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October 2014

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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.

*facepalm*

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.

Fuckers.

*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

Comments

Off my bookshelves - in addition to the aforementioned Throne of the Crescent Moon, there's:

Tobias S. Buckell - pretty much everything except possibly his Halo tie-in. A particular nod to the Apocalypse Ocean, newest in his series (sufficiently standalone I am told for new readers, though i am not a new reader and can't swear to it)
N.K. Jemisin - a particular nod to The Killing Moon and the Shadowed Sun
Kij Johnson - Fudoki
MArtha Wells - Wheel of the Infinite
Nalo Hopkinson - the latest one I have is the New Moon's Arms, I'm behind.
Joseph Boyden - Three Day Road (a Cree sniper in WWI and (Mostly, i think) healing in its aftermath - on my to-read bookcase so I can't swear to its awesome)
Tomson Highway - Kiss of the Fur Queen (Two Cree brothers, the Canadian Residential Schools system, their lives after: Lit-fic with a scattering of what we'd call magic realism and the author would consider just how things are in their worldview. stunning.)
Kate Elliott - Cold Magic, Cold Fire (and soon Cold Steel)
Elizabeth E. Wein - All of the Arthurian/Aksumite series except the Winter Prince (I don't know if Code Name Verity contains diverse cast, I've been trying to stay unspoiled because even my spoiler-friendly peeps seem to be saying don't spoil it)
Hiromi Goto - Half World
Malinda Lo - Ash, Huntress
Numerous works by Our Hostess

And those are the easy picks done by looking around the room. No doubt I'll kick myself when I look at the shelves int he other room, too. And going to Amazon or a bookstore - this stuff isn't even hard to find anymore.
Never mind the other room, I missed Midnight Riot (Noted by someone else below) because it was behind the door and Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian just because I am a moron. Also Melissa Scott's Shadow Man.

Would Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword count?
Don't see why not.
Yeah, this got me thinking. I've been reading fiction by women about women (knowing that was what it was) since I was nine (Robin McKinley was my earliest and most obvious influence when i started to write), and I've considered (white) gay males to be normal as protagonists since The Last Herald Mage trilogy. I have to actually stop and think to consider books about white straight women or white gay men as still politically contentious, despite the heaps of evidence saying that there are still readers biased against them. And while it's plain the heroine of The Privilege of the Sword is bisexual, again, it still sort of slips under my radar for these kinds of lists until I think about it.

Thus also, say, not mentioning Lynn Flewelling or Sarah Monette. Even seeing as how Monette shares a shelf with her occasional co-writer.
I've considered (white) gay males to be normal as protagonists since The Last Herald Mage trilogy.

Hmm. Out of curiosity, where are you finding these not written by Mercedes Lackey? (Nothing against Mercedes Lackey, but I'm familiar with her already.) I have been having trouble finding anything, but maybe it's just where I'm looking.
The aforementioned Lynn Flewelling and Sarah Monette, Ellen Kushner, Steve Berman. Maureen F. McHugh's China Mountain Zhang. Our hostess, in particular Carnival and the Stratford Man books (Ink and Steel is the first of the two). Hal Duncan, I expect, though I haven't read. Peg Kerr's the Wild Swans. (And I'm sure there are more male names I'm not thinking of.)

Those are ones where the protagonist is gay/bi. Include major supporting characters and I can add authors. If you like romances, there are whole small presses dedicated to them.

That's not a terribly big list. I am aware there's still a way to go in the frequency. But it's a case for me of "Look, that series was a bestseller still in print. How is this not a done question?"

Then something comes along like Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith being told that their book would be a better sell if they made the gay protag (one of five!) straight. And I facepalm all over again.
Hmm. Interesting. That's about the list I have too.

I hadn't encountered The Wild Swans before. I tried to start China Mountain Zhang a few days ago and realized that I wasn't feeling up to reading a closeted or persecuted gay protagonist -- I need to save it for some time when I'm feeling better and okay with feeling worse.

I agree that it should be a solved question, and it's that low frequency which I point to when people wonder why I'm still complaining about it not being solved yet. :-)

(There's a weird lack of gay men writing gay characters, too, as far as I can see. This is mostly okay but occasionally leads to weird disconnects as a reader.)
Yes to "Not solved. Should be. Dammit." That's exactly the sort of thinking I was talking about. In the 90s I was blithely thinking this was all pretty much a done deal. in the 00s I started getting more aware what was actually out there, and more to the point what wasn't. And argh.

