Category Archives: fantasy

Magical Realism

I know that being in Grad School and writing SF/F my stuff will continually be labeled as Magic Realism and it irks me. I’ve always had issues with the genre of magical realism, not because I don’t like the genre or writers but because I think there’s a large tendency in the literary community to lump any People of Color who write Sci-Fiinto Magical Realism. The line between the two genres is more arbitrary and personal I think than anything else. For me it’s where the magic is incorporated into the story and not remarked on as something extraordinary, when the focus of the story is more personal than global and it often revolvesaround family (both of blood and the families you create on your own) but again that’s my personal definition.

But the idea that pisses me off is that if a POC is writing a fantasy at alls then it must be Magical Realism whereas you rarely see white authors treated the same. One example I’ll bring up is Nina Kiriki Hoffman who is one of my favorite authors, her works have many of the hallmarks of magical realism, the subtle magic weaved into an ordinary world but you’ll rarely if ever see her lumped into that category, most of her work is considered urban fantasy. Then you have authors like Nalo Hopkinson – also one of my favorite authors – whose “Brown Girl In The Ring” I see lots of folks terming Magical Realism which I don’t consider it to be because it’s about something that affects a lot of folks in the area and is the hero story of Ti-Jeanne as far as I’m concerned.

Now of course there are pluses and minuses to being considered a Magical Realism writer. The big plus being that you will automatically be given a higher degree of respect and authority within the literary community. The big negative for me is the why POC are automatically Magical Realists. It goes back to the “of the earth” stereotype – that brown folks are somehow closer to the earth and magic than white folks. Which is really a dehumanizing thing because along with this idea is the attitude that magic is something completely disconnected from “civilization” – it’s considered something connected to the primitive and when you look at it that way the fact that any fantastical work by a POC is considered Magical Realism becomes a little insulting because the idea is that if a POC writes about magic they are connecting with some primal force etc…

Magical Realism versus Fantasy is a tricky thing but this goes back to the idea that anything written by an African-American author is automatically shelved in the Af-Am literature section as opposed to its genre. It’s a form of segregation of the books and that’s the same feeling I get when folks divide books that deal with magic into Magical Realism and Fantasy, almost all the POC end up on the MR side and most of the folks on the Fantasy side are white.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not dissing Magical Realism I think it’s an awesome genre and some of my stuff does fit into the category. What I’m angry about is the automatic assumption of any POC who writes SF/F is actually writing Magical Realism. And then of course comes the hand-wringing and wailing over there not being enough POCin SF/F when those who try to break in are often shunted off into Magical Realism.

So yes, that’s my rant for the day.

P.S. – Grad School is totally kicking my ass but I’ve got it all under control…for now.

They’ve Done It Again…

So I was reading Fantasy Debut, one of my daily blogs. I was skimming the review Tia had of The Sellsword (Dragonlance) by Cam Banks, skimming because I could tell it wasn’t the kind SF/F that’s really to my tastes then I hit one of the last lines of the review:

I do have one major criticism, and it has nothing to do with the author. Vanderjack is black. So why does the cover feature a man with pasty white skin? I thought the cover was well-done otherwise.

Now I’ve blogged about this phenomenon before, most recently talking about visual media in, Hollywood Stop Whitening Characters! No Really! Stop It! and just over a year ago at Feminist SF – The Blog talking about books in Judging Books & Their Covers. I’m glad that others are noticing this horrifying trend and bringin attention to it. This is not something that’s over and done it’s something that is still happening with books that come out everyday.

I’ve really said most of what I have to say about this subject in the previous links however, I might have a suggestion: When I talked to my friend Jackie about this phenomenon, she mentioned that when she wrote a review of Larissa (one of the books in my Feminist SF post where the cover girl is white but the protag very clearly black in the text) she suggested that anyone who was outraged at the cover as she was, do this – tear off the offending cover and mail it back to the publisher with a note explaining why. 

I do advocate buying the book first (in case that wasn’t clear), number one so you don’t get arrested for vandalism and number two because I don’t believe in punishing the author for publishing decisions, which these almost always are. I don’t know that doing this will do anything to change the way the industry thinks and acts but at least it’s a constructive way to let the publisher know how you feel and get your anger out at the same time.

EDITED TO ADD – I just wanted to clarify in case it wasn’t clear in the the original post that I do not blame the author for this and if the book sounds like something you would enjoy I say go out and buy it. I love it when folks write POC characters in any kind of fantasy setting and I think we should all support that.

