oh yeah, I have a list

Adding in some new titles last night, it occurred to me that oh yeah, I have something on my website that could be useful as a racial-diversity resource. Of course, I’ve read only a fraction of the books listed there, so I can’t say they’re all worth reading; some of them may in fact be head-‘splodingly bad. But if you’ve got a hankering for fantasy novels that acknowledge the existence of a world outside of the usual feudal-Celtic-Norse triangle, well, there’s a starting point.

(A perenially incomplete one. E-mail me, or comment here, with others I should include: author, title, and which category they belong in.)

0 Responses to “oh yeah, I have a list”

  1. fiction_theory

    I hope this doesn’t come across as a terribly rude comment, because that’s not what I am aiming for. I assume that you’re aiming for supporting International Blog Against Racism Week, and the ending of racism. I know, as a fellow pasty person who is trying to be a better ally? I were making a post such as yours, I’d want this pointed out to me.

    Yes, your list features fantasies which are set either in other parts of the world, or in settings based on other cultures – a great deal of the authors on that list are, themselves, white and Western – and thus a lot of what they’ve written is problematic and even hurtful to the people and places they are writing about. Not all of them. Some have done.

    Many of those books, however, don’t. I can point out a lot of problems, for instance, with Novik’s portrayal of the Chinese in “Throne of Jade” or Sharon Shinn’s very clumsy handling of Judaic history and theology in “Archangel”, and especially the erasure and racism in Wrede’s “The Thirteenth Child”

    I don’t think the point of IBARW is to say that any portrayal of Characters of Color is okay, just so long as you stick them in there somewhere or you set your fantasy there. Any old portrayal of people of color is *not* okay, and there is the rather implicit suggestion in your post and in your list that it is.

    You might want to read this post by Avalon’s Willow about why it isn’t just about having characters of color in fiction, but about getting it *right*. It helped me immensely to see the ways characters of color that I, as a white person, thought were great tools for overcoming racial divides revealed as being hurtful to the people they represented.

    There are a lot of people out there who have been very hurt, offended, and further marginalized by the very books on a list that you call “a racial-diversity source”.

    So maybe you might want to consider whether your list really could be considered a useful “racial diversity” resource, and whether it’s appropriate for this IBARW and the goals of IBARW.

    Maybe a list of books that are written *by* authors of color would be better?

    Again, I hope I’m not coming off too rude, because I understand you mean well, but this is something that I would hope someone would point out to me.

    • Marie Brennan

      I don’t think there’s only one right way to build a list, because it depends on the list’s intended purpose, and I think mine is fairly clear: to collate, as completely as I can, books that depict particular cultures in a fantasy (or occasionally SF) context. I say up front that it isn’t a list of recommendations, and that not everything on it is necessarily going to be good. But why list them, if they’re not good? Because there are different reasons why people read, and for some of them (like academic research, which is the background I come from), it’s useful to look not just at exemplars but at patterns. In such cases, a person interested in how (say) China is depicted in fantasy needs to be pointed at, not just the good stuff, but all the stuff, good and bad alike.

      To judge quality, as you suggest, I’d first have to read everything on that list (which is more or less impossible for me), and I’d have to be qualified to comment on the depictions of all those cultures (which is very definitely impossible for me). The only effective way to handle that is for it to be done piecemeal, by people who have specialized knowledge of this area or that one, with discussion of what works and what doesn’t and why — and other people are doing that work. Other people are also putting together lists of books by authors of color. This is all good and necessary work, and I support it wholeheartedly, but it isn’t the work I’ve set out to do — and frankly, it isn’t the work I’m the best suited for, either.

      So why did I choose to link this during IBARW? Various reasons. One is that depictions of non-Western cultures are currently on people’s minds, which means they’re more likely to be thinking about titles I could add to my list, making it more thorough. Another is that these are the kinds of books at the heart of the debate — both the successful ones, and the ones that fall short. The debate is, in my opinion, most useful when the people involved with it share a frame of reference, so that a post criticizing the depiction of China can be put in the context of how China has been depicted. Otherwise, people may be arguing about different things or missing each other’s points without ever realizing they’re doing so. So if my list makes somebody go read a couple of fantasy novels set in China (or Africa, or the Middle East), then they have more context for past and future discussions of the topic — which I think is a good thing.

