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Fantastically Scientific Moms: A Mother's Day Reading and Viewing List
Moms are great. Those fortunate enough to have or be married to good moms know that these wonderful women are the perfect combination of unconditional affection and drill sergeant toughness. It is inevitable that such wonderful women get memorable fictional portrayals. These are counterbalanced by the wealth of novels and films dealing with crazed, deceitful, manipulative, creepy, and downright satanic mothers. It stands to reason that with such a huge range of maternal and not-so-maternal characters in fiction, a few would find their way to other worlds and magical realms.
For those of you not in Mother's Day panic-shopping mode, I present a short list of moms, good and bad, in science fiction and fantasy. Find or request these titles at your local library today! A word of warning: there may be minor spoilers here as some books and movies are parts of different, ongoing series.
It takes moxie to survive a horde of the walking dead. It takes even more moxie to do so while simultaneously raising a pre-teen son. Also, your husband, his father, is presumed dead after a shootout that left him stranded in a hospital overrun by ravenous zombies.
Lori Grimes, as played by Sarah Wayne Callies in The Walking Dead, and shown in the graphic novel series the show is based on, is a protective, loving, and tough-minded mother to Carl. She's also got her share of flaws, but hey, it's a zombie apocalypse. Perfection doesn't survive that.
While we're on the subject of apocalypses and mothers with moxie, it would be a disservice not to mention Sarah Connor. Anyone who watched Terminator will remember the terrifying android killer's pulse-pounding leitmotif as it stalks Sarah and her protector.
Fast forward a few years, and suddenly she's toting automatic weapons, shotguns, and planting bombs. While she wasn't the ideal mom to John Connor, being incarcerated for much of his life, she is a fierce guardian to the boy with just enough maternal instinct to trust him when he shows up with a perfect replica of the killer she fled so many years ago. As tough moms go, it's pretty hard to top Sarah (played by Linda Hamilton) in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Moving into the realms of magic and dragons in the classic Earthsea Cycle, we encounter Tenar, former high priestess of the Nameless Ones in Ursula K. LeGuin's Newberry Honor book, The Tombs of Atuan. It has been several years since the events of that book, and Tenar has settled onto a remote farm in Gont.
I read Tehanu long ago in my misspent youth (no, reading sci-fi and fantasy was not the misspent part), and one thing that always struck me about this book was Tenar's willingness to adopt and raise a maimed, abused girl after already losing her husband and seeing two fully grown children off into their lives. She continues in this task despite the turmoil brought into their lives by her old friend and rescuer Ged. Her perseverance and generosity of maternal spirit make Tenar stick out in my mind as one of the great moms in fantasy.
Miles Vorkosigan is a survivor. He's also precocious, intelligent, strong-willed, and quick-witted in the extreme. He has to be since he is permanently crippled; the result of a toxic gas attack during an assassination attempt on his parents. His bones are forever brittle and he won't ever clear five feet in height. His mother, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, was pregnant with Miles at the time of the attack, which also sterilized his father. Because of the sterilization, Cordelia went to extremes to save the fetus, transplanting the baby in an artificial womb.
While she plays a minor role in Lois McMaster Bujold's Young Miles (the only book I've read thus far in the Vorkosigan Saga), there is enough background in this omnibus and enough hints to demonstrate that this is not atypical behavior on Cordelia's part. Before attracting the eye of Aral Vorkosigan, one of the most powerful Vor Lords of Barrayar, she was a deep space explorer and ship commander in her own right. She gave this up to accompany her husband to the socially backward world of Barrayar during a civil war. Tough cookie would be an understatement when describing Cordelia.
As events in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire begin to pick up steam with the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, Cersei Lannister comes into her own as the fierce protector of her royal children. "Wait," I hear you saying. "Isn't Cersei one of the biggest villains in the series?" Yep, but I never said the moms on this list were going to be moral paragons.
Cersei may not be the picture of virtue, but she is motivated by an abiding, if somewhat twisted, maternal love for her offspring. Much of her political maneuvering is done ostensibly to preserve the future of her children as the War of the Five Kings devastates Westeros. Her house symbol, fittingly enough, is that of a lion rampant, as she's given plenty of opportunity to spread her claws on behalf of her children.
It's fierce maternal instinct meets gruesomely fierce maternal instinct in Aliens, James Cameron's sequel to Ridley Scott's masterpiece. Sigourney Weaver, as Lt. Ellen Ripley, puts on a show of force and bravery defending Newt, the last survivor of a colony infested with the horrific parasites from the first movie. Parasites with faces only a mother could love, as the old saw goes.
Sure enough, the brood mother makes her appearance as well. It's the kind of cinematic showdown popcorn was made for, so maybe borrow a copy from your local library branch and watch as an epic smackdown ensues. Yes. I said smackdown. And epic. Pretty much the best way to describe it.
All moms need a break now and then from raising and worrying over little ones. Dowager Royina (queen) Ista of Chalion is in dire need of such a vacation. Imagine you've been married off to the ruler of a nation. Now imagine you've lost both your husband and your son to a curse that hangs over the royal family. Pile on top of that the worry you must feel for your last surviving child.
You would need a break too. Ista leaves her home after the events of The Curse of Chalion, going on a religious pilgrimage, only to wind up embroiled in border warfare, and made a saint by the god known as the Bastard. The Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold, follows this unusual saint through magical curses, warfare, and an unlikely romance.
As a last recommendation for science fiction featuring good moms, I will point you to "The Devil in the Dark," an episode from the first season of Star Trek. Miners are being slaughtered by a mysterious creature in the shafts. What does this have to do with motherhood? Check out our Star Trek, the Original Series: Season One DVDs to find out. To say more would spoil it.