I am glad to welcome Bethany Blanton as the SciFi Woman for July 2017! I met her through the online Star Wars community and am delighted she accepted to be featured on this series.
Musician, reader, podcaster, Air Force officer, student of all things, lover of oceans, and enthusiast of Tolkien, Star Wars, health, fitness, travel, and many other things, Bethany Blanton is the co-founder and Executive Editor of the Star Wars Report. Find her on Twitter @BethanyLBlanton. This interview represents only the opinions of Bethany Blanton and not of any other person or organization.
NG: How were you first introduced to Science Fiction?
BLANTON: I was first introduced to science fiction as a child by my father, who would tell me and my younger brother science fiction and fantasy inspired stories. In large part due to my sister’s influence, as a child I grew up with knights and castles, dragons and fairies, and eventually that branched into science fiction too. King Arthur was one of my childhood heroes, and I read Howard Pyle’s books over and over again. My dad’s stories closely echoed those about a farm boy on far away planets, and a crownless ranger doing good deeds until taking back his thrown from the evil in the east. Eventually I read The Chronicles of Narnia, then The Hobbit, and then The Lord of the Rings. I watched Star Trek, and Star Wars, and loved all things fantastic that sparked my imagination and the hero’s journey that inspired me.
NG: What place does Science Fiction have in your life?
BLANTON: Science fiction and Fantasy are entertaining to be sure, but they are important in my life because they continue to inspire me. Putting on The Force Awakens or listening to an audiobook of The Fellowship of the Ring help remind me of courage in the face of the dark side, hope when all appears lost, friendship when in the Shire or in Mordor. In short, the hero’s journey is inspiring, and when portrayed in a setting reminiscent of our lives, but fantastical in nature, can strike home sometimes more clearly than more “realistic” tales. Sci-fi and fantasy also play a community role in my life. I have so many good friends made through our mutual interest of the genre, and now those friendships have expanded beyond mutual interest. These are people who’ve been with me through times and bad, and helped support me in RL, and not just ‘online’.
NG: What are your three favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy books, TV shows, and movies?
BLANTON: Oh, this is always a tricky question, so I’ll cheat and give three of each. For fantasy hands down is The Lord of the Rings. I fell in love with Tolkien’s Middle-earth a long time ago, and that love has never waned. TV show would probably be Legend of the Seeker, because most shows I think of are more Sci-fi in nature and less fantasy. My favorite Fantasy movie, surprise surprise, is also The Lord of the Rings, specifically The Two Towers. For Science Fiction, my favorite book is Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein. I adored this book as a child. I’ll admit I haven’t read much Science Fiction outside of Star Wars books though. My favorite Science Fiction TV show is the Battlestar Galactica remake, a very compelling show. And of course, the Star Wars films are my favorite Science Fiction movies, though I struggle to define which is my favorite.
NG: What are the Science Fiction female characters you have found most significant?
BLANTON: Princess Leia was a character I loved from when I first saw her. She is a classic example of a leader with realistic flaws, has a distinct personality, and showed me that there were movies in which the main female lead could be a sibling of one of the male leads, fall in love with the other male lead, and yet hold her own during that as a unique character with an interesting personality.
Eowyn has been one of my favorite female characters in fantasy because despite her many fears, and a life that has in many ways beat her down, she still acts with extraordinary courage. Her fears are so well defined in both the books and movies, that her courage stands as an example for those of us who weren’t born into a warrior/leader role, like many of the men around her. Yet she learns she can still love, still be vulnerable, at the same time.
Galadriel is like a female Yoda to me, and is one of the first female characters I encountered who was a leader more in the sense of wisdom and council, and her role as being somewhat equivalent to Gandalf was rare.
Ahsoka Tano was a later example of a female character in a “silly children’s cartoon” (that’s how I thought of The Clone Wars initially) who started out as a snippy, insubordinate child and matured into a true leader with a multidimensional personality. I’m so happy The Clone Wars didn’t stereotype her into a super powerful, pink, perfect-yet-prissy Jedi. Her last arc in The Clone Wars was a surprising but perfect character moment, and not at all cliche.
Rey is incredible. I loved having a Star Wars movie with a female lead, and especially one who was well done. Seeing The Force Awakens doing so well in the box office was also cool. I can’t wait to learn more about her in December.
NG: What do you think of the relationship between Science Fiction and Fantasy?
