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PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical

fozmeadows:

Victorian Women SmokingImage taken from tumblr.

Recently, SFF author Tansy Rayner Roberts wrote an excellent post debunking the idea that women did nothing interesting or useful throughout history, and that trying to write fictional stories based on this premise of feminine insignificance is therefore both inaccurate and offensive. To quote:

“History is not a long series of centuries in which men did all the interesting/important things and women stayed home and twiddled their thumbs in between pushing out babies, making soup and dying in childbirth.

History is actually a long series of centuries of men writing down what they thought was important and interesting, and FORGETTING TO WRITE ABOUT WOMEN. It’s also a long series of centuries of women’s work and women’s writing being actively denigrated by men. Writings were destroyed, contributions were downplayed, and women were actively oppressed against, absolutely.

But the forgetting part is vitally important. Most historians and other writers of what we now consider “primary sources” simply didn’t think about women and their contribution to society. They took it for granted, except when that contribution or its lack directly affected men.

This does not in any way mean that the female contribution to society was in fact less interesting or important, or complicated, simply that history—the process of writing down and preserving of the facts, not the facts/events themselves—was looking the other way.”

The relevance of this statement to the creation of SFF stories cannot be understated. Time and again, we see fans and creators alike defending the primacy of homogeneous – which is to say, overwhelmingly white, straight and male – stories on the grounds that anything else would be intrinsically unrealistic. Contrary to how it might seem at first blush, this is not a wholly ironic complaint: as I’ve recently had cause to explain elsewhere, the plausibility of SFF stories is derived in large part from their ability to make the impossible feel realistic. A fictional city might be powered by magic and the dreams of dead gods, but it still has to read like a viable human space and be populated by viable human characters. In that sense, it’s arguable that SFF stories actually place a greater primacy on realism than straight fiction, because they have to work harder to compensate for the inclusion of obvious falsehoods. Which is why there’s such an integral relationship between history and fantasy: our knowledge of the former frequently underpins our acceptance of the latter. Once upon a time, we know, there really were knights and castles and quests, and maps whose blank spaces warned of dragons and magic. That being so, a medieval fantasy novel only needs to convince us that the old myths were true; that wizards and witches existed, and that monsters really did populate the wilds. Everything else that’s dissonant with modern reality – the clothes, the customs, the social structure – must therefore constitute a species of historical accuracy, albeit one that’s liberally seasoned with poetic license, because that vague, historical blueprint is what we already have in our heads.

But what happens when our perception of historical accuracy is entirely at odds with real historical accuracy? What happens when we mistake our own limited understanding of culture – or even our personal biases – for universal truths? What happens, in other words, when we’re jerked out of a story, not because the fantastic elements don’t make sense, but because the social/political elements strike us as being implausible on the grounds of unfamiliarity?

The answer tends to be as ugly as it is revealing: that it’s impossible for black, female pirates to exist anywhere, thatpixies and shapeshifters are inherently more plausible as a concept than female action heroes who don’t get raped, and that fairy tale characters as diverse as Mulan, Snow White and Captain Hook can all live together in the modern world regardless of history and canon, but a black Lancelot in the same setting is grossly unrealistic. On such occasions, the recent observation of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz that “Motherfuckers will read a book that’s 1/3rd elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they (white people) think we’re taking over” is bitingly, lamentably accurate. And it’s all thanks to a potent blend of prejudice and ignorance: prejudice here meaning the conviction that deliberately including POC, female and/or LGBTQ characters can only ever be a political action (and therefore an inherently suspicious one), and ignorance here meaning the conviction that the historical pervasiveness of sexism, racism and homophobia must necessarily mean that any character shown to surpass these limitations is inherently unrealistic.

Let’s start with the latter claim, shall we?

