The smash hit success of Gravity proves that when it comes to space, women are just as compelling as men (and, in honesty, it also shows that it you pitch a story on special effects, no one cares which sex the protagonist is). But Sandra Bullock, impressive as she is in the role, is only one in a long line of women showing us that space isn’t just for the boys. So here’s my totally subjective list of wonderful women in space… you could almost say they’re out of this world. (Sorry).
Ripley, the Alien films
If there’s one woman who shows that you don’t need to be a guy to kick ass, it’s Ellen Ripley. Though Sigourney Weaver’s femininity was downplayed to great effect for the almost gender-neutral environs the films create (reinforced in the second movie where marine Vasquez is simply one of the guys – although obviously one of the coolest, most bad ass guys), she’s perhaps most memorable when her maternal instincts kick in, as one pissed off momma bear goes head to head with another. With the one line – “Get away from her, you bitch!” – she made cinematic history and turned Ripley into one of the most iconic figures (male or female) in science fiction.
Zoe and Kaylee, Firefly
Which, I know, is cheating since it takes this list up to six, but hey ho – you can always trust Whedon to come up with the goods. While River is seen as fairly problematic by many fans, few could argue with the awesomeness of no-nonsense ex-soldier Zoe Washburne (the sublime Gina Torres) and delightfully ditzy Kaylee Frye. In the show’s tragically-cut-short-too-soon run, Whedon managed to give both characters plenty of nuance: Zoe was every inch the disillusioned warrior as much as Mal was, but her marriage always seemed warm and believable, whereas Kaylee could yearn after frilly frocks, but even when wearing them she couldn’t stop
talking about her true love – the intricacies of spaceship engineering. God, I still miss Firefly.
Starbuck, Battlestar Galatica
In a show filled with nuanced, smartly written female characters – any one of whom could be mentioned here – it is, of course, the cigar-smoking, officer-punching pilot Kara Thrace who wins the prize. Rarely are female characters allowed to be as screwed up as men, but Starbuck is epically and unrepentantly so, and far, far cooler than the original male incarnation.
Servalan, Blake’s 7
Although I shall always have a fondness for Josette Simon’s Dayna, it was always going to be villainess Servalan who stole the show. Jacqueline Peace clearly relished every moment playing the evil-yet-always-impeccably-dressed baddie, whose chemistry with Avon smouldered even at gunpoint. One of the key figures in my childhood who made me think there was more to life than being the good girl.
Uhura, Star Trek
Of course you can’t mention great women in space without referencing the original Uhura – a character so groundbreaking that when Nichelle Nichols wanted to quit the show, none other than a certain Dr Martin Luther King told her she shouldn’t. No disrespect to Zoe Saldana, who does a very nice job in the reboot, but Nichols is, quite simply, a part of science fiction history, as well as being a key figure in changing the way people of colour were represented in popular culture. Nichols – a woman who genuinely seems as gracious and classy as she is beautiful and talented – has used her fame well, inspiring others to explore space in both fame and fiction (Whoopi Goldberg, who of course also played a part in the franchise, has said that seeing Nichols on TV in such a non-stereotypical role was a formative influence, and Nichols also took part in NASA recruitment drives).
So, who did I miss? Tell me in the comments…
And, self-promotion alert, I have a new book out! If you like vampires, snark and… um, fringe theatre, then check out my tale of murder at the Fringe, A Vampire in Edinburgh.