I’ve written several books with kickass heroines; the two which are solo works are Grand Central Arena and Phoenix Rising, whose kickass heroines are, respectively, Captain Ariane Stephanie Austin of the Holy Grail, and Kyri Victoria Vantage, Phoenix Justiciar of the god Myrionar. In some ways the two women are similar – both know how to fight, both have the will to continue even when they’re badly beaten down in one way or another, and both are crusaders trying to protect the people who matter to them. But in other ways they’re quite dissimilar.
Ariane is a daredevil, a thrillseeker who used to race at orbital speeds because she found it fun, a partier and two-fisted brawler, a woman who never expected to have more responsibility than just making sure her pit crew was taken care of, and suddenly finds herself – quite literally – potentially responsible for the well-being of the entire human species. Kyri, by, contrast, is a much more serious character, very much aware of her responsibility to others as a member of the Vantage family (local lords/nobility), expecting to end up as either a priest of the god Myrionar or perhaps as an adventurer, who ends up chosen by Myrionar to be the one true Justiciar, holy warrior for the faith, to avenge the deaths of Kyri’s family and destroy the now-corrupt original group of Justiciars.
So to answer the original question, my first reaction is: the same measure as the Kickass Hero. What in the descriptions above couldn’t apply to various male characters? Nothing. And because of that, I don’t think of my characters as “Female Kickass Heroes”, but just as Kickass Heroes who just happen to have, as one of their less-relevant characteristics, the fact that they’re female.
So what’s a Kickass Hero, then? In my view, such a hero has to be both badass – able to lay the smackdown on even formidable opponents, so tough that they’re the kind of person that can get run through with a sword, and the guy doing the running-through is still terrified that this won’t be enough – and have other traits that make them notable, powerful within their field of expertise, so that their respect isn’t JUST from the fact that they can probably break anyone who disagrees with them.
Ariane and Kyri both fit that description to a T. When Amas-Garao realizes that Ariane keeps getting up, despite her being apparently utterly outmatched, his reaction is disbelief; no one could be that determined to get themselves killed, so willing to fight against impossible odds. When Kyri finally confronts the killer of her brother, even he cannot keep a momentary expression of fear and uncertainty from his face.
I should note that I like sympathetic kickasses, not grim-faced gritty angst-machines. While Kyri Vantage was, in some ways, originally envisioned as a fantasy-world Batman, I didn’t want her to be grim and humorless. She is fairly serious, but not devoid of humor, or of the ability to find enjoyment and fun in the world around her even though she has, honestly, lost much. Her losses, and her earnest intentions to try to save even those who have walked darker paths, make her – I hope – more human and appealing than she might be otherwise.
Ariane is playful and, admittedly, sometimes irresponsible, as one might expect from someone whose initial training was more for “Extreme Sports” than for “Interstellar Diplomat-At-Arms”, which is a better job description for her position in The Arena. This, plus her occasional almost paralyzing uncertainty as to whether she really, truly, is the right person for the staggering responsibilities resting on her shoulders, helps tell us that even as a heroine she is human.
The other measure of a true Kickass, as I said, is whether they can translate their badassery into something other than pure physical confrontation. Kyri Vantage does this in one of my absolute favorite scenes, when she demands that her god COME DOWN and explain itself to her. You read that right: she calls out her own deity and demands an explanation… and she gets one.
Ariane Austin, too, gets her own moment; it’s a quieter, more subtle moment, but in a conversation with someone who is, in all likelihood, the most utterly badass person she’s ever met – the product of an illegal and insane project to produce superhuman beings – she manages to take control of the conversation, give him advice, directions… and dismiss him, without giving Dr. Marc C. DuQuesne a chance to do more than simply agree.
So what measure is a Kickass Heroine? The same measure as any true Hero: three times as large as life, four times tougher, and five times scarier… and exactly one hundred percent human.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Ryk E. Spoor is a long-time gamer, SF/F fan, and author of science fiction and fantasy, published by Baen Books since 2003. His works range from hard SF to epic fantasy. He lives in Troy, NY with his wife, 4 children, and a poodle.