Beyond ‘Game of Thrones’
June 9, 2013 12:12 PM   Subscribe

The LA Times Hero Complex looks at diversity in SF and Fantasy fiction.
posted by Artw (45 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mainly Fantasy, with SF getting a historical look in, which itself might itself be interesting.
posted by Artw at 12:21 PM on June 9, 2013


I dunno, that read as surprisingly superficial to me. It wasn't so much an examination of diversity in F&SF as a "look, here are two or three non-white writers."
posted by Justinian at 12:22 PM on June 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not super in depth, but a lot more than two or three authors are mentioned, and several publishing houses are called out positively. I appreciate in particular the bit discussing the practice of whitewashing and the ground that's been gained there. It's an overview, not an analysis, but it's a pretty thorough overview.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:26 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's fair. I suppose I was hoping for an analysis since I don't need an overview, being immersed in the genre. But most people won't be.

I do think Jemisin likely underestimates the fraction of her readers who also read Martin. If only because Martin readership is so ubiquitous at this point. I've certainly read both, and I read them both before they were cool.
posted by Justinian at 12:31 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't have any sense of how Jemisin's sales are - I know her critical acclaim is great, and within the genre she's loved, but at this point people who haven't read a fantasy book since Narnia are reading Martin. It's a different scale.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:35 PM on June 9, 2013


That's fair. I suppose I was hoping for an analysis since I don't need an overview, being immersed in the genre. But most people won't be.

For what little it's worth, I'm someone who all but stopped reading science fiction or fantasy like 15 years ago and I thought it was really superficial.
posted by hoyland at 12:38 PM on June 9, 2013


So, pretty much the article mentions one anthology, two multi-award winning authors with their book titles, and a half dozen current authors without book titles. No links to book sources or reviews are provided. They also mention Justine Larbalestier, who is I believe white, and give the title of one of her books.

I'm not sure the article is deep enough to be called superficial.
posted by jeather at 12:43 PM on June 9, 2013


People who haven't read a fantasy book full stop are reading Martin. Stop appropriating my culture!

How is Throne of the Crescent Moon if anyone has read it? It's on my to be read pile. Which is several years long. Should I move it to the top?
posted by Justinian at 12:45 PM on June 9, 2013


Jemisin likely underestimates the fraction of her readers who also read Martin

I think the emergence of Martin has created a newer/different type of fan - Martin is their entry point, and they haven't branched out much past that yet. My feel is that this article is aimed at them - the somewhat "casual" fan who might get deeper into the genre, and this is an attempt to discuss both diversity in SF/F and introduce readers who are starting with Martin to the fact that there are more and varied pleasures that await them.

Other types of fans (and I would include myself in this) were reading widely in the genre when Martin came along, and will continue to try to read widely during and after Martin. Still, I'm really pleased to see more and more works that aren't "white medieval Europe with the serial numbers filed off" coming to mainstream attention.

SF/F should be a big tent with a smorgasbord of things to try; for too long it's been dominated by certain dishes. Something for every taste I say!
posted by nubs at 12:49 PM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Justinian, I quite liked Throne of the Crescent Moon. I don't know whether it should be at the top of your reading list, but it was original and well-written.

BTW - contrary to Ms. Jemisen's statement, I am a huge fan of both her work and Brandon Sanderson's.
posted by tdismukes at 12:49 PM on June 9, 2013


How is Throne of the Crescent Moon if anyone has read it?

I liked it. It's a fun adventure in an interesting world with some refreshingly non-standard characters and tropes. I am slightly bemused by all the attention it's gotten - it's good, and FUCKING YAY that it's drawing from a different cultural background, but it's not the Best Book Ever or anything. Definitely worth a read, and I will pick up the sequel right quick when it comes out.