      And lastly, posting this during IBARW means I’m helping point readers of my journal toward the larger discussion (which I should have linked to again; I’ll do that in a new post), where they can encounter more opinions than just mine, instead of me presenting myself as an authoritative voice on who has done it right. Which I don’t feel qualified to do, as a general rule.

      I’ll definitely go update the post with the list itself, because I think I could be clearer about why I chose to approach it the way I did. But I respectfully disagree that a list which includes bad books as well as good is not useful in its own way.

      • Anonymous

        If you’re not making it plain WHICH books include bad depictions – many people won’t know. It’s the Avatar: The Last Airbender riddle (as a recent, topical, modern example). If people have no idea that white protagonists in Asian fantasy lands are bad, how will they know the books on that list that do that are bad? If they have no clue that things are represented badly (dynasties mixed up, yellow fever prevalent, white privilege everywhere) how will they recognize it?

        Without having notes of discernment your list is nothing more than a white, rubberstamped, seemingly cookie handing out continuation of bad practice. You are assuming everyone will look at that list with immediate understanding they need to reference and cross-reference and challenge everything. You’re either assuming they’re like you or that they’re not lazy. Both assumptions have been proven very very wrong throughout history.

        Please reconsider what you’ve done and what you’re doing. I loved your Doppleganger and Witch and I really don’t want to consign them to the Lois McMaster Bujold, Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, TOR – to burn, throw out, or sell pile.

        • Marie Brennan

          I started this list because, as far as I could tell, it didn’t exist anywhere else; I could find small lists with particular foci, but nothing that attempted to be comprehensive. And there are people for whom comprehensiveness is useful, even necessary: academics writing papers, critics attempting to put new works in context, writers wanting to gain a sense of what’s been done, readers wanting to educate themselves about the issues they hear others discussing. Unfortunately, comprehensiveness and critical context aren’t mutually achievable, not on the scale of one person maintaining a website resource; as I said before, I can’t read all the books, nor would I be qualified to judge all of them if I did, and I haven’t seen any critical discussion of 99% of them. So if I limit the list only to books for which I can provide that context, I’ve failed my original purpose.

          Mind you, it would be awesome beyond words if I could gather together a crew of regional/period specialists willing to read everything on that list and provide short blurbs discussing their accuracy and representational choices. That would magnify the usefulness of this project by a hundredfold. Perhaps someday I’ll find myself in a suitable position in which to do that; but right now, I’m afraid there’s no way I could do it any kind of justice, and I would not want to do it half-assed. On the other hand, if someone else wants to tackle the project, I heartily encourage them to steal the list and run with it.

          • Anonymous

            It is really incredibly sad that you’re missing the point completely and going on long paragraphs about why you decided half-assed = International Blog Against Racism Week.

            Putting it up any other time as a resource of books that may or may not deal well with non white cultures, but is at least a starting point – that’s on you. It may or may not be a good resource for some people.

            Putting the IBARW tag on it, and submitting it on purpose and then spending time defending the fact that it’s a half assed list because it was never intended to be anything other than your personal tracking of stuff… makes this just one more post of someone being racist for IBARW.

            If you can’t give something the spoons and attention, you don’t disrespect it like that.

            Welcome to Racefail 09, Ms. Brennan. You have now officially participated. Ugh.

          • Anonymous

            Perhaps you should put a disclaimer at the top of the page, making it clear that these are not recommendations and that you haven’t checked if their depictions of people of color & non-white cultures are any good. It’s nice that you want to provide a list of racist and nonracist depictions of people of color for research purposes; however, surely you agree that it would be awful for someone to misunderstand and assume that you are listing only the nonracist ones.

            Mind you, it would be awesome beyond words if I could gather together a crew of regional/period specialists willing to read everything on that list and provide short blurbs discussing their accuracy and representational choices. That would magnify the usefulness of this project by a hundredfold.

            Yes. Yes, it would! Perhaps you should spend a little bit of time googling to see if any regional/period specialists have already discussed those things. The Thirteenth Child alone has plenty of blurbs to choose from!

          • Marie Brennan

            If you had clicked on the link, you would have seen that it begins with exactly that disclaimer, and always has (though I rephrased it slightly for clarity the other day).

          • Anonymous

            Oh, true. I skimmed and missed that. I still think you could be clearer — I read “quality” and thought it meant quality of writing. Considering that some of those books are really, really bad, perhaps you should use stronger language: “Some of these books are super racist.” Something like that.