Because as Roberts rightly points out, there’s a significant difference between history as written and history as happened, with a further dissonance between both those states and history as it’s popularly perceived. For instance: female pirates – and, indeed, female pirates of colour – are very much an historical reality. The formidable Ching Shih, a former prostitute, commanded more than 1800 ships and 80,000 pirates, took on the British empire and was successful enough to eventually retire. There were female Muslim pirates and female Irish pirates – female pirates, in fact, from any number of places, times and backgrounds. But because their existence isn’t routinely taught or acknowledged, we assume them to be impossible. The history of women in the sciences is plagued by similar misconceptions, their vital contributions belittled, forgotten and otherwise elided for so many years that even now, the majority of them continue to be overlooked. Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie are far from being exceptions to the rule: Cecilia Payne-GaposchkinLeise Meitner and Emmy Noether all contributed greatly to our understanding of science, as did countless others. And in the modern day, young female scientists abound despite the ongoing belief in their rarity: nineteen-year-old Aisha Mustafa has patented a new propulsion system for spacecraft, while a young group of Nigerian schoolgirls recently invented a urine-powered generator. Even the world’s first chemist was a woman.

And nor is female achievement restricted to the sciences. Heloise d’Argenteuil was accounted one of the brightest intellectuals of her day; Bessie Coleman was both the first black female flyer and the first African American to hold an international pilot’s licence; Nellie Bly was a famed investigative journalist, not only travelling around the world solo in record time (in which adventure she raced against and beat another female reporter, Elizabeth Bisland), but uncovering the deplorable treatment of inmates at Blackwell Asylum by going undercover as a patient. Sarah Josephine Baker was a famous physician known for tracking down Typhoid Mary, tirelessly fighting poverty and, as a consequence, drastically improving newborn care. And in the modern day, there’s no shortage of female icons out fighting racism, sexism, homophobia and injustice despite the limitations society wants to impose on them: journalistMarie Colvin, who died this year reporting on the Syrian uprising; Burmese politician and activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent some 15 years as a political prisoner; fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban for her advocacy of female education; and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman, who jointly won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for their work in support of women’s rights.

But what about historical women in positions of leadership – warriors, politicians, powerbrokers? Where do they fit in?  The ancient world provides any number of well-known examples – Agrippina the YoungerCleopatraBoudica,Queen Bilquis of ShebaNefertiti – but they, too, are far from being unusual: alongside the myriad female soldiersthroughout history who disguised themselves as men stand the Dahomey Amazons, the Soviet Night Witches, thefemale cowboys of the American west and the modern Asgarda of Ukraine; the Empress Dowager CixiQueen Elizabeth I and Ka’iulani all ruled despite opposition, while a wealth of African queens, female rulers and rebels have had their histories virtually expunged from common knowledge. At just twenty years old, Juana Galan successfully lead the women of her village against Napoleon’s troops, an action which ultimately caused the French to abandon her home province of La Mancha. Women played a major part in the Mexican revolution, too, much like modern women across Africa and the Middle East, while the Irish revolutionary, suffragette and politician Constance Markievicz, when asked to provide other women with fashion advice, famously replied that they should “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank, and buy a revolver.” More recently still, in WWII, New Zealander Nancy Wake served as a leading French resistance fighter: known to the Gestapo as the White Mouse, she once killed an SS sentry with her bare hands and took command of a maquis unit when their male commander died in battle. Elsewhere during the same conflict, Irena Sendler survived both torture and a Nazi death sentence to smuggle some 2,500 Jewish children safely out of the Warsaw ghetto, for which she was nominated for a Nobel peace prize in 2007.

And what of gender roles and sexual orientation – the various social, romantic and matrimonial mores we so frequently assume to be static, innate and immutable despite the wealth of information across biology and history telling us the opposite? Consider the modern matriarchy of Meghalaya, where power and property descend through matrilineal lines and men are the suffragettes. Consider the longstanding Afghan practice of Bacha Posh, where girl children are raised as boys, or the sworn virgins of Albania – women who live as and are legally considered to be men, provided they remain chaste. Consider the honoured status of Winkte and two-spirit persons in various First Nations cultures, and the historical acceptance of both the Fa’afafine of Samoa and the Hijra of India and South-East Asia. Consider the Biblical relationship described in the Book of Samuel between David and Jonathan of Israel, the inferred romance between Alexander the Great and Hephaestion, and the openly gay emperors of the Han Dynasty - including Emperor Ai of Han, whose relationship with Dong Xian gave rise to the phrase ‘the passion of the cut sleeve’. Consider the poetry of Sappho, the relationship between Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, the tradition of normative, female-female relationships in Basotho, and the role of the Magnonmaka in Mali – nuptial advisers whose teach women how to embrace and enjoy their sexuality in marriage.

