Friday, August 08, 2008

Minorities in SF

One of the panels that I will be participating in during Coppercon 28 is on Minorities in science fiction. It's a subject I find interesting in both my astonishment that the average SF reader is a white male, and the dearth of writers who aren't. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy in some ways, but the closed-loop nature of that is starting to show signs of crumbling.

Maybe it's because I lived for ten years in Silicon Valley, where diversity is just a fact of life. People from everywhere live there, and whites are only 40% of the population. Or maybe it's that I grew up in a family that gradually became more and more diversified through adoptions and marriages.

It astonishes me because I have traveled and recognized that cultural differences are skin-deep. People are people are people, no matter where they are.

Tobias Buckell is one of the rising stars of the genre. Go read Crystal Rain and you'll want more. Buckell uses his own background growing up in Grenada as fuel for the Caribbean flavor of his world. I haven't read the two follow-up volumes only for lack of time and about 3000 other books piled up inside my "in" box.

Buckell is an interesting guy. He doesn't look Caribbean, so he gets the opportunity to hear things people wouldn't say around other members of his family. It reminds me of stories my wife tells me about how people treat her when she's alone, and the behavioral differences I see when they learn she's married to a white guy.

I ran across this article by Liz Ng'ang'a. I have no idea how to pronounce that name, but I'm guessing the ' is a tongue click. I'd be interested to know if that is correct.

The article asks the question why Africa was used in SF as a dark and mysterious place in the first half of the 20th century, but is virtually ignored today in the genre. Why, she asks, is SF not embraced by African writers?

The reality is, however, that the SF genre remains largely male and largely white. That is changing, but it's changing slowly. Here are some non-white, and/or non-male SF writers to check out:

Mary Robinette Kowal
Tony Pi
Ruth Nestvold
Filipino writer and poet Kristine Ong Muslim (She is so isolated geographically that it's difficult to find reliable information about her.)
And of course a bigger name is Steven Barnes

The point is that by reading another point of view, you enrich your own life. Give some of their work a try. Much of it is available for free on the web. (Probably not Barnes' work, but he's a bigger fish in our pond.)

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