Formidable Female Protagonists in Science Fiction part 2

Here is this week’s list of formidable female protagonists in SF literature. I was questioned about my criteria for choosing who to list and the answer is simple:

  1. Is she a protagonist in a science fiction novel?
  2. Is she female?
  3. Is she in any way formidable?

The third is subject to my subjective interpretation but I have a fairly wide appetite for all different kind of SF out there and I am open to suggestions.

This week’s Formidable Females are:

  1. Benita Alvarez-Shipton – the Perfect House-wife (Sheri S. Tepper)
  2. Kris Longknife – Princess & Officer (Mike Shepherd)
  3. Tobin Kerr – Leading From Below (Tanya Huff)
  4. Sassinak – Older Than Her Mother (Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Moon & Jody Lynn Nye)
  5. Sharrow – Symbol of a Solar System (Ian M. Banks)

Blurbs/Synopsis are from a major online outfit, but they are often in error so I won’t tell you which one.

Benita Alvarez-Shipton – the Perfect House-wife

Book: The Fresco
Author: Sheri S Tepper
Pulisher: Eos Nov 2000 | Gollanz, 1st March 2001
Genre: Feminist science fiction

This is one of Sheri S. Tepper’s more controversial works. It is about Benita Alvarez-Shipton a housewife of Hispanic descent trapped in an abusive relationship. She meets two aliens that do her a ‘good turn’ after choosing her as their ambassador to Earth. She has to break free of the relationship, convince earth’s leaders to listen to her, survive another group of aliens hunting her and save an ideal. The Fresco is an indulgent fantasy in justice with amusing twists like the ugly plague in Afghanistan to protect their women’s virtue and alien wasps impregnating pro life politicians. Sheri S. Tepper is usually more subtle than this but it is still a good read and Benita grows and takes charge of her life as in the best of space operas. She is a housewife that fixes a galactic civilization. That is formidable.

One day, in the midst of strange events that are occurring throughout the United States, plain-spoken, 36 year-old bookstore manager Benita Alvarez-Shipton is greeted by a pair of aliens who ask her to transmit their message of peace to Washington.

And so begins a fantastic adventure more perilous and important than Benita can imagine, because the envoys have come with a dire warning about another extraterrestrial race: predators with their attention focused on Earth, who may have already made their first “visit”.


Kris Longknife – Princess & Officer

Books: Mutineer (2004), Deserter (2004), Defiant(2005), Resolute (2006), Audacious(2007), Intrepid (2008), Undaunted (2009), Redoubtable (Oct 2010)
Series: Kris Longknife
Author: Mike Shepherd
Publisher: Ace Penguin
Genre: Military Science Fiction | Space Opera

The Kris Longknife series is about a formidable woman with a knack for getting in trouble and getting out. She is one of them Longknifes and if life wasn’t enough complicated being an officer in the navy; the society of humanity dissolve and her grandpa is named King making her a reluctant princess. The Peterwald family with their long standing grudge with the Longknife set up their own little pocket empire and starts to make life for Kris and her family difficult. Lots of humor, fantastic characters by Mike Shepherd (links to profile with links to my reviews). The next book Redoubtable will be out in November this year and Daring will be out in 2011.

Mutineer: As a marine of Wardhaven, Kris Longknife has a lot to live up to and a lot to prove in the long-running struggle between her powerful family, a highly defensive-and offensive-Earth, and the hundreds of warring colonies. But an ill-conceived attack is bringing the war close to home and putting Kris’s life on the line. Now she has only one choice: certain death on the front lines of rim space-or mutiny.

Deserter: A search for her lost friend leads the female space warrior into a galactic hellhole with no way out.

Defiant: As part of an agenda to oust her father from his political position, Kris Longknife is relieved of command. But when an alien enemy launches an invasion, she defies both government and military authority to lead a rag-tag fleet against the threat

Resolute: Kris Longknife has been given her first independent command in the very remote system of Chance, an assignment that’s as much exile as promotion. But Kris isn’t on the job long when she captures pirates hiding the location of an uncharted and unpopulated planet of miraculous technology.

Audacious: You can’t keep a good woman down-Kris Longknife returns. Once again Kris finds herself caught in the crosshairs of unknown enemies who want her dead. Factions, both legitimate and underground, vie for control of the planet New Eden. And someone is taking advantage of the chaos to unleash a personal vendetta against Kris.

