Written by Carrie Vaughn
I’m trying to pick my favorite dangerous woman to write about. This is really hard. So many to choose from! I’m not even thinking about fictional dangerous women—why would I, when history is filled with them? Warriors, politicians, rulers, diplomats, pirates, rebels, spies, assassins—and fighter aces. Ah, yes, that’s what I’ll tell you about, because that’s what I wrote about for my story, “Raisa Stepanova,” included in the anthology Dangerous Women.
Lilia Litviak and Ekaterina Budanova were fighter pilots for the Soviet Union during World War II, and both flew extensive combat missions in the region of Stalingrad. Each of them claimed around a dozen kills, counting both solo and shared kills—both are designated fighter aces. One of my favorite stories about Litviak tells of a meeting between her and one of the pilots she shot down. The German ace parachuted to safety, was taken prisoner, and asked to see the pilot who had bested him. When he faced Litviak, a petite woman with pixie-like blond hair, he thought it was a joke, until she described every detail of the dogfight in which she’d beaten him. The German pilot tried to give her his pocket watch out of respect—she refused the token, because he was the enemy.
Soviet women pilots flew some 30,000 combat missions during the war. An all-woman unit of night bombers earned the nickname “Nachthexen”—Night Witches—from their German targets, who learned to be terrified of their low-level sneak attacks.
Litviak and Budanova were friends, and both were killed in action in 1943. I wrote my story for Dangerous Women to pay tribute to them and their colleagues, because I think they’re amazing, and because I want to tell everyone about them.
It’s important to talk about real-world dangerous women, because so many of them have been forgotten by history. When I describe these women, people are often surprised—women fighter aces, in World War II? Why, yes. Knowing about these women, and about all the women who’ve accomplished so much, make all the arguments that have happened in my lifetime about what women can and can’t do, what they should and shouldn’t do, seem rather ridiculous. Women have already been doing pretty much everything all along. Society has just forgotten about it. I’m here to remind you.
From the Tor/Forge December newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from the December Tor/Forge newsletter:
- Introducing Dangerous women by Gardner Dozois
- Deadlier Than the Male by Melinda Snodgrass
- Unexpected Dangers by Brandon Sanderson
- Anthology Collection Sweepstakes
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