In which the author continues to goof off

So, yesterday was various errands, including the Getting of the Flu Shots, and tomorrow there are more errands.  Today, I believe there is cleaning, including post-writing disaster control of my office.  Which, to be fair, is Slightly Less Awful than it Often Is in terms of Sheer Volume.  On the other paw, I can’t just sweep stacks of paper into trash bags, either, because there are Large Swaths of at least one other book interleaved with the pages that finally came to make up Dragon in Exile.

Speaking of Dragon in Exile, or at least, speaking of Val Con and Miri, who are more-or-less major actors in the novel, something went past my eyeballs a while ago, regarding characterization in the Liaden Universe®. The assertion of the writer was that while the authors get positive points for writing strong female characters, those points are crushed under the number of  negative points the authors get for pairing said strong, intelligent females with a male characters who are even stronger and smarter.

It probably goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — that I don’t see it that way.  Speaking specifically of Miri  and Val Con, what I see is two smart, capable people who have had vastly different lives, and who therefore have different strengths, and weaknesses, who happen to complement each other.

As a question of craft, I’ve always felt that it’s a cheat to demonstrate that one’s female character is strong and intelligent by deliberately pairing her with a weak or venal, less-intelligent male.  Just as it’s a cheat to demonstrate that your hero is strong, smart, and morally upstanding by pairing him with Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes.

Also, just personally, I wonder why a strong, smart character of any gender you like would partner with a dummy (OK; maybe in terms of muscle or money).  But, generally, in terms of survival, wouldn’t you want the smartest, strongest, most sympatico person you could get for your partner?

So, anyhow, that’s what I think.  What do you think?

16 thoughts on “In which the author continues to goof off”

  1. As someone generally considered intelligent, who’s been married to an very intelligent man for 40+ years, I think (and he thinks) that smart smart pairings, and strong strong pairings are both more stable and a lot more fun than pairings of weak STRONG. So I agree with you.

    And since no two people (except maybe identical twins?) have the same strengths and weaknesses, the pairing of strong strong increases the chance that one person’s weakness will be more than adequately compensated by the other person’s strength in that area, making a partnership that is stronger overall. On the “more fun” side, partnerships that are fun for the partners last longer than partnerships that aren’t.

    The more fun, the better glue. Because there are smart men, and strong men, and smart, strong men I wouldn’t have married for all the chocolate in the world because being around them wasn’t fun. We could earnestly discuss intellectual things, yes–but without sparkle. Whatever it is that clicks…didn’t even start to click. Fun matters.

  2. That’s how I have always seen the couples of Korval. I also love how most of the powerful people your heroes encounter are also strong and intelligent people. They didn’t get where they are with just money or good looks; they have keen minds and big plans.
    Your life-mated characters have served as excellent role models for myself and my husband in times of difficult decisions and long separations. Like them, we are often required to make hard choices, in the absence of the other, that will effect our both our futures. Unlike your heroes, it has taken us much longer to gain the necessary intuition that they seem to have fairly early in their relationships and we still make big mistakes, after 32 years. It probably helps that they are psychically linked, which seems less than likely for us.
    Thank you SO MUCH for your works. They truly are treasures in our house.

  3. I think it says a lot about the perspective of the reader that they see Val Con as smarter/stronger than Miri, rather than different. From the start, I think he might have been, overall, maybe – but that’s absolutely changed. They’re equals, but different. That’s how people are, unless you’re identical twins kept in the same environment at all times (which would be an interesting experiement, if highly unethical).

    When you have two people who are partners, different but equal – sometimes one partner is “running the show” sometimes the other, sometimes both. Perhaps they saw a time or two where Val Con was (more or less) “running the show” and ignored the times Miri was?

    I’ve seen it before (in story and RL) where a smart/strong person seems to prefer the company of one much less so. To be honest, I see it as a character defect – WHY do you want to partner with someone that much less… are you trying to help your ego or something? To me it makes a LOT more sense to seek out someone at least as able as yourself.

    Final thought – if survival is the thing, maybe those who seek out those less than themselves have an emotional situation such that they NEED that around them in order to be at their best?

    Enough thinking, time for lunch! 😉

  4. Agreed.
    My requirements for a partner are

    Intelligence or expertise in something the other doesn’t have
    A sense of humor

  5. Let me start by saying I rank the Liaden books as some of my favorites. I think Anne McCaffrey said it best when she named them comfort books.

    I have always felt that Val Con was a more puissant individual than Miri but that is to be expected since he is the pinnacle of hundreds of years of Korval’s selective breeding and a similar amount of genetic manipulation by the Tree. Not to mention the head start provided by the tree fostered pairing of Jela and Cantra. With that being said there has never been a feeling that Miri is secondary in their relationship or that she is not exceptionally capable on her own. However, this is only one relationship of many and there is no hint in the other relationships that the male is stronger or smarter than their partner. My personal favorite pair is Shan and Priscilla and while Shan did initially “rescue” Priscilla I think there is good evidence that Priscilla is at the very least Shan’s equal in ability. We see a similar paring of abilities in Inas and Pat Rin and I think it is clear that Theo will dominate her relationship.

    With that being said I can only conclude that whoever made the initial observation did so based on a cursory review of the universe or was fixated on the admittedly exceptional Val Con.

    Please keep the stories coming. I look forward to many more hours of enjoyment. Thank you for the comfort.

  6. I agree with most of the comments. I never saw either Miri or Val Con as weak. What I liked particularly was that both helped the other realize their strengths. Maybe a bit more Val Con helping Miri but it was reciprocal and I loved that Val Con wasn’t afraid of Miri reaching her heights as it seems too many male characters are.

