Mindblowing science fiction by women & people of colour

// 25 August 2009

Check out this fantastic list of “mindblowing” science fiction by women & people of colour, pulled together by The Angry Black Woman, with help from readers at her own blog, Alas, A Blog, and Feminist SF: The Blog.

This list is a response to a book called the Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction, which managed to put together a collection which put across the distinct impression that only white men have written “mindblowing” scifi, by failing to include any women, or any people of colour.

ABW says:

When we’re confronted by people who claim that there just aren’t very many outstanding women or POC writers in the field, we can point to this and say: bullshit, bucko. Try again.

We have to be responsible for keeping track of and highlighting and celebrating and giving notice to our own and recording the accomplishments of our best. Because no one else is going to do it for us. If they’re not ignoring, they’re actively suppressing. Neither of which is acceptable.

The full list is up at Tor.com. Authors on the list I’d also particularly recommend would be Octavia Butler (see here for a mini-review of Lilith’s Brood), Ursula Le Guin, Vandana Singh (see here for a review of one of her collections) – I liked that Ali Smith (one of her collections is reviewed here) was on the list too, she’s definitely one of my favourites but I wouldn’t generally class her in science fiction/speculative fiction).

One of the books on the list, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, is Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Handmaid’s Tale – via HarpyMarx, Atwood is staging a narration of her latest novel, “the story of God’s Gardeners, a religion devoted to preserving all species, which has long predicted the Waterless Flood, a global pandemic obliterating most human life”.

And, while we’re on the subject of fiction, although it’s about characters not authors, I loved this quote from a guest post by Neesha Meminger at Racialicious, which is in response to Justine Larbalestier’s piece on why the protagonists in her young-adult books aren’t white:

I create worlds in my books where people of color and women are at the center—not at the margins where we are habitually cast in the everyday world. This is a conscious decision. It is a political choice. Just as writing a book, film, or television series peopled ONLY with white folks is a political act, be it conscious or not.

On white authors writing characters of color: because the power imbalance leans so heavily to one side over the other, white authors absolutely must support the efforts of authors of color. White authors absolutely must people their stories with characters of color to reflect a reality they often have the privilege of ignoring, if they so choose.

Comments From You

Mair // Posted 26 August 2009 at 4:36 pm

Excellent. This will keep me going for a while.

Janette // Posted 26 August 2009 at 5:35 pm

I completely agree that white authors should people their stories with characters of colour. Many crime authors (from both US and UK) in particular do this. But isn’t there a difficulty, i.e. that a white person can never completely accurately reflect the experiences/feelings of a person of colour? Aren’t they be bound to get it wrong? And you’d have to make sure you didn’t stereotype the character, or give them an experience you’d imagine they would have had being a person of colour. It seems a bit of a minefield…? Maybe I’m being really ignorant here.

Jess McCabe // Posted 26 August 2009 at 5:52 pm

@Janette I think that’s a potential issue, but equally it is the job of a good writer to describe other peoples’ perspectives in a realistic manner, as well as their own, isn’t it? Unless a writer is 100% autobiographical.

Obviously, it’s not an easy job, but it’s better to try than just to give up and only write about people with the same exact experience as you…

kez // Posted 26 August 2009 at 6:13 pm

Great list.

Off the top of my head, I’d like to add Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin, and Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (strangely not on the list, though Body of Glass is).

kez // Posted 26 August 2009 at 6:16 pm

Oh, for those interested in SF by women, there’s also a good short story collection from some years back, called Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind. I think it was published by the Women’s Press.

Sharon E. Dreyer // Posted 26 August 2009 at 7:16 pm

As a first time published author, it’s difficult to have the publishing establishment take a woman author seriously. Doesn’t keep me from trying.

Check out my first and recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This exciting story is a romantic action adventure in space.

While my novel doesn’t specify colour, the characters are well developed and aren’t from the same ilk.

Did you know that Mr. Spock was originally supposed to have red skin? But the color was changed to green since most people still had black and white televisions. The network thought the red makeup made Vulcans appear to be black.

Thanks for sharing this article.

Julian // Posted 26 August 2009 at 8:55 pm

It might be worth making a point of when and where SF was most popular.

Meg // Posted 27 August 2009 at 5:11 am

Janette, not every story about a person of color has to be a story about their color, does it? It seems to me like in many stories, you could change the race and gender of a character without it changing the story very much. This is especially true in sci-fi/fantasy, where the setting/society is often completely invented, and the institutional racism and sexism in our world doesn’t need to exist. Even in our world, people of color don’t have one common set of experiences and feelings (especially feelings!). I’m not a POC, but I am a woman, and I would rather people write male characters and switch the gender to female half the time (in stories where gender isn’t relevant) than to not write about women at all. Maybe that doesn’t really carry over to race, but that’s how I see it.

On top of that, it seems like a bit of a cop-out for white authors to say that they’ll keep whitewashing their books because they’re afraid of criticism. Criticism is an unavoidable part of literature and the writing process. Handling it maturely is a crucial skill for anyone who wants to be a writer — it’s an opportunity to make sure the next piece is better.

Catherine // Posted 27 August 2009 at 4:04 pm

It is great that there is all this new and more diverse fiction out there. But I don’t think anyone ever has the right to dictate to an author what they “absolutely must” or must not write about!

RobbieD // Posted 2 February 2010 at 4:09 pm

I am a young author, 22, currently unpublished, but I make it a point in my writings to use a variety of people from many different backgrounds. My own SF takes place in the future, like 1,500 years in the future, and despite this I like to imagine that humans still hold on to their diverse cultural backgrounds and concepts that have assisted the various societies of the world become what they are today from 1,500 years in the past.

I will admit that as an American male of European decent it is not easy to get in the skin of a person of color and/or a woman, but as long as authors go into their writings with respect for their characters and their backgrounds it should not matter what color or gender they are, even if people take offense. There is no reason not to be inclusive with respect.

I pride myself on being able to respectfully include people from all backgrounds into my work. I may get things others think are wrong or offensive but the fact is I try. Out of my six main characters one is of African decent, another of Arabian decent, another is of Asian decent and another is of Latin American decent. Their cultures and history play a part as to who they are but as long as authors don’t make a character’s ethnicity or gender a character’s only definable trait and writes them like they would any other character with unique histories and values, I don’t see why SF could not be more inclusive.

***If anyone wants to read my work they are welcome to. I have posted the first three chapters of my book online at: http://devenuti.wordpress.com/

I want to be published someday but even if that never happens I will continue to write about diverse human beings in the hope that POC and Women and GBLT etc get included in the mainstream of SF.

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