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Neglected cultures in Scifi and Fantasy


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233 replies to this topic