And then there’s the twin, misguided beliefs that Europe was both wholly white and just as racially prejudiced as modern society from antiquity through to the Middle Ages – practically right up until the present day. Never mind that no less than three Arthurian Knights of the Round Table – Sir Palamedes, Sir Safir and Sir Segwarides – are canonically stated to be Middle Eastern, or the fact that people of African descent have been present in Europe since classical times; and not just as slaves or soldiers, but as aristocrats. The network of trade routes known collectively asthe Silk Road that linked Europe with parts Africa, the Middle East, India and Asia were established as early as 100 BC; later, black Africans had a visible, significant, complex presence in Europe during the Renaissance, while much classic Greek and Roman literature was only preserved thanks to the dedication of Arabic scholars during the Abbasid Caliphate, also known as the Islamic Golden Age, whose intellectuals were also responsible for many advances in medicine, science and mathematics subsequently appropriated and claimed as Western innovations. Even in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds, it’s possible to find examples of prominent POC in Europe: Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, was of Creole descent, as was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the famous British composer, while Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole was honoured alongside Florence Nightingale for her work during the Crimean War.

I could go on. As exhaustive as this information might seem, it barely scratches the surface. But as limited an overview as these paragraphs present, they should still be sufficient to make one very simple point: that even in highly prejudicial settings supposedly based on real human societies, trying to to argue that women, POC and/or LGBTQ persons can’t so much as wield even small amounts of power in the narrative, let alone exist as autonomous individuals without straining credulity to the breaking point, is the exact polar opposite of historically accurate writing.

Which leads me back to the issue of prejudice: specifically, to the claim that including such characters in SFF stories, by dint of contradicting the model of straight, white, male homogeneity laid down by Tolkien and taken as gospel ever since, is an inherently political – and therefore suspect – act. To which I say: what on Earth makes you think that the classic SWM default is apolitical? If it can reasonably argued that a character’s gender, race and sexual orientation have political implications, then why should that verdict only apply to characters who differ from both yourself and your expectations? Isn’t the assertion that straight white men are narratively neutral itself a political statement, one which seeks to marginalise as exceptional or abnormal the experiences of every other possible type of person on the planet despite the fact that straight white men are themselves a global minority? And even if a particular character was deliberately written to make a political point, why should that threaten you? Why should it matter that people with different beliefs and backgrounds are using fiction to write inspirational wish-fulfillment characters for themselves, but from whose struggle and empowerment you feel personally estranged? That’s not bad writing, and as we’ve established by now, it’s certainly not bad history – and particularly not when you remember (as so many people seem to forget) that fictional cultures are under no obligation whatsoever to conform to historical mores. It just means that someone has managed to write a successful story that doesn’t consider you to be its primary audience – and if the prospect of not being wholly, overwhelmingly catered to is something you find disturbing, threatening, wrong? Then yeah: I’m going to call you a bigot, and I probably won’t be wrong.

Point being, I’m sick to death of historical accuracy being trotted out as the excuse du jour whenever someone freaks out about the inclusion of a particular type of character in SFF, because the ultimate insincerity behind the claim is so palpable it’s practically a food group. I’m yet to see someone who objects to the supposed historic inaccuracy of, for instance, female cavalry regiments (which – surprise! - is totally a thing) raise similarly vehement objections to any other aspect of historically suspicious worldbuilding, like longbows in the wrong period or medical knowledge being too far advanced for the setting. The reason for this is, I suspect, simple: that most people with sufficient historical knowledge to pick up on issues like nonsensical farming techniques, the anachronistic presence of magnets in ancient settings and corsetry in the wrong era also know about historical diversity, and therefore don’t find its inclusion confronting. Almost uniformly, in fact, it seems as though such complaints of racial and sexual inaccuracy have nothing whatsoever to do with history and everything to do with a foggy, bastardised and ultimately inaccurate species of faux-knowledge gleaned primarily – if not exclusively – from homogeneous SFF, RPG settings, TV shows and Hollywood. And if that’s so, then no historic sensibilities are actually being affronted, because none genuinely exist: instead, it’s just a reflexive way of expressing either conscious or subconscious outrage that someone who isn’t white, straight and/or male is being given the spotlight.

