bullet or the spear had dispatched the beast the man did not know, and he was only conscious of gratitude and admiration for the brave act of the slender girl, who had stood her ground at his side, facing the terrible beast without loss of poise or resourcefulness.

The four jaloks lay dead, but Jason Gridley’s troubles were by no means over, for scarcely had he arisen after the killing of the second beast when the girl seized him by the arm and pointed toward something behind him.

“They are coming,” she said. “They will kill you and take me. Oh, do not let them take me!”

Jason did not understand a word that she had said, but it was evident from her tone of voice and from the expression upon her beautiful face that she was more afraid of the four men approaching them than she had been of the hyaenodons, and as he turned to face them he could not wonder, for the men of Pheli looked quite as brutal as the hyaenodons and there was nothing impressive or magnificent in their appearance as there had been in the mien of the savage carnivores—a fact which is almost universally noticeable when a comparison is made between the human race and the so-called lower orders.

Gridley raised his revolver and leveled it at the leading Phelian, who happened to be another than Skruk. “Beat it!” he said. “Your faces frighten the young lady.”

“I am Gluf,” said the Phelian. “I kill.”

“If I could understand you I might agree with you,” replied Jason, “but your exuberant whiskers and your diminutive forehead suggest that you are all wet.” He did not want to kill the man, but he realized that he could not let him approach too closely. But if he had any compunction in the matter of manslaughter, it was evident that the girl did not for she was talking volubly, evidently urging him to some action, and when she realized that he could not understand her she touched his pistol with a brown forefinger and then pointed meaningly at Gluf.

The fellow was now within fifteen paces of them and Jason could see that his companions were starting to circle them. He knew that something must be done immediately and prompted by humanitarian motives he fired his Colt, aiming above the head of the approaching Phelian. The sharp report stopped all four of them, but when they realized that none of them was injured they broke into a torrent of taunts and threats, and Gluf, inspired only by a desire to capture the girl so that they might return to Pheli, resumed his advance, at the same time commencing to swing his club menacingly. Then it was that Jason Gridley regretfully shot, and shot to kill. Gluf stopped in his tracks, stiffened, whirled about and sprawled forward upon his face.

Wheeling upon the others, Gridley fired again, for he realized that those menacing clubs were almost as effective at short range as was his Colt. Another Phelian dropped in his tracks, and then Skruk and his remaining companion turned and fled.

“Well,” said Gridley, looking about him at the bodies of the four hyaenodons and the corpses of the two men, “this is a great little country, but I’ll be gosh-darned if I see how anyone grows up to enjoy it.”

The Red Flower of Zoram stood looking at him admiringly. Everything about this stranger aroused her interest, piqued her curiosity and stimulated her imagination. In no particular was he like any other man she had ever seen. Not one item of his strange apparel corresponded to anything that any other human being of her acquaintance wore. The remarkable weapon, which spat smoke and fire to the accompaniment of a loud roar, left her dazed with awe and admiration; but perhaps the outstanding cause for astonishment, when she gave it thought, was the fact that she was not afraid of this man. Not only was the fear of strangers inherent in her, but from earliest childhood she had been taught to expect only the worst from men who were not of her own tribe and to flee from them upon any and all occasions. Perhaps it was his smile that had disarmed her, or possibly there was something in his friendly, honest eyes that had won her immediate trust and confidence. Whatever the cause, however, the fact remained that The Red Flower of Zoram made no effort to escape from Jason Gridley, who now found himself completely lost in a strange world, which in itself was quite sad enough without having added to it responsibilities for the protection of a strange, young woman, who could understand nothing that he said to her and whom, in turn, he could not understand.

 

 

WHEN Skruk and his companion had left the field to the victorious Jason, the latter had returned his six-gun to its holster and faced the girl. “Well,” he inquired, “what now?”

She shook her head. “I cannot understand you,” she said. “You do not speak the language of gilaks.”

Jason scratched his head. “That being the case,” he said, “and as it is evident that we are never going to get anywhere on conversation which neither one of us understands, I am going to have a look around for my ship, in the meantime, praying to all the gods that my thirty-thirty and ammunition are safe. It’s a cinch that she did not burn for she must have fallen close by and I could have seen the smoke.”

Jana listened attentively and shook her head.

“Come on,” said Jason, and started off in the direction that he thought the ship might lie.

“No, not that way,” exclaimed Jana, and running forward she seized his arm and tried to stop him, pointing back to the tall peaks of the Mountains of the Thipdars, where Zoram lay.

Jason essayed the difficult feat of explaining in a weird sign language of his own invention that he was looking for an aeroplane that had crashed somewhere in the vicinity, but the conviction soon claimed him that that would be a very difficult thing to accomplish even if the person to whom he was trying to convey the idea knew what an aeroplane was, and so he ended up by grinning good naturedly, and, seizing the girl by the hand, gently leading her in the direction he wished to go.

Again that charming smile disarmed The Red Flower of Zoram and though she knew that this stranger was leading her away from the caverns of her people, yet she followed docilely, though her brow was puckered in perplexity as she tried to understand why she was not afraid, or why she was willing to go with this stranger, who evidently was not even a gilak, since he could not speak the language of men.

A half hour’s search was rewarded by the discovery of the wreck of the plane, which had suffered far less damage than Jason had expected.

It was evident that in its plunge to earth it must have straightened out and glided to a landing. Of course, it was wrecked beyond repair, even if there had been any facilities for repairs, but it had not burned and Jason recovered his thirty-thirty and all his ammunition.