  7. Let’s see:

    Val Con is a First-In Scout Commander and Agent of Change, so that means: survival skills, high-level education in psychology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, explosives, etc. etc.

    Miri is a hard-boiled veteran survivor of many wars AND growing up on Surebleak, Captain of Mercenaries, who happens to have Liaden genetic material as well. She has a tremendous will to survive and extremely high emotional intelligence.

    The lifemate bridge they share gives them the chance to tap into each others’ skills and abilities…lets them see each others’ perspectives very simply.

    Separately they’re pretty kick ass, together they’re amazing.

    I think people may be mistaking Miri’s awesomeness because they have never known someone who grew up in a terrible childhood and who then went to war at a young age. They’ve never known a highly trained elite soldier.

    I have known people who have grown up in and survived abusive, hard childhoods, and I’ve known people who have been highly trained elite soldiers, so I understand. But one thing that isn’t represented very blatantly about Miri: her genes, her intelligence. That part of her story comes out slowly over time. I think it’s just that Val Con has all those flashy titles, but I would place them as equals. Different, but equal.

  8. There’s the other problem that people see Miri as “stupid” because of the dialect of Terran she speaks; and Val Con as “more intelligent” on account of he talks pretty.

    Sad to say — long ago and far away, we Did That On Purpose, because (1) there had to be a way for the reader to differentiate on-the-page which language was being spoken: Liaden or Terran. Val Con does tend to carry the rhythms of Liaden into Terran, but Miri — speaks two different languages, as she learned them: Terran and Liaden. (Actually, Miri probably has a couple of technical dialects at her command, too, given her previous work, but we haven’t had occasion to show that.) AND (2) we wanted to make it clear that even a person who don’t talk good can act efficiently, and reason well. Sadly, some folks are so grounded in education=smart that they missed the thought.

  9. Val Con in a foxhole or at my back in a dark alley or going under the wire, but Miri is my captain. Logistics, training, tactics, organization, leadership; in short command; this is her purview. Or so it seems to me. Though he can lead and she’s pretty good in a scrap, that’s how I see their comparative strengths. If someone is going to send me out to be killed, Miri,is marginally less likely to waste my death. Make of that what you will.

  10. I think I’m having a very difficult time waiting for Dragon in Exile… As for the characterizations of strong female characters paired with strong male partners, that’s how I see life being properly reflected and so far in my reading career, the only pairing that I truly enjoy.

  11. It’s funny, I never really thought about it. I guess I always thought of them just as a great pairing, never really in terms of this person is stronger (of character, emotionally or physically) than the other. To say Val Con is stronger dismisses the fact that Miri had to save him when they first meet. But then he also saves her later. The only difference I see is how they got to the point where they each possess the strength that they do.

  12. On a related note, I have been wondering whether this will be the book in which Nova (certifiable badass, in her own quiet, serious way) finally meets her lifemate. Is she lonely, surrounded by so many besotted couples?…

  13. Well. . .no.

    And Nova’s not letting me know that she’s lonely at all. In fact, she tends toward the opinion that she has ‘way too many relatives already. Some people really are singletons.

  14. I think the people that credit Val Con as the stronger of the two forget that he was also TOTALLY BROKEN at the beginning of the series. By the end of the Agent of Change series he is complete and coherent once again, entirely due to Miri’s presence – if she had not been around when he went bonkers on the Clutch ship or in the aftermath of Carpe Diem, Val Con, for all his abilities and smarts, is toast.

    Secondly, I think people might give Val Con an edge because in many ways, this is his fight. It’s the enemy of his clan, on his turf, using his peers as agents. So we get to see him in situations he is particularly prepared for. We get a glimpse of Miri’s turf when she is in charge on Lytaxin, but to much less extent than Val Con. I think this leads people to underestimate the intelligence and strength it takes to ably follow someone else’s lead into unfamiliar danger.

    Lastly, smarts and strength are in many ways situation-relative. You might perceive a brilliant chemist as less smart than a financial analyst if the only place you see them both is at an economics convention. Thankfully, Liaden books give us ample opportunities to view all the intriguing pairings under a host of circumstances, so that at times I am in awe of their ingenuity and other times I am saying, “No, no, you silly head!”

  15. Val Con’s brokenness in Agent of Change was imposed from outside, not within. He was the fellow who had avoided ties with his family to prevent damage to them, and was trying to do his best to self-destruct heroically, taking as few innocents don with himself as possible (when the plane is falling down out of the sky, some pilots stay with it to try to minimize the damage to people and structures on the ground, instead of ejecting to save their own lives.

    Miri however was a down on her luck soldier and recovering drug addict, who had bottomed out but trying to get out of the well was not having thigns, um, looking up for her. She also had the deprived upbringing and lack of education, the hardscrabble hard luck background IIRC a really crappy job and a former employer or boyfriend who’d stiffed her or some such.

    Val Con had resources to call won which Miri did not.

    In Conflict of Honor, Priscilla was another down on her luck woman, and Shan the privileged Captain of Dutiful Passage. n in both cases I think the male leads, were older than the fele.

    The Ren Zel-Anthora pairing is something of a reverse of those situations–Ren Zel is the disinherited legally dead scion, and Anthora is the ate from the privileged background.

    In the situation of Cantra and Jela, they were from very different backgrounds, Cantra was the owner-operator of her own ship, and survivor of much intrigue, Jela was a dispensable nearing-the-end-of-his-limited-lifespan soldier. The was no HEA for him, he chose the fate of dying for a greater cause. Cantra picked Jela up on a whim, she wasn not looking for a partner and excepted she and he to be parting company after a few hours.

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