The Wild Swans thread with the gay protag. is set in New York about the time the AIDS epidemic peaked. And his family is... not happy with him. So it may not make you feel any better than China Mountain Zhang, even though the question the book is fighting with, at least somewhat, is "Why is there this sort of pain?"

I agree with the fewer gay men -- or men in general -- writing gay protagonists. It's something I would like to see more of. But as another woman who's written gay/bi male protagonists a couple of times, I'm kind of in the position of both wanting to see more and not really wanting to be asked not to...
Please don't stop! That's not what I mean at all. :-)

Bear talks upthread about seeing yourself in fiction for the first time -- her New Amsterdam was that for me, and I value it irrespective of the author's gender and orientation and whatever.

I do think that we would see a different and also-valuable set of stories told if we saw more queer men writing queer protagonists, and I am feeling the lack of those stories somewhat critically right now.

Good fiction is good fiction, and everyone will have to write and publish a hell of a lot before my appetite for good queer characters is sated. :-)
Gay men writing gay men get Even More Ghettoized than lesbians writing lesbians.

Straight women can get away with writing gay men, and straight MEN sometimes get lionized for their Risky Risk Taking for doing it.

Chabon's Kavalier and Klay, I seem to recall, has a gay protag. Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains and associated books.
Fiona Patton! Thinking of "The Granite Shield" in particular, but I believe it's a running theme in this author's books.

(Sorry, I'm so late to this post...)
Read more mysteries -- women own huge swathes of the mystery genre. I'm probably not going to send you any, but I can make recommendations.

MKK
I'm only an occasional mystery reader. But yes. Women get pretty good representation on and between the covers. (My current faves are Dorothy Sayers, Laurie R. King and Gail Bowen, though.)
I didn't know Bowen. Considering I adore Sayers & King I'll give her a try. Where would you recommend starting?

If you like Sayers you might also like Margery Allingham though, really, no one is like Sayers.
MKK
Gail Bowen writes a series starring Joanne Kilbourn (Middle-aged widowed mom and at different times a professor and a political commentator) set in Regina, Saskatchewan. The first book is called Deadly Appearances and I rather like it. I don't think there's a bad book to date, though after a few it starts suffering from Jessica Fletcher-itis if you read too many in a row. (Can one person whose job is not officially related to them really encounter all these murders and not be a basket case?)
Duly downloaded, and thanks. I'm always looking for new mystery writers. It would be nice if I like this, because she has a nice long backlist!

As far as the Fletcher Syndrome, well, if you're a mystery fan you get good at suspending disbelief on that !

MKK
Swordspoint stars two bisexual* men, too, even if they're white and one of them is super rich.

* Alec and Richard both had previous, and in Alec's case subsequent, female lovers, which does not make them gay; it makes them bisexual. I'm rather tired of reading Swordspoint described as a gay romance. Yes, it is between two men, but they're both bi, dammit.
Swordspoint technically was written before the millenium break point. Fall of the Kings and The Privilege of the Sword are after it.

I considered Swordspoint a gay romance because the current romance is m/m, but you're right that that's harsh to those of us who are bi. I think Ellen Kushner writes with bisexuality as a default, so an all straight or all gay character is a conscious choice.

I know Malinda Lo has grumbled about that with Ash; the heroine is genuinely drawn to her (male) elf lover as well as to the huntress.
Bisexual erasure: Oh hell, there went my legs.
In Code Name Verity (and this isn't a spoiler) the Maddie Character is Jewish, though it has comparatively little bearing on the story considering the WWII setting. And your spoiler friendly peeps are right, and you have to read this book :D

I'll also second the plugs for Nalo Hopkinson, and N. K. Jemisin. I've read Brown Girl In The Ring by the former, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by the latter.

And I'd also want to add Nnedi Okorafor, specifically Who Fears Death, though I'm sure the rest of her work that I haven't got to yet is also good.
Thanks.

(I've heard good to amazing things about Nnedi Okerafor but haven't picked up her books.)