Friday, October 25, 2013

A Dearth of Disabled Protagonists

The only disabled protagonists I can offer for consideration (who hasn't already been mentioned this week) are Helva from Anne McCaffrey's book The Ship Who Sang and Miles Vorkosigan from the series of the same name by Lois McMaster Bujold.

McCaffrey wrote several books in her Ship Who series, all with different protagonists. In these books, science has come up with options for severe physical disability - one of which is becoming the 'brain' of a space ship. From that respect, I don't know if the heroines of these stories qualify as disabled protagonists. It isn't as if their physical limitations are magically removed - but if you've given up a body entirely and had your brain installed as the nerve center of a space ship - what is that exactly?

Miles Vorkosigan (from Amazon): ". . .Washed out of the Barrayaran Military Academy for being overly fragile (he had been biochemically damaged during an assassination attempt while still in his mother's womb), Miles' natural (if unorthodox) leadership qualities quickly led to his off-handedly acquiring a fleet of nineteen ships and three thousand troops, all unswervingly loyal to him. . ." Because of the biochemical attack, Miles' growth was stunted. His bones are brittle and his spine malformed. His disability is not remedied in the course of the stories. In fact, as the conflict and the pressure on him rises, the worse his pain becomes. He's an utterly charismatic character. If fiction characters came to life, he'd be one of the first I'd want to hang with. We'd be up to our necks in trouble within an hour and grinning while we fought our way back out, although there's a good chance I'd die.

This is the long way of admitting that, in my reading, there has been a dearth of protagonists with more than a few surface scars.  Is it my choice of reading material? Romance novels, until the past decade, had an interesting tendency to shy away from 'issues'. "It's an issues book." in your reviews was kind of a sales killer for awhile. Romance got over that in a big way from a psychological standpoint, but not from a physical standpoint. So far. Science fiction, too, tends to deal with physical disability by 'fixing' it with technology. Cyborgs, anyone?

While the heroine of my third (still in the works) SFR is deaf, I cheat and give her technology so she can compensate a little bit. I also give her an addiction to that compensation, but that's another story. This heroine's deafness does not define her. It's a single, minor aspect that makes her who she is. She starts the story hearing impaired, she finishes the story the same way, and her deafness has no impact on whether the conflict of her story is resolved or not. Why is she deaf, then, you ask? Because when she walked up and informed me I'd be writing her story, she eventually told me so.

Still. This heroine can hide her disability for a long time. You can't look at her and see that she's hearing-impaired. I guess the closest to physical disability I've written so far has been a cyborg hero (yeah, his story is still in progress, too, sorry). His cyborg implants are obvious, but they, too are compensating for lost limbs. He suffers no loss of motor skill or function, so that's hardly physically disabled, is it? Am I afraid to deal with a protagonist in a wheel chair? Or a heroine who came back from a warzone missing a leg? Maybe so. Writing either character sure feels scary to me, which means I'll have to try.

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