Because ultimately, these are SFF stories: narratives set in realms that don’t and can’t exist. And if you still want to police the prospects of their inhabitants in line with a single, misguided view of both human history and human possibility, then congratulations: you have officially missed the point of inventing new worlds to begin with.

(via tithenai)

girljanitor
cabell:

[snipped, not because it’s not a great original post—it is; will reblog separately—or because there aren’t great responses in here—there are; click through to read—but because this is probably on a lot of dashes already and also it was getting to the point of being so deeply threaded that it was becoming impossible to read]
purpletomahawk:


You know, I kinda have a problem with this, as well. I’m white, but one thing I’ve made a major point in my life is to never see skin color. If you had told me this book was part of a wonderful fantasy series that would have been fine. If you had told me the protagonists were people of color and the antagonists where white: still fine. But you had to drive home the thought that it’s so superior just for those reasons, and that’s unsettling. Racism does work both ways. Someone else expressed disinterest in the book and you jumped down her throat because she was white and expressed an opinion. She doesn’t have to like this book. That doesn’t make her any less of a bad person, nor does it make me one (although I do still plan on reading them, despite the racist review). Think before you type, because you can spew just as much ignorant bullshit as the people you are calling racist.


A few notes on the bolded, working backwards:
1) “Racism” is a complex interweaving of various institutional structures, supported and reinforced by individual attitudes and behaviors but not reducible solely to those attitudes and behaviors, that grants power and privilege to some people based on group membership (the dominant group) while denying power and privilege to other people based on group membership (marginalized groups).  In the West, White people are the dominant group.
The review is not “racist” because regardless of what it says about White people, it does not—it cannot—turn that entire hierarchy upside down.  White people are still dominant, as numerous other posters have pointed out; 99.99% of the stories that will ever cross your path will still treat White people as individuals and people of color (POC) as stereotypes, tokens, somehow less-than-humans.
2) “Color blindness” is not a worthy goal to which to aspire.  There is a reason that race scholars and activists refer to “color-blind racism”: When people say they don’t see color, what they ultimately mean is, they don’t see POC as legitimately human.  They may not understand that this is what necessarily underlies their fantasy of a world without color, but studies demonstrate that in fact, they see everyone as potentially White or White-like until those people somehow fail to live up to their standards of Whiteness, and then they see those people as deficient, wrong, and deserving of worse outcomes than “good” (White, or as White-like as possible) people.
If you do not see color, then how do you explain persistent gaps in education, income, wealth, and incarceration between White people and POC (particularly Black people)?  You blame the victims, because you have purposely erased the single most important demographic characteristic for explaining those disparities.  Without that demographic, their outcomes must be the result of personal character flaws.
But of course, since you don’t REALLY “not see color,” over time, you end up ascribing those outcomes to flaws in the group: “Black people go to prison  more than White people because they are naturally disposed toward criminality,” rather than “Black people go to prison more than White people because police look for crime in Black neighborhoods and are more likely to stop Black people and charge Black people, who are are more likely to be convicted and sentenced in mainly White courts.”  The second explanation is more complex; it is also an accurate representation of the world we live in.
POC cannot “not see color” because such a strategy would be, for them, suicidal.  For White people, “color blindness” is a comforting lie that allows us to ignore our complicity in the systems that generally reward us for our efforts and treat us generously when we fall, while ignoring the efforts of POC and destroying them if they so much as falter.
Large parts of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States are available as a preview on Google books.  I highly recommend that you check it out.  I’ve assigned chapter 3, “The Style of Color-Blind Racism: How to Talk Nasty about Minorities without Sounding Racist” in courses on race & ethnicity mainly because it uses some concrete interview data that may make the arguments more accessible to you.
Finally, please note that I, as a White person, have the luxury of thinking about this in an academic framework and responding to you in a somewhat measured fashion, with all the cultural trappings of dominance (both race and class) in our culture.  Do not mistake that for validity.
The anger of POC in response to your posts upholding the racist status quo is valid.  They do not owe you anything and you do not have any special right not to be yelled at for hurting people.  I want you to learn so that you do not hurt people.  But if you can’t do that, I do at least suggest that you stay out of conversations that for once are not about you.

