Women of Color in Speculative Fiction — Tumblr for the Win

If you read the last post, you know that I’ll be reading from QUEEN OF HUNGER at BayCon this Saturday, May 25th. In addition to that open reading appearance, I’ll also be on the Fans of Color in SF/F Fandom panel earlier in the day.

A friend recently linked me to my new favorite Tumblr feed, Fuck Yeah SciFi/Fantasy WOC (yes that’s President Obama throwing the Vulcan sign with Nichelle Nicols. Because I live in the best of all possible worlds). There I was pointed to this particular post about Scott Lynch and his relationship with his black female character in response to a critique about same. Some thoughts.

I’m a black woman. Stories that feature interesting “black” female characters are not only what I write, they are what I want to read. I put “black” in quotes here because American “blackness” is a particular state of being that is variously represented in speculative fiction with a variety of meanings. And that’s a good thing about the genre. You can separate out what I’d call “metaphoric blackness” – a history of enslavement and resistance, diasporic disconnection from language and mythology, continuation of a perpetual underclass, etc. – from “physical blackness” – the state of having more color in your skin than 50% of the population. Once these two are separated, oh, the things you can do — from Klingons to Narns to Space Marine Salamanders to Tolkien Orcs. It is a great world.

But that’s an academic aside.

What’s actually awesome about Lynch’s retort to his critic is that, like any good debater, he cuts through the fluff of the argument right to the heart of the issue. The critic basically says that Lynch’s black female pirate character is unrealistic and unduly influenced by political correctness. Lynch’s response:

“Why shouldn’t middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? Everyone else does. H.L. Mencken once wrote that “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” I can’t think of anyone to whom that applies more than my own mom, and the mothers on my friends list, with the incredible demands on time and spirit they face in their efforts to raise their kids, preserve their families, and save their own identity/sanity into the bargain.”

Speaking as a middle aged mother: Fuck yeah.

He doesn’t engage the reader in a discussion of history and the reality of experience that women, all women, have experienced across time and space. He doesn’t get into whether or not a black female pirate is realistic or not. He, in fact, wins at Internet arguing, a skill that I still haven’t developed, by exposing the bigoted assumptions that underlie this line of reasoning.

And his point is one of the things I want to bring to light on the panel this weekend. That I don’t write history, I write fiction. And I write fiction because history is awful and painful and bloody and one sided. Fiction, especially especially speculative fiction, can be more than that. It can challenge our assumptions of what is possible and invite us to re-evaluate the “reality” we live in. Further, by opening speculative fiction to non-white authors and characters, we challenge all the assumptions that lie underneath not just a cabbage-water vision of world building, but a cabbage-water vision of the world.

As Lynch says:

“…you’re cracked if you think you can persuade me not to write about what amuses and excites me in deference to your vision, because your vision fucking sucks.”

Fuck yeah.



Posted on May 23, 2013, in Book Review, Writer of Color and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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