Jana was intensely interested in the plane and examined every portion of it minutely. Never in her life had she wished so much to ask questions, for never in her life had she seen anything that had so aroused her wonder. And here was the one person in all the world who could answer her questions, but she could not make him understand one of them. For a moment she almost hated him, and then he smiled at her and pressed her hand, and she forgave him and smiled back.

“And now,” said Jason, “where do we go from here? As far as I am concerned one place is as good as another.”

Being perfectly well aware that he was hopelessly lost, Jason Gridley felt that the only chance he had of being reunited with his companions lay in the possibility that the O-220 might chance to cruise over the very locality where he happened to be, and no matter whither he might wander, whether north or south or east or west, that chance was as slender in one direction as another, and, conversely, equally good. In an hour the O-220 would cover a distance fully as great as he could travel in several days of outer earthly time. And so even if he chanced to be moving in a direction that led away from the ship’s first anchorage, he could never go so far that it might not easily and quickly overtake him, if its search should chance to lead it in his direction. Therefore he turned questioningly to the girl, pointing first in one direction, and then in another, while he looked inquiringly at her, attempting thus to convey to her the idea that he was ready and willing to go in any direction she chose, and Jana, sensing his meaning, pointed toward the lofty Mountains of the Thipdars.

“There,” she said, “lies Zoram, the land of my people.”

“Your logic is unassailable,” said Jason, “and I only wish I could understand what you are saying, for I am sure that anyone with such beautiful teeth could never be uninteresting.”

Jana did not wait to discuss the matter, but started forthwith for Zoram and beside her walked Jason Gridley of California.

Jana’s active mind had been working rapidly and she had come to the conclusion that she could not for long endure the constantly increasing pressure of unsatisfied curiosity. She must find some means of communicating with this interesting stranger and to the accomplishment of this end she could conceive of no better plan than teaching the man her language. But how to commence! Never in her experience or that of her people had the necessity arisen for teaching a language. Previously she had not dreamed of the existence of such a means. If you can feature such a state, which is doubtful, you must concede to this primitive girl of the stone age a high degree of intelligence. This was no accidental blowing off of the lid of the teapot upon which might be built a theory. It required, as a matter of fact, a greater reasoning ability. Give a steam engine to a man who had never heard of steam and ask him to make it go—Jana’s problem was almost as difficult. But the magnitude of the reward spurred her on, for what will one not do to have one’s curiosity satisfied, especially if one happens to be a young and beautiful girl and the object of one’s curiosity an exceptionally handsome young man. Skirts may change, but human nature never.

And so The Red Flower of Zoram pointed at herself with a slim, brown forefinger and said, “Jana.” She repeated this several times and then she pointed at Jason, raising her eyebrows in interrogation.

“Jason,” he said, for there was no misunderstanding her meaning. And so the slow, laborious task began as the two trudged upward toward the foothills of the Mountains of the Thipdars.

There lay before them a long, hard climb to the higher altitudes, but there was water in abundance in the tumbling brooks, dropping down the hillside, and Jana knew the edible plants, and nuts, and fruits which grew in riotous profusion in many a dark, deep ravine, and there was game in plenty to be brought down, when they needed meat, by Jason’s thirty-thirty.

As they proceeded in their quest for Zoram, Jason found greater opportunity to study his companion and he came to the conclusion that nature had attained the pinnacle of physical perfection with the production of this little savage. Every line and curve of that lithe, brown body sang of symmetry, for The Red Flower of Zoram was a living poem of beauty. If he had thought that her teeth were beautiful he was forced to admit that they held no advantage in that respect over her eyes, her nose or any other of her features. And when she fell to with her crude stone knife and helped him skin a kill and prepare the meat for cooking, when he saw the deftness and celerity with which she made fire with the simplest and most primitive of utensils, when he witnessed the almost uncanny certitude with which she located nests of eggs and edible fruit and vegetables, he was conscious that her perfections were not alone physical and he became more than ever anxious to acquire a sufficient understanding of her tongue to be able to communicate with her, though he realized that he might doubtless suffer a rude awakening and disillusionment when, through an understanding of her language, he might be able to judge the limitations of her mind.

When Jana was tired she went beneath a tree, and, making a bed of grasses, curled up and fell asleep immediately, and, while she slept, Gridley watched, for the dangers of this primitive land were numerous and constant. Fully as often as he shot for food he shot to protect them from some terrible beast, until the encounters became as prosaic and commonplace as does the constant eluding of death by pedestrians at congested traffic corners in cities of the outer crust.

When Jason felt the need of sleep, Jana watched and sometimes they merely rested without sleeping, usually beneath a tree for there they found the greatest protection from their greatest danger, the fierce and voracious thipdars from which the mountains took their name. These hideous, flying reptiles were a constant menace, but so thoroughly had nature developed a defense against them that the girl could hear their wings at a greater distance than either of them could see the creatures.

Jason had no means for determining how far they had traveled, or how long they had been upon their way, but he was sure that considerable outer earthly time must have elapsed since he had met the girl, when they came to a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, for already he had made considerable progress toward mastering her tongue and they were exchanging short sentences, much to Jana’s delight, her merry laughter, often marking one of Jason’s more flagrant errors in pronunciation or construction.

And now they had come to a deep chasm with overhanging walls that not even Jana could negotiate. To Jason it resembled a stupendous fault that might have been caused by the subsidence of the mountain range for it paralleled the main axis of the range. And if this were true he knew that it might extend for hundreds of miles, effectually barring the way across the mountains by the route they were following.

