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Posts Tagged ‘Characters of Color’

My guest review of Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson is up at Color Online. This book really blew me away. Monkey Beach follows Lisa, a young girl from the Haisla Native American Tribe living in Canada, with beautiful touches of magical realism and deep insights into what it means to grow up and be a family. I hope you’ll head over to read and leave some great comments.

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Speculative Fiction is Still for Children

I don’t remember the first Speculative Fiction story I read. There are so many possible contenders; I literally cannot pinpoint which one got to me first. I read Anne McCaffrey, Brian Jacques, Tanith Lee, Bruce Coville, Philip Pullman, Piers Anthony, Madeleine L’Engle and many more, all before I got out of elementary school. In middle school, I discovered Tamora Pierce, Simon R. Green, Douglass Adams and Lloyd Alexander. In high school, it was Tanya Huff, Mercedes Lackey, Orson Scott Card, Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Moon, and Garth Nix. I was heavily into fantasy back then. It wasn’t until college that I really started to read science fiction: Octavia E. Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert A. Heinlein, James H. Schmitz, Neal Stephenson, and David Weber.

Throughout all those years, about 18 now since I’ve been able to read to myself, my books were what kept me going. I had a troubled childhood (who didn’t), and I was looking for ways to escape. Speculative Fiction provided that escape. If I couldn’t personally run away from the things that bothered me, at least my mind could. I read on the bus, I read during classes, I read while walking home. I wanted to be those characters, I looked up to them, I admired the heroes in all those stories.

I wrote quite a bit, too, and made elaborate stories up in my head. I wanted to discover distant planets or alternate realities. I imagined myself the wielder of great and dire powers, magical or psychic. Nobody would ever make fun of me again. I could rearrange the world to my liking. These were childish stories with obvious Mary Sue characters and little to no true merit. But when I was writing them they made a world of difference to me. It gave me power over my own existence.

Speculative Fiction probably saved my life, or at least my sanity. I’d like to return the favor by making it a genre that anyone and everyone can read. When I was younger, all that mattered to me was the story. It didn’t have to be particularly good, and it didn’t have to representative of real life people. It just had to be not my life. As a critically thinking adult, I’ve started to expect more from the books I read. While I grow and change as a person, I expect the genre of Speculative Fiction to grow and change as well. And it’s very disappointing when it doesn’t live up to those lofty expectations.

It is a flawed genre, in some ways very badly. Many writers are still marginalized or go completely unpublished because of their choice of material or what they themselves look like or the way they live. Characters that I could once immerse myself in now reveal themselves to be shallow stereotypes and trite clichés. I’ve begun to realize that some of my favorite authors are themselves quite human, and many times it has been their bad behavior within the spec fic community that has shown this to me. It’s much easier in the age of the Internet to knock your heroes off their pedestals, simply by means of being able to talk to them or hearing them talk about themselves.

These are not irredeemable flaws but they are daunting ones. The Speculative Fiction community isn’t the all-welcoming entity it would like some to believe. Prejudice against women, against people of color, against LGBT fans and writers, is strong and alive.

However, as a feminist, a lesbian, and an advocate for racial and cultural diversity, I can honestly see no better medium then Speculative Fiction works to advance the ideals I believe in. If we can write anything, we can write stories full of characters of color, stories of strong, capable women, and stories featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer heroes, not to mention many other marginalized members of society. As real life human beings, we can advocate for the publication and recognition of these works.

The true meaning of Speculative Fiction, for me, is this.

The world is infinite, the possibilities are endless, and anyone can save the day.

It’s up to the advocates and the educators to make sure those stories and the authors who write them have the space they need to flourish. We need to talk about the flaws of the genre openly, review the less well known works, write opinion pieces and analytical essays. Introduce your friends to the little authors and ask publishers for the kind of works you want to read. It’s not a fast process or always a safe one. People might try to intimidate you or even threaten you into silence. But if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will?

I love Speculative Fiction and I think it has some wonderful authors and amazing stories within its history. But I also think it’s time for the genre to grow up.

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coloronlineMy guest review of Dawn by Octavia E. Butler is up at Color Online today. This book was amazing, along with the two that follow it in the trilogy. I hope you’ll head over to read and leave some great comments. This is a seriously thought-provoking book, and one of my favorites by Butler.

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