Fantasy/Science-Fiction Reading List for API Heritage Month!

As some of you may know May is API Heritage month and in honor of that The Carl Brandon Society (dedicated to increasing the presence of characters and writers of Color in SF) has put out our reading list of F/SF by/about API:

Ted Chiang -STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS
A collection of stories from one of American speculative fiction’s most precise and beautiful writers.

Sesshu Foster – ATOMIK AZTEX
An Aztec prince or a Los Angeles meatpacker? The protagonist travels back and forth between two alternative realities, never sure which is real.

Hiromi Goto – HOPEFUL MONSTERS
Wonderful stories by the author of The Kappa Child.

Kazuo Ishiguro – NEVER LET ME GO
In a dystopian England, three children discover that they are clones produced to provide organs to the sick.

Larissa Lai – SALT FISH GIRL
Science fiction set in a dystopian near future in which corporate enclaves house lucky employees, leaving most of humanity to deal with increasingly strange ecological developments.

Amirthi Mohanraj (illustrated by Kat Beyer) – THE POET’S JOURNEY
A young poet sets out into the wide world on a journey to find poetry, with the help of a few magical creatures, she finds more than she ever expected.

Haruki Murakami – HARDBOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD
Mad experiments with the unleashed potential of the dreaming brain.

Vandana Singh – OF LOVE AND OTHER MONSTERS
The main character wakes up from a fire and doesn’t know who he is, but can sense and manipulate the minds of others. He is not alone in this ability. Singh takes us on a metamind ride.

Shaun Tan – THE ARRIVAL
A wordless graphic novel about immigration and displacement.

Bryan Thao Worra – ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EYE
Speculative poems that take us from the secret wars of the CIA in Laos to the secret edges of
the human soul and the universe.

Try and pick one or more of these up this month (that’s my goal), if you don’t already own them!

Gaming, Size & Awards!

Pat over at Token Minorities has an excellent post Suggestions for Talking about Race and Videos Games and while Pat is focused on video games this could be suggestions for discussing race when it comes to Science-Fiction, TV, Movies, Comics, anything where people simple want to write off the medium and consequently the racism in it, as trivial.  

One of my close friends, Bankuei has posted a Roleplaying 101guide for people interested in getting into RPG’s and such. I admit that I never played and RPG before I met Bankuei (the only roleplayers I knew in high school were crazy, I don’t just mean the kind of crazy we can all get when we like/are obssessed with something, I mean STRAIGHT UP KRAZY!!!) plus there are a lot of issues around exotification and appropriation in these games. But now that I’m getting into the more indie ones that don’t make me nauseous, I find a lot of fun in them and recommend people head over and read his 101 post if you’re interested even a bit in RPG’s. Bankuei’s been asking me to write up my early experiences with RPG’s and Roleplaying gamers for a while now and I hope to get around to that this week.

Resist Racism has a post up about The Last Acceptable Prejudice, where Resistance is specifically talking about fat prejudice. Now as a Person of Size and a Person of Color it’s angering to me to see fat prejudice called the last acceptable one, for exactly the reasons Resistance posits it plays too much into the Oppression Olympics for my taste. I have experienced racism and fat prejudice at different times in my life and think that both need to be combated. Stating any prejudice as the last acceptable one not only devalues all the other prejudices alive and well in our society but also ignores the systemic institutionalization of oppressions for the overt expressions of prejudice.

The Tiptree Award Winning Book has been announced, along with the works that were short listed. The Tiptree is presented at WisCon (which I’m attending again this year) and celebrates works of F/SF that work to explore and expand gender and our understanding of it. The Winner – The Carhullan Army (American Title: Daughters of the North) by Sarah Hall. Head over to Debbie N.’s post on it to read more about the Tiptree, the shortlist of nominees and to find out who the jurors were this year.

The Nominees for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, which celebrates works of F/SF that include significant positive explorations of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered characters, themes, or issues, have also been announced.

The list of nominees for the Japanese Seiun Awards have been announced, of course I can’t read the works of most of the nominees cause I don’t read Japanese but it’s always cool to see what’s going on in other places around the world. There are also two categories for foreign works that list nominees we in the west would be more familiar with, I would point out though that only two women are nominated, one in each of the categories.

