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November 2015



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i pity the fool

Every damned time the topic of diversity in SFF comes up, somebody says something about "Well, if the story demands that the character be queer/disabled/black/trans/female/postcolonial/feminist, that's one thing. But if you're just putting it in to be politically correct***, then you're bound by ideology, and that's bad art."

... ...
... ... ...

...because able Western white cis het male is the default. Because the viewpoint character being an able Western white cis het male totally doesn't inform the narrative, and has no influence in the way the world is presented, because that's the only viewpoint that really exists, and the rest of us are all flavor text. We're spices. We're here to be observed and consumed. To break up the monotony a little bit, or to provide an Issue that can be discussed in the course of the narrative. Because by writing crippled queer fat black Asian gay lesbian trans intersex non-neurotypical African Sikh Muslim Hindu Latino female whatever, we're sure as hell not reflecting the narrative, the experience of millions of real people who have a real existence and a narrative and a right to exist and tell stories and have voices and be heard.

And those people only can be in stories if they're their to illuminate some aspect of the crippled queer fat black Asian gay lesbian trans intersex non-neurotypical African Sikh Muslim Hindu Latino female whatever experience to the able Western white cis het male gaze****.

Because we sure as hell don't have our own stories to tell.


You know what?

I am reminded of the old joke about Heaven being full of parties, and Saint Pete giving somebody the tour so he can decide who he wants to hang out with. And when they finally get to the one quiet room, the new recruit is all excited, and is like, "ZOMG WHO'S THIS!?"

And Saint Pete says, "Shhh! It's the Westboro Baptists! They think they're alone up here!"

...screw those guys. I know where the party is.

I invite all y'all to mention in comments recent***** books by authors or with protagonists of diverse backgrounds that are very worthy of further attention.

I'll start.

Karen Lord -- The Best of All Possible Worlds
Caitlin R. Kiernan -- The Drowning Girl: A Memoir
Ellen Klages -- The Green Glass Sea
Saladin Ahmed -- Throne of the Crescent Moon
Charles Yu -- How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

(and many more)

***A brief digression. If you will bear with me, please let me explain a bit about my relationship with the term "politically correct." As far as I know, it originated as a critique of Stalinist policies in the 1940s, and "political correctness" was then considered to mean "in line with Stalinish policies." But I first encountered it in the radical lesbian separatist/feminist movement of the 1980s--which is my native culture and the reason I claim I can't actually write insider stories for anybody who still exists except elisem, Suzy McKee Charnas, and Elizabeth Lynn**--and at that point it was an ironic usage that referred to being in line with the kind of anti-male, anti-het, anti-trans rhetoric--the kind of doctrinal purity--that is today described by the term "radfem."

I own me a lapel button that reads "Politically Incorrect." I bought it for twenty-five cents at the New England Women's Musical Retreat in 1982. I was nine years old*.

I have not entirely adapted to the modern Right Wing/antifemnist/ usage of "Politically Correct" to mean "people who don't suck at compassion." I feel a little appropriated, to tell you the truth. And a little put out.


*My street cred. I shows U it.
**I went home again. It had turned into a convenience store.
****Charlie Stross calls these the 7Ps: pale protestant parochial patriarchal something penis people (ETA: "Pale Patriarchal Plutocratic Protestant Penis People of Power")
*****Let's say, this millenium


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I spent years hoping for science fiction and fantasy that would include me. I am, at last, getting it.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and seeing the butler as a fully realised character (not to mention all the women as realised characters with their own ambitions and desires) who has a satisfying end that fits perfectly with the story and is historically correct. Yes, there were people of colour in Regency Britain. There was even a prime minister of mixed race in the eighteenth century.

Nor is there anything to equal the feeling of reading American Gods and seeing Bredda Nansi appear on the stage telling a story. My question is where were the equivalents hiding for so long? The Art, after all, was producing them in other parts of fiction. And I've been reading those since my teens.
Yeah. That shock and delight of seeing yourself when you are not used to seeing yourself--I never really understood it, strangely enough, until I encountered the white, cis-male, probably heterosexual character of Spencer Reid.

But except for those things about him... I can relate! It knocked my socks off.
Simon Tam, man. In the moment he almost gets distracted into talking about how River could be a brat about being brilliant, with the smile on his face, and when River says she didn't think he'd come for her and he tells her she's a dummy and gives her a hug and then she tells him she threw up on his bed. His face.
A handful of works I haven't seen mentioned above:

- Marie Lu's Legend and Prodigy
- Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories
- Fuyumi Ono, The Twelve Kingdoms and sequels
- Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan, and Under Heaven
- Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri series (magical realist Laotian Communist mysteries!), starting with The Coroner's Lunch.
- Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds

And of course there's the entire Haikusoru line (Japanese authors). One wishes there was more Chinese- & Korean-derived Fantasy & SF translated in English.
One does.
There's a Chinese ebook publisher, BJ Guomi, releasing Liu Cixin's short fiction on Amazon, the English translations are decent. They also have freebie offers quite often, and an offer where if you tell them your opinion they'll give you more free stuff (I haven't tried this yet).

