What I really wanted to write about was women, though. Blimey, but science fiction and fantasy writers have a hard time depicting female characters. I don't think I'm being too controversial in saying that writers in these genres are very sensitive and alert to the fact that there has traditionally been a certain image problem with their field: twenty years ago SF and fantasy was very much seen as almost exclusively being the preserve of the unwashed male nerd. There has therefore been a strong push-back against this; it seems to me that many SF and fantasy writers are quite deliberately and self-consciously making an effort to appeal beyond the core unwashed male nerd audience (presumably also at the behest of publishers with an eye on expanding their market), and what this has come to mean is: more female characters depicted positively, doing positive things, and even (heaven forfend!) being the heroine of the whole thing.
All well and good - I have no problem with this. I am not a Men's Rights Activist or Gamer Gater or anything like that. I like women and find them interesting and valuable as human beings (especially when they're naked). My problem is not with the impulse, but with the way it is executed, and it is simply this: to many male SF and fantasy writers, having strong and positive female characters means having female characters who are indistinguishable from the male ones except for the fact that they are nominally of a different sex.
I am picking on Leviathan Wakes here not as a particularly egregious offender, but simply an example of this trend. None of the characters in it are convincing, but the female characters even less so, because to all intents and purposes they are all the same as the male ones. The obvious truth that men and women are equal is conflated with the obvious untruth that men and woman are the same: competent in the same way, intelligent in the same way, flawed in the same ways. They speak the same, think the same, and act the same. Swap the names around and you would notice no difference; sex is cosmetic if even that.
This is odd, when you think about it. I mean, as far as I can tell - and I have met one or two women in my life - one of the most obvious things about them is that really they are quite different to men in the main (and to a straight man this is part of what gives them their charm). They speak differently, think differently, and act differently. They are not all that much like men, really, and I find it difficult to imagine how anybody who has ever actually talked to a man and then talked to a woman would fail to see this. If I was a cultural feminist, I might even suggest that there is something rather strongly anti-woman in the notion that, to be valued as men's equals, they ought to come to resemble them.
To the male nerd eye, being valuable as a human being means doing things that are held in high esteem because they are the traditional purview of high-status males (and which male nerds secretly or openly want to be good at). Those things are largely fighting, exploring, engineering and hunting. To the male nerd SF writer, then, writing female roles that portray women positively means writing female roles that involve women being just as good at and as interested in fighting, exploring, engineering and hunting as men - and leaving it at that.
Lest it be said that I am advocating essentialism of the sexes, or something, I want to make it clear that what I mean is not that I want all women who appear in SF novels to be mothers, nurses and midwives. That isn't what I'm driving at, at all: what I want is strong female characters who plausibly appear to be women. Who are written in such a way that they appear to be like the women I know in real life - not just