Whenever I set out to write about actual, historical kickass women, I've had a really hard time choosing which ones -- there are just so many options! Warriors, politicians, rulers, diplomats, pirates, rebels, spies, assassins -- and fighter aces. That's the topic I landed on recently when I wrote my story, "Raisa Stepanova," included in the anthology Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Here's the real history:
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. While my story isn't about them specifically, it's about women like them -- Raisa, who desperate wants to be a fighter ace, and who kicks a lot of enemy ass on that quest. I wrote my story for Dangerous Women to pay tribute to these pilots, because I think they're amazing, and because I want to tell everyone about them.
It's important to talk about these historical figures, because so many of them have been forgotten by history. When I describe Litviak and her colleagues, 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. Our society has just forgotten about it. I'm here to remind you.