Sep. 9th, 2016

heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
First off, to anyone unfamiliar, here's info about the words emic & etic. In any case, I've been reading a surprising amount of fantasy recently, a bit of urban fantasy, but mostly fantasy set in more magical versions of the 19th century or in fantasy worlds with technologies and societies ranging from the late Renaissance to the mid Victorian era – fantasy set in eras with somewhat higher technology and more and larger cities than before has become more common, in part I think because the rural entirely pre-industrial past is moving even further out of living memory that readers are looking for something a bit more familiar, a change I highly support.

There's another equally obvious change, a growing number of minor characters and also protagonists who are of a racial minority and who must deal with issues of prejudice and discrimination, often in late pre-modern setting where these sorts of problems were considerably worse than they are now. I'm seeing such novels written both by authors of color and also by white authors, and while generalizations are difficult, I have noticed one that I think may be true – white authors writing about non-white protagonists facing racial prejudice more often seem to have that character relatively isolated from any community of such people, either because they left voluntarily to go and seek their fortune, because they were raised outside that community, or because they were kicked out.

In contrast, most authors of color I've read who write similar novels (and my sample here is sadly smaller, because I mostly read novels written by white authors) have protagonists who move between a community mostly composed of members of their race or ethnicity and the outside world, where they face significant prejudice, and such character are (unsurprisingly) more likely to have close friends or family members within their community. Also, from what I've seen at least, authors of color are more likely to write novels featuring non-white protagonist in settings where the protagonist is a member of the dominant (or only major) racial or ethnic group.

I don't see either of these sorts of stories as being inherently better than the other (beyond the obvious fact that having more authors of color writing SF&F is clearly a good thing, because there aren't enough and they face considerably more problems getting published than white authors, but I do find the differences to be interesting.

This current shift also reminds me of a similar change I saw starting almost 45 years ago – an increase in the number of both female SF&F authors and a far greater rise in both female and male authors writing about both female protagonists and important female minor characters. Once again, I saw differences in how female and male authors wrote these characters. The most notable being that male authors seemed more likely to have the sexism the protagonists face be somewhat over the top or at least exceptionally overt and brutal, while female authors seemed (at least to me) more likely to depict characters facing constant low level disapproval and censure, but I also don't think the differences was quite as pronounced as between non-white and white authors writing about non-white characters facing prejudice. I also noticed a few authors (the most obvious Gordon R. Dickson in his 1977 novel Timestorm attempt to write several important female characters, and fail utterly (in that he instead wrote a series of rather over-the-top stereotypes). Thankfully, I've not run into anything quite that dire among the white authors I've read who have written about non-white protagonists.

In any case, if you are looking for some exceedingly well done works with non-white protagonists that were written by non-white authors, I recommend:

Sunbolt and Memories of Ash both by Intisar Khanani (a third novel will be out next year), Serpentine, by Cindy Pon (sequel coming out in less than two weeks), and Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed (which I hope someday has a sequel, but is complete as is).

Short fiction (read online):
Hunting Monsters and Fighting Demons, both by S.L. Huang, who also writes the the awesome Russell's Attic series (modern day SF set in LA).

Also, for a good fantasy novel dealing with race by a white author, I recommend Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

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