I recently finished “The Snow Queen” by Joan Vinge, who lives in Madison, WI (I used to live there!). It’s a sci-fi novel, about a planet ruled by a Winter Queen who exploits a local species to achieve longevity. However as summer comes (seasons last for decades), her rule will end and so she tries to use cloning to extend her rule. It’s a fast paced story about power and control. I like that there are several female protagonists and everyone is drawn in shades of grey.
On the feminism and culture blogs I read, there has been a lot of discussion about how many authors, directors, etc. will have the heroine suffer sexual assault as a catalyst for turning her stronger or to provide impetus for action. What I like about The Snow Queen is that all of the heroines face challenges and reach a breaking point, but in none of these instances are the tests sexual or violent.
The Queen’s challenge is to hold onto power in the face of death. The federal police chief’s challenge is to maintain authority within her force despite the overt and covert sexism by the men above and below her in the police hierarchy. And the challenge of maintaining federal law over the locals. And fighting depression caused by a subsonic device planted in her apartment. Wow. I’m really liking the police chief more and more. The Winter Queen’s clone’s challenge is to survive a psychic break. See, no sexual violence anywhere.
It is interesting to note that Vinge wrote The Snow Queen in 1980.
The other book I’m reading is “Hot Ice” by Nora Roberts. Yes, the romance writer. I’ve only just started but so far so good. It’s got a “Romancing the Stone” vibe to it. It’s about a thief who steals some documents that he thinks will lead to a legendary lost diamond formerly owned by Marie Antoinette. As he’s running from some thugs, he jumps into a car driven by a bored smart heiress who manages to shake the thugs. She decides she likes the excitement and the quest so joins him as a partner. Of course, sparks fly and but other things, like being pursued by bad guys keep them from acting on it. Plus, it’s more fun that way.
What’s also fun is that this book was written in the 1980s as well, so they have to use the library and books to figure things out, not the Internet and GPS. Reading about the old tech is fun too.
I like Nora Roberts because her stories make sense with and without the romance. As with any story, the characters have to be fully drawn characters to be enjoyable. The plot has to make sense and be driven by internal and external forces, not just coincidence. What brings the heroine and hero together? What keeps them apart? Does it all make sense?
Another thing I like about her books is that her protagonists are often entrepreneurs, running book stores, pizzerias, bakeries, a wedding consultancy, an inn, etc. These are settings where the heroines clearly are in charge and have a lot of agency, and also meet a variety of people, for instance neighbors/customers who need help which sets the plot in motion, and the hero so there can be a romance.
It seems every few years I start writing a book but only get as far as setting –thinking about who are the characters? What do they do? Where do they live? How do they live? And there’s always a romance in there. But never get as far as thinking about the plot. Once I populate the story with people and a setting, what are they supposed to do and why?
I’ve got notes about these characters and images in my head about them. I may just draw them and not bother writing the stories.