“Aging children, I am one”*

Jim Hines’ call for guest blogs about representation in fiction got me thinking. And the folks who have posted over there since have kept the thoughts coming. Seriously. Go check out the last several guest posts on Jim’s blog. They’re great.

Another thing that’s added to my thinking is the latest kerfuffle with the gatekeepers of “real” science fiction. Some folks have been remarking that when all the old farts die, the sexism/racism will die with them.

Hahahahahaha. No.

That’s not how it works. Assuming that the only sexists/racists/homophobes/trans*phobes/etc are old guys is lazy thinking. And assuming that at 51, I’m one of those folks? Well, that just pisses me off.

It also makes me want to do my best to wreck spec fiction by writing about people who aren’t all straight, white men. Which brings me back to the matter at hand.

I didn’t see myself that much in the books I read as a kid. Science fiction and fantasy, mystery and horror, you know the drill. Pretty white male-centric. So I had to fit myself in, pretending that I, too, could be Frodo or Holmes (although Doyle did give us Irene Adler who I will always adore). For the longest time, I figured that was pretty much my only option: shoehorn myself into places I was supposed to be, because girl.

As I aged and read more, I realized that there was a lot more fiction out there that did include me, at least until I hit a certain age. Then things got dicey again. Middle-aged women in fiction, especially spec fic?

Yeah, good luck with that. Middle-aged and older women, when they do appear in spec fic, are rarely the main characters. They’re the mom/grandma/wise woman who can be kind/nurturing, evil, or simply Dame Exposition. Rarely does she get to do the cool stuff.

Although on the younger side of the spectrum, we do get some fun. I was thrilled when Star Trek: Voyager appeared with an older woman in charge. That was cool as hell.

Janeway & Borg Queen Cubes

Captain Kathryn Janeway (ST:V) & Borg Queen Cubes

As a matter of fact, twenty-some years ago, the Star Trek franchise was doing all right by older women with several characters in ST:TNG.

And yet, still, even older women don’t have much. Other than Lwaxana Troi, are there older women characters in spec fic who are still obviously sexually active (and aren’t treated like a joke)? When I put a call out on Twitter for spec fic suggestions, the one old woman everyone brought up? Yeah, you guessed it.


Nothing against Granny Weatherwax (or Terry Pratchett), but we need more of these older badass women. They’re interesting, I think; they’re complex and they have problems/skills the younger generations don’t have.

But what does all that matter? A character in a book can’t be everything for everyone. Why should it matter if you have to shoehorn yourself in occasionally? I guess the thing is, for me personally, that shoehorning has happened in my life a lot more than occasionally. And the tropes that surround middle-aged and older women in popular culture make me feel that not only am I asked to disappear, but if I refuse, the consequences are at the least embarrassing, and at the worst, dire.

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my novella “To The Edges” and why what I’m really advocating for here is a multiplicity of voices. I would love it if speculative fiction was so diverse, everyone had the choice to play with as many shoehorns as possible as well as finding it easy to see themselves in the stories they read.

While I didn’t mean to turn this post into a sales pitch for the anthology my novella appears in, why not, you know? If you want to read stories about older women, you’d do worse than to check out the tales in Winter Well.

My contribution’s main character is Zedalia Bleakstead, a mixed-race woman well into her 50s who has to deal with being laid off, dreams of fire, and a dystopian US that just keeps getting worse. So, she moves to Iowa to be a cowboy. Sort of. No, really!

But she’s not the only older person in the story. We also have her husband, her best friends, and her sister (oh, and her uncle). There’s only one young’un with a storyline in the tale and she’s in her thirties. It was kinda fun to write with that as one of my self-imposed guidelines, figuring out how older people would deal with drastic life changes.

Not to say that Winter Well is the only book you should read if you want to read about older women. There are more. Check out the articles below for more ideas. I’ll be putting up a list of the books we discussed on Twitter soon, as well.

Related articles:

*The title of this post is from the Joni Mitchell song “Songs to Aging Children Come” from her 1969 album Clouds.

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16 thoughts on ““Aging children, I am one”*

  1. Pingback: “‘Tis not right, a woman going into such places by herself.”* – A Book List | M. Fenn

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  3. I can so relate to this topic (I’m the same age you are, though I have trouble wrapping my brain around that fact because part of me seems to be convinced that I’m still in my 20s or 30s).

    A couple of other examples of older women in speculative fiction that I have enjoyed:

    First, River Song from Doctor Who. She appears to be in her 40s or thereabouts, but is very much shown as a strong, intelligent – and definitely sexual – character. I love her SO much!

    And second, Briar Wilkes from Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker – the event that puts the plot in motion here is a teenage boy haring off into a zombie-filled ruined city, in an attempt to prove that his deceased mad-scientist father wasn’t really responsible for ruining it, and for most writers, the boy would have been the sole protagonist, with his embittered mom being just a side character who he maybe worries about from time to time but who doesn’t take an active role. However, Priest never does the expected thing, and Briar, the mom, is not content to sit at home worrying – when she realizes what her son has done, she straps on a gun and goes stomping off into the ruined city to drag his idiot ass back home. The novel alternates back and forth between his perspective and hers – and she’s by far the stronger and more capable of the two characters.

    That was also refreshing for me because even apart from the age issue, mothers in SF&F are so rarely depicted as any sort of active characters. The vast majority of the time, they fall into three categories: (1) they can die horribly to provide motivational angst for their offspring, (2) they can be passive and helpless and need protecting, or at least constant worrying about, or (3) they can be controlling forces who are constantly trying to stop their kids from doing adventurous things. So the very few occasions that I’ve ever gotten to see a mom in speculative fiction who was actually a strong and adventurous character in her own right have been especially exciting for me.

    • Thanks for commenting and for the recommends. Briar Wilkes sounds like a great character. I’ll definitely check out Boneshaker. Good to know about River Song, as well. I hope you won’t hold it against me, but I haven’t been into Dr. Who since Tom Baker. 😮

  4. Also, thanks for the recommendation of Winter Well – I just bought a copy.

  5. hkhill

    Your Twitter sources seem to have confused Pratchett’s witches. Gytha (Nanny) Ogg is sexual, white Esme (Granny) Weatherwax is a virgin. Both are kickass witches, but anyone who thinks Mistress Weatherwax is sexually active may spend some time thinking they are a toad.

    • Ha! Thanks for your comment. I didn’t mean to imply that Granny was sexual. Sorry for the confusion.

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  7. Here via Jim Hines, and as a fifty-something woman, I know exactly what you mean. My last novel is told from the POV of a 60-something man, but the heroine is in her fifties, and she’s definitely far more than just a love interest.

    Also, if you haven’t read Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, you need to. Ista dy Chalion is forty-something and an incredible character.

    • Welcome! That’s good to hear. What kind of heroine is she?

      Paladin of Souls is definitely my TBR list. Many folks have recommended it.

      • She’s an independent, take-charge, determined sort of woman who has no qualms about starting (and she’s definitely the one who takes the initiative) a love affair that turns into a serious relationship. Her name is Jo Bennett, and the book is called Finding Home. Thank you for asking!

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  9. Shannon

    I would also recommend Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population, whose protagonist is an older woman who decides she’s had just about enough of doing what is expected of her…

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