For a long time Jana sought a means of descent into the crevice. She did not want to turn to the left as that route might lead her eventually back to the canyon that she had descended when pursued by Skruk and his fellows and she well knew how almost unscalable were the perpendicular sides of this terrific gorge. Another thing, perhaps, which decided her against the left hand route was the possibility that in that direction they might again come in contact with the Phelians, and so she led Jason toward the right and always she searched for a way to the bottom of the rift.

Jason realized that they were consuming a great deal of time in trying to cross, but he became also aware of the fact that time meant nothing in timeless Pellucidar. It was never a factor with which to reckon for the excellent reason that it did not exist, and when he gave the matter thought he was conscious of a mild surprise that he, who had been always a slave of time, so easily and naturally embraced the irresponsible existence of Pellucidar. It was not only the fact that time itself seemed not to matter but that the absence of this greatest of all task masters singularly affected one’s outlook upon every other consideration of existence. Without time there appeared to be no accountability for one’s acts since it is to the future that the slaves of time have learned to look for their reward or punishment. Where there is no time, there is no future. Jason Gridley found himself affected much as Tarzan had been in that the sense of his responsibility for the welfare of his fellows seemed deadened. What had happened to them had happened and no act of his could alter it. They were not there with him and so he could not be of assistance to them, and as it was difficult to visualize the future beneath an eternal noonday sun how might one plan ahead for others or for himself?

Jason Gridley gave up the riddle with a shake of his head and found solace in contemplation of the profile of The Red Flower of Zoram.

“Why do you look at me so much?” demanded the girl, for by now they could make themselves understood to one another.

Jason Gridley flushed slightly and looked quickly away. Her question had been very abrupt and surprising and for the first time he realized that he had been looking at her a great deal. He started to answer, hesitated and stopped. Why had he been looking at her so much? It seemed silly to say that it was because she was beautiful.

“Why do you not say it, Jason?” she inquired.

“Say what?” he demanded.

“Say the thing that is in your eyes when you look at me,” she replied.

Gridley looked at her in astonishment. No one but an imbecile could have misunderstood her meaning, and Jason Gridley was no imbecile.

Could it be possible that he had been looking at her that way? Had he gone stark mad that he was even subconsciously entertaining such thoughts of this little barbarian who seized her meat in both hands and tore pieces from it with her flashing, white teeth, who went almost as naked as the beasts of the field and with all their unconsciousness of modesty? Could it be that his eyes had told this untutored savage that he was harboring thoughts of love for her? The artificialities of a thousand years of civilization rose up in horror against such a thought.

Upon the screen of his memory there was flashed a picture of the haughty Cynthia Furnois of Hollywood, daughter of the famous director, Abelard Furnois, née Abe Fink. He recalled Cynthia’s meticulous observance of the minutest details of social usages and the studied perfection of her deportment that had sometimes awed him. He saw, too, the aristocratic features of Barbara Green, daughter of old John Green, the Los Angeles realtor, from Texas. It is true that old John was no purist and that his total disregard of the social precedence of forks often shocked the finer sensibilities that Mrs. Green and Barbara had laboriously achieved in the universities of Montmartre and Coconut Grove, but Barbara had had two years at Marlborough and knew her suffixes and her hardware.

Of course Cynthia was a rotten little snob, not only on the surface but to the bottom of her shallow, selfish soul, while Barbara’s snobbishness, he felt, was purely artificial, the result of mistaking for the genuine the silly artificialities and affectations of the almost celebrities and sudden rich that infest the public places of Hollywood.

But nevertheless these two did, after a fashion, reflect the social environment to which he was accustomed and as he tried to answer Jana’s question he could not but picture her seated at dinner with a company made up of such as these. Of course, Jana was a bully companion upon an adventure such as that in which they were engaged, but modern man cannot go adventuring forever in the Stone Age. If his eyes had carried any other message to Jana than that of friendly comradeship he felt sorry, for he realized that in fairness to her, as well as to himself, there could never be anything more than this between them.

As Jason hesitated for a reply, the eyes of The Red Flower of Zoram searched his soul and slowly the half expectant smile faded from her lips. Perhaps she was a savage little barbarian of the Stone Age, but she was no fool and she was a woman.

Slowly she drew her slender figure erect as she turned away from him and started back along the rim of the rift toward the great gorge through which she had descended from the higher peaks when Skruk and his fellows had been pursuing her.

“Jana,” he exclaimed, “don’t be angry. Where are you going?”

She stopped and with her haughty little chin in air turned a withering look back upon him across a perfect shoulder. “Go your way, jalok,” she said, “and Jana will go hers.”

 

IT required no Sherlockian instinct to deduce that Jana was angry, and Jason was not so dense as to be unaware of the cause of her displeasure, which he attributed to natural feminine vexation induced by the knowledge that she had been mistaken in assuming that her charms had effected the conquest of his heart. He judged Jana by his own imagined knowledge of feminine psychology. He knew that she was beautiful and he knew that she knew it, too. She had told him of the many men of Zoram who had wanted to take her as their mate, and he had saved her from one suitor, who had pursued her across the terrible Mountains of the Thipdars, putting his life constantly in jeopardy to win her. He felt that it was only natural, therefore, that Jana should place a high valuation upon her charms and believe that any man might fall a victim to their spell, but he saw no reason why she should be angry because she had not succeeded in enthralling him. They had been very happy together. He could not recall when ever before he had been for so long a time in the company of any girl, or so enjoyed the companionship of one of her sex. He was sorry that anything had occurred to mar the even tenor of their friendship and he quickly decided that the manly thing to do was to ignore her tantrum and go on with her as he had before, until she came to her senses. Nor was there anything else that he might do for he certainly could not permit Jana to continue her journey to Zoram without protection. Of course it was not very nice of her to have called him a jalok, which he knew to be a Pellucidarian epithet of high insult, but he would overlook that for the present and eventually she would relent and ask his forgiveness.