His Three Body trilogy is also going to appear in English soon (different publisher IIRC).
Trying to just mention things that haven't been listed already:

-Tanya Huff writes good queer characters in many books.
-Jo Walton's Pocketful of Change trilogy stars a gay lead (bonus, he was dedicated to helping other oppressed characters)
-Melissa Scott's Trouble and Her Friends (although I know Scott has been more generally mentioned)
-Because I just finished it, Seanan McGuire's Velveteen vs. serial on her blog has a Hispanic main character, queer side characters who become increasingly main, and a trans* character as well
-Thersa Matsuura's short story collection A Robe of Feathers is sort of UF from a Japanese background
-Paolo Bacigalupi's The Wind-Up Girl
-Richard Morgan's Thirteen has a black main character, and his epic fantasy series has multiple queer main characters
-Cherie Priest's Eden Moore trilogy has a mixed-race lead
-Eileen Wilks' main World of the Lupi woman is Chinese-American
-Faith Hunter's Jane Yellowrock is Cherokee
-Mercedes Lackey's Vanyel trilogy has a gay main character, and her standalone Sacred Ground has a Native American lead
-Barry Hughart's Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox are in China

I'm sure I'm missing so many things!
Just FYI, Wind-up Girl has been extremely badly received by the people it's supposedly about. Here's a post and another.
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<<And those people only can be in stories if they're their to illuminate some aspect of the crippled queer fat black Asian gay lesbian trans intersex non-neurotypical African Sikh Muslim Hindu Latino female whatever experience to the able Western white cis het male gaze****.>>

I suppose some have the simplistic idea that they're being told that they must tell a story about crippled queer fat black asian gay etc. struggles closely paralleled to modern society if they wish their work to be accepted.

They are not listening.

I want to continue to write adventure stories, not examinations of various religious doctrines or allegories about gender relations. I would not like it, Sam I Am, if I were told adventure stories in and of themselves are no good and that I cannot write them any more.

But no one is telling me that.

If I can write an adventure story where some of the characters happen to be women or lesbian or, I dunno, ancient Arabian, say, and they're realized human beings, not stereotypes, I like to think that I'm on the right path.

To my mind, the focus shouldn't be on how a character is this or that label, but how they're human. If, over the course of events in the story some of the crappy way society treats them gets showcased so that we can think about it in a realistic way, fabulous (or, conversely, if I'm creating a society where a default prejudice just isn't there, then hopefully that absence showcases its presence in the real world).

The best episodes of the original Star Trek* managed to tell cracking good adventure stories that also had pretty cool messages. I like that, very much.

*It must be remembered that as sexist as the original ST looks now, the female actors say that they felt liberated, and so, apparently, did the women watching those women on the pretend starship. It is hard to grok it when you see the Star Fleet officers in the short skirts, but the ability to wear those was a kind of freedom that US women hadn't known. And the idea of a woman, a black woman, on the bridge and in the chain of command, was almost more than the network execs could stand. Even if Uhura, in retrospect, was sort of a telephone operator, she was still a black woman in a senior officer's role, with an entire department answering to her. Then there was that heroic, capable Asian guy manning the helm, and the Russian guy next to him in the midst of the cold war, and the satanic looking first officer, and the engineer from Scotland. I could go on.
But I first encountered it in the radical lesbian separatist/feminist movement of the 1980s

I first heard it when working at a feminist bookstore in the mid-1980s. I was amazed when the phrase was appropriated by the Right.
Yes, but the right use it as an implement of scorn and derision.

I myself have very strong feelings about calling people by the name they prefer.


Re: I pity the fool

Good publisher note; thanks!
So, my poor bookshelves are kinda thin on this, however:

Jacqueline Carey: Santa Olivia and Saints Astray. Semi-apocalyptic futurish urban sci-fi in which the main character is a lesbian boxer.</p>

For the romance trope in sci-fantasy land, there is Nalini Singh's Psy/Changeling series in which many of the characters at least have brown skin.

A wonderful post for looking for reading suggestions!

I loathe the way "Politically Correct" is thrown around by anyone and everyone to apparently mean "someone wants me to push my boundaries and think about something in a different way and I don't want to do that so I'm going to use this phrase to make them the bad guys". I really encountered it as an undergrad, when we were pushing for diversity in the curriculum and working to get every class to include mentions of people who were not white Western male - essentially not the 7Ps, though that wasn't the terminology we were using. People who didn't like this idea claimed that anyone going along with it was being "politically correct". That made me angry in ways I still have problems articulating, though I've gotten better at that over the years.
I was pleasantly surprised by Line and Orbit, by Lisa Soem and Sunny Moraine. Its authors describe it as a Big Gay Space Opera, which is basically right. (I read both main characters as white, although I don't remember how they were actually described. One is pretty clearly so, and one is a Space Burner, so could be anything but leans white.) Queer comfort fiction, and goodness knows my world could use more of that.