Intrepid: Kris Longknife has been assigned to The Wasp, the best warship beyond the Rim of Human Space. But while hunting for pirates, Kris stumbles upon something. It’s a plan to kill one of the members of the aristocratic Peterwald family—and the would-be killers are setting her up as the assassin.

Undaunted: Kris Longknife encounters some peaceful aliens that almost exterminated the human race a generation back or so who have come to warn humanity of an unidentifiable force that is roaming the galaxy, obliterating everything in its path-a path now leading directly toward the human worlds.


Tobin Kerr – Leading From Below

Books: Valor’s Choice (2000), A Confederation of Valor (2006), The Hearth of Valor (2007), Valor’s Trial (2009), The Truth of Valor (Sept 2010)
Series: Confederation of Valor series
Author: Tanya Huff
Publisher: DAW
Genre: Military Science Fiction

Tanya Huff’s Confederation books are an excellent example of the life and career of a Non-Commissioned Officer. Tobin Kerr comes alive as a believable person whoes motivations make sense. She have to fight to keep her troops and leaders alive through all the military actions, in the best tradition of her trade. The science fictions parts also play a significant part in the stories about aliens, their society and alien technology. There is an arc across the whole series concerning ‘older’ more ‘wise’ races keeping the ‘young’ races at each other’s throats.

Tanya Huff is very good at dialogue. There is a lot of bickering in the books, and I love bickering. Portraying a sergeant of the right stuff is done beautifully.

  • “Figures,” Torin sighed. “Officers get a proposal and the rest of us just get screwed.”
  • The Krai have a taste for human flesh. “Marines do not eat other Marines,” Torin muttered absently.
  • “Begging your pardon sir, but you’ll be giving orders to this platoon, not to the general. It might be best if
    you think for yourself.”
  • “You’re just jealous my species has more opposable parts than yours.”

I have recently read the four published books and wrote about it here: Valor’s Choice, Better Part of Valor, The Heart of Valor and Valor’s Trial

Valor’s Choice: In the distant future, humans and several other races have been granted membership in the Confederation—at a price. They must act as soldier/protectors of the far more civilized races who have long since turned away from war….

A Confederation of Valor: Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr’s goal is to keep both her superior officers and her troops alive as they face deadly missions throughout the galaxy. She more than proves her mettle when a diplomatic assignment and a scientific expedition both turn dangerous.

The Hearth of Valor: The fast-paced third military SF novel in Huff’s Confederation series (after Valor’s Choice and The Better Part of Valor) examines how an interplanetary confederation might unite several distinctive species into an effective military organization despite widely differing physiologies, customs and mores. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Torin Kerr, recovering from injuries suffered in a first contact situation, accompanies a recruit platoon into the Crucible, a training planet where they apply their lessons in a realistic live-fire exercise against robotic drones. While the exercise is underway, the drones begin acting aggressively, without regard to fail-safes or their programming. Has the platoon come under attack by the mysterious Others, or is this related to the alien escape pod that everybody has forgotten exists except for Torin, her lover and an obnoxious reporter? The intriguing and well-designed aliens and intricate plotting keep the reader guessing.

Valor’s Trial: In the rough-and-tumble fourth military SF adventure for Marine Gunnery Sgt. Torin Kerr (after 2007’s The Heart of Valor), Kerr is more than a little surprised to wake up after a disastrous battle and find herself in what appears to be an underground prisoner-of-war facility, since the enigmatic aliens called the Others take no prisoners. At least, that’s the claim made by the Confederation of nominally pacifist older races that provide advanced technology to humans in exchange for waging war against the Others. Kerr soon encounters earlier arrivals, who seem oddly lethargic and resigned to their fate. She must learn what’s sapping their willpower, organize an escape and figure out what the Others and the Confederation are up to. Huff’s appealing heroine is as fiercely maternal as she is fierce in battle, sometimes to a degree that verges on cliché. The denouement is not unexpected, but Huff skillfully accomplishes its exposition while still managing a few surprises.