And so he followed her, but he had taken scarcely a dozen steps when she wheeled upon him like a young tiger, whipping her stone knife from its sheath. “I told you to go your way,” she cried. “I do not want to see you again. If you follow me I shall kill you.”

“I cannot let you go on alone, Jana,” he said quietly.

“The Red Flower of Zoram wants no protection from such as you,” she replied haughtily.

“We have been such good friends, Jana,” he pleaded. “Let us go on together as we have in the past. I cannot help it if—” He hesitated and stopped.

“I do not care that you do not love me,” she said. “I hate you. I hate you because your eyes lie. Sometimes lips lie and we are not hurt because we have learned to expect that from lips, but when eyes lie then the heart lies and the whole man is false. I cannot trust you. I do not want your friendship. I want nothing more of you. Go away.”

“You do not understand, Jana,” he insisted.

“I understand that if you try to follow me I will kill you,” she said.

“Then you will have to kill me,” he replied, “for I shall follow you. I cannot let you go on alone, no matter whether you hate me or not,” and as he ceased speaking he advanced toward her.

Jana stood facing him, her little feet firmly planted, her crude stone dagger grasped in her right hand, her eyes flashing angrily.

His hands at his sides, Jason Gridley walked slowly up to her as though offering his breast as a target for her weapon. The stone blade flashed upward. It poised a moment above her shoulder and then The Red Flower of Zoram turned and fled along the rim of the rift.

She ran very swiftly and was soon far ahead of Jason, who was weighted down by clothes, heavy weapons and ammunition. He called after her once or twice, begging her to stop, but she did not heed him and he continued doggedly along her trail, making the best time that he could. He felt hurt and angry, but after all the emotion which dominated him was one of regret that their sweet friendship had been thus wantonly blasted.

Slowly the realization was borne in upon him that he had been very happy with Jana and that she had occupied his thoughts almost to the exclusion of every other consideration of the past or future. Even the memory of his lost comrades had been relegated to the hazy oblivion of temporary forgetfulness in the presence of the responsibility which he had assumed for the safe conduct of the girl to her home land.

“Why, she has made a regular monkey out of me,” he mused. “Odysseus never met a more potent Circe. Nor one half so lovely,” he added, as he regretfully recalled the charms of the little barbarian.

And what a barbarian she had proven herself—whipping out her stone knife and threatening to kill him. But he could not help but smile when he realized how in the final extremity she had proven herself so wholly feminine. With a sigh he shook his head and plodded on after The Red Flower of Zoram.

Occasionally Jason caught a glimpse of Jana as she crossed a ridge ahead of him and though she did not seem to be traveling as fast as at first, yet he could not gain upon her. His mind was constantly harassed by the fear that she might be attacked by some savage beast and destroyed before he could come to her rescue with his rifle. He knew that sooner or later she would have to stop and rest and then he was hopeful of overtaking her, when he might persuade her to forget her anger and resume their former friendly comradeship.

But it seemed that The Red Flower of Zoram had no intention of resting, though the American had long since reached a stage of fatigue that momentarily threatened to force him to relinquish the pursuit until outraged nature could recuperate. Yet he plodded on doggedly across the rough ground, while the weight of his arms and ammunition seemed to increase until his rifle assumed the ponderous proportions of a field gun. Determined not to give up, he staggered down one hill and struggled up the next, his legs seeming to move mechanically as though they were some detached engine of torture over which he had no control and which were bearing him relentlessly onward, while every fiber of his being cried out for rest.

Added to the physical torture of fatigue, were hunger and thirst, and knowing that only thus might time be measured, he was confident that he had covered a great distance since they had last rested and then he topped the summit of a low rise and saw Jana directly ahead of him.

She was standing on the edge of the rift where it opened into a mighty gorge that descended from the mountains and it was evident that she was undecided what course to pursue. The course which she wished to pursue was blocked by the rift and gorge. To her left the way led back down into the valley in a direction opposite to that in which lay Zoram, while to retrace her steps would entail another encounter with Jason.

She was looking over the edge of the precipice, evidently searching for some avenue of descent when she became aware of Jason’s approach.

She wheeled upon him angrily. “Go back,” she cried, “or I shall jump.”

“Please, Jana,” he pleaded, “let me go with you. I shall not annoy you. I shall not even speak to you unless you wish it, but let me go with you to protect you from the beasts.”

The girl laughed. “You protect me!” she exclaimed, her tone caustic with sarcasm. “You do not even know the dangers which beset the way. Without your strange spear, which spits fire and death, you would be helpless before the attack of even one of the lesser beasts, and in the high Mountains of the Thipdars there are beasts so large and so terrible that they would devour you and your fire spear in a single gulp. Go back to your own people, man of another world; go back to the soft women of which you have told me. Only a man may go where The Red Flower of Zoram goes.”

“You half convince me,” said Jason with a rueful smile, “that I am only a caterpillar, but nevertheless even a caterpillar must have guts of some sort and so I am going to follow you, Red Flower of Zoram, until some goggle-eyed monstrosity of the Jurassic snatches me from this vale of tears.”

“I do not know what you are talking about,” snapped Jana; “but if you follow me you will be killed. Remember what I told you—only a man may go where goes The Red Flower of Zoram,” and as though to prove her assertion she turned and slid quickly over the edge of the precipice, disappearing from his view.

