Miska Corbin vs. the World

We are thrilled to welcome the brilliant Gavin Smith back to the Gollancz Blog. Today, Gavin will introduce us to the unforgettable Miska Corbin and we’ll get to see how she would fare against some of our favourite genre characters. 

Seven years ago my first novel, Veteran, came out.  To help publicise it I wrote this blog comparing Jakob Douglas, the ne’er do well hero of Veteran with other fictional, so-called hard men like Snake Plissken, Takeshi Kovacs and Mad Max.  As I had set up the completely arbitrary ranking system, not surprisingly, my fictional creation scored quite well against his predecessors.  I remember the (superb) Jaine Fenn being amused by the blog, but asking where all the women were in the list.  She was absolutely right!  Particularly as two of the characters I listed (Hicks and Kyle Reese, both played by the brilliant Michael Biehn) were from films with female leads.

Bastard Legion Book 1: The Hangman’s Daughter introduces readers to Miska Corbin! An ex-black ops combat hacker, turned thief, pirate and commander of her very own mercenary penal legion. Now, comparisons can be made with Jakob.  They both have a special forces backgrounds, both have extensive cybernetic augmentation, and both are reasonably dangerous.  That, however, is where the comparisons end.  Because let’s be honest, Jakob was a little whiny.  Miska, on the other hand, takes a great deal of pleasure from life, because if you can’t enjoy your own space-going, 6000-strong indentured (she tries to avoid the S word) army of criminals then what’s the point?

So with that in mind here’s how I think Miska would fare against some of my favourite female genre characters.  (There maybe some editorialising from Miska herself.):

Deunan Knute: The gymnastic, gun-fighting, power armour jockey and saviour of New Olympus from the Appleseed anime films.  (Full disclosure: I’ve not read the Manga, I’m sorry).   From cyborg terrorists to human supremacists, from walking mech fortresses, to smart phone zombies (I kid you not), Deunan’s killed them all… er, I mean dealt with the problem using the requisite amount of force.

Deunan Miska
Cool power armour 4/5 2/5 (“It’s a work in progress!”)
Fighting for a better future! 3/5 1/5 (“Fun and profit!”)
Human cyborg-relations 2/5 (It’s complicated…) (“Huh?”)
Dad issues 2/5 4/5 (“I have an excellent working relationship with my dead dad.”)
Violenceometer 3/5 5/5


Imperator Furiosa: Post-apocalyptic sharp-shooting truck driver and reluctant freedom fighting saviour, Furiosa is the protagonist (you heard) in Mad Max: Fury Road.  She gives the eponymous Max’s road warrior credentials a run for their money in one of the most beautiful car chases ever committed to celluloid.

A haircut and makeup poster girl, Furiosa can teach us all a great deal about road safety! (As in the road is safer if you leave her in peace.)

Furiosa Miska
Cool truck. 4/5 0/5 (“I have a fucking spaceship!”)
Rudimentary Approach to Cybernetics 5/5 0/5 (“Top of the line!”)
Successfully upstaging the title character. 5/5 0/5 (“It’s my book!  It’s a good idea though, invading someone else’s book… Who’s this Richard Morgan?”)
Works for the bad guys Not anymore. 4/5 (“Er…”)
Upsets Arseholes 5/5 Let’s hope so.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: (I really don’t care that she’s not SF.) High school, college and life itself is hard enough without discovering you’re the chosen one.  A one girl mystical army destined to fight off hordes of vampires, demons and other supernatural irritants, sometimes in song!

It’s all about the work/life balance.  The hard thing for Buffy isn’t beating the shit out of all manner of supernatural nasties, so much as having to think up just the right one liner to perfectly complement each slaying.

Buffy Miska
Quippage 5/5 4/5
Attracted to inappropriate people (read as dangerous psychopaths). 3/5 3/5  “I have no idea what you’re talking about.  We’re just friends!  I say friends, they’re indentured soldiers in my penal legion.”
Sister Issues 2/5 (except in S5 and then it’s a definite 5/5) 4/5 “I don’t think there’s a comparison here unless Miss Summer’s sister was also a highly trained assassin!”
Being smaller than everyone else around you. 4/5 4/5 (“It’s why tall people have kneecaps.”)
Cares about shoes 3/5 0/5 (“Why would you care about…?”)
Being the “Chosen One”. 5/5 Hysterical laughter.
Musical episode 5/5 Extremely unlikely.  (“Unless the Temperance Movement does the music!”)


River Tam:  It shouldn’t really be a great surprise to see another entry from the Whedonverse on this list.  River Tam is the precocious, super-intelligent athlete and gifted dancer unfortunately subjected to experimentation by the Alliance.  Despite being troubled as the result of her experiences and burgeoning psychic abilities, Tam is more than capable of beating the crap out of entire bars full of space bums and cannibalistic reavers with a surprising elegance at odds with the rough and tumble world of Firefly/Serenity’s western in space setting.

Last seen piloting a transport ship out into the black in the company of a crew of renegades and criminals having resolved a number of her issues.