cabell:

[snipped, not because it’s not a great original post—it is; will reblog separately—or because there aren’t great responses in here—there are; click through to read—but because this is probably on a lot of dashes already and also it was getting to the point of being so deeply threaded that it was becoming impossible to read]

purpletomahawk:

You know, I kinda have a problem with this, as well. I’m white, but one thing I’ve made a major point in my life is to never see skin color. If you had told me this book was part of a wonderful fantasy series that would have been fine. If you had told me the protagonists were people of color and the antagonists where white: still fine. But you had to drive home the thought that it’s so superior just for those reasons, and that’s unsettling. Racism does work both ways. Someone else expressed disinterest in the book and you jumped down her throat because she was white and expressed an opinion. She doesn’t have to like this book. That doesn’t make her any less of a bad person, nor does it make me one (although I do still plan on reading them, despite the racist review). Think before you type, because you can spew just as much ignorant bullshit as the people you are calling racist.

A few notes on the bolded, working backwards:

1) “Racism” is a complex interweaving of various institutional structures, supported and reinforced by individual attitudes and behaviors but not reducible solely to those attitudes and behaviors, that grants power and privilege to some people based on group membership (the dominant group) while denying power and privilege to other people based on group membership (marginalized groups).  In the West, White people are the dominant group.

The review is not “racist” because regardless of what it says about White people, it does not—it cannot—turn that entire hierarchy upside down.  White people are still dominant, as numerous other posters have pointed out; 99.99% of the stories that will ever cross your path will still treat White people as individuals and people of color (POC) as stereotypes, tokens, somehow less-than-humans.

2) “Color blindness” is not a worthy goal to which to aspire.  There is a reason that race scholars and activists refer to “color-blind racism”: When people say they don’t see color, what they ultimately mean is, they don’t see POC as legitimately human.  They may not understand that this is what necessarily underlies their fantasy of a world without color, but studies demonstrate that in fact, they see everyone as potentially White or White-like until those people somehow fail to live up to their standards of Whiteness, and then they see those people as deficient, wrong, and deserving of worse outcomes than “good” (White, or as White-like as possible) people.

If you do not see color, then how do you explain persistent gaps in education, income, wealth, and incarceration between White people and POC (particularly Black people)?  You blame the victims, because you have purposely erased the single most important demographic characteristic for explaining those disparities.  Without that demographic, their outcomes must be the result of personal character flaws.

But of course, since you don’t REALLY “not see color,” over time, you end up ascribing those outcomes to flaws in the group: “Black people go to prison  more than White people because they are naturally disposed toward criminality,” rather than “Black people go to prison more than White people because police look for crime in Black neighborhoods and are more likely to stop Black people and charge Black people, who are are more likely to be convicted and sentenced in mainly White courts.”  The second explanation is more complex; it is also an accurate representation of the world we live in.

POC cannot “not see color” because such a strategy would be, for them, suicidal.  For White people, “color blindness” is a comforting lie that allows us to ignore our complicity in the systems that generally reward us for our efforts and treat us generously when we fall, while ignoring the efforts of POC and destroying them if they so much as falter.

Large parts of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States are available as a preview on Google books.  I highly recommend that you check it out.  I’ve assigned chapter 3, “The Style of Color-Blind Racism: How to Talk Nasty about Minorities without Sounding Racist” in courses on race & ethnicity mainly because it uses some concrete interview data that may make the arguments more accessible to you.