(I feel that way about a lot of the Hugo and Nebula books, to be honest. They aren't usually bad books, but the criteria for nominating them seems rather opaque to me.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:52 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if I'd consider it the deepest thing ever but Throne of the Cresent Moon is a very quick, enjoyable read that does a good job at world building and is all around pretty charming.
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on June 9, 2013


The Big Idea: Saladin Ahmed
posted by Artw at 1:05 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Charles R. Saunders' Afrocentric fantasy Imaro definitely belongs on a list like this; he's another member of the same generation (birth year and in terms of publication dates) as Butler or Delany.
posted by graymouser at 1:18 PM on June 9, 2013


Song of Ice and Fire is the new Harry Potter. It's not going to get people into reading anything but more Song of Ice and Fire.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:18 PM on June 9, 2013


Song of Ice and Fire is the new Harry Potter. It's not going to get people into reading anything but more Song of Ice and Fire.

SF YA is doing spectacularly well post-Harry Potter. Do you have specific data that discounts its effect?

Charles R. Saunders' Afrocentric fantasy Imaro definitely belongs on a list like this; he's another member of the same generation (birth year and in terms of publication dates) as Butler or Delany.

The whole point of this list is to look at current and up-and-coming authors.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:22 PM on June 9, 2013


I think the emergence of Martin has created a newer/different type of fan - Martin is their entry point, and they haven't branched out much past that yet

A good point, it's similar as what happened with Harry Potter about --my gods-- about a decade ago, only with adults. Back then all sorts of classic young adult fantasy books got huge rises in sales. I think the same might happen with fantasy; certainly the publishers seem to try and find the next Martin.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:23 PM on June 9, 2013


look, here are two or three non-white writers.

Yeah, the slideshow had the obligatory pictures of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, who are basically the only two Black sf writers any sf fan has heard off.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:27 PM on June 9, 2013


SF YA is doing spectacularly well post-Harry Potter. Do you have specific data that discounts its effect?

The last Harry Potter book was published nearly six years ago. Are the people who grew up reading Harry Potter still reading YA fiction? Do you have any research that says Potter is responsible for this?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:33 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's an article on McSweeney's that does some comparisons between percentage of YA readers pre- and post-Potter. From that, it looks like the percentage went up drastically, and as of 2010 hadn't dropped back. What it does look like is that Potter got a lot of people reading, and that spurred sales of more YA properties that have kept the ball rolling.

Specifically related to the genre, here's Scalzi in 2008 talking about YA sales compared to adult SF sales and to some extent to non-SF YA. I am not sure if that still holds, but given the massive success of recent YA properties, I don't see why it isn't. (Unless Martin is skewing the curve, which may well be possible.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:51 PM on June 9, 2013


That's a pretty good round-up for folks looking to dip their toes in to the waters beyond GoT.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:53 PM on June 9, 2013


Yeah, the slideshow had the obligatory pictures of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, who are basically the only two Black sf writers any sf fan has heard off.

I get the strong feeling the article only mentions SF at all because the writer couldn't come up with any historical examples of black fantasy writers at all.
posted by Artw at 2:32 PM on June 9, 2013


Delany wrote fantasy though, Derririan even.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:47 PM on June 9, 2013


Well, I had given up on regularly reading fantasy years ago, (disliked Harry Potter and sparkly vampires too) and really had no idea what new stuff was out there that wasn't more bastardized Tolkein, or ultraviolent, or steampunk grimdark dystopia, or what have you. So this was interesting to me and I will probably try some of these writers.
posted by emjaybee at 2:47 PM on June 9, 2013


I get the strong feeling the article only mentions SF at all because the writer couldn't come up with any historical examples of black fantasy writers at all.

They are a bit thin on the ground, but there was Charles Saunders. She name checks Delany and Butler, both of whom wrote some fantasy alongside the more science fictiony stuff they are better known for. Steven Barnes might have written some fantasy, too, but he did mostly SF.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:50 PM on June 9, 2013


My point is, the article's author could have produced some older African-American fantasy writers pretty easily.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:52 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another author who has written some excellent fantasy is David Anthony Durham.
posted by selfnoise at 3:46 PM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also worth noting that Delany taught both Butler and Nalo Hopkinson at Clarion and I think without his influence we would probably have even less diversity.

