June 9, 2010

Top Ten Most Fascinating Women of Sci-Fi

Okay, it's the ladies' turn in the spotlight today folks. Here's my pick for the ten most fascinating women in science fiction, and I have to say, I'm a lot more confident in my choices for this list than Tuesday's. I'm sure there are lots of great series out there I haven't seen or read, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this readers.

I'm still floundering a bit with the women of fantasy list I have planned for next week, so any suggestions are welcome. What if I were to include mythology or the original versions of classic fairy tales?

Anyway, on to the list. As with the last one, there are some spoilers in the descriptions, so be forewarned.

10. Guinan from "Star Trek: The Next Generation"

When you're going for interesting characters in science fiction or fantasy, one easy place to look is among characters of long lived races. I mean, you simply can't live hundreds of years and be one dimensional.

Guinan is El-Aurian, a long lived race of listeners, which makes her a natural bar tender. She was something of a confidant, councilor, auntie, and surrogate mother to the crew of the Enterprise-D. Soft spoken and kind, she also had a bite, enough to make Q wary of her and to wipe the shooting range floor with Worf.

9. Dr. Samantha "Sam" Carter from "Stargate SG1" and "Stargate Atlantis"

Samantha Carter is one of those characters that prove nerdy girls can be sexy and kick booty while getting their geek on. Whether she was making desperate repairs, rigging devices MacGyver style, upsetting cultures (in a good way), or running to the rescue with guns blazing, SG1 would have fallen flat without their female second-in-command. Oh, and she made it all ten seasons without dying half a dozen times, unlike some characters.

(As much as I like O'Neill, I included this pic because some of Carter's funniest moments were bickering with McKay.)

8. Lessa from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.

I know the series name may make it seem like this one belongs on the fantasy list, but if you've read the entire series, you know the Pern books are technically science fiction.

Readers get to see a lot of Lessa in the Dragonriders series. She's a teen at the beginning of "Dragonflight," and she's in her forties by the time "All the Weyrs of Pern" rolls around. (I stopped reading after Todd McCaffrey took over the series, so I don't know what goes on from there.) Lessa runs the gambit from sweet to bratty, wise to recklessly stupid throughout the series.

One of many children of a lord holder, Lessa survives the massacre of her family through dumb luck, and hides as a drudge. Years later, she gives up her claim to run the hold in order to take a chance of impressing the last queen egg. Eventually, she follows a hunch in deciding to use her dragon's ability to travel between space and time to travel 400 years into the past and back again in an effort to save Pern. (Like I said, genius and stupid all at once.)

7. Max Guevara from "Dark Angel"

Max is one of many of the ultimate test tube babies in this near future, post apocalyptic series. Max, along with her "brothers and sisters," were genetically engineered and trained by the U.S. government to be super soldiers. Each posses bits of animal DNA, which give them increased senses, stamina, strength, speed, and can come with some nasty side effects such as seizures when their diet isn't sufficiently high in tryptophan and periodically going into heat.

Max becomes entangled with "Eyes Only," a behind-the-scenes political activist, and eventually leads her fellow chimeras into the light.

6. Sarah Connor from the Terminator series

You've gotta love Connor's personification of the mama bear instinct. Here she was, just this normal girl minding her own business when this killer robot from the future starts trying to kill her and some guy saves her only to start spouting off an insane story about how she's the mother of the resistance leader.

Sarah Connor blossoms into a kick butt character after the end of the first film, when she learns she's pregnant. Her priorities shift with that tangible proof of the story she was given, well other than the freaky killer robot, and she sets out not only to protect her son in the here and now but to try to keep that future from coming to pass at all. Along the way she sometimes forgets her son John is still just a kid. She's not a perfect mom by any means, but she's a perfect example of why you never mess with someone's child.

5. Zoe Graystone from "Caprica"

Never mind the advanced technology, obscene amounts of money and material goods her family has, or the fact she's growing up on one of twelve planetary colonies humanity has set up, Zoe Graystone is your typical teenager. She just so happens to also be a programming prodigy with major reservations about society.

In a culture of polytheistic beliefs and extreme decadence, Zoe is a monotheist with high morals. She seeks to spread reform with her best friend and boyfriend, not realizing her boyfriend is a religious extremist until seconds before he sets off a bomb on the railway, killing them both, and leaving behind nothing but the virtual avatar she made of herself. Zoe's father, who has been working on a military android design, discovers Zoe's avatar and downloads it into his android in a misguided attempt to resurrect his daughter, thus creating the Cylon race.