Sassinak – Older Than Her Mother

Books: Sassinak (1990), The Death of Sleep (1990), Generation Warriors (1991)
Omnibus: The Planet Pirates (1993)
Series: Planet Pirates
Authors: Anne McCaffrey(#1-3), Elizabeth Moon (#1,#3), Jody Lynn Nye(#2)
Publisher: Baen
Genre: Military Science Fiction

Sassinak is just one of them unforgettable characters, she grows a lot in the series that is a bit towards pulp fiction in some regards. Lots of emotions. I like the name, Sassinach is a Scottish/Highlander name for ‘lowlanders’ especially English I gather. If I remember correctly it means saxon man but has evolved to something you taunt strangers with? Anyway, great story by Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Moon and Jody Lynn Nye.


The Planet Pirates traces the careers of two remarkable women. Sassinak escaped from slavery to freedom, and then used that freedom to fight the evil that had wrecked her world, first as a cadet, later as a captain, and finally as an Admiral of the Fleet.

Lunzie, one of the galaxy’s greatest healers, is Sassinak’s great-grandmother — but in actual years she is her junior; Lunzie spent nearly a century in coldsleep waiting for rescue when her ship was destroyed. Imagine their mutual surprise when Sassinak rescued her.

How together Sassinak and Lunzie save first a world, and then a confederation of worlds — and almost in passing establish amity between the genetically engineered Heavy Worlders and normal humanity

Sassinak: The first in the Planet Pirates series, this science fiction yarn offers a vivid universe inhabited by cardboard citizens. Sassinak, the heroine and the only developed character, steps straight from a formula: When she is 12, pirates raid her native colony, enslaving her and g murdering her family. Abe, a fellow captive, befriends her and, when they are emancipated by Fleet (the military), becomes her guardian until he is slain in a barroom brawl. Intelligent and daring, Sass joins Fleet, seeking vengeance on her enemies. She becomes the classic fictional commander: a loner whose entire life is subsumed by the military. Fortunately, Sass’s exploits are so expertly recounted that their intrigue and adventure compensate for the hackneyed plot line. Cleverly drawn aliens, supporting characters here, allow the authors to explore various aspects of prejudice. Sass’s appraisal of men, however, verges at times on sexist.

The Death of Sleep: Lunzie Mespil, Healer, is blown out of a space liner. She’s not too worried; a month or two in cryogenic stasis awaiting inevitable rescue, and then on with her life. Only, it’s not a month or two . . . Lunzie waits for 62 years before she is finally picked up!

Generation Warriors: Lunzie, fresh from her adventures in The Death of Sleep,has discovered that the one good heavyworlder she ever met isn’t so good after all…
Fordeliton, sent off to investigate the connection between the super—rich and the planet pirates, is now dying of a mysterious slow poison. His aunt’s spiritual advisor wants to give him her “special cure”.
Dupaynil, having made the mistake of pushing sassinak too far, has been exiled to Seti space aboard a tiny escort vessel—where he’s discovered that the crew are in the pay of the planet pirates…
Aygar, the idealistic young Iretan, is out to prove he has brains as well as heavyworlder brawn… but there are plenty who’d like to blow them out before he can learn to use them.
Then there’s Sassinak, ordered to report to FedCentral for the trial of the mutineer Tanegli. She’d been told to disarm her ship when it enters restricted space; she’d been told her crew can’t have liberty or leave; and she’d been told to follow all the rules. You remember Sassinak…the only person who might be able to stop the disaster ahead has never been one to follow the rules…


Sharrow – Symbol of a Solar System

Book: Against Dark Background
Author: Iain M. Banks
Publisher: Orbit 1993
Genre: Military Science Fiction

Lady Sharrow is said to be a metaphor of the solar system where the story takes place. Iain M. Banks don’t write happy stories so I am expecting Noir with this one. This is a character I am not familiar with but she comes recommended as a strong formidable woman.

The heroine, Sharrow, chases after the Lazy Gun, a long-lost military artifact of tremendous power, while being chased by a religious cult dedicated to killing her. She rounds up her old war buddies for one last hurrah and they are off to the races, punctuated with flashbacks about the war and Geis and Breyguhn, her cousin and half-sister, respectively.

Sharrow was once the leader of a personality-attuned combat team in one of the sporadic little commercial wars in the civilization based around the planet Golter. Now she is hunted by the Huhsz, a religious cult which believes that she is the last obstacle before the faith’s apotheosis, and her only hope of escape is to find the last of the apocalyptically powerful Lazy Guns before the Huhsz find her.
Her journey through the exotic Golterian system is a destructive and savage odyssey into her past, and that of her family and of the system itself.


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