There are several themes in the Iskander series, with the principal ones the career of Gisel as a strong female protagonist, and the upheavals caused by the impact of Iskander’s modern knowledge and technology on the 17th century world of Gaia.
This time, I’ll deal with the chauvinism Gisel meets by quoting some passages from the stories. The first comes from Arrival, not yet released, which is set when Gisel is a 16 year old learning about the society she has become stranded in. In this passage Gisel visits an earl’s lady in her apartments in a castle.
She stopped on the landing and rapped on a wooden screen beside the curtain partitioning off the Lady’s solar. A maid poked her head through to look and then reported Gisel’s arrival to her mistress.
“Come in, Gisel. Is the Colonel with you?”
“No, I haven’t seen him, my Lady,” Gisel said as she entered. “I thought you might know where he is.”
Lady Blanche turned to the maid. “Aliss, go and find the Colonel and tell him I am free for the discussion he requested.”
The maid curtesyed and left. Gisel glanced about her, but the room was mostly hidden behind decorative screens – perhaps for Colonel M’Tov’s visit. Elethsis had mentioned something about protocol over the presence of men who had not been introduced by the master of the house.
Lady Blanche shifted slightly on her chaise to make room for Gisel. “Sit here beside me. Do you have needlework to do? No . . . would you like one of my pieces?”
“I’m afraid I’ve never learned needlework, my Lady. Not a skill of mine.”
Lady Blanche stared at her and discreetly scanned her clothing. “You cannot sew, and you dress like a ploughboy . . . dear me. How will you ever find a husband?”
Gisel grinned. “I’m the youngest woman among my company – I’m more concerned not to let any of the men get too close. They’re all far too old to suit me.”
“Nonsense. That Commander Ascher seems a fine man. He’s not married, is he?”
“No, but he must be over thirty.”
Lady Blanche regarded her with narrowed eyes. “Pshaw! A man of thirty is in his prime. You are too fussy by far, young lady. Would you prefer a mere boy like my son – his head full of nothing but horses and tournaments?”
“Your son seems fine too, but perhaps a tad too young.”
Lady Blanche looked down at her needlework. “He is. And his father has a cousin in mind for him. What are your father’s plans – do you have an eligible cousin?”
Gisel shook her head. “Our relatives are far away and no longer accessible – even my Mother . . .” She stopped speaking quickly and looked away.
“There . . . there. It’s a sad thing for a girl to lose the guidance of her mother. But what is the status of your family in your own society? Does your father have an inherited title?”
Gisel wondered how to speak diplomatically of Earth’s more egalitarian society. “Except in a few lands, we have few inherited titles. Some years ago there were . . . excesses . . . and conflicts. The solution to those difficulties was to allow only the honors and acquisitions that a man or woman could gain in their own lifetime.”
The Lady Blanche stared. “Indeed? And how do the lower orders know their place?”
“Well, there are no lower orders . . . in theory. Status is gained by advanced education and professional attainments. My father is the director of our Engineering department, based on his PhD and his accomplishments . . . I suppose calling him Dr. Matah is equivalent to a knight’s title.”
“But how does your king account for his legitimacy? A ruler must come from a long and noble lineage.”
Uh-oh . . . this is where we start looking like rebels or outlaws. “The head of our society is called a Secretary General and is chosen from among all the representatives of the nations. The person retains office for eight years and then another is chosen. The hope is that we get the guidance of the wisest among us that way. When we left, the Secretary General was a woman of great distinction.”
The Lady Blanche’s eyes grew round and her lips trembled slightly. “May the Holy Flame preserve us! A woman. I’d suggest you not spread that knowledge too widely about.”
In Deadly Enterprise, Gisel is a mature young woman – only twenty years old but already a decorated veteran of several military actions. She meets the chauvinism of the Felgers, the merchant bankers, and attempts to keep her cool. The first passage is Yohan’s first impression of her.
Gisel decided to conceal her identity behind her assumed accents a few minutes longer. She walked past to the head of the steps, and then halted with a little cry. She pretended to trip and stumbled toward him.
Yohan Felger scanned the embankment, his mind so filled with the strange note that had brought him out into the streets, he barely gave the pretty young woman the slightest attention – until she almost fell into his arms.
“Be careful, young Mistress, or you’ll tumble down the steps.”
He let her pull away again, but she staggered and almost fell. “Ow. I think my ankle is twisted. May I prevail upon you to help me down those slippery steps?”
He dropped his arms and drew back. Her language was appropriately formal, but her voice held a definite foreign accent.
A gentleman must be careful for cut-purses and floozies plying their trade near the river, but this girl sounded respectable enough – even if she seemed alone. She was attractive rather than beautiful with a modest curve of bust under her kirtle and jacket – but her dark eyes held him. They were deep enough for a man to drown in. By her dress and speech, he judged her a servant from a good household – perhaps even daughter of a good family, forced into service by exile. He couldn’t see the responsible male companion who should be with her, but he considered her request.
“I’m alone, Sir, except for my boat’s crew. I hope you will not judge me forward for speaking.”
Gisel is not as diplomatic in chapter five with the young man’s father, after a firefight on the way to returning Yohan safely to the mansion.