            Of course, that wouldn’t be as necessary if you included the reactions and/or analysis by members of those cultures. If you don’t want anything longer than blurb-length, you could just link, instead.

    • quivo

      Oh, good GOD, “The Thirteenth Child” AKA The Mammothfail Spectacular is on the list she linked to?

      Yikes. I will not be using the list as a resource, I guess.

    • Anonymous

      I can point out a lot of problems, for instance, with Novik’s portrayal of the Chinese in “Throne of Jade” or Sharon Shinn’s very clumsy handling of Judaic history and theology in “Archangel”, and especially the erasure and racism in Wrede’s “The Thirteenth Child”

      says here that ze would welcome such information! If that’s true, maybe you can help out. 🙂

      • fiction_theory

        1) She actually has no interest in understanding why her list is wrong, why it hurts other people, or what she’s done that’s racist during a week that’s supposed to combat racism. If I wanted to hear someone try to cover their ass while simultaneously waving it around without pants, I can just go revisit the other Illustrious Chapters of Racefail, thanks.

        2) I have no interest in doing her homework for her, especially when she’s made it clear that she herself is NOT interested in making any actual effort, she just wants to post a list and say “look, I’m so anti-racist, look at my list! Let’s stick an IBARW sticker on it so I’ll get a cookie!” and then not listen when people are telling her that, well, actually she’s being a bit racist in doing that.

        • Anonymous

          I’m sorry. I agree with everything you say here. I was trying to get her to admit whether or not she really wanted what she claimed (yeah, looks like not), but I shouldn’t have done that by telling you to engage further.

  2. beccastareyes

    I would note the individual Twelve Kingdoms titles — currently available in English-language versions are Sea of Shadow, Sea of Wind and The Vast Spread of the Seas. The also tend to be shelved with manga at the Big Two brick and mortar stores since they were translated by Tokyopop, which normally does manga translations.

    (Most of my other fantasy books by Japanese authors draw more on the Generic Fantasy, Modern Fantasy or Science Fiction, though they do some cool stuff with it. I can think of some graphic novel titles, though.)

    The Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher is Roman fantasy. The books in the series are Furies of Calderon, Academ’s Fury, Cursor’s Fury, Captain’s Fury, Princep’s Fury and First Lord’s Fury (which is upcoming).

    Naomi Kritzer also does a trilogy (Freedom’s Gate, Freedom’s Apprentice and Freedom’s Sisters) featuring a post-Alexandrian Greece and Central Asian nomads.

    (You also list a few of Naomi Novik’s books, but not the newest Victory of Eagles, which is mostly set in Napoleon-era England, or the difficult to classify Black Powder War (a group of British soldiers and dragons’ trip from China back to England, with major stops in the Middle East and Germany.)

  3. Anonymous

    Canonical works from China and India

    You missed the real stuff: original works from these cultures before the modern era.

    • Journey to the West, published anonymously in the late 16th century and still as modern as anything out there (kind of like Monty Python meets The Wizard of Oz).

    There’s another one that’s more Taoist, and geekier, that describes the origin of Prince Nada, among other things, but I can’t find its title in my notes.

    • The Ramayana; both Valmiki and Tulasi Dasa versions are canon
    • The Jatakamala by Arya Sura has a collection of older folktales converted to Buddhist versions.
    • Somadeva’s Ocean of Story is a collection of folktales collected into a larger narrative.
    • The Manimekhalai – if you ignore the Buddhist propaganda, this is a very sweet story

    I know that some of these are more like Brothers Grimm than Tolkein, (and I could add Arabian Nights and other collections, too) but if you want to write good fantasy, you need to do your homework first, know the field really really well.

    I would tell any modern fantasy writer who asks, to read the Ramayana and Journey to the West before any attempts on writing global fantasy (plus Tolkein for the European side of things). I mean, if you don’t know who Pilgrim Sun and Hanuman are, you’re clueless. Plus, these stories are chock full of plot devices Western writing would benefit from.

    • Anonymous

      Re: Canonical works from China and India

      “Creation of the Gods” is the other Chinese one I was thinking of.

      China also has a Robin Hood type saga with multiple translations and a different English title for each translation. Chinese title literally translates as “Water Margin”, authors Shi Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong. I read the Sidney Shapiro “Outlaws of the Marsh” translation. It isn’t fantasy but it’s so similar to Robin Hood (but with a much bigger budget – totally outclassing RH), that westerners might enjoy it.


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