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Best Friends

strong female charactersWhen it comes to author notes, I’ve been silent for the past couple of weeks. I caught a cold coming back from the awards ceremony in New York, which took me off my feet for a while, and have since been focused on editing and drafting –– two duties which, this year, have been particularly enjoyable.

Just a couple of days ago, I was saying to Jacqui that working with Alex, Stephanie and Strong seems to put me at ease in a way I’ve not experienced since I finished the Equations. No matter what chaos happens to be surrounding them, they are brilliant together. Though it’s likely to sound crass, or self-indulgent, I must admit that spending time on the page with them helps deflate my usually-rampant cynicism.

By nature I think I’m a lapsed idealist; I grew up in Newfoundland, in an interracial home, with both parents working, and my award-winning-author-mom eventually becoming Iceberg’s Editor-In-Chief. Naturally, this upbringing shaped my worldview into one best articulated by great starship captains.

Since then, my cynicism has grown. I’ve worked for a former Canadian Ambassador to the UN –– the man who represented us when Colin Powell assured the world there were WMDs in Iraq. Hard to maintain any illusions after a year of conversations with him. I’m proud to call friend the federal MP who’s improving the way Canadian charities secure funding… but I know first-hand how many of the genuinely world-changing projects he’s worked on have been ignored, since ‘good news’ rarely grabs headlines. I’ve seen plenty of backstabbing, betrayal, and dishonesty… and though it’s been tempered by good friends, I’ve grown suitably weary.

That’s probably a large part of why I write: to go to a place where things make sense. Problem is, it’s been a while since the worlds I’ve traveled to have felt markedly different than this one.

The Earthers were (and are) unfailingly optimistic beings who do what is right, because it is right. Their inherent wisdom is too good to be true… which is possible because they’re not human, and therefore not crippled by our limitations. I know that has always made them difficult for some readers to accept (certainly, the human characters from the Equations were suspicious, and often lashed out in the face of such impossible goodness). For me, the Earthers have always brought peace –– a certainty that when darkness comes, some brave souls will always stand against it, and discover they’re full of light.

Since The Destiny Equation, though, idealism has been replaced by various shades of grey. This is not to criticize the characters of Defense Command or His Majesty’s New World –– not at all. The flaws of the DC cast made it so easy for me to relate to their stories. From the hack writer on down, no one was perfect… except for Charlie Peters, who seemed to possess the same sort of clarity as Savanna Felix. Besides him? Well, spikes were occasionally driven through heads, and pitifully self-indulgent flag officers sometimes tried to start wars over their petty personal tragedies… you know, the sort of stuff we deal with every day. Er…

strong female character
Safe to say Emily didn’t turn out to be quite the person I expected.

With the b’ys of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the cynicism was wrapped up in different clothes. Racism –– a subject to which I am obviously sensitive –– and imperialism had to be addressed, and I was disappointed to discover that certain characters just weren’t as ready for their roles as they appeared. Again, those failings made it easy for me to find reality within the stories… but sometimes I’d shake my head, and just wish an Earther would turn up with wise words. Alas, none were available.

But we did enjoy some good fortune, because the best characters from His Majesty’s New World turned out to be particularly good parents. As such, in Champions, we can find peace again.

It’s all thanks to Alex and Stephanie. Strong is an important part of their team, but those two set the standard. As I’ve said before, they arrived as two fully-formed characters, who happened to be best friends… and they really are best friends. I’ve compared them to JFK and RFK, and it remains true: even if they disagree with each other, no one from the outside will ever tear them apart. And yes, it happens that they’re both female.

Despite previous attempts to dodge the question, I’m still asked whether having two female leads is my statement on women’s rights, or feminism. I suppose this is natural; I understand debates about gender in this genre are quite heated –– to the point where series like Feminist Frequency are being targeted with a wrath I thought might only be reserved for wanton criminals. Arguments rage about fake geek girls, questions circulate about the new Lara Croft, and controversy is stoked when a Disney princess becomes too attractive. By having Alex and Stephanie on the cover of Whitecoat, I’ve inadvertently wandered towards the fray.

But here’s the thing: Alex and Stephanie are definitely the sorts of role models I’d want for my kids (note: I’m a long way from ‘my kids’ being more than a notional concept). However, like the Earthers… perhaps like many of the characters I write… they’re not just role models for people possessing certain chromosomes. I think all humans should want to be as impressive as these two… just as I think all humans should aspire to be as impossibly great as Setter Caine. And he’s a different species.

I suppose that’s just my personal worldview; I grew up thinking I should aspire to be like my father and my mother. I never learned that you’re only supposed to find role models in members of your own gender, race, or creed. I feel as though I can objectively (or subjectively) admire anyone’s qualities and achievements, without diminishing my own identity… so perhaps my idealism isn’t entirely lapsed.

strong female characters
Awkward best friend hug!

Our whitecoat and her Lieutenant are not merely some statement about gender, they’re a reaction against cynical notions that humans must be cruel and self-serving. Spoiler alert: Alex and Stephanie will never betray each other. Outsiders might damage them… even destroy them… but they will always stand together. For this reason, and many others, I’m proud of them –– as proud as I’d be if they were men, or androids, or Earthers, or something else entirely. It happens that they’re the daughters of dear friends of mine (friends I went through the Hubrin War with), but they’ll be judged for what they do, and how they do it… not what genes they inherited.

A pair of youngsters finding their way across two very dangerous worlds, rightly daunted by the violence they must confront, but working hard to live up to the high standards they set for themselves? Setter Caine would be honored to share a page with them, and I’d hope readers of all genetic compositions find them inspiring. I certainly do.

Having the chance to spend extra hours with them qualifies me as the luckiest hack writer I know; I’ve always been fortunate in the characters I’ve met, but these two are something special.

It’s going to be a good summer.