Deadlier than the male: The imperial designs of Le Guin, McCaffrey, and May

Ursula K. Le Guin (left, illustration by Essy May), Anne McCaffrey (middle, illustration by Linda Eicher), Julian May (right).

This post is the third in a roundtable co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann on science fiction and imperial history. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Tris Kerslake
Central Queensland University

For as long as the concept has existed, the struggle for empire has been seen as the most masculine of endeavours; strategic conflict, war and bloodshed on an industrial scale was not, apparently, for the ladies.

Of course, this attitude originated in the patriarchal headspace that considered women to be most useful as producers and nurturers of the next generation of soldiers, rather than as soldiers in their own right.

This mindset has never really been shaken off and wanders on even today in the realm of science fiction (SF), despite the best efforts of Black Widow in the latest DC marvel escapade (Infinity War, 2018). Publishers routinely advise women SF/Fantasy authors such as K. A. Stewart (Second Olympus, 2015), Rob Thurman (Everwar, 2016), and K. J. Taylor (The Last Guard, 2016) to avoid adopting a feminine authorial name as male readers tend not to read female writers of SF.

This is a shame for several reasons, not least of which being that any male readers who think this way are missing out on some of the best pulse-thumping action involving the violent ending of worlds, the annihilation of aggressive alien species and the unleashing of unspeakable doomsday weapons.

Imperialism flourishes in all its forms in SF and the spread of empire has formed the crux of stories written by the most respected names in the SF genre, not all of them men. To illustrate this point, I shall examine, in brief, a unique imperial concept from each of three past and much-lauded SF authors, all of whom shared the XX chromosome: Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011), and Julian May (1931-2017). Continue reading “Deadlier than the male: The imperial designs of Le Guin, McCaffrey, and May”