Thursday, August 22, 2013

Discovering the Power of the Disabled Protagonist

Posted by: Jeffe Kennedy
This is a very fun new anthology, Thunder on the Battlefield, edited by urban fantasy author James R. Tuck. There are two volumes: Sword (v.1) and Sorcery (v.2). I have a story, Negotiation, in the Sorcery volume, shown here.

Negotiation: A Story of the Twelve Kingdoms
A wounded warrior trapped by the sorceress who knows him better than he does himself…
General Uorsin escapes the last devastating battle, only to find himself alone on a mountain, feverish and no closer to finding the paradise that drives him on. Salena, greatest shapeshifter and magic-worker of her people, springs the trap she’s set to protect her land—and to prevent the ravager Uorsin from ever reaching it.
Together, they spend a night setting the terms that will determine not only the rest of their lives, but the fates of the peoples of the Twelve Kingdoms—and the thirteenth.

 This is a bit of a prequel to the trilogy coming out starting next June, with The Mark of the Tala. It's not necessary to read the prequel as the trilogy stands alone, but it's a nice little taste of things to come!

I've started reading Westlake Soul by Rio Youers. It's a bit of a departure for me in my recent reading, because it's by a male author about a male protagonist. I don't think I was deliberately reading female authors and female POV, but I'd definitely gotten into a nearly exclusive pattern. The other interesting thing about this book is the protagonist is completely disabled. He was paralyzed in a surfing accident and is unable to move or communicate - except through the power of his mind.

I'm not very far in, but it's a fascinating premise. It also dovetails with conversations I've been having online, most notably with my friend, Sassy Outwater. For those who don't know Sassy, she's blind and has a guide dog companion named Kodak. You might have seen them at the RT Convention in spring of 2013, for example.

Sassy is on a quest for recommendations particularly of disabled heroines in romance novels. She's planning to do a full rant and review, so if you have suggestions, she's looking for any and all. Her site is being developed here. I'll be interested to see what kind of list she gets. After all, the romance tropes usually call for the feisty, nubile and always perfectly lovely heroine. That's been changing up in recent years, which is all to the good in my mind.

Speculative fiction, it seems, better lends itself to the disabled protagonist or otherwise "handicapped" hero. I'm using that word in the traditional sense - that some sort of weight is added to make the hero's journey that much more difficult. One famous example is Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, who suffers from - of all the horrible diseases - leprosy. Superhero stories are notable for the crippling burdens - usually emotional - that the hero carries. Think Batman with his haunted, traumatic past.

However, because I read primarily female-driven stories, it seems I rarely encounter the truly disabled heroine. Even if she's emotionally troubled, she's still physically attractive. And her psychic scars don't get in the way of relationships, like Batman's do - or they are temporary obstacles that increase sexual tension, but are easily overcome in the end.

I'm looking at my spec fic bookshelf, racking my brain for exceptions - much as I've been looking at my romance shelves (and yes, the twain do meet and mix it up) for ideas for Sassy's project. It could be my filter bias for the Happily Ever After, but I'm not coming up with much.

So, I'm throwing this out to you all. Examples of heroines in speculative fiction (I'm deliberately using that umbrella term to cover all genres of paranormal, urban fantasy, science fiction, fantasy, sword & sorcery, etc.) that are "handicapped" in some way. Bonus points for disfiguring disabilities.

And, because today just happens to be my birthday, I will give away digital copies of Thunder on the Battlefield: Sorcery to five commenters - international entries welcome! Even if you can't think of any heroines who meet these criteria (frankly I'm not expecting much, which is too bad), wish me a happy birthday and you're in. I'll choose a random five at midnight ET on Sunday, August 25 and we'll announce the winners in Monday's weekly Here Be News post.

Bring it on!


18 comments:

  1. Happy birthday Jeffe!

    I can think of two handicapped heroines right now from fantasy - Hawkspar from the novel by Holly Lisle (who is blinded, and her eyes replaced by stone eyes), and the sorceress Althea from Terry Goodkind's "The Pillars of Creation", who after saving people from the evil Darken Rahl, is eventually captured, tortured and stripped of her power - left permanently crippled with useless withered legs. Nevertheless she is extremely brave, with a strong, indomitable spirit.

    There are probably other ones that I will think of later... Those are the two that come to mind.

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    1. Ooh - and I didn't know either of those. Good recommendations. Thank you!

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    2. Also from one of my favourite authors - Imrhien the heroine of Cecilia Dart-Thornton's "The Ill-Made Mute" - she is disfigured, amnesiac and mute.

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    3. Quite the stack of disabilities there - very interesting!

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  2. The only one I can think of is the novella "Seeing Eye" by Patricia Briggs. It's in the Strange Brew anthology. The blind witch Moira helps the werewolf Tom find his missing brother. I think Briggs is going to do another novella, possibly a novel, about the couple in the next year or so. They appear in the second Alpha & Omega book, Hunting Ground, as secondary characters as well.

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    1. Interesting! I haven't read that one, either. Great suggestion!

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  3. James Alan Gardner has a space opera series in which the overarching premise involves people with disabilities or disfigurements. The first book (Expendable) and several others follow recurring heroine Festina Ramos, who has a disfiguring facial birthmark. One of the later books (I think the title is Radiant) has a paraplegic heroine in a wheelchair. They're great books--inventive, fun and smart.

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  4. Carina Press novella Far From Broken by J.K. Coi features a disabled heroine with clockwork parts.

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  5. Speaking of Batman, Barbara Gordon gets crippled by the Joker and becomes the wheelchair-bound Oracle.

    Also, there's Nessarose in Wicked, but I'm not sure she counts as a protagonist.

    But definitely Susannah Dean from Stephen King's Dark Tower series.

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    1. Nessa probably is a secondary character, but an interesting example. And will have to look up Barbara and Susannah - though I'd also guess they're, at best, secondary characters. Alas.

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  6. Anne McCaffery wrote a "Brainship" series in which people born with severe physical disabilities are placed in life-support shells and become the brains controlling spaceships. I'm not sure if that's what Sassy is looking for, but it's worth mentioning.

    Tanya Huff has a fantasy series about a detective, Vicki Nelson, who is slowing going blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa.

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    1. Oh yes! Great point, Sandra - the Ship Who Sang is one of my favorite novels of all time and Helva is a primo example of a profoundly "disabled" heroine. Well done!

      Will have to check out Vicki, too!

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  7. Oh, I loved McCaffrey's brain-ships. Wasn't The Ship Who Sang the first one? She managed to create sexual tension with one of the main characters fully encased in titanium.

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    1. Niall Parollan - and that novella where they virtually do the deed?? ~fans self~

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  8. Be sure to check to see if you won! http://herebemagic.blogspot.com/2013/08/here-be-news_26.html

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