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March 2017



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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


Zoo City and Moxyland by Lauren Beukes.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

A special shout-out for Jo Graham's Numinous World trilogy: Black Ships, Stealing Fire and Hand of Isis, which include not only non-male, non-white, non-het characters, but a whole exploration of gender and identity over the course of their saga and even has at least one poly relationship. She's now in the midst of a Napoleonic Era trilogy, which takes her into pretty white territory, but is still very much exploring sexuality, gender and the essentials of identity.

And Le Guin is still at it! Her recent YA trilogy, The Annals of the Western Shore not only features non-white characters, but puts their faces on the covers!

I'm working my way through The Mongoliad by everyone. There are lots and lots of non-white characters and several central female characters in that.

Melissa Scott's dependable for characters outside the 7P box. Her Astreiant books (written with Lisa Barnett) are set in a world where much of the power resides in the hands of women in a way that is nicely startling.

Stephenson's Reamde has an African-American woman as one of its protagonists and several other non-white characters. Although I have some issues with his portrayal of women and the signifiers he's developed for "this is a woman," he's really put work into his depiction of women and I give him kudos for not just trying, but trying repeatedly and taking criticism and getting better at it.

Moving out of genre, at least somewhat, I'll mention Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. There's also Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books, which have race, gender, sexuality and mental health issues woven all through them.

I'm looking forward to lots of new recommendations!

Edited at 2013-03-20 12:33 pm (UTC)
"Eutopia," by Poul Anderson.

But you won't find out why until well into the tale :)

Historical note: though it's in many respects a standard crosstime travel story, the twist was considered shocking enough when it was written that it was in Dangerous Visions for that reason alone. And it's one entirely integral to the AH assumption -- Poul Anderson didn't just throw it in to be either PC or shocking.
Paolo is a friend of sorts, but there's a race and gender conversation to be had about Windup Girl that comes from people living the country in question. It's worth listening to them. I still liked the book, though.