Schooling a reader who doesn't like female, middle-aged, black pirate captains

A reader of Scott Lynch's fantasy novels upbraided him for daring to have a black, middle-aged woman running a pirate crew, calling it a "politically correct cliche" and went on to say "Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man’s world (sic)." Lynch's response was appropriately scathing, and rather wonderful.

You know what? Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I realized this as she was evolving on the page, and you know what? I fucking embrace it.

Why shouldn’t middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? Everyone else does. H.L. Mencken once wrote that “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” I can’t think of anyone to whom that applies more than my own mom, and the mothers on my friends list, with the incredible demands on time and spirit they face in their efforts to raise their kids, preserve their families, and save their own identity/sanity into the bargain.

Shit yes, Zamira Drakasha, leaping across the gap between burning ships with twin sabers in hand to kick in some fucking heads and sail off into the sunset with her toddlers in her arms and a hold full of plundered goods, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy from hell. I offer her up on a silver platter with a fucking bow on top; I hope she amuses and delights. In my fictional world, opportunities for butt-kicking do not cease merely because one isn’t a beautiful teenager or a muscle-wrapped font of testosterone. In my fictional universe, the main characters are a fat ugly guy and a skinny forgettable guy, with a supporting cast that includes “SBF, 41, nonsmoker, 2 children, buccaneer of no fixed abode, seeks unescorted merchant for light boarding, heavy plunder.”

You don’t like it? Don’t buy my books. Get your own fictional universe. Your cabbage-water vision of worldbuilding bores me to tears.


Not to mention that woman pirate captains were numerous enough to fill an entire (and excellent) history book on the subject.

Fuck Yeah SciFi/Fantasy WOC (via Making Light)



  1. That is fabulous. Do you know *where* he said it? The link takes us to a Tumblr that quotes him without linking to the source. If I wanted to, say, leave a supportive comment for him I wouldn’t know where to do it.

    Tumblr is where context goes to die.

  2. It’s more than a little sad that this is the type of person that Lynch calls a “wish fulfillment character.”

    I have never understood people’s love of violence and I probably never will.

      1. Is anyone else put off by Lynch’s needless slam against cabbage water? It’s a nutritious, tasty replacement for corn-syrup-laden sodas, and can be quite locovore-friendly.

      2. The original point was not so interesting and so we’re trying to steer the thread in a different direction.

          1. Are you suggesting people have wish-fulfillment fantasies of swooping in and daringly derailing entire threads, with a devil-may-care insouciance and the consequences be damned?

        1. So because you’re not interested in the original point, you feel entitled to derail the discussion. Noted.

  3. I’m confused. There were female pirates and a few were in command.

    The Red Lady for instance, tricked people into bringing her on a ship then promptly killed everyone and sailed away (though she had to have help and/or keep someone alive since you couldn’t sail one of those ships single-handed).

    During the golden age of piracy, there was Anne Bonny and Mary Read among others.

    1. Exactly!  Also, rape was an infraction punishable by death on at least some pirate ships as well.  This notion of pirates as high-seas savages engaging in whatever behavior their ids desired is a historically incorrect fantasy.

      1. Exactly, and not just for reasons of morality.  Pirates and Vikings didn’t do anything that would hurt the value of the cargo they acquired.  A nobleman’s daughter was of far more value to them if they could ransom her back to her rellies unscathed.

      2. “…is a historically incorrect fantasy.”

         To be fair, we’re talking about fantasy novels.

        Not that that makes the anti-woman guy correct, but, you know.

  4. Sorry to burst his bubble, but they were also quite gay, and NOT because of the whole sequestered at sea thing. The surprising fact is that society was WAY more progressive in those early centuries than today. Interesting read :)


  5. Zheng Shi (郑氏), a woman who commanded (yes, that word) 1,800 ships and 80,000 pirates (most of whom were not children or women; i.e., men) in the China Sea during the early 1800s, dominated the British and Chinese navies, which eventually gave up trying to bring her to heel. Admittedly she wasn’t black, but she had formerly been a prostitute. That should give Lynch’s “cabbage-water” world builder something to complain about. 

    I tell you, all this political correctness… it’s enough to make a woman pirate marry, retire and start a casino!

    1. My favourite pirate of all time. Why isn’t there a movie of this woman’s life? She just got a miserable couple of lines in Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

        1. We’re talking about a series with Aztec curses, an undead monkey, sailing to the underworld to bring someone back from the dead, a kraken, a compass that points in the direction of whatever you desire, mermaids, the Fountain of Youth, and several swordfights involving impossible physics.