4. Zhaan from "Farscape"

Welcome our only plant based entry on the list.

When we first saw Zhaan, she was introduced as a priest and escaping prisoner. As the series progressed, we learned she is a talented healer and botanist, which makes sense considering she's a plant. She is also guilty of the crime she was imprisoned for, a political assassination against her mentor and lover, when he was willing to bring in a hired army to maintain his power. This act of violence triggered a madness in her, which is the norm for her species, and she managed to regain her sanity through decades of meditation and prayer, which is exceedingly rare.

Alternately comforting and frightening, Zhaan embodied the full range of feminine roles throughout mythology and folklore. She was at once mother and monster, creation and destruction, nurturing kindness and chastening rod.

3. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace from "Battlestar Galactica"

I know a lot of folks have a problem with the fact Starbuck's sex was changed in the new series. (What about Boomer? Same deal there, but no one made a big deal out of it.) Personally I don't see what the big deal is. Starbuck's still arrogant, hot headed, and sex crazed: same basic personality with a different wrapper.

From what little I've seen of the original Galactica, the new series' take on Starbuck is a whole lot more interesting, and it has nothing to do with the fact she's a girl. It has everything to do with better character development. It's what sets the new series apart from the old, character driven plots and story lines that span whole seasons.

Forget daddy issues, Kara has mama issues. She's spent her whole life trying to live up to her mother's expectations and later pushes herself to be the best after the death of her fiance'. Her luck with men is atrocious. The Cylons, Leoben in particular, believe she's caught up in their destiny somehow and haunt her for it, going so far as to mentally torture her on New Caprica after having stolen one of her ovaries on Caprica Prime.

And I still haven't figured out what happened with that time loop thing in the last couple seasons.

2. Echo from "The Dollhouse"

Whedon seems to have a thing for female characters who are as strong as they are messed up. Discounting the parody "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog," all of Whedon's series are represented at least once on the women of science fiction and fantasy lists I'm working on.

Echo, also known as Caroline, was your average college student with a yen for political activism. She got in over her head when she tried to take on Rossum, and ended up as a "doll" in one of the company's dollhouses. Her personality was wiped from her mind and stored on a computer wedge while her mind was constantly overwritten and her body hired out to the highest bidder.

It's soon apparent Echo's mind is more elastic than anticipated, and she begins accessing supposedly wiped information in times of distress. Then a psychotic "doll" going by Alpha decided to dump every personality she'd ever been implanted with in her head all at once. Because of her natural neural elasticity, Echo handles the artificial dissociative disorder better than Alpha did, eventually helping to take down Rossum from the inside.

1. River Tam from "Firefly"

The Tam family always knew River was a genius: not a run of the mill genius either, I'm talking nearly off the IQ charts type genius. So, when she's offered a place with an academy for the gifted, they jumped on the opportunity for her and never looked back. Luckily for her, River's older brother Simon noticed her cries for help from within the academy, a front for the Blue Sun corporation, who was experimenting on exceedingly gifted children.

Simon was able to help River escape, but she was left mentally damaged by her stint with Blue Sun. Much of what she says seems like gibberish until a few minutes or hours later. Simon eventually discovers Blue Sun completely stripped River of her emotional defenses, meaning she is literally incapable of blocking her feelings or controlling her emotions. This empathetic openness combined with her natural intellectual prowess create a type of extrasensory perception, bordering on telepathy and precognition.

In addition, River was trained as an assassin. The combination of her innocence and youth and her extreme skill with weapons of any type as well as hand to hand make her a disturbing blend of pure nightmare and cute kid sister.

There's been a major upsurge in quality female characters in the science fiction genre of late, so this was actually one of the easier lists to compose. Oddly enough, followed closely by the men's list for the fantasy genre. Make sure to come back to see that one next week.

Oh, and the world building series will continue on Sunday. I've no idea how it happened but "birthday season" took me by surprise this year, and I've been a little buried under multiple gatherings, headaches, and an injury the past few weekends. That's what I get for not prescheduling posts days in advance, and I apologize for the inconvenience.

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