So call me late to the game, but I came across Scott Lynch's "Gentleman Bastards" series earlier in the year. I devoured Book I (Lies of Locke Lamora) and am nearly finished with Book II (Red Seas Under Red Skies) and holy shit everyone. This guy. THIS GUY.
Quick synopsis: Our main characters, Locke and Jean, are professional thieves based in a really sweaty, ornate, fantasy version of mediaeval Venice. The plot involves intricately planned heists, undermining a circle of organized crime, some fucking hilarious situational humor, and witty dialogue that never comes across as forced.
Its main cast is also primarily male—at least in Book I. Early on in the book, a fairly badass female character is straight-up fridged, and I almost put the book down. I just couldn't handle yet another fantasy book trying to act like women can be tough and formidable whilst simultaneously allowing those female characters to be bested by their male peers or killed to move the plot along. Fuck that. Fuck that with a bag of hammers, I say. But I decided to give Lynch the benefit of the doubt and keep reading, because he peppered women in everywhere. Female guards, spies, laborers, merchants, shark-wrestlers(!!!), alchemists, etc. Whorehouses operated by women, wherein rape or abuse are not tolerated. And absolutely no drooly physical descriptions of every single woman the protags run into, thank fucking god. It's almost as if women exist in this fantasy world! And contribute to society! In equal numbers as men!
Moving on to Book II: Far more women in the main cast. Powerful women! Ugly women! Women who have sex with the main characters! Women who do important things other than that! There's a prominent female engineer, an elderly lesbian pirate captain. A less-elderly female pirate captain with two toddlers who does not play, an all-female royal navy, and lots of female pirates in general. And in this world, all these women are just people. No huge deal is made about the fact that they're women. They just come into the story and play their awesome parts, and we don't hear all about their bodies or their mysterious womanly ways. We hear about the shit they do. It is so motherfucking refreshing. There's a council of five pirate captains and their first mates, and out of the ten people assembled I think maybe three are men (including only two of three captains). And no one notices! There's no mention of "golly, sure are lots of women here in these leadership positions" or that it's a woman's world or whateverthefuck—short of a few lines earlier in the book about how women make great officers, and how it's considered insanely unlucky to have an all-male crew. Grand! All of it!
And it gets even BETTER, because of course, a few sad assholes could not handle reading a book wherein female humans do things instead of exist to make the male characters feel things. And thus commenced a most incredible bitch-slap to misogyny from the author himself, one of the best I've seen to date. Enjoy:
Asshat: Your characters are unrealistic stereotpyes of political correctness. Is it really necessary for the sake of popular sensibilities to have in a fantasy what we have in the real world? I read fantasy to get away from politically correct cliches.
Lynch: God, yes! If there’s one thing fantasy is just crawling with these days it’s widowed black middle-aged pirate moms.
Asshat: Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man’s world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it!
Lynch: First, I will pretend that your last sentence makes sense because it will save us all time. Second, now you’re pissing me off.
You know what? Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I realized this as she was evolving on the page, and you know what? I fucking embrace it.
Why shouldn’t middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? Everyone else does. H.L. Mencken once wrote that “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” I can’t think of anyone to whom that applies more than my own mom, and the mothers on my friends list, with the incredible demands on time and spirit they face in their efforts to raise their kids, preserve their families, and save their own identity/sanity into the bargain.
Shit yes, Zamira Drakasha, leaping across the gap between burning ships with twin sabers in hand to kick in some fucking heads and sail off into the sunset with her toddlers in her arms and a hold full of plundered goods, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy from hell. I offer her up on a silver platter with a fucking bow on top; I hope she amuses and delights. In my fictional world, opportunities for butt-kicking do not cease merely because one isn’t a beautiful teenager or a muscle-wrapped font of testosterone. In my fictional universe, the main characters are a fat ugly guy and a skinny forgettable guy, with a supporting cast that includes “SBF, 41, nonsmoker, 2 children, buccaneer of no fixed abode, seeks unescorted merchant for light boarding, heavy plunder.”
You don’t like it? Don’t buy my books. Get your own fictional universe. Your cabbage-water vision of worldbuilding bores me to tears.
As for the “man’s world” thing, religious sentiments and gender prejudices flow differently in this fictional world. Women are regarded as luckier, better sailors than men. It’s regarded as folly for a ship to put to sea without at least one female officer; there are several all-female naval military traditions dating back centuries, and Drakasha comes from one of them. As for claims to “realism,” your complaint is of a kind with those from bigoted hand-wringers who whine that women can’t possibly fly combat aircraft, command naval vessels, serve in infantry actions, work as firefighters, police officers, etc. despite the fact that they do all of those things— and are, for a certainty, doing them all somewhere at this very minute. Tell me that a fit fortyish woman with 25+ years of experience at sea and several decades of live bladefighting practice under her belt isn’t a threat when she runs across the deck toward you, and I’ll tell you something in return— you’re gonna die of stab wounds.
What you’re really complaining about isn’t the fact that my fiction violates some objective “reality,” but rather that it impinges upon your sad, dull little conception of how the world works. I’m not beholden to the confirmation of your prejudices; to be perfectly frank, the prospect of confining the female characters in my story to placid, helpless secondary places in the narrative is so goddamn boring that I would rather not write at all. I’m not writing history, I’m writing speculative fiction. Nobody’s going to force you to buy it. Conversely, you’re cracked if you think you can persuade me not to write about what amuses and excites me in deference to your vision, because your vision fucking sucks.
Asshat: I do not expect to change your mind but i hope that you will at least consider that I and others will not be buying your work because of these issues. I have been reading science fiction and fantasy for years and i know that I speak for a great many people. I hope you might stop to think about the sales you will lose because you want to bring your political corectness and foul language into fantasy. if we wanted those things we could go to the movies. Think about this!
Lynch: Thank you for your sentiments. I offer you in exchange this engraved invitation to go piss up a hill, suitable for framing.
In summation: MARRY ME, SCOTT LYNCH.