Finally, please note that I, as a White person, have the luxury of thinking about this in an academic framework and responding to you in a somewhat measured fashion, with all the cultural trappings of dominance (both race and class) in our culture.  Do not mistake that for validity.

The anger of POC in response to your posts upholding the racist status quo is valid.  They do not owe you anything and you do not have any special right not to be yelled at for hurting people.  I want you to learn so that you do not hurt people.  But if you can’t do that, I do at least suggest that you stay out of conversations that for once are not about you.

bluewillow-redleaves
bluewillow-redleaves:

The Inheritance Trilogy Book 2 :The Broken Kingdoms by N.K.JemisinJapanese Book CoverIllustration by Stephan Martiniere

bluewillow-redleaves:

The Inheritance Trilogy Book 2 :The Broken Kingdoms by N.K.Jemisin
Japanese Book Cover
Illustration by Stephan Martiniere

(via masteradept)

Gee, I don’t know how to research writing Characters of Color tastefully:

missturdle:

1.) It’s not hard to figure out what to do, there are plenty of resources.

People say you have to get it right, do your research, but … what else are you supposed to research? It’s not like people with more pigment in their skin have completely different personalities than those with less, any more than any individual. It’s frustrating when I can’t even figure out what the heck people are talking about.

Bam. Research step one done for you.


2.) Writing characters of color/minorities is a good thing.

I don’t like the notion that fantasy authors are under some kind of obligation to present ethnically diverse worlds. I’m English, and a fair sized part of English history consists of unwashed beardy white people in mead halls. If I’m inspired by my own history and cultural heritage, then that’s what I’m damn well going to write about. I’m not writing about some other culture just to appease the people who think there aren’t enough black characters in fantasy, or whatever. You want it, you write it. Nothing to do with me.

You’re wrong.


3.) Your all White Fantasy Land Didn’t Exist in Real Life:

…the rather medieval one has more diversity than real medieval Germany probably had […] In a world with medieval means of transport, it just doesn’t seem natural to me to mix dark-skinned people with blue-eyed blondes in one setting. I just try to give the people a colour that fits the place where they live.

You mean like the people from Africa and the Middle east who began to take over Southern Spain, as well as the Jews who were pretty well spread out throughout Europe, the Middle Easterners they would have met on the Crusades, and the incoming Mongol Hordes who spread to the very edges of Eastern Europe before the empire finally collapsed? Don’t forget that Turkey is right there, and the silk road would have gone from Song Dynasty China, through India, and ended in Turkey before moving further westwards into places like Germany. Also the attempts at the Franco-Mongol alliance would have been pretty interesting. (That’s about the 13th century - arguably smack dab in Middle Ages Europe and definite contact between France/Christian Europe and the Mongolian Empire.)

I call bullshit on people who have societies that are only all white ever, because it’s just inaccurate. Consider the relative closeness of Northern Africa to Spain, or Turkey to the rest of Europe, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Crusades, Slavery existing in Europe, including England, the slave trade, imperialism, Pax Mongolica, The Silk Road, Jewish Diaspora, the Islamic Empire vs The Holy Roman Empire, Egypt, Algeria, China’s sailing across the world, The Maruyan/Gupta Empires of India, tea trades, Columbus sailing in hopes of finding China, etc, etc, etc.


4.) I mean I just don’t believe you anymore. It’s unrealistic. Seriously guys.

You’d think I’d just denied the holocaust or something. Get a grip. All I said was that I’m going to write about my own cultural experience and anyone who thinks I should do otherwise for the sake of political correctness can bugger off.

This isn’t even about being PC this is just not being wrong about everything.

good lord.

(via moniquill)

a-mini-a-day
a-mini-a-day:

Little pumpkin carriage!DIY instructions here.Doing this for Halloween.

a-mini-a-day:

Little pumpkin carriage!
DIY instructions here.
Doing this for Halloween.