...Which wraps back to why all queer stories needn't be Issue stories. I live Issues every day; sometimes I read to relax.
The book I recommend to most people who haven't read anything of yours is Carnival. Gay men of color! And of course the current series is all about people of color

C. E. Murphy's books in the Walker papers series. Main character is woman who is half Native Amer.
Tanya Huff - practically anything
Glen Cook's Garrett P. I. Series. Garrett is white cis het male, but his best friend is a black elf and there are lots of other sorts of people around too. Though they're not exactly human....
Amanda Downum's books
Lauren Beukes Zoo City
Guy Gavriel Kay Under Heaven
Mira Grant - who as most people know is Sewnsn McGuire
I read a great anthology of Chinese-Americn fiction but I csn't remember the title.

I can suggest mysteries if anyone is interested.

I've only seen myself in a story twice, a Bradbury short story and one of Jane Haddam's mysteries. There are astoundingly few stories about over 60 fat women so I don't expect it to happen again. Age is another of those things that seems to other people.
Something a bit different: Debora Geary's Witch Central series is sweet fluffy marshmallow books about being / becoming part of a loving community. And somewhere in the middle of having her people being accepting of all kinds of personality difference, I think she may have realized that, even if her people go from whitebread to punk and some are less pale than others, they're still not all that accepting when everyone is straight and neurotypical. She'd already had a walk-on gay character who is gay (one of a set of triplets whose family is central in the books), but in A Different Witch the MC is autistic and lesbian. I think she does both fairly well, as far as I can tell.
Are you also interested in shorter fiction (up to and including novella-length)? I have an entire site focusing on underrepresented groups in current short SF (this is the master index of topics, but I think it's a nice place to start). I update it with new reviews about 4-6 times a week, but there haven't been any reviews recently because I literally just got home from hospital.
Yes, absolutely.

(Also, hope you are feeling better.)

Edited at 2013-03-21 01:43 pm (UTC)
Having read through the previous entries, allow me to introduce you (plural) to:

Saving Jane Austen (Daniel Curzon): Riotously funny. To explain would ruin the fun of reading it. (IGNA Books, 2010)

Walking the Clouds (Grace L. Dillon, ed.): "An anthology of indigenous science fiction" as it's subtitled, and a damn good one. (University of Arizona Press, 2012)

A Rising Darkness (Nikki Dorakis): There are several gay or bi characters in this one, particularly the main character, Meriq. (AuthorHouse, 2012)

My reviews of these books should show up in any search engine, if anyone wants to know more.
At Gaylaxicon, an author (I believe it was naomikritzer) told a story about how she just decided to make a female protagonist in one of her stories Hispanic because...why not? She did a little research into names so she wouldn't look stupid, and voila. Later (I think she had read the story to a class of kids), a young Hispanic girl approached her and told her how much it meant to her to hear a story where the heroine was *just like her*.

Did the Hispanic-ness of the heroine inform the story? Sounds like probably not. Did it make a huge difference in the life of at least one reader? Sounds like yeah. I know which side I'd rather err on.

Edited at 2013-03-22 06:47 pm (UTC)
Passing through a bit late, but I had to add Jes Battis' Occult Special Investigations series to the list. It's urban fantasy set in Vancouver. In addition to queer characters and a female lead, the author has a familiarity with Deaf culture that shows in the books. (My favorite character is Deaf and has spatial & haptic magic, which was a brilliant touch.)
Oh, and the central cast is a family-by-choices made up of survivors. Doesn't hurt either.

Now in pride of place on my Bookmarks Bar...

Well, my to-read pile just grew exponentially and I spotted some favourites.

I thought I'd add Jon Courtenay Grimwood: especially the Arabesk trilogy (set in an alternative universe North Africa) and End of the World Blues (set in Japan).

Also springing to mind with women of agency, PoC, and lesbigay are Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate and her YA Finishing School for intelligencers (all girls, of course).

Umm, lack of prejudice around colour pointing to other prejudices in a society leads me to mention Slated, a YA novel by Teri Terry, which is set in a future with personality wipe technology.

Sadly, the first fantasy novel (and first of a series) I found based in a non-ersatz European setting misses out by dint of having been published in 1987, but has a special place in my heart so I'm going to cheat and mention Daughter of the Empire anyway. Because woman with agency in a Korean-based world!
There's an article in The Atlantic Wire about gay characters in YA lit and how that's changed in the past decade that has a lot of titles and interesting thoughts.
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