River Miska
Child prodigy 5/5 1/5 (“I got expelled from high school.”)
Unstable psychic weapon Was 5/5 now feeling much better. 3/5  (“Huh?  I’m not psychic.  Oh, I see what you’re getting at.”)
Combat savant 4/5 5/5
Graceful 5/5 1/5 (“I was a marine for Christ’s sake!”)
Burden on sibling Was 4/5 now feeling much better. 3/5  (“Oh bullshit!”)
Lives in a grungy spaceship 5/5 4/5


Agent Lila Black:  Reconstructed cyborg and walking arsenal Lila Black navigates the multiple magical realities that have spilled into our hi-tech future, as well as her own incredibly complicated private life.  Dealing with demon, fae and elven politics, with the walking dead thrown in for good measure, Lila is the hero of Justina Robson’s superb Quantum Gravity series.

There are very few authors capable of melding SF and Fantasy as seamlessly as Justina Robson does, and Lila is the perfect everywoman guide to these worlds.  She’ll keep you safe as well, she’s packing everything from a rail gun to a magic sword!

Lila Miska
Cybernetic augmentation. 5/5 3/5
Nuclear reactor for a heart.


5/5 0/5 (“Who has a nuclear powered heart?!”)
Been to hell.


5/5 (“Figuratively or literally?”)
Boy friend is a cat demon from hell, and/or an elvish Bono. 5/5 (“Wait, what?!”)
Has a magic sword. 3/5 (Well I mean it’s not Excalibur or Stormbringer, is it?) (Okay, you’re just being silly now!”)


Sarah Connor:  Oh yes! Urban terrorist, angry professional luddite, and the single parent that the Daily Mail should fear. Connor is the mother of the messianic freedom fighter John Connor who is destined to rescue a beleaguered humanity from social media, er… I mean Skynet.

The star of Terminators 1 & 2 (accept no substitutes), Sarah Connor went from waitress on the run to shooting it out with SWAT teams and liquid metal killing machines all to protect her son, and in doing so saving us all from a particularly unpleasant looking Singularity.

Sarah Miska
Tolerated cross time stalking. 3/5  (We can only imagine the conversation between Reese and John Connor just before he was sent back:
Reese: Dude, your mom is so hot!
John:  I’m not sending you back in time, stop asking, and I want that picture of my mom back.)
0/5 (“It’s things like this that make me glad I’m single.”)
Maternal Instinct. 5/5 0/5  (“A what now?”)
Looks cool working the slide on a pump action shotgun one handed. 5/5 2/5  (“Why would you do that one handed?”)
“Smash those metal motherf…” 5/5 (Before it even happened!  What sequels?) 3/5 (“All right, take it easy.”)
Angry all the time 4/5 2/5


Ripley:  And the best for last.  The last survivor of the Nostromo, the poster woman for human/alien relations, and the cargoloader freestyle boxing champion of 1986, Ripley is the hero of Alien and Aliens (and apparently some other films, come on Blomkamp!) and the survivor of repeated encounters with the hands-down coolest and most dangerous alien species ever committed to celluloid (sorry Predators).  Ripley goes from warrant officer on a doomed M-class starship, to osmotically trained pulse rifle-wielding badass.  (It would seem that behind every great SF female hard-case is Michael Biehn.)

Star of one of my favourite films (You’d never have guessed right?)  To my mind Ripley is one of the best ever SF heroes: a normal person, with all the weaknesses and flaws that come with being human, who steps up at just the right time.

Ripley Miska
Guns! Guns! Guns! 5/5 (The only thing that would make an M41A plasma phased pulse rifle cooler is taping a flame thrower to it!) 4/5 (“Okay, I admit it, I have gun envy!”)
Maternal instinct 4/5 0/5 (“Funnily enough it hasn’t changed since the last time it was mentioned.”)
Cool combat exoskeleton 4/5 2/5 (“Oh come on!  The Wraiths are old, but they’re not that bad!”)
First contact diplomacy 0/5 0/5  (“Ooh! Ooh! Pick me!  Pick me!”)
Being hardcore 5/5 5/5


So there you go, Miska standing on the shoulder of giants and these are just my favourites, I could have mentioned countless others: Wonder Woman, Vasquez, Black Widow, Starbuck and so many more, and those are just the more fightier ones.  We haven’t even touched on the rich heritage of resourceful female characters in SFF who prefer to use their brains instead of their fists and a pulse rifle (not that the two are mutually exclusive).

But here’s the funny thing about the above list compared to my initial list for Jakob, which included the likes of Takeshi Kovacs, Snake Plissken, Neo, Max Rockatansky etc.  If the characters from Jakob’s list were to meet I can see the sort of macho posturing that would put the faux-homo eroticism of the film Predator to shame.  If the above list were to meet, some barriers might have to be broken down, but I could see them all enjoying a drink together.

Anyway, want to see how Miska really compares with the likes of Furiosa and Ripley? Then read the Hangman’s Daughter and decide for yourself.

The Hangman’s Daughter is out now in ebook and audio download.


Gavin G. Smith is the Dundee-born author of the hard edged, action-packed SF novels VeteranWar in HeavenThe Age of Scorpio and A Quantum Mythology, The Beauty of Destruction, as well as the short story collection Crysis Escalation. You can find out more about Gavin by visiting his website, following him on Twitter @gavingsmith or Facebook.