Running quickly forward to the edge of the chasm, Jason Gridley looked down and there, a few yards below him, clinging to the perpendicular face of the cliff Jana was working her way slowly downward. Jason held his breath. It seemed incredible that any creature could find hand or foothold upon that dizzy escarpment. He shuddered and cold sweat broke out upon him as he watched the girl.

Foot by foot she worked her way downward, while the man, lying upon his belly, his head projecting over the edge of the cliff, watched her in silence. He dared not speak to her for fear of distracting her attention and when, after what seemed an eternity, she reached the bottom, he fell to trembling like a leaf and for the first time realized the extent of the nervous strain he had been undergoing.

“God!” he murmured. “What a magnificent display of nerve and courage and skill!”

The Red Flower of Zoram did not look back or upward once as she resumed her way, following the gorge upward, searching for some point where she might clamber out of it above the rift.

Jason Gridley looked down into the terrible abyss. “Only a man may go where goes The Red Flower of Zoram,” he mused.

He watched the girl until she disappeared behind a mass of fallen rock, where the gorge curved to the right, and he knew that unless he could descend into the gorge she had passed out of his life forever.

“Only a man may go where goes The Red Flower of Zoram!”

Jason Gridley arose to his feet. He readjusted the leather sling upon his rifle so that he could carry the weapon hanging down the center of his back. He slipped the holsters of both of his six-guns to the rear so that they, too, were entirely behind him. He removed his boots and dropped them over the edge of the cliff. Then he lay upon his belly and lowered his body slowly downward, and from a short distance up the gorge two eyes watched him from behind a pile of tumbled granite. There was anger in them at first, then skepticism, then surprise, and then terror.

As gropingly the man sought for some tiny foothold and then lowered himself slowly a few inches at a time, the eyes of the girl, wide in horror, never left him for an instant.

“Only a man may go where goes The Red Flower of Zoram!”

Cautiously, Jason Gridley groped for each handhold and foothold— each precarious support from which it seemed that even his breathing might dislodge him. Hunger, thirst and fatigue were forgotten as he marshaled every faculty to do the bidding of his iron nerve.

Hugging close to the face of the cliff he did not dare turn his head sufficiently to look downward and though it seemed he had clung there, lowering himself inch by inch, for an eternity, yet he had no idea how much further he had to descend. And so impossible of accomplishment did the task that he had set himself appear that never for an instant did he dare to hope for a successful conclusion. Never for an instant did any new hold impart to him a feeling of security, but each one seemed, if possible, more precarious than its predecessor, and then he reached a point where, grope as he would, he could find no foothold. He could not move to right or left; nor could he ascend. Apparently he had reached the end of his resources, but still he did not give up. Replacing his torn and bleeding feet upon the last slight hold that they had found, he cautiously sought for new handholds lower down, and when he had found them—mere protuberances of tough granite—he let his feet slip slowly from their support as gradually he lowered his body to its full length, supported only by his fingers, where they clutched at the tiny projections that were his sole support.

As he clung there, desperately searching about with his feet for some slight projection, he reproached himself for not having discarded his heavy weapons and ammunition. And why? Because his life was in jeopardy and he feared to die? No, his only thought was that because of them he would be unable to cling much longer to the cliff and that when his hands slipped from their holds and he was dashed into eternity, his last, slender hope of ever again seeing The Red Flower of Zoram would be gone. It is remarkable, perhaps, that as he clung thus literally upon the brink of eternity, no visions of Cynthia Furnois or Barbara Green impinged themselves upon his consciousness.

 

Yes, Jason screws things up with her. Yes, he tries to rationalize his behavior and attribute the falling out to Jana, who is faultless in the ordeal. He knows in his heart that he’s wrong, and it takes a bit for his head to catch up.

But in Jana, we have another example of a pulp heroine who is highly capable, and that capability is used to highlight the dangers in the story: when things are tough for someone like Jana, you KNOW that shit is for real! And for a man to be worthy of a woman like Jana, they have to step their game up. Jana is no shrinking violet, no helpless damsel, but an almost fearless and determined woman who loves and fights fiercely.

A post in which I prove Anna Kreider correct re her statement that The Watch is inspiring conversations about masculinity

watch-shirt.gifThe other day, I was reading up on a new RPG called The Watch, a game developed by Anna Kreider of Go Make Me a Sandwich and Andrew Medeiros of Northfire Games.  The premise as described is that a nebulous evil known as The Shadow is encroaching on civilization must be fought back by women and “female-of-center people”. What players do in this game and how they fight this Shadow is not described in any of the promotional posts I’ve read. It is, however, explicitly said that “The Shadow” represents “the Patriarchy” and you have to make saving throws against it any time you are “engaging in toxic behavior”.

It clicked in my head that The Watch has a very similar core premise as James Desborough’s gonzo Japanese Horror game Kagai!: Guro, Gore, Girls.147596

-Both games feature a mysterious existential evil force that is encroaching upon civilization.

-Both games prominently feature strong female characters fighting against this encroaching darkness.

The reason for why these games are female-centric and what they say about the masculine gender and masculinity are very different, however, and that’s what I’d like to talk about.

The Watch takes a very hamfisted approach to its message on gender. The Watch is described as “a low-fantasy game about women (and other female-of-center people) who are fighting to retake their homeland from the Shadow – a darkly sorcerous threat that has the power to possess men and use them for its own violent ends.”  Beyond this being a feminist’s game about women, the in-world and mechanical reasons why males would be absent from your party is that men are way more likely to be bad people because of masculinity: their 1st level Save vs. Being a Shitlord is 20. I kid, I kid, but, as “the Shadow is toxic masculinity” and ”the idea of “man” is what makes them vulnerable to its influence”, it’s probably safe to say that Men wouldn’t last a day adventuring in the Watch without losing their mind and posting Sad Pepes all over ye  Womyn’s Watch Barracks.