(via yakuntiklaylie)

karenhealey

Jay Kristoff on Japan as steampunk cultural touchstone

karenhealey:

Jay Kristoff has a debut novel, Stormdancer coming out this month, which is the first in a planned trilogy, set in a “Japanese-inspired steampunk dystopia”. Stormdancer is published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press in the US, Tor UK in the United Kingdom and PanMacMillan in Australia. He was interviewed in the September Book Smugglers Newsletter, which I always enjoy reading. During the interview, given the obvious, The Book Smugglers responsibly ask:

Why did you decide to set your series in a Japanese-inspired world? Tell us about writing a Japanese-inspired culture - were there any particular challenges, as a non-Japanese author?

And Kristoff replies:

I wanted to write a steampunk book – I find the aesthetic really interesting and I wanted to break the “rose-colored” goggles trope that a lot of SP authors are guilty of, ie looking at the advent of industrialization as something awesome, and ignoring the whole slavery/child exploitation thing it was built around. But I felt like European-based steampunk had already been done a lot, and done very well. The world had some incredible cultures in the 19th century, and I think fantasy is already shamefully guilty of a European focus, so I decided on Japan. I’ve always had a love of Japanese film and literature and culture, and it seemed an amazing cultural touchstone that no-one had really riffed on yet.

Emphasis mine.

I am totally flabbergasted. It’s great that Kristoff recognises the problems with looking at industrialisation through rose-coloured goggles. But what Japanese film and literature and cultural output is Kristoff actually loving, that he can say no-one’s really riffed on steampunk with Japan as a cultural touchstone? To pick the most obvious example, Studio Ghibli is hardly an easily dismissible presence in the Japanese (and international!) cultural landscape. He then goes on to say:

I guess the biggest challenge to is avoid the big bad “appropriation” or “exoticism” labels, but truth is, some people are going to start throwing those regardless. That said, the Shima Imperium is most definitely not Japan - it’s only inspired by it. I’ve changed facets of language and religion and society – as far as I know, there weren’t many griffins or telepaths running around in feudal Japan. If you can wrap your head around the idea Shima and Japan might look a lot alike, but aren’t the same place, you’ll have fun.

Which I’m just going to leave there. I’m sorry, I have a lot to do today and unravelling everything I find objectionable in this interview will take a lot of time and energy I don’t have to spare. I’m blogging about it primarily because I think it should get wider attention than perhaps the newsletter format provides - the entire newsletter, including the complete interview, can be found here.

The book itself might be great! I have nothing to say about the book. But I am super wary of Kristoff’s own words about his inspiration and process. I think they propagate and enable attitudes I find dismissive of both cultural output by Othered cultures, and of criticism resulting from Western authors attempting to use those cultures in their own work.

fantasyinminiature

Dice

fantasyinminiature:

The hand of God reached down and plucked the die from the stone table. The two chief angels watched. They did not breathe in the conventional sense, but if they did neither one would have dared. After all the arguing, the rebellion, the war… it had come down to this. The question would be settled once for all. Neither side was happy with the method of settlement, but they had no alternative. God had decreed that if either one questioned or complained once more on this issue, it would be decided in the other’s favor.

One chance. One die roll. They both knew the terms. If it came up odd, then humanity would be created with free will and would control their own fates, according to their means. If it came up even, then even the living corners of the cosmos would remain ordered solely according to God’s will, with every apparent choice nothing more than one more effect spiraling out from the ultimate cause.

God cupped the die in one almighty hand.

Absolute silence reigned as it was cast. It hit the table with a plunk, the only sound in the heavens at the moment. It rolled across the table and landed up against the Book of Life.

It had landed on its edge.

Perhaps a more discerning eye could detect some slight favor to the tilt, but to the angels’ eyes it was perfectly balanced exactly between two numbers.

God nodded, and behind the great screen, noted down a result.