Review – From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain

So a friend lent me her copy of this the second book by Minister Faust, but the first book of his I’ve read. I’ll admit it was hard for me to get into and that wasn’t because the plot wasn’t interesting, or the characters intriguing or the writing dynamic and humorous. Because it was all of those wonderful things. The reason I had such trouble getting into the book is because I hate the narrator, Dr. Brain. Let me explain, it’s a book within a book so that while you’re reading From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain, you’re actually reading one of her self-help books for superheroes. Now she’s designed to be an unreliable narrator (and several characters call her that in the book so it’s not at all hidden) and while I’m usually able to deal with and sometimes like unreliable narrators, the problem with Dr. Brain is the fact that she can’t see anything beyond what she believes to be true. So someone can come up with some compelling issues and stuff and she’ll write it off as a delusion or paranoia and that’s a tactic I’m familiar with. It’s a tactic used all the time when sexism, racism, heterosexism, any oppression is mentioned, it’s the reaction of those with priviliege. I hate it so much that it makes me grind my teeth, but it’s a very effective literary device for Faust to use here, especially with the story he’s trying to tell.

Ultimately I was glad I stuck with the book and it’s cast of characters, some of which riff off of “classic” Golden Age superheroes. Iron Lass – WonderWoman, Flying Squirrel – Batman, Omnipotent Man – Superman, Brotherfly – Spiderman and PowerGrrl & X-man who have no analogues that I can really think of. I don’t read a lot of satire I’ll admit but this just might be the key to changing my mind.

Faust takes all these characters to their ultimate end, the Republican and openly racist Flying Squirrel, the hokey desperate for approval Omnipotent Man, the totally in control and controlling Iron Lass, the shuck and jivin’ Brotherfly living with a secret, the celebutante PowerGrrl and the anti-racist but aversively sexist and homophobic X-man. With these characters he interrogates everything from 2nd wave vs. pseudo-feminism girl-power (not 3rd wave feminism which is a whole other thing), the sexism & homophobia within some African Nationalist movements, drug addiction, parent-child issues, the way the media skews things based on race, governmental corruption (think Iran-Contra) and a whole lot more I don’t want to say for fear of ruining some of the amazing surprises in the book.

I’m not gonna lie it took me to maybe the very last pages of the book to really get what was being emulated and deconstructed but that could just be me being slow. When I did get the understanding though the whole book took on a new edge and I liked it much more than I thought I would. It’s about problems being ignored, people turning on each other, reveling in their privilege while actively ignoring the truth and finally about the way fear can affect us all making us do things we would never normally do and act in ways we find reprehensible. What Faust has created here is a scathing look at the human psyche and the way that super-powered or not we all fall into destructive patterns that can not only fell us but all those around us. Now I sound like Dr. Brain but I’m trying to explain the novel without spoiling anything for y’all. In the end I just recommend you all go pick up a copy.

But I still hate Dr. Eva Brain.

***Comments May Contain Spoilers***

Closing it’s doors.

Clarkesworld Books is closing up and having a liquidation sale until the 31st. All the new books have had price reductions and the used books are already pretty damn cheap. Minimum order is $25. Since they’re closing what they have is what they have so head over quick and spend, spend, spend. You don’t even have to feel like you’re picking over the corpse of someone’s dream because they aren’t closing for financial reasons.

I would be doing so myself but this not having a job thing cuts into such wonderful things as books shopping. Maybe I’ll survive on ramen this week and use my food money for books. Hmmm…excuse me while I go over my budget.

NaNoWriMo!

It is National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) y’all! I have signed up for yet another year but going in I know I won’t get 50,000 words there is simply no way with everything going on. That does not however mean that I cannot try! My project for NaNoWriMo is neither of the novel ideas I’ve mentioned here before (for a variety of reasons none of which include me no longer being interested in them) instead I want to work on a collection of short stories all inspired by Linh Dinh’s poem “Borderless Body”. We’ll see how it goes.

So that post I’ve been yammering on and on about for Feminist SF will be up in the next two weeks. Have I started writing it yet? No but I’m making a vow. I feel I’ve been ignoring the blog and I love it so that cannot be allowed to happen. I’m going to make an effort to post a new entry every two weeks and see how that goes.

Currently Reading: Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales – In The Cities of Coin and Spice It is a sequel (and the concluding volume) to The Orphan’s Tales – In The Night Garden an amazing Tiptree award winning novel that I adore. Valente is a poet as well as a fiction writer and that comes across in these books. Just amazing imagery that leaps of the page and descriptions that make my creative side salivate. She breaks “writing rules” like too many metaphors with impunity and it works so well. It simply adds to the fantastical and fairytale nature of the work. Also I got to hear her read at the last WisCon and she is an amazing reader.

Back to homework but I hope you all are well and writing (if that’s your thang).