On the other hand, a just-for-laughs game like Kagai! actually has a fairly nuanced below-the-surface message on masculine disposability paired with its kick-ass girl-power. Sure, the game is about kendo girls, archery champs, and cool hacker chicks fighting weird monsters from other dimensions in between classes (because girls should be able to fight monsters too!), but there’s an important reason for why the party will likely be all female and why there will be few male characters in the setting: all boys and men who can hold a weapon are sent out of the city to nearly certain death to try to protect the women inside. There are only a few men who will be found in the city, and most of them are looked down on as cowards – those who were wealthy enough to buy their way out of service, those who left the front as deserters, and those who were too sickly or maimed to continue fighting.

The girls in Kagai! fight because they choose to, either for fun, to prove themselves just as good as men, or because they feel they have to (the perimeter defense is imperfect, hence why some girls choose to be monster hunters). Most of the characters in Kagai! would’ve lost fathers and brothers in the war.  Kagai! looks at and asks why women and girls would fight, and one of those reasons may be the men in their life who have suffered or died to protect them. That the women and girls, whom countless men are dying to protect, are in a situation where they may have to fight is indicative of how precarious society and humanity’s situations are in Kagai!  This message on masculine disposability vs feminine worth is subtly worked into the game, as it’s woven into the settings materials and character generation mechanics. It’s not the sort of thing that would necessarily come up in discussion during play, but you would probably think about it later.

I think it’s worth noting that the undercurrent of male disposability in Kagai! is featured nowhere in the promotional descriptions on Desborough’s blog.  Here’s his pitch:

The world has been invaded by monsters straight out of people’s nightmares and most of the world population is dead, or at war. One place is a little bit safer, a hyper-consumerist, high-tech Japanese arcology. Most of the remaining population is women and you’re a class of schoolgirls from the arcology who do a bit of vigilante monster hunting on the side, in a game styled after the hyper-kinetic, b-movie gorefests of Japanese B-list cinema. The system emphasises team tactics and differs from many games in that you roll first and then describe what you do from what you’ve rolled, rather than vice versa. You can also save dice for following turns, or push them into a pool for everyone to use.

Even in that short paragraph, I already have a much better idea of what this game will be like than I’ve been able to glean from at least three whole posts about The Watch.

While the Watch seems designed to promote girl power while attacking a strawman, Kagai! has powerful girls in a sandbox that can either be used to explore gender or social issues or to have an awesome time fighting weird alien monsters in-between cramming for finals.

You could probably stat The Patriarchy in Kagai!, though, if you really wanted to fight it.

Awhile back, I did a review of Kagai! which you can read here.

“Rescuing Women” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The essay “Rescuing Women” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch appears in the upcoming Summer Issue of Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine.

Apparently, women working in science fiction today need a hand up. For the past few years, women writers who got their start after the year 2000 have complained that they need to use male pen names and initials to get published. They need Kickstarter help to get into magazines, and they need assistance to sell their fiction to the sf world at large.

Male writers and editors whose careers started this century are more than happy to extend that hand—because, I guess, those men have joined all the other men at the top of the heap, apparently with no effort at all.

Everyone is so busy storming the barricades that they’re ignoring the fact that bestselling and award-winning women writers already work in the field. Women—without using pen names or initials—have written about strong women in science fiction for decades.

We women—those of us sitting with the men at the top of that mythical heap—have become invisible. The bestsellers, the award winners, the women who have dominated the field since the 1980s and are still active in it, we apparently are beneath the notice of the new generation of writers. Even the women who edit major magazines (a tip of the hat to Sheila Williams at Asimov’s), edit, run, and own major publishing companies (another tip of the hat, this time to Betsy Wolheim of Daw and Toni Weisskopf of Baen) have become invisible.

Ironically, we’re perfectly willing to extend a hand to those women who want a start in the field. Heck, we’re happy to extend our hands to the men too—and often do. In fact, we’ve extended our hands to the LGBT community long before it had an acronym.

Although, to be fair, we probably deserve this mistreatment.

After all, we did the same thing to the women who came before us.

In fact, we might’ve treated them even worse than the younger generation is treating us. That younger generation is just looking past us as if we don’t exist.

We’ve relegated our founding mothers to busty women who were carried off, kicking and screaming, by bug-eyed monsters. We’ve complained for decades about the art on sf pulp covers, without really looking at it.

Before I go further, let me say categorically, much of that art is breathtakingly racist, particularly with the rendering of Asians before, during, and after the Second World War. A whole lot of the art is eye-popping: women in a state of undress, being whipped or chained by some villain.

The women are busty. The men have muscles on their muscles. Almost everyone is white.

But…if you really look at those covers, you will see the unexpected. You will see that women aren’t the only ones being carried off by bug-eyed monsters. Men are too. And who is running after that monster, trying to save the poor he-man who can’t extricate himself? A competent woman holding a blaster, demanding that evil alien put the man down.

Men didn’t draw that art to subjugate women. Men and women drew the art to sell magazines—to men and women. One of the most famous female pulp artists, Margaret Brundage, is slowly being rediscovered. Vanguard Productions published a book of her art titled The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage three years ago.

Scroll through some of her covers, and you’ll see that she illustrated the work of some of the best writers of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. One of Brundage’s most famous covers illustrates one of the most famous stories by C.L. Moore, “Black God’s Kiss,” first published in Weird Tales in 1934. And why is that important?