He did write some fantasy, although like his entire oeuvre, it's not exactly conventional.
posted by selfnoise at 4:01 PM on June 9, 2013


Just added a bunch of stuff to the Kindle. Thanks for posting this, Artw.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:59 PM on June 9, 2013


I wonder how many authors of licensed fiction are nonwhite? I would guess it is more than none, just because of the sheer volume of the stuff that has been turned out over the years - Star Wars, Trek, Dr. Who, D&D, Warhammer, etc. There's enough that it'd be statistically hard for it to be all white authors.
posted by graymouser at 5:39 PM on June 9, 2013


Barnes has written some Star Wars and Star Trek novels, I am pretty sure. So there is one.

I would have loved to see Butler take on a TV franchise....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:50 PM on June 9, 2013


How is Throne of the Crescent Moon if anyone has read it?

I enjoyed it very much, though like others I would say it's not, like mind-blowing or progressive or anything like that.

Indeed, I suppose the fact that it wasn't "gritty", nor trying rebuild the genre from the ground up, was one of the things I liked about it. It's essentially some older school sword and sorcery, Leiber-style, with a middle eastern flavour and a better diversity in characters and storylines. I reviewed it on Librarything, and I would say if you liked the Howard Andrew Jones, you'd like it. I would say it's a slightly better book, but in the same league, with very much the same kind of retro vibe.
posted by smoke at 6:02 PM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Regardless of the author's ethnicity, it feels like a lot of them are Americans (or otherwise grew up/live in Western Europe/North America). Saladin Ahmed is part Irish/Polish and was born in Detroit.

Does Jon Courtenay Grimwood, a Brit, writing post-punk cyber-punkish (Arabesk trilogy) set in an alternative N. Africa, or Americans Kelly McCullough's quasi-Oriental-ish Fallen Blade trilogy and George Alec Effinger's Islamic-ish Marîd Audran series count towards diversity?

How rich (for lack of a better term) is the SF&F fiction genres in non-English languages? The great Stanisław Lem, iirc, wrote in his native Polish and had his works translated into English but famously derided the majority of English-language SF as merely pulp money-making rather than literature. Outside of Japanese Manga graphic novels and animation SF/F, is SF/F a strong genre in contemporary Asian fiction? I'm aware of a lot of medieval-fantasy type stuff in Chinese cinema and television and the continuing popularity of the classics (semi-fictional to completely-fictional accounts of historic times) but how popular is de novo fantasy and science fiction in Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi, Farsi, &c.?

How about in the Africas or South Americas?
posted by porpoise at 7:21 PM on June 9, 2013


Outside of Japanese Manga graphic novels and animation SF/F, is SF/F a strong genre in contemporary Asian fiction?

Don't discount manga; it's a rich trove of original ideas and is a valuable and fascinating genre in its own right.

But to answer your question (in part only, as I am by no means an expert), here's an interesting interview in the LA Review of Books with Chinese SF author Fei Dao on this very issue (in the Chinese context).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:32 PM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't walk past this thread without popping in and strongly recommending the works of Ted Chiang. He's not super prolific, and he only works in short stories. The result of which is that everything he's ever published is available online - in most cases, legally. Several stories are linked directly from his Wiki page. Everything else is a quick search away.

I recommend starting with 72 letters and Tower of Babylon. Great stuff.
posted by Anoplura at 8:58 PM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I distinctly recall an afterward in one of Tamora Pierce's books where she thanked JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series because had she written that book several years earlier, she would've had to cut a lot from it, because YA readers supposedly will only read short books. Harry Potter got a bestseller list added to the NYT and expanded the heck out of YA literature as something separate from children's books. And yeah, a lot of us are still reading YA-- I'm not reading it exclusively, but there's a lot of innovation in YA and there are a lot of really thoughtful authors writing interesting stories, often with a diverse cast. There's certain expectations of SERIOUS BUSINESS in a lot of adult fantasy and sci-fi that often tends to bore me. Also there seems to be slightly less gratuitous sexual abuse of female protagonists.

