In my previous post, I offered a list of things that make me “die a little inside” (or that lead me to think, in the words of Futurama‘s Professor Farnsworth, “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore”), ranging from personal pet peeves to more seriously disturbing signs of the mean streak in our culture. The one thing they all have in common: in ways great or small, they compromise my hope that our world and the stories that help shape it are getting better as more and more voices are heard. I mentioned at the close of the post that we as a society are suffering from “growing pains.” For almost a century, many of our core definitions — of “right,” “wrong,” “normal,” “male,” “female,” “race,” “American,” and more — have been shifting, and people frightened by the changes have been pushing back against them. Historically, this is nothing new. Where will we be when all this changing stops? The question is pointless, for change never stops.
Hope finds its way. I can fend off the threat of pessimism as long as I know where to look. Since one of my biggest concerns is what stories are being told, how they’re being told, and who gets to do the telling, I look there first.
- In the SFF literary community, diverse voices are honored.
A couple of posts ago I pointed out the Academy Awards’ long history of honoring films both by and about white men. For contrast, we have only to look at the Nebula Awards, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Among the seven nominees for 2017’s Best Novel, only one (Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders) was written by a white man. Four (The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, The Stone Sky, Six Wakes, and Autonomous) have female protagonists. Two (The Stone Sky, Jade City) were written by women of color. At least one (Amberlough) foregrounds queer characters and themes. And that’s not even taking into account the other categories.
A look into the nominees, as well as into the previous years’ winners, shines a light on why diversity, far from being a matter of “tokenism” or “over-sensitivity” or “PC blandness,” is so valuable. We’re seeing a broadening, a widening, of the kinds of stories writers want to write and readers want to read. A greater variety of characters, themes, and plots not only enhances understanding; it also makes for better entertainment, and gives readers broader choices. This is why the Golden Age of Science Fiction and Fantasy is now, when a variety of approaches (from hard sci-fi to space opera, from urban to mythic/epic fantasy) is welcome, and straight white male characters aren’t the only ones who matter.
(Since drafting this blog, I’ve learned of the nominees for the Hugo Awards. Here, too, diverse voices are honored.)
2. Technology gives young readers a forum to share their passion.
We all know that the Internet can be a cesspool, a habitat for narrow-minded and mean-spirited trolls. Discussions of the Internet in general usually spotlight the bad side, yet while it’s important to know about the ‘Net’s dark corners, we should also give some attention to the good stuff happening online. In particular, I love YouTube — specifically, searching YouTube for videos made by young readers, the kind who just might become writers themselves one day. A couple of videos I’ve found and enjoyed recently:
(Regan doesn’t like featureless blank-slate female protagonists any more than I do.)
When I’m disappointed that students of mine declare they don’t like to read or can’t remember the last book they enjoyed, it does me good to know young women like this are out there, sharing thoughts on stories they love and inviting others to do the same.
3. As long as you keep finding out about books you’re eager to read, all is never lost.
Good stories can offer us an escape from the chaos in the world around us, and at the same time equip us to better handle that chaos. I never stop looking for books that just might do this for me. Here are some I bought recently, with birthday gift card money.
Later in the year, we’ll see the release of Spinning Silver, the next stand-alone fantasy by Naomi Novik (whose Uprooted I adored), as well as the next two books in Michael J. Sullivan’s Legends of the First Empire series (Age of War and Age of Legend) and a number of titles by authors I haven’t read before, that have peaked my interest. Cass Morris’s From Unseen Fire and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, in particular, have me hungering to get my hands on them. I have a lot of wonderful book journeys to look forward to.
4. The brighter side of human nature still shows itself in different places.
There’s a scene in Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (see my Goodreads review here) in which the hero, Sunny, attends her first gathering for “Leopard People” (magically gifted). She goes with her friends to a wrestling match, and witnesses what she thought would be a friendly contest transform into a brutal bout to the death. Shocked and disgusted, she cries that she wants to go home. She’d met the fallen loser briefly and he’d shown her kindness, and she’s horrified that his death should be treated so casually. She’s no longer sure that she wants anything to do with the Leopard People or their world.
Yet in the midst of her shock, she notices the dead man’s stricken widow. Despite being told to stay in her seat, she sneaks down to the field to speak to the woman, to let her know she’d met her husband and would remember him and his kindness. She extends compassion to the woman, when no one else has thought to do so. When I read this moment I thought, “This is why Sunny — rather than her more experienced and confident friends — is the hero of this story.”
Kindness matters, in both fiction and real life. Whenever we see or read about someone seizing an opportunity to be kind, we should celebrate it. It’s what we humans are capable of.