Because “Black God’s Kiss” introduces Jirel of Joiry, one of the most famous fantasy heroines of the mid-twentieth century. Jirel was a sword-and-sorcery fantasy heroine who ruled her own country (Joiry) and who could have gone toe-to-toe with Conan or any other S&S male hero—and beat the crap out of him.

Jirel’s creator, C.L. Moore, happened to be a woman as well—perhaps the most influential woman to write science fiction and fantasy in the early period because C.L. Moore—Catherine Lucille Moore—also influenced other writers, including Leigh Brackett (a woman) and someone named Ray Bradbury.

Oh, and let’s dispel that myth that constantly follows poor Catherine Moore everywhere she goes. C.L. Moore didn’t write under initials because sf was a male-dominated genre and she had to hide her gender. She wrote under initials because, at the time, the pulp magazines were disreputable. She had a real job, in a bank, and she was terrified she’d be fired if anyone knew she was moonlighting as a writer.

You see, there was this little thing called the Depression, and jobs were hard to come by, so Miss Catherine Lucille Moore decided that caution was the better part of valor and put initials on her byline for deniability.

She knew a lot about the magazines she submitted stories to. She knew, for example, that women had been editing sf since the modern sf era began. Miriam Bourne acted as both associate editor and managing editor of Amazing Stories in 1928—y’know. The magazine credited with starting modern sf? The one edited by Hugo Gernsback? That magazine? The person who worked side by side with Gernsback, and got credit for it at the time, was a woman.

The editor who bought C.L. Moore’s first story at Weird Tales was a man, but his successor at the magazine was a woman named Dorothy McIlwraith, who edited the magazine for fourteen years. She retired before most of the women who wrote sf in the latter half of the twentieth century were born.

Those of us who came of writing age in the 1980s and 1990s also believed we were storming the barricades. I remember asking if I needed to use initials to publish sf. Fortunately, I asked my college buddy, Kevin J. Anderson, who was a student of the field, even at the ripe old age of 19. He laughed at me, and introduced me to my female predecessors.

I’ve been using my full name ever since.

It’s become very clear to me in the past few years that women tend to get lost to history. Some of that has to do with the changes in publishing in the past twenty years. Publishing companies stopped reprinted the award-nominated and award-winning stories in comprehensive volumes every year long about 1992. So all of the women who’ve won awards for their writing—including two most decorated writers in sf history, Connie Willis and Lois McMaster Bujold—have the record of that particular accomplishment vanish.

The people who compile year’s best anthologies do so before the awards get announced, and seem to choose stories by women (including the award-nominees and award-winners) less often than stories by men.

I just completed an entire book for Baen trying to reclaim some of that lost history. Called Women of Futures Past, the book showcases some of the best female writers of the 20th Century, and has a long introductory essay about the influence of women in the field.

I plan to do more projects like that. Because women do get marginalized—by everyone. And it’s time to stop that.

Not only do the writers get marginalized, but so do their female characters. Jirel of Joiry is an amazing woman. And she’s not alone. Read anything by Leigh Brackett, and watch the strong women parade by. Even if they’re minor characters. They’re always strong, always interesting.

Leigh Brackett had her fingers in everything and influenced pretty much everyone. She taught Ray Bradbury how to write. (He says this, not me.) She wrote iconic character after iconic character, often standalones, whose strength and power and sass is just plain breathtaking.

She also wrote screenplays. You want to see a representative Brackett woman in film? Pay attention to Angie Dickinson’s character Feathers in Rio Bravo. Her dialogue crackles and she leaves poor John Wayne flummoxed.

Rather the same reaction that Han Solo has to Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back—which Brackett wrote the first-draft screenplay of.

But those are easy to point to. What’s harder to point to is just one strong female character in her fiction. Because all of the women she wrote about were strong. And while writing these amazing science fiction stories, she managed to inspire writers of the next several generations. Writers who list her as an influence include Michael Moorcock, John Brunner, Jack Vance, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, Philip Jose Farmer, Marian Zimmer Bradley, Gene Wolfe, Tanith Lee, and Andre Norton.

Oh, Andre Norton. Another woman. Who wrote about strong women. Who influenced everyone from me to Lois McMaster Bujold to the recipient of this year’s Grand Master Award, C.J. Cherryh. Long before I knew that Andre Norton had been born Alice Mary Norton, I knew I loved her fiction. I loved those women who piloted spaceships and explored strange new worlds long before some TV show appropriated that phrase.

Norton’s spaceship captains weren’t the only female professionals to appear in the pulps and the digests and the sf magazines of the time. Women of all professions dominate sf fiction—from the beginning of that fiction until now. Women do most everything that men do (only backwards and in heels—oops, wait. Different subgenre). And it wasn’t just women who created powerful female characters. Men did too.

In fact, one of the most famous women in all of science fiction—Dr. Susan Calvin—came from the brain of none other than Isaac Asimov. As I was researching this article, I found a very stupid essay in a major publication about the fact that there were only three female scientists ever in sf.

Apparently, the person who wrote the essay needed to have the word “scientist” in the story, because he ignored all the female characters who actually worked in the sciences. For example, Asimov doesn’t describe Calvin as a scientist. She was a “robopsychologist” who happened to have done post-graduate work in cybernetics. But I guess cybernetics only counts as science when someone labels it “science.”

It’s that kind of ignorance that has caused women to vanish from the histories of sf—both as writers and as characters. We get ignored or misunderstood.

Even when we’re trying to “correct” the problem of the way women are treated in sf.

