genre stuff

Article For Huffington Post on SFF & Minorities

I wrote an article for the UK edition of the Huffington Post, on the subject of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Minorities:

Science fiction and fantasy is a genre that effectively shows the difference between ourselves and the Other. From the alien slums in District 9 to the critique of colonialism within an HG Wells novel, the genre’s disregard for reality allows cultural thought experiments to run wild. This is particularly noticeable in films such as Children of Men, where the extremities of far-right politics with regard to immigration are brought to brutal conclusions. In revealing these unusual settings to a reader or viewer, the genre is well-suited to showing displays of acceptance, too. It’s perfectly placed to help us question our attitudes to minorities, or communities who face discrimination, in a way that realism can’t always achieve.

Read the rest and let me know what you think. It’s always nice to spread the Good Word about genre fiction in mainstream venues.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

5 replies on “Article For Huffington Post on SFF & Minorities”

Great article, Mark! I think another one written by Kameron Hurley where she talks about “Normalizing the Absurd” would actually be a great companion piece for comparison, I think, since you briefly brought up the concept of normalization in exotic settings, as well.

I think it’s fun, and challenging, as a writer to try and place yourself in the shoes of the marginalized, if only for a chance to broaden one’s perspective. People love to read stories that champion the underdogs, too, as it gives them the chance to empathize and root along for them (perhaps because we all feel marginalized in some way). And you’re right that with sf/f stories there is an opportunity to question a variety of minority experiences, or various types of marginalization, in a way that would otherwise be impossible in reality. Linking minority experiences to dramatic fictional elements can serve to further amplify and highlight the ugly truths that tend to get pushed to the side.

Even so, I don’t think that writers who aren’t of a minority group necessarily have a responsibility to write from those perspectives in the same way that minorities do, but they are certainly welcome to. I’m in the ethnic minority where I live, so to be honest I feel that if minorities want to be better represented and heard on the point of the indignities that they’ve suffered, then they need to first speak up for themselves. Though, that’s not to say they can’t or should not also be represented by others outside of their minority group. (I hope I’m making sense here without communicating a “we don’t need you” kind of stance, lol.) However, I do think that all writers should strive to be innovative somehow in their stories, be it through developing unique world concepts, characters, approaches to themes and/or some other aspect of storytelling–something you clearly excel at!

(Random fact: you know what’s odd? I keep finding myself wanting to use the British spellings for certain words every now and then when I visit your blog, but then my American spellchecker politely corrects me.)

“But what about issues such as transgenderism? This issue appears to be one of the last taboos in genre culture – indeed, in any kind of fiction. It’s the Other that all genres continue to ignore.”
Nice seque into discussing your own work (write what you know!) but I’m interested in what other taboos you think remain and should be addressed?

Hi Tiyana – “I think it’s fun, and challenging, as a writer to try and place yourself in the shoes of the marginalized, if only for a chance to broaden one’s perspective. ” Absolutely. That’s pretty much the fall-back argument in a nut-shell. If you put aside one’s political and social hopes/agendas or whatever, then simply being able to look through unfamiliar eyes as a challenge – who can argue with that?

You should override your spellchecker! In fact, change your browser’s settings to UK English and export it further. 🙂

Brian – heh, you spotted that…! As for other taboos – that’s a very interesting point. Tough one, too.

I think race, sexuality and gender are all certainly opening up gradually, and some fully accepted. Drugs are kind of fine to write about. HIV is something that is culturally more accepted, though I’m by no means certain as to how it’s been dealt with in fiction.

There are of course the kinds of issues as dealt with in books like Lolita, but unless you’re Vladimir Nabokov then it could go horribly wrong.

I think people are firmer / more likely to give knee-jerk reaction in their sense of morals outrage these days because things have progressed so far, so the kinds of things that have stayed beyond “the line” are there for very good reasons. It’s not to say an artist should not attempt to examine such matters, but he or she would have to do so with extreme caution and purpose.

I read this after Cheryl retweeted it, and I have to say it’s a very well written and interesting article.

The ‘sad’ thing is that some other cultures are very open to subjects we find taboo. For a culture that prides itself on being open, accepting and diverse, we’re so horrifically closed minded. The Thai are very open and accepting of gender-variant people, to the point of having a third gender in their society, the ancient Greeks had fairly open ideas about certain homosexual relations and so on and so forth. Heck, in Victorian times we were supposedly more open about sexual matters, at least until Victoria went into mourning.

I’d love to see more LGB characters in fiction, and more trans ones too (I separated them for a very simple reason). I think LGB characters are there, you just have to look for them. The best ones are the ones where their sexuality isn’t defining of them, I’d say. I’m not saying they should all be free and universally accepted in fiction, because in our current social status, that’s unrealistic and an ideal, and it takes away from the reader’s potential to identify with them. I liked Malinda Lo’s world where lesbians were accepted as almost a norm, but it was slightly false in that regard. I prefer J.A. Pitts’ approach in that he uses our world, and Sarah is wrestling with the views of herself, her family and so forth. That allows me to identify with her – I didn’t get that with Ash or Huntress by Lo.

Trans characters are… a different kettle of fish. I liked Lan, and I think you did right by her and always have, but she’s a drop in the ocean. The praise TBoT got is very good, and I’ve not really seen any problems with Lan, so that’s also good. It’s one book, though. The closest trans seems to appear in fantasy is the classic switcheroo spell, sort of like in Emily Gee’s The Sentinel Mage (Which I’ve not yet read).

I think you should keep it up, Mark. Even if it’s just you writing realistic, tangible, accurate LGBT characters, then that’s better than no-one. Hopefully you have, are, and will inspire others to break out the minorities a little more.

I don’t think The Sentinel Mage is going to break any new ground in trans literature. I won’t do spoilers, but what could’ve been quite interesting… isn’t.

Mark – congratulations! Such a fantastic blogging gig, and I’m really delighted that you’re the one representing genre on such a huge platform.

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