          I don’t think the writers felt too constrained by not having rigorous historical documentation.

        2. I’m not a historian, still less a Chinese-reading one, but Madame Zheng seems to be at least as well documented as the other women pirates mentioned here.

          As to the subject of documenting women in history generally, I refer you to Tansy Rayner Roberts.

          I’ll quote the important bit:

          History is actually a long series of centuries of men writing down what they thought was important and interesting, and FORGETTING TO WRITE ABOUT WOMEN.

      1. I know what you mean. She was an awesome pirate, not just an awesome woman pirate. Her life would make for an amazing movie. I will have a look around at Hong Kong and mainland cinema and TV to see if there’s been anything done here.

    2. I was about to bring this up, so thanks for doing it for me.

      The most successful pirate in human history was female, middle aged, and not white.  (Success isn’t commanding men, or ships, or treasure.  Success is when major governments go “OK, truce, retire with the money, just don’t hurt us anymore!”)

  6. Nice to see some folks pointing out the facts :)

    I was surprised that it was not mentioned in the post itself … :)

    (edit: And now I see that my RSS reader cut out the blurb at the end, where it was mentioned. Hah.)

    1. I can’t help but smile at ‘real sea pirates’.

      Not that they’re not based on real historical events, because they are, but I don’t read it much differently to someone complaining about the accurate portrayal of hobbits.

  7. thank God for you, @opendna, I was just about to go looking for a citation for Grace O’Malley – she headed up a pirate clan that worked both sea and land alike, even owning (now heritage listed) sea forts complete with ‘murder holes’ and other such refinements whilst still being a mum to 4-5 kids! But yeah, fantasy novel is fantasy, shock horror:)

  8. Okay, hands up everyone who put this series on their wishlists entirely because of this post?

    (hand up)

  9. Cory should’ve kept quoting Lynch.  There’s some fun stuff not to be missed:

    Tell me that a fit fortyish woman with 25+ years of experience at sea and several decades of live bladefighting practice under her belt isn’t a threat when she runs across the deck toward you, and I’ll tell you something in return— you’re gonna die of stab wounds.

  10. Even Tom Clancy, that favourite author of middle-class “Why do I read these damn spy novels?” ( — “Heathers”) pipe-chewing dads, made a point of writing ‘Shoot the woman first’, because he acknowledged they had to work twice as hard and be twice as tough to be terrists. pew pew

  11. I beg to differ on the whole sexist male pirate society thing. First some sources:

    So why’s our picture of swashbuckling macho pirates probably wrong? Because pirates wheren’t the gangsters of the sea they’re often portrait to be. We know that one notable source of piracy in the caribean is the brutal disciplinary rule on military and merchant vessels. I think there was some study into that which found that actual caribean pirates society was egalitarian, not authoritarian. It’s far easier to understand how an egalitarian society of outcasts would be inclusive and less stereotypical than their “civilized” authoritarian counterparts.

    1. Exactly.  A lot of pirates were deserting military and commercial sailors, which is hardly surprising given the ‘recruitment’ techniques of the period.

      (Actually, they kind of were the gangsters of the sea they’re portrayed to be, but that’s the point.  A gang actually has a much more egalitarian power structure than, say, a military unit.  A lot of pirate groups had pretty reasonable membership contracts.)

      1. Very good point. Take a look at Perez-Reverte’s Pirates of the Levant ( In the Captain Alatriste series) which makes point that Barbary Coast piracy was fed by the expulsion of the Moriscos from Valencia in 1607.

        Also pirates of the Carribean were notorious Sodomites.

    1.  I’m already thinking of other examples that it could be applied to. I’ve run across gamemasters for RPGs who arbitrarily ban certain types of characters or characteristics thereof because they think that they’re “unrealistic” or too silly.

  12. Off to request Scott Lynch’s books from the library. Sounds like I’ll love them; thanks for pointing him out!

  13. Not to spoil the moment or anything, but am I the only person to whom the woman pictured on the cover does not appear to be even slightly black?

    1. Missed your comment and just asked the same thing. I love his stance, why not take it with the publisher too?

    2. Uh, did you notice that the author of the book pictured was Jo Stanley and not Scott Lynch? That book wasn’t the subject of the original whinging about women in piracy, the image was used to back up Scott Lynch’s response.

      1. No, I didn’t expect it to be pictured with a different book and found that confusing. Now I’m just super curious what the book actually *is* like.

