heron61: (Gryphon)
[personal profile] heron61
I was talking with [livejournal.com profile] imester about the various wonderful novels by P.C. Hodgell (Godstalk, Dark of the Moon, and Seeker's Mask) and she suggested that the fact that the protagonist is a different race from 99% of the rest of the people she interacts with and that this is a fairly big deal for some character interactions is most easily seen if you think of Jame (the protagonist) as black and almost everyone else as white. This thought-experiment highlights a number of features of these novels. However, the main character is not black, she is a member of an exotic race of dark-haired, pale skinned, gray-eyed people. This description is fairly common in a certain sort of fantasy novel (generally ones I like) and it comes both from deeply-rooted cultural ideas about appearance and from the fact that this is also exactly the description of the magical Old Race from Andre Norton's Witch World series. Given how many modern fantasists read that series when growing up, it's hardly surprising that it had a major impact.

However, that also reminded me that Andre Norton is also responsible for some truly amazing racial stuff in her early work. Not only does she have dark-skinned protagonists whose ancestry is explicitly non-European in many of her SF novels Android At Arms & Wraiths of Times (black), Star Guard (pacific islander), Beast Master (native american), she also wrote about inter-racial romance in 1964, 3 years before the Supreme Court declared interracial marriage legal in all states in the US.

Ordeal in Otherwhere, p. 24 "Her hair was shoulder-length now, it's light brown strands fair against her tanned skin,... ...and her eyes-a pale gray-...", and on page 81, "His skin was an even brown... and the hair... was almost as tightly curled and just as black as Tsstu's (an alien animal with kinky black fur) fur...". These two characters fall in love by the end of the novel (a typical ending for many Andre Norton novels) and one characters is white and the other sounds like he is (at least by US definitions) black. While unexceptional now, for me that novel is right up there with the original Star Trek having the first interracial kiss on US television 4 years later, in 1968.

I have no idea if Norton's SF or even Star Trek helped change any minds, but I would very much like to think so. On a similar note, I do what I can and place queer and trans characters, and occasional poly groupings in my RPG writing.

Date: 2004-03-22 07:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] moominmuppet.livejournal.com
I have no idea if Norton's SF or even Star Trek helped change any minds, but I would very much like to think so.

As we've discussed before, I'm quite certain that various sci-fi works had a strong influence on who I am, and how I perceive certain demographic and social issues.

Date: 2004-03-22 08:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ninquelote.livejournal.com
Wow, we haven't read a lot of Andre Norton. ^Kit read one of her older fantasy novels when we were in middle school and liked it, though found it slow-moving, but we also heard she was one of the writers who became increasingly formulaic as she went on (like Marion Zimmer Bradley, some of her older stuff we liked before the Mother Goddess Religiony stuff).

Ursula LeGuin was also one of the first sci-fi/fantasy writers to have nonwhite heroes in her books. She's mentioned that most reviewers never seem to notice that most of the characters in her books aren't white. Actually when "A Wizard of Earthsea" first came out, whoever did the cover art for the book hadn't read it at ALL, because it had this pale-skinned guy in a cape on it (the main character in WoE and everyone where he comes from are dark-skinned). @.@ I wonder if any of Norton's old cover artists did the same.

I think one of the first things we learned about reading fantasy is how very much crap there is, but we also got a few gems that really stuck with us. The first time we read a description of working poly relationships was in a short story by Vonda McIntyre, when we were 12-- it was normal for these people's culture. And although we have never been impressed with Mercedes Lackey, she did do a stories of books in which the main character was gay and had realistic relationships. I think you could definitely do a better job than Mercedes Lackey, at any rate, if you wanted to try to write gay characters into an RPG world. ^^;

Date: 2004-03-22 09:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] heron61.livejournal.com
Vonda McIntyre also wrote what I consider to be one of the most wonderful and excellent feminist novels ever, Dreamsnake, which neatly avoids all of the negative things so often associated with feminism and instead is a subtle and excellent depiction of a truly egalitarian and wonderful culture living in a highly marginal (many centuries after a major nuclear war) world. This novel won both the Hugo and the Nebula in 1979 and deserved both.

I generally read far more SF than fantasy, because with a few notable exceptions fantasy is deeply regressive socially and politically, while there has always been a large amount of highly socially progressive SF that is also well-written and a joy to read. There is also a large amount of militaristic crap & libertarian propaganda, but SF is fundamentally the literature social commentary and the best does this job wonderfully well.

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