Oct 04

Sometimes Classic Authors Did Diversity Right

Today I was enchanted as I read this defense of C.S. Lewis. I was surprised to hear that anyone had ever thought The Chronicles of Narnia to be sexist. Indeed, when I was a child, The Chronicles were one of two pieces of pivotal work that showed me a steady stream of strong female characters. I remember getting frustrated only at Aslan’s comment that “women in war” was an ugly thing, but honestly given the time period I didn’t take that much offense.

As it was, I noted that Aslan only said it was ugly, not that Lucy and Susan wouldn’t be good at it. Which was a far cry from most of the crap that was out there at the time. And as an adult, my perspective on war is that it’s pretty much ugly for anyone at all.

I think that we have to be really careful about overanalyzing works of fiction. We have to be careful about looking for racism and sexism that don’t exist. I really want to celebrate authors that worked to do better, even if they didn’t do it perfectly.

I also think we should keep in mind that we’re all swimming around in this toxic cultural soup. None of us is going to get every aspect of this right. What we should be contemplating is whether or not people try. I’m not saying that we can’t offer a critical assessment of a work. That’s vital to a proper understanding of fiction, and part of a rich tradition of literary criticism.

I just think that we need to be careful about being hasty to take offense, or being hasty to assume that something sexist or racist is happening when, in fact, it isn’t.

Human beings are nuanced, and our portrayals are going to be nuanced. We have to be careful not to shove ourselves into one role where the only time we’ll accept a female as “strong” is if she does things exactly as a man would do them. In fact, we need to celebrate all of the different kinds of strength.

As I explained to my daughter very recently: “Certainly, kicking the ass of a bad guy can be a strength. So can keeping it together as you wipe the brow of a sick family member. So can choosing to be a beacon of love and light in a tough world. There is also strength in compassion, in kindness, in nurturing. And we should only ever admire an asskicker if they’re doing it in the defense of someone else, someone weaker then themselves.”

Lewis gave us many female characters who demonstrated many kinds of strength. And we can’t say that you’re failing at diversity if your female characters have negative traits. That’s loony. All of us have negative traits. When I made Peter Corbie a coward I wasn’t saying that all men are cowards. I was making a statemnet about Peter, and Peter alone. When I made Ava emotionally closed off and inaccessible I was making a statement about Ava…not about women or womanhood in general. Sometimes a character is just a character.

And we have a term for characters without flaws. We call them Mary Sue and Gary Stu!

Let’s be zealous in our attempts to use fiction to make a better and more just world, but let’s not be so zealous that we toss good literature out the window because we refuse to recognize the nuance.

BTW, thanks to Thea Van Diepen. She shared the Lewis defense article on Facebook, and gave me this little bit of food for thought today.

Aug 12

You Go, David Mack

Star Wars writer David Mack has the perfect response to fans who think diversity in SF/Fantasy is either disgusting, or not important, or just intruding on their safe little world where a single group of people (the group they just happen to belong to) gets to arrange things to their liking.

I now intend to seek out and read every single one of Mack’s books. Lose one reader, gain one reader. Actually, since this went viral (and I’m happy to help it continue going viral) I bet he gains many, many more readers. That’s justice.

In fact, Star Wars and its very real commitment to diversity is one reason why I’m on Team Trek when it comes to the age old Trek vs. Star Wars fan debate. Star Wars doesn’t try nearly as hard as Trek always has. I can show my daughter Star Wars and she gets one Princess who gets to hold a blaster…occasionally. When she’s not busy being a damsel.

I can show her Star Trek: Voyager and give her Janeway and B’elanna geeking out over science hardcore. I can give her Deanna Troi, who learns to balance her compassion with her strength until she becomes a true force to be reckoned with. (6th Season Troi. Best Troi). I can give her Uhura, who was ground breaking in so many ways, and continues to hold her own in the series reboot. I know that she’s not stuck feeling the pain I felt as a child, where I would watch show after show after show and not find one person like me (female) who did one thing worthwhile.

I appreciate every writer, game maker, or show writer who understands these issues and makes an effort to be inclusive. They are the heroes in the front lines of a battle designed to turn all of us into better human beings.

Jul 27

Looking for Something New to Read?

I’m not much of one for “reviewing” the work of other authors. It just makes me uncomfortable.

To me, reviewing something carries the connotation of passing judgment upon it. Meanwhile, I was raised on “if you can’t find anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Frankly, I’m so strapped for time these days that if I don’t really like something, or if it’s bothering me enough that I’d discuss it as a weak point in a review, I’ll just move on to something else.

But back when I was in high school I used to pester my best friend with my “you’ve just got to read this” list. And I’ve realized I’m perfectly happy to do that now, for the entire Internet.

Or at least, whatever small portion of the Internet that winds up on my website.

So here’s something you’ve just got to read. Pip Ballantine’s Phoenix Rising. You can find her books, and her partner’s books, and a mess of short stories here.

As I am working on an epic steampunk novel right now I had it on my list to sit down and read a bit more of the genre. This is the novel I picked up. The characters are charming. I love the Angel of Destruction! Hee. The story is intriguing. She uses a lot of classic tropes, but it just works.

Talk about diversity, too. The male lead and female lead are equally strong and equally matched. They are opposites in nearly every way, though sometimes I think they’re more alike than they’d admit. I also see her bringing in other nationalities, such as an agent from India who we’ve run into in the second book. It all flows naturally. Her books also matter. The adventure is a romp, the banter is high–and the social criticism is eerily relevant.

Get it, read it. You’ll have a blast.