Firebrands: The Heroines Of Science Fiction & Fantasy by Ron Miller and text by Pamela Sargent (book review)

With a title like ‘Firebrands: The Heroines Of Science Fiction & Fantasy’, this Paper Tiger book from 1998 deserved to have a look. Googling ‘Ron Miller’ and there are several people in the industry with that name., I suspect this Miller is a space artist normally. He’s good with design but his facial expressions are, I hate to say, rather bland. More so as several of the paintings here use the same model, you would have thought he might have got more nuisances in their expressions. Then again, considering the number of paintings here, it might be more a question of keeping up with the deadlines. Nudity abounds, too. Not with all characters but probably used as a selling point at the time.

Pamela Sargent’s text goes through the female characters in 4 chapters covering different eras up to the 1990s and if you’re looking for a particular character, use the index at the back which covers authors and book titles more than character names. I’m not familiar with her own SF novels. About the only thing I think she got wrong here was saying only women flew dragons on Pern when they principally bonded with the queens and the men with the other dragons.

The text doesn’t always match where the painting are in each chapter. I was also surprised that Asimov’s most famous character, Susan Calvin, was painted pretty than as his depiction more akin to a frump. When it comes to what any of these characters look like is always going to be up to interpretation so, unless you’re familiar with how the authors described their characters, you just have to go along with the flow. Oddly, although CJ Cherryh’s Chanur is mentioned in the text, she is one instance where there is no illustration.

It is inevitable with books like this , you’re going to start asking what heroines have been left out and why. Although I doubt if most people would regard Patricia Hardie aka Reesha from Van Vogt’s ‘Null-A’ books as worthy to belong here, you would have to ask where was Robert Heinlein’s Lazarus Long’s mother, Maureen Johnson, and Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Dragonsinger’ Harper Menolly, more so as they both had novels out by the time this book was released.

There is more emphasis on books than film or TV SF and fantasy heroines, although Leia and Ripley do get a mention.

One thing I found was noting various novels to look up for another time with interesting female lead characters which is always a good sign if you want to widen your reading tastes over several decades. Many of these books, I discovered, are a bit on the expensive side at the moment but I just add to my list.

Considering its some 25 years since this book was conceived, there have been a lot of SF and fantasy since then. Although some of this has been covered in more text based books, ‘Firebrands’ is more a pictorial look. Surely some publisher out there might want to try this route again. Not perhaps with one artist doing the work but, where possible, the book covers and see how different artists interpreted them.

GF Willmetts

May 2023

(pub: Paper Tiger, 1998. 112 page illustrated indexed softcover. Price: ??. ISBN: 1-85585-482-7)

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