Giving Women The Trousers Role — Changing History in Fiction

My first blog post for the New Year. Happy New Year to All!

Alternate history is not a new genre for fiction. There have always been stories that propose alternate outcomes to historical moments. Harry Turtledove has, for years, dominated shelves with his takes on the Civil War, World War II and even further back. We’ve seen episodes of The Twilight Zone that threw three American soldiers back into Custer’s Last Stand or an airplane that flies through  storm in the 1960s to end up in some other period of history.

Alternate history shares many ties with science fiction, fantasy and horror. Outlander propels a woman back from war-torn 1940s England to Scotland and Europe of the 1700s. Stories have turned Abraham Lincoln into a zombie hunter and now there’s going to be a movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (Um. Sure. Whatever)

The lure of alternate history is the chance to say “what-if”. More and more stories are not only suggesting changes in history or events, but who gets to play a role in those stories. Last year, I noticed an increase in alt-history stories about World War II. On Amazon, there is the series The Man in The High Castle: about an America conquered by the Third Reich and Japan. It’s based on the classic Philip K. Diick novel.

In Wolf to Wolf, a concentration camp survivor, a young girl, is the victim of horrible experiments and can change her physical appearance. She is now a member of the resistance, plotting to kill Adolph Hitler well after the Third Reich won the war and has conquered much of Europe.

This month, the Goodreads newsletter features an interview by author Michael Grant about his new series Front Lines (Soldier Girls series)–it’s about a change in America’s draft policy during World War II that opens enlistment in the armed forces to women. Three women sign up to fight.

In this story of alternate history, the circumstances haven’t changed so much as the participants. For the Allies of WW2, women were not permitted to serve in combat (there were several female pilot units in the Soviet Union, but they were rare), yet women did end up in dangerous places on the front lines as nurses, ferry pilots and support staff.

Putting women in “trouser roles”, roles previously associated with and exclusive only to men, changes the stakes in these stories and brings up questions regarding gender. Last year, the U.S. military made an unprecedented announcement that women would be permitted to hold any post in the armed forces. This is a radical choice, since so many arguments have come from political and military lines about not having women in dangerous posts. Also last year, two women made it through the elite Army Ranger school. Many more women are lining up for a chance to follow them. There have been discussions across the Internet regarding equal pay and equal opportunities regardless of gender (most notably in Hollywood).  Then there was “HugoGate”, a small number of authors who tried to stuffed the ballot box for the Hugo Awards, demanding only “classic science fiction”, (whatever that means), and not science fiction stories that offers voices for LGBT or different gender roles  be allowed to win the awards.

So it comes as no surprise that in our fiction, we are re-examining the past and asking “what if” and expanding the question to not just the historical event, but the people who played a role in that event. I am pleased to see more of these kinds of stories and cannot wait to hear about the reaction to my own book, Darkest Hour. (Yes, I’m inserting a shameless promo here because it’s my blog and I can write about anything I want, hah!)

And speaking of my book, I’ve been informed that typesetting is almost finished and I should get a galley-proof very soon. In the meantime, those who would like a chance to receive a free copy of the book are invited to complete the form below. All entries will receive a bookmark or a promotional card featuring the cover’s artwork.

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