BLANTON: I’d thought of Sci-Fi as predominately involving advanced technology, often in or involving space travel, occurring in the future or a different realm. Fantasy I thought of as involving magic, unexplained by science, often involving magical creatures like unicorns, spells, quests, wizards, etc. But, especially more recently, both genres have been borrowing from each other. The Shannara Chronicles (both books and TV versions) take place far into the future after some sort of apocalypse, and involves a sort of post-technology world that has magic. I think what both genres share is a sense of mystery, imagination, and a pursuit of something greater, whether that be like Star Trek‘s theme to ‘boldly go where no one has gone’ or like The Lord of the Ring‘s ‘even the smallest person can change the course of the future’. This is why both genres resonate with me.
NG: Can you tell us about your experience with the Star Wars Report?
BLANTON: The Star Wars Report had it’s origins in The Bothan Report way back in 2010. Just prior to Star Wars Celebration V, my brother and I were planning on starting the podcast The Bothan Report with a friend of ours, Mark Hurliman. Celebration V was my first Celebration, and gave us a lot of the impetus to begin. A while later, we re-branded to The Star Wars Report, which, amusingly enough, had been one of my suggestions for a name early on. I have loved being a part of Star Wars Report since the beginning, and since then we’ve grown into a network of podcasts and writers all passionate about sharing our love of Star Wars and supporting each other while doing so.
Over the years I’ve experienced good and bad in the fan community. Occasionally I’ve been the recipient of different types of negative behavior ranging from questioning of my ‘true’ fandom because of being a girl to being propositioned. Fortunately this isn’t typical of my experience in that positive interactions happen more frequently than negative, but I believe it could be helpful for people to know that this does happen to women online in every community, to varying degrees. Overall, my experience of being a part of the fan community is what keeps me coming back to Star Wars. Some of my best friends I’ve met online or at conventions through Star Wars, and I wouldn’t trade that.
NG: In light of Carrie Fisher’s passing in December 2016, what influence did she have on you?
BLANTON: Most of Carrie Fisher’s influence on me was through her character of Leia, as discussed above. But, Carrie herself was an amazing human, and her ability to be humorous and deeply genuine at the same time about serious issues such as mental health and drug abuse was an amazing example to anyone who knew her or followed her work. Being open about things you struggle with in whatever forum you’re comfortable with, either online or with your family/friends, is a strength, even when some people don’t react well, or are jerks.
NG: Do you think that Science Fiction is a genre welcoming to women?
BLANTON: I think the genre itself has become far friendlier to women, both in representation and in character roles and story-arcs, but there are areas of improvement to be made. The community has become friendlier over the years overall, but I’ve also found that un-friendlies, if I can make up a term, have become increasingly violent and vocal as well. Stalkers, threats, propositions, intimidation… I’ve seen a rise in these things either with myself or with others I know since becoming involved online. Perhaps it’s a reaction to women becoming more prevalent in Sci-Fi (both fictional characters and real women participating online), and/or perhaps those opposed to women becoming more prevalent may feel threatened by this, or the need to vocalize more insistently against it. But, in recent years it’s more common to be a ‘geek’, and less negatively stereotyped. Because of geekiness becoming mainstream, I think more people are involved in Sci-Fi communities, so it doesn’t seem as odd when a woman is on a podcast, or involves herself in the community some way, which is a good thing!
NG: Do you think Science Fiction helps fostering discussion about women’s issues?
BLANTON: I think it does. Sci-Fi and fantasy often challenge many kinds of stereotypes (cultural, gender, technology, lifestyle, etc.), making it a perfect place to explore different visions of different worlds. Worlds where women are leaders and warriors, or technology is radically different, or people have a vastly different culture, or an odd environment, wear different clothes, travel different ways, or re-conceptualize work… all of these visions help people to consider what-ifs, and to challenge norms in culture. Challenging something is positive, because you can challenge something and find that, as far as you can tell after examining it, it seems like a positive thing with positive outcomes. Or, it could be a negative thing you’re glad you finally took the time to examine and think about. Recognizing problems, and recognizing positive things are necessary for improving our world and our lives so that action can be taken to change, or maintain/improve.
NG: What are you mostly looking forward in the future of the Star Wars franchise?
BLANTON: This is easy: more movies!!!
NG: Thank you very much for being with us today, Bethany! My readers will be happy to check out The Star Wars Report.