“Well, that settles that,” God said. “I trust we can now move on to more important matters.”

girljanitor
girljanitor:

One of the most whitewashed characters in Fantasy/Science Fiction literature is Ged of the fantasy standard Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin.
Ged and literally everyone except Tenar of the Ring in the entire frickin series has either brown, red-brown, or black skin.
EVERYONE.
Whitewashed on book covers:



Whitewashed in fanart:



Whitewashed most egregiously in the American Sci Fi Channel miniseries:


PLEASE READ URSULA K. LEGUIN’S AMAZING REACTION TO THE WHITEWASHING OF HER WORK : A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci Fi Channel Ruined My Books.
And on the issue of Gedo Senki, studio Ghibli’s production based on the Earthsea series, and the issue of race being slightly more complex and ambiguous considering it is an entirely Japanese production.
Some stills from Gedo Senki:



I found out Leo and Diane Dillon, of whose art I am a huge fan of, did a cover for Earthsea at some point, and it is one of the few that comes close to resembling his skin tone the way it is described in the books:

girljanitor:

One of the most whitewashed characters in Fantasy/Science Fiction literature is Ged of the fantasy standard Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Ged and literally everyone except Tenar of the Ring in the entire frickin series has either brown, red-brown, or black skin.

EVERYONE.

Whitewashed on book covers:

Whitewashed in fanart:

Whitewashed most egregiously in the American Sci Fi Channel miniseries:

PLEASE READ URSULA K. LEGUIN’S AMAZING REACTION TO THE WHITEWASHING OF HER WORK : A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci Fi Channel Ruined My Books.

And on the issue of Gedo Senki, studio Ghibli’s production based on the Earthsea series, and the issue of race being slightly more complex and ambiguous considering it is an entirely Japanese production.

Some stills from Gedo Senki:

I found out Leo and Diane Dillon, of whose art I am a huge fan of, did a cover for Earthsea at some point, and it is one of the few that comes close to resembling his skin tone the way it is described in the books:

(via moniquill)

ITS THE TIME PEROID THAT’S WHY THERE IS NO POC

babsissuchafuckinglady:

The fucking excuses of white people fucking kill t he shit out of me

you rather hae the undead, a flying dragon, a fairy, then a POC in your movie

Nigga you rather have sex with an Alien before there is a poc character in your movie having sex with your white character

bai ain’t nobody got time for that shit

The really ridiculous part is that there is no time period in which POC weren’t present. I know shitty history books written by bigots like to pretend we were trapped in our homes until the Europeans arrived, but that’s a damned lie. We were busy dealing largely with each other (the number of monster myths that feature creepy white bodies across multiple cultures is amazing!), but we were still trading with the merchants & showing up in the ports of European countries

(via babsissuchafuckinglady-deactiva)

isitscary

THIS JUST IN

sourcedumal:

isitscary:

  • No matter how racially specific an author is about the color of a character’s skin, ethnic/racial background, there will always be an excuse to make them white. 
  • No matter how offensive and erasing it is to intentionally change the race of a character of color, it is always “okay” as long as you’re “just roleplaying” - and if anyone has a problem with it is just being “childish” and “prejudice”.
  • IN OTHER WORDS: it’s perfectly okay to be a racist little assfuck because changing a CoC white in no way, shape, or form implies my obvious state of subconscious racism. 

But when folks wanted to make Peter Parker black, white people lost their fucking MINDS.

When Miles came up in the show for Spider Man, white people LOST THEIR FUCKING MINDS.

When an African Muslim man was showcased as Bruce Wayne’s representative for France in the comic books, white people LOST THEIR FUCKING MINDS.

When a Desi woman went to the Hobbit and the racist fucks told her NO BROWN PEOPLE even though  IT IS CANON, white people lost their fucking minds AND somehow turned it into “the niggers are acting uppity!!!”

When a black man played Heimdall, White people LOST THEIR FUCKING MINDS. Funny how nobody said a word about Asano as a Hogun….

When black POC in the Hunger Games showed up as Black in the movie, white people ACTIVELY SAID THEY DIDN’T FEEL BAD WHEN A LITTLE BLACK GIRL WAS IMPALED WITH A METAL SPEAR SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE SHE WASN’T WHITE.

Fuck white people.

I still remember the flip outs over Helga Hufflepuff. No race was ever specified and yet there were 8768579575 angry posts from people who didn’t know shit about history but who had managed to convince themselves that a WOC in Medieval Europe with any kind of power or wealth was impossible. Never mind the physical evidence to the contrary, or you know recorded history. Nope, we were all talking crazy to think POC could have been involved in the creation of Hogwarts.