In 1957, Robert Heinlein published a story called "The Menace from Earth." It may not have been the first SF story with a young woman protagonist, but it was certainly the first I remember. Before that — and for some time thereafter — science fiction seemed to be largely limited to stories about men or boys. (Actually, I believe, the stories were about the possibilities of the science, and the device of male characters was used as the mechanism for telling those stories.) Even early women authors tended to use male protagonists. It might have been an attempt to better "fit" what were seen as the conventions of the genre, and it might have been an effort to be taken seriously as authors by others in the field.
Change comes slowly to SF. From the outset, the genre of fantasy was always seen as more receptive to stories whose main and/or point of view character was female. Thus, it is possible that the phenomenon of science fiction with female protagonists coming to its audience disguised as fantasy is not a surprise. About 20 years ago, that sub-genre appeared, and stories and books that felt like fantasy but had a serious scientific basis made their appearance. The two I can think of most readily are Joan D. Vinge's The Snow Queen (1980) and Sherri Tepper's Grass (1989). It was almost as if some authors had made a deliberate choice to slip women as protagonists into the field by stealth.
There were exceptions, of course — stories in which the SF component was very obvious, despite the presence of a main female character. One example was Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage (1968), which featured a young heroine. Very much like the decade-earlier Heinlein, however, it could be considered a YA work, rather than a mature exploration of womanliness against a background of a possible future. It seemed as if mid-twentieth-century SF would accept stories with female protagonists if those protagonists had not been nubile for a considerable length of time.
In the mid- to late-1970s, the awareness that women could be central to science fiction adventures created a new sub-genre, and a new way of slipping female characters in — by giving protagonists who could have been male, women's names. This trend came most famously to the forefront with Ridley Scott's film (screenplay by Dan O'Bannon) Alien. All of O'Bannon's original characters had been male, and Scott cast two women to play roles in the film without altering a single line of the script. It appeared at that point that the feminist argument that there were really no differences between men and women had come back to haunt us.
Because I believe there are indeed differences. I have a good friend who has been saying for years: "We know the plumbing is different. We need to consider that the wiring might be different as well."
Perhaps the evolution of women characters paralleled the evolution of women in science itself. Perhaps not. What matters now is that, while it still may be a minority, SF featuring women struggling with the problems of being women and the problems of possible futures has become much more accepted and even anticipated. Hence, Warrior Wisewoman.
Warrior Wisewoman seeks to explore different ways in which female protagonists might approach problems or answer questions in situations that, while not possible now, might someday occur. The contributions to this first volume of the anthology cross the spectrum of the history of the field (though we did not accept for publication any stories that appeared to follow the Alien model of "just change the name").
The basic questions raised by the title of the series itself are: "What makes a woman a warrior?" And: "What makes a woman wise?" A number of the submissions which did not make it to the anthology nailed the warrior part quite literally, with shooting and bleeding and clashing of armor — but somehow did not appear to have included the wisdom.
My personal belief is that there are many things that make a woman a warrior, and weapons are only one of these. The basic foundation for woman-as-warrior (or for man-as-warrior, for that matter) is strength. It does not have to be physical strength. Being a warrior requires only the need to fight for something. It does not have to be a physical struggle.
"Wisdom" is a much more nebulous concept to come by. Like pornography, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. And also very much like porn, not everyone will agree about what it is.
The stories in this volume of the anthology span a great many different examples of women as warriors, and a great many different types of wisdom. What they have in common is women, both young and mature, who show strength in their situations and wisdom in their choices. I have enjoyed meeting every one of them, and I trust you will, too.
— Roby James