“Who are you people? Where have you been, Yohan?” The senior Felger demanded. He was as austere as his entry hall, dressed in black, his face gaunt beneath a powdered white periwig. A trimmed pointed beard gave him a slightly sinister cast.
Yohan looked up but seemed unable to speak. Gisel answered for him. “I presume you are Yakob Felger, the master here. I’m Lieutenant Gisel Matah of Iskander Security – Lieutenant Chronon and I undertook to bring your son home through the city tonight.”
“Monstrous!” Yakob Felger stood in the middle of the hall, shaking with fury. “You have nearly killed him. Hertang!” he shouted to the older retainer. “go out at once to fetch the churgeon.”
The man glanced uncertainly toward the door. Loud shouts and crashes sounded outside.
“No need,” Gisel said. “I can treat him.”
Thrusting the assault rifle at Marc, Gisel pulled out her first aid pack. She bent over Yohan, noting his white face and gauging the amount of blood on his sleeve. She pulled her knife from its sheath and cut off the sleeve of his shirt, then opened the emergency kit.
Yakob Felger sent Hertang from the hall on an errand and turned to glare down at her. “How do I know you are competent? Have you not done enough harm?”
“I didn’t shoot at your son – ask Commandante Zagdorf about that. As for what I’m doing – I’ll do a better job than any of Lingdon’s churgeons with their potions and leeches. Now let me have some room to work.”
Yakob Felger glared for a moment and then stepped away.
Yohan’s wound did not seem to have gone deep, but it bled copiously. She sprayed Quik-clot into it. “How do you feel, Meister?”
“A bit sick, but it doesn’t hurt.”
“You’re feeling shock. I don’t think the ball hit the bone – it will heal quickly. Can you hold this gauze over the wound?”
“I think so.”
While she grabbed some antiseptic to clean the wound and prepared a dressing she heard Marc arguing with Yakob. “We undertook to protect your son from criminals in the night – we didn’t expect them to be wearing the Emperor’s insignia.”
“You ruffians are entirely responsible for what has occurred. How dare you accuse the Emperor?”
“We dare a lot,” Gisel snapped. “I’d think you’d be concerned your legitimate rights to do business here have been violated.”
“I will make up my own mind how I should concern myself.”
“It is as these friends say, Father. I went out to investigate their business request, and the Empire’s soldiers attacked us twice.”
“Friends? I did not give you permission to attend any secret meetings! I will speak to you later.”
Gisel finished sealing Yohan’s wound with a plastic spray and picked up the metal case of syringes. “I admit we acted behind your back – but only because Commandante Zagdorf killed our friend Bertzin.”
Yakob Felger raised his chin, the corners of his mouth turning down. “Do you have proof of such culpability?”
Gisel shrugged. “Nothing that would hold up in a court of law. Surely what’s happened here tonight is evidence enough. Do the Felgers have freedom to do business – or does the Emperor keep you on a leash?”
Yakob Felger turned to her, breathing heavily. “The Felgers have freedom to pursue their legitimate business in the Kingdom of Lingdon. I understood the Iskander proposal to go further. Did not Bertzin report that I preferred dealing with the Emperor I revere and respect, over some chance enterprise of disreputable upstarts? You had your answer, why do you persist?”
From The Wildcat’s Victory, almost a year and a half later in Lubitz, a city she and Yohan helped save from a coup d’etat, she still has to be diplomatic when asserting the rights that women should enjoy.
“Thanks. If I can return the favour — these troublemakers, for example — I’d be pleased to help you.”
Rolt smiled. “I don’t think you need trouble yourself about them, Major.”
“Actually, I may want to . . . trouble myself, as you say.”
Gisel sought his eyes with a warm expression. “I’m not sure how much I’m authorized to tell you, but Iskander has an agent infiltrated into a radical group. What if he’s here? It would be a blow to our operation if you arrested him. Hung him, even.”
Rolt frowned. “Should I not have been notified about him?”
“I don’t have definite information; I merely think his presence a strong possibility. But we can’t afford to have anything happen to him.”
Rolt looked down at his desk and shifted a pile of papers from one side to the other. “Yes, I see that. But I have to stop their meeting.”
She could see Rolt’s anger at having this sprung on him and his plans questioned. It hadn’t taken long for him to become a typical jack-in-office. “What about placing some person of your own in the meeting? Learn more about the ringleaders.”
“If I had such a man, I would consider that. I have very few good people — wouldn’t want to have one’s throat slit.”
“When is this meeting?”
“I don’t know, yet. Why?”
“I would go to the meeting for you.”
“You, Major? Would that be wise?”
Gisel laughed. “When have I ever been wise? I think a young woman could infiltrate the group more easily than a man. They do have women involved?”
“Yes, some garment workers in the factory set up with Iskander’s new textile machines. They have complained about their pay. Cheeky little bitches! If they don’t like it, then let them stay at home with their children.” Rolt’s face darkened, but then he glanced guiltily into Gisel’s eyes. “Begging your pardon, of course. I find these newfangled ideas — ”
“Yes,” she said with a smile. “I run into those feelings all the time. I’d like to stay at home to be Yohan’s helpmate as well, but I don’t have the choice. These women may not either, if they are widowed from the war and trying to feed their children.”
Rolt stared down at his desk. “I suppose. I had not thought of it that way.”