Thursday, 15 May 2014

Diversity in Otherworld Fiction

I meant to post this for Monday, but Much Things happened.  And I wanted to put a lot of thought into this.  FYI, otherworld fiction is fiction that's not set on earth. Think Narnia, Middle-Earth, etc.

There’s a fair bit of buzz going around the writerly/agently/readerly social media regarding the need for more diversity in our fiction.  More LGTB characters!  More disabled characters!  More People of Colour!

That’s all well and good (and rather long overdue) in 21st Century fiction. Let our contemporary fiction reflect the world we truly live in.  Bring it on.

I believe diversity is a good thing. It prevents humans from becoming too staid.  I grew up in a very homogenous neighborhood.  Prolly wasn't the best thing for me.  

Once I grew up and moved out into the world, I engaged in groups that fostered and encouraged diversity.  Finally, I was home.  Now, I live in a moderately diverse neighborhood.  I wish it was more diverse.  I love diversity for the richness of experience and wide points of view it provides.

So yeah. I support diversity of many kinds in fiction.  

But what about otherworld fantasy?  What about this brand of fiction that doesn’t take place on earth, or even with humans?  Should authors make an active choice to include 21st Century diversity values in otherworld fiction?  Or would that come across as too political?

Diversity is about acceptance of others whose background and situations and choices may differ from your own, either slightly or greatly.

Diversity hasn't been terribly common this past thousand years on Earth.  Two thousand years ago, there was a bit more of that going on, especially around the Mediterranean. If you ignore the wars.

Some books I've read have done very good jobs with portraying diversity.  "Ilario: the Lion's Eye" by Mary Gentle is a good example.  Ursula LeGuin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" also portrays diversity.

What doesn't work for me: when authors throw in a token.   The token woman girl.  The token guy in a wheelchair. The token Black Brutha.  A token character does not diversity make.  Especially if that character is completely, totally, utterly accepted without a single hiccup because they're Just Like Everyone Else.

If everyone is Just Like Everyone Else, that is not true diversity.  True diversity is gonna involve a wee bit of conflict.  (Conflict's good for plot.)

I grew up in one country then moved to another.  When that happened, many of the rules I'd grown up with totally changed.  Rules of social interaction, of acceptability, of public behaviour, of language, and more.  Even the very stars in the heavens were different.

Were there conflicts?  You betcha.  There were many times I was left crying because my ways clashed with the ways of someone else.

But I adapted.  I didn't change completely to the ways of my now-home.  I still retain some very home-country sensibilities--things I don't want to change.  And I have learned to accept the differences in others, even if those difference I might not agree with. 

So, getting back on track: diversity in otherworld fiction.  A good portrayal of diversity is an underlying attitude of many peoples and cultures generally being accepted.  It is not saying, "See this character? She's a blue-haired Arellian."  True diversity is reflected in the attitudes of the characters.  Don't bother with the smerps.

Diversity isn't necessarily gonna happen every time in otherworld fiction.  Not every world an author builds will be actively striving towards societal benevolence for all.  Societies are more broken than not. This has been true throughout the history of Earth and so will be true in otherworld fiction.  If there is to be a lack of diversity, it needs to be a conscious, well-thought-out aspect of worldbuilding and not some brainwashed attitude the author never bothered checking in the mirror.

If you find lack of diversity issues in fiction that subconsciously reflects the attitudes of the 19th and 20th Centuries, then that's not a good thing.  Enough with the Straight White Male Adults of Privilege, no matter how it's packaged.

Have you read any good books lately that reflected a satisfying amount of diversity, especially otherworld fiction?

One reason Her Grace loves diversity: it allows one to openly express one's inner strangeness without knee-jerk condemnation.  Frex, the experience of First Ladyship at school: "I like dragons," she said. "Cool," her peers say, even if they're not into dragons. Her Grace at school, thirty years ago: "I like dragons."  "You're weird. We're going to make your life a misery because of it."

1 comment:

Zara Penney said...

I did the same Heidi. Aspects of my new home were like the one I grew up in (but not necessarily like the childhood home I grew up in because there was a degree of urbaneness built into my own family circumstances which made me stand out in local communities not always to my liking since I was like all kids, just wanting to fit in).

But I also look on my move to a new world like an escape from my old world. One which helped to make me what I am today.

I look at my sister and am horrified in a way what I could have been but didn't turn out like that.