Over forty years ago, now, Pamela Sargent published seminal volumes of fiction called Women of Wonder. Her agenda—and she definitely had one—was to show that women have written sf from the beginning, and that women have written sf about women.

Ever since then, anthology editors felt that women could only write about gender and women’s issues. Look up women in sf, and you’ll find anthology after anthology that took Women of Wonder as prescriptive rather than as a corrective.

Women who write space opera or sword and sorcery or action adventure, women who have hit bestseller lists with that fiction, women who have huge fandoms in sf, generally don’t get included in those anthologies.

Nor do their predecessors, from Pauline Ashwell to Katherine MacLean to Zenna Henderson. Most of the writing by those women is long out of print. I’m hoping at some point to bring back some of their stories, so that readers can encounter the brilliance of Lysistrata “Lizzie” Lee in Ashwell’s “Unwillingly To School” or meet Zenna Henderson’s People and the humans who help them survive.

But not every female character kicks butt and takes names. Sometimes the female characters in science fiction and fantasy follow the model created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in Princess of Mars. Dejah Thoris, the princess of the title, often acts as a damsel in distress in the Mars stories, but just as often she proves that she can rescue a hero with the best of them. If you actually look at these female characters, they get rescued and they rescue in equal measure.

Fans know this. As I started on the book for Baen, which I was initially calling The Women in Science Fiction project, I got letter after letter from fans and readers, recommending their favorite female writers or their favorite female characters. You can find some of this information on the Women in Science Fiction website (http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/) that I started (and keep up when I have time).

It’s a great place to search out writers you might never have heard of and discover great science fiction and fantasy.

Yeah, some of the stories listed are dated. Some of the attitudes make me sad because they are so reflective of their time—particularly when it comes to people of color. But much of the fiction you’ll find still holds up. That’s the one cool thing about sf and fantasy adventure fiction—it doesn’t have an agenda besides entertainment. And it entertains so well that it still seems fresh today.

We lose our history—not just in the writing and the fiction, but also in the real world. And we forget that the women of the 1920s had just gotten the vote. They led what’s now being called The First Wave of Feminism. They redefined what it meant to be a woman.

Their daughters survived the Depression and became the inspiration for Rosie the Riveter. Their granddaughters led the second wave of feminism, helping women change the laws so that this current generation of women can play professional sports, can sue if they get discriminated against on the job, and can fight sexual harassment through the courts if necessary.

The women in our past were strong and mighty. They wrote about strong and mighty women. So did the men who loved those strong and mighty female writers.

At some point, we all need to stop assuming we know what happened in a previous generation and actually do the research. In this instance, the research—reading sf and fantasy—is fun and enlightening.

There’s lots of great lost heroines in our past. Time to revive them.

Or at least acknowledge them.

Or maybe just remember them for what they were.

International bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch has won or been nominated for every single major award in the science fiction community. Her latest novels completed the Anniversary Day saga in her Retrieval Artist universe. The former editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, she now edits Fiction River and special projects in sf, writes a weekly blog on the business of publishing, and publishes many books under pen names in other genres.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch can be found at http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/

Cirsova Issue #2 will be available on Amazon July 22nd.

Supplement to Quick Musings on the Depiction of Women in Science Fiction

Planet Stories’ publisher, Fiction House, also put out a sister line of science fiction comics called Planet Comics.  A lot of these covers show the kind of women who filled the pages of sci-fi in the olden days better than I can do justice to in words.

Oh, hey, look who has their hand on the gun that's blowing up the solar lens focused on earth!

Oh, hey, look who has their hand on the gun that’s blowing up the solar lens focused on earth!’

That dude will get there eventually, but not before that lady has zapped the monster a few times.

That dude will get there eventually, but not before that lady has zapped the monster a few times.

I guess with no man around, she'll have to zap the 3 headed T-Rex herself!

I guess with no man around, she’ll have to zap the 3 headed T-Rex herself!

 

Whee!

Whee!

Women are crack shots with ray guns, too!

Women are crack shots with ray guns, too!

That is going to hurt...

That is going to hurt…

She looks more mad than afraid; Mars God of War is grimacing because he's about to get zapped.

She looks more mad than afraid; Mars God of War is grimacing because he’s about to get zapped.

ADDENDUM: John C. Wright beat me to this years ago.  Thanks for pointing this out, Scholar-at-Arms!

Feminine Names for Strong Women’s Novels

Quick Musings on the Depiction of Women in Science Fiction

Just some brief brainstorming as I work on my write-up for Ross Rocklynne’s “The Bubble Dwellers”…

The depiction of women in “classic” science fiction film is radically different from the depiction of women in the pulps.  You might even say the gulf is astounding. ::rimshot::

I can’t remember the names of all the bad black and white sci-fi flicks from the 50s I’ve watched with my dad, but for some reason while Hollywood was content to again and again show us shrieking lady scientists who are told by some square-jaw that they’re wrong about something (even when they were right) because they were a woman, science fiction writers in the magazines were cranking out all kinds of badass babes of whom Princess Leia was a cut-rate knock-off.

If you go just by what you’d see in the movies, you could easily conclude that old sci-fi was kind of stupid and bad and all the women were shrill Faye Wrays in need of rescuing.  That could not be further from the truth.  There have always been kick-ass women in sci-fi, and no, Joss Whedon didn’t invent them.

If anyone says  to you “Yeah, but it would be nice to have the woman save the man for a change!” you can tell them that space princesses have been leading armies and cutting their way through enemies with light sabers to save their beloveds since the 1920s.

maza

Women Have Always Fought… With Lightsabers.