Kick-butt heroines in science fiction romance are ubiquitous and perhaps even the default type of heroines for this subgenre. However, they’re certainly not the only type of heroine SFR has to offer.
Still, it can be challenging to create an SFR heroine who is dynamic and compelling without having to rely on flashy kung fu or other combat skills. She needs to equally drive the plot forward (both romance and external if there is one) rather than just be a sidekick/love interest/sperm depository for the hero.
Once I started thinking about this topic I wondered about the general description for heroines who don't kick any ass. The “non-kick-butt” only tells us what they aren’t rather than what they are. Sometimes they’re quiet with great inner strength; others are brainy and experts in their fields (e.g., cyberpunk heroines). Also, they can have extraordinary qualities (e.g. cybernetics, psychic abilities, alien physiology) but not be kick-butt. Is there even a name for them? Or maybe “kick-butt heroine” is simply a tag to denote a heroine with that ability. Everyone else is a “heroine.”
Simply because a heroine isn’t kick-butt doesn’t automatically translate to an incomplete character. My reading in the past year has included lots of these heroines so here’s a roundup of what struck me about them.
Author Melisse Aires should probably be crowned “Queen of Non-Kick-Butt SFR Heroines” because the ones of hers I’ve encountered are anything but (no pun intended!). There’s the pampered concubine in HER CYBORG AWAKES, the reality show contestant heroine from ALIEN BLOOD, the mom shapeshifter from STARLANDER’S MYTH, and the maintenance worker from REFUGEES ON URLOON. Ms. Aires writes a type of “home and hearth” heroine that I really enjoy. They’re absolutely unabashed in their desires and goals for a stable, drama-free home life. I guess you could call them the anti-thesis of the kick-butt heroine and that reason alone makes them interesting.
KS Augustin’s IN ENEMY HANDS and its sequel, BALANCE OF TERROR, feature stellar physicist Moon Thadin. While Moon is often at the mercy of the overbearing Republic and is frequently on the run (especially in the second book), she uses her brain and wits to outsmart her enemy. Fighting her way out of danger isn’t an option so it’s interesting to follow her choices when she’s in a precarious, life-threatening situation.
Doctor heroines are another example and I encountered four of them recently. One was Dr. Elsa Brandeis from Jenna Bennett’s space opera FORTUNE’S HERO and the second was Dr. Lidia Sullivan from Ella Drake’s post-apocalyptic romance DESERT BLADE. A karate chop is pretty useless when someone is bleeding or has a fever! Both of the above heroines must call upon their medical skills in extreme, harsh environments. The appeal is discovering how much they can accomplish for the injured heroes with what little resources they have.
The third doctor heroine is Dr. Geneva MacKay from Cindy Spencer Pape’s steampunk romance KILTS AND KRAKEN. She’s a physician at a time when female medical professionals are much frowned upon so there’s the added bonus of social commentary. The fourth one is heroine Kris Davenport from KC Klein’s DARK FUTURE. She’s a medical intern. She’s not even a full-fledged physician yet her skills are put to the test under dire circumstances.
T.M. Roy’s DISCOVERY – A FAR OUT ROMANCE features Povre, an alien heroine who’s a scientist. She’s stranded on Earth and is in no position to physically defend herself against the government minions who are bent on dissecting her. So she uses her smarts and language skills instead. In a related vein, Elizabeth Cole from Sharon Lynn Fisher’s GHOST PLANET is a psychologist whose analytical skills are crucial to solving the story’s central mystery.
Heroine Ella Wilder from Leslie Dicken’s steampunk romance THE IRON HEART runs a newspaper. Barbara J. Hancock’s cyberpunk romance GHOST IN THE MACHINE features a scavenger heroine, an ordinary woman on a quest to rescue her brother.
Those are just a few from a selection of many. Do you have favorite heroines of this type? What elements make them compelling for you?