    3. BOLD IN HER BREECHES isn’t my book. 

      Most of the editions of RED SEAS were illustrated with some variation on ships on sea, ships on fire, or abstract stylization/trade dress. The only major exception I can think of is the Russian edition, which has a female pirate on the cover who is very obviously not black, pictured with a number of other Sir Not Appearing In This Novel types. Which is a shame, because the Russian cover for their version of LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA was astounding in its veracity to the text, and gorgeous to boot. 

      It is very weird, seeing my poor crank (as I wrote, my very first ever note from a crazy person) suddenly making the rounds again after seven years. I especially loved the passive-aggressive confiding tone, the “you don’t have to do this, fellow white man!” aspect, and the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger assertion that the cold hard hand of the free market would come down on me if I allowed ladyparts and swearing into my final draft. 


    1. They’re very solid and enjoyable books. I personally enjoyed the first book a little more than the second (which involves the lady pirates) but I own both and have reread them several times.

  14. I didn’t know that song, and going to your Marianne Faithful link led me to this goosebump-producing live version by Nina Simone

    it’s awesome and scary.

    Edit: was supposed to be a reply to Antinous’s post about the Marianne Faithful version, above. Stupid wordpress.

    1. Same here. She’s one of the better characters too – I love how she’s such an uptight overwound workaholic. She comes across as someone whose commands would be obeyed.

  15. Thank you “bigoted reader of Scott Lynch’s fantasy novels” for turning this middle aged single mom on to Scott Lynch’s fantasy novels.  Thank you, thank you, thank you….  I have dreamed of being a pirate for some time now.

  16. The pirate pictured on the cover of the Jo Stanley book may shiver my timbers any time she so desires.  Aye, aye, ma’am!!

  17. “Your cabbage-water vision of worldbuilding bores me to tears.”

    BAM! That’s one of *the* best brush-offs I’ve ever read!

    And who the fuck reads fantasy for “realism”? You read fantasy to get *away* from realism! And I think any woman–let alone a mother of two–bad-assed enough to get pirates to follow her must be some kind of special Ultimate Bad-ass that I’d *want* to read about!

  18. A black female pirate is absurdly improbable wish fulfillment- but a nerdy undistinguished adolescent boy turning out to be the long lost son of a Jedi knight/ Hogwart’s wizard/ Gypsy King/ Dauphin is so completely plausible, why, practially ripped from the headlines!

  19. Old news. Patrick O’Brian had a fictional female pirate captain in The Nutmeg of Consolation published in 1991

  20. The reader wrote, “Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man’s world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it! […] I hope you might stop to think about the sales you will lose because you want to bring your political corectness and foul language into fantasy. if we wanted those things we could go to the movies.”

    The reader didn’t have a complaint about the writing, apart from the cusswords that hurt his delicate ears. His complaint was based on “political corectness” — i.e., he was put off by the *concept* of a female pirate captain, not the execution.

    Now, if you’ll just quote for me where you think Lynch — who mentions the character’s race exactly twice, in passing — pulled the race card, I can be on my way.

  21. Beyond the unsurprising, however sad, bigotry, why would anyone imagine that pirates of all types of characters in a novel would be “realistically” portrayed without the use of foul language in their dialogue?

  22. The interesting thing is, unless Stephen Fry and the elves were lying to everyone on this past weekend’s QI episode, our impression of pirates is completely wrong. More info:

    Pirate ships were run as democratic co-operatives with written constitutions under a system called ‘Jamaica Discipline’.

    Rules were strict. The articles for Captain Bartholomew Roberts’ ship the Fortune (flourished 1719-22) make it sound like a boarding school: no gambling, no smuggling girls into the dorm, no playing music on a Sunday, and lights out at 8 o’clock sharp.

    Not mentioned on that page (that I can find), but mentioned on the show, although I can’t recall if it was the Fortune or a different ship, was one such rule that amounted to, if you offer to “meddle” with a “prudent” woman without her consent, your punishment is immediate death.

    …and meanwhile, today, we have politicians trying to say that there are “legitimate” forms of rape. I’d personally like to live with the pirates, where rapists get killed on the spot, kind of.

  23. The irony is that it’s all too clear that the reader’s favored readings (John Norman, anyone?) probably make Scott look like the great Diana Galbadon or C.L. Moore in comparison.  (Oh, noes! I cite two noted wimmenz authorz!  John Greene’s dick will now fall off!  Aiiieee!)

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