I'm just a little way into NK Jemisin's The Killing Moon and I'm liking it alright so far. I've been thinking a lot about our assumptions about what the world will look like in the future, and I really like the worldbuilding in Leviathan Wakes-- there are a lot of people of color and mixed race people and the narrative explicitly states this without tokenizing them. The worldbuilding is interesting-- there are dialects built up of combinations of existing languages that spring up in the asteroid belt in certain classes of people, a group of Texan settlers on Mars brought the drawling accent and it went viral and now most Martians have it, stuff like that. It's obvious that the way culture will evolve in the future was in the forefront of the authors' minds, but they avoid the lazy "Japan Planet" "Portugal Planet" etc that we saw in stuff like the Ender sequels.
posted by NoraReed at 10:46 PM on June 9, 2013


Ted Chiang previously on MeFi, with links to online copies of many of his excellent short stories.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:46 PM on June 9, 2013


I distinctly recall an afterward in one of Tamora Pierce's books where she thanked JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series because had she written that book several years earlier, she would've had to cut a lot from it, because YA readers supposedly will only read short books.

It's in the afterward of Trickster's Queen, FYI.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:48 PM on June 9, 2013


How about in the Africas or South Americas?

The Latin American stuff depends on how you categorize magical realism. Either way there is Borges.
posted by graymouser at 3:04 AM on June 10, 2013


How about in the Africas or South Americas?

Well, there's Lauren Beukes' excellent Zoo City (South Africa).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:32 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is fine, I guess, but just seems kind of "meh." Authors of color exist! Here are their books! Go read them! I don't really know what else there is to say about this.
posted by corb at 5:40 AM on June 10, 2013


Here's an article on McSweeney's that does some comparisons between percentage of YA readers pre- and post-Potter. From that, it looks like the percentage went up drastically, and as of 2010 hadn't dropped back. What it does look like is that Potter got a lot of people reading, and that spurred sales of more YA properties that have kept the ball rolling.

Specifically related to the genre, here's Scalzi in 2008 talking about YA sales compared to adult SF sales and to some extent to non-SF YA. I am not sure if that still holds, but given the massive success of recent YA properties, I don't see why it isn't. (Unless Martin is skewing the curve, which may well be possible.)


Ok, so what's the underlying story, here? Are the people who read Harry Potter just continuing to read YA fiction long past the point that they could be considered young adults or what? I'm sure kids are still reading Harry Potter, and maybe that's making them read more YA stuff, too, but what I'm interested in is how many people read Harry Potter and then went on to read non-YA stuff.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:46 AM on June 10, 2013


I can't identify the bookstore this came from, but yeah, adults continue to read YA fiction because it is often complex, well-written and just generally enjoyable to read. There's bad YA fiction, of course, but there's bad everything.
posted by jeather at 7:57 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


How rich (for lack of a better term) is the SF&F fiction genres in non-English languages?

The Small Blue Planet podcast was set up to cover the international SF&F scene. So far they've done Finland, China, Brazil, France, and Israel, and there are lists and links to authors available in translation on those pages even if you don't listen to the podcast. See also some of the essays on the World SF blog.
posted by penguinliz at 10:49 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


smoke: "It's essentially some older school sword and sorcery, Leiber-style, with a middle eastern flavour"

I was just about to write almost exactly the same statement but you summed it up. Throw in some of the non-Eternal Champion Moorcock as well. A lot of the current "gritty" near/far east and African-themed fantasy reminds me of the vintage fantasy pre-Tolkien, when it just seemed more diverse and less Teutonic in feel and kind of peaked in the 1980s/1990s. We're moving away from a temporary state of thematic monoculture in English language fantasy writing, and that's exciting.
posted by meehawl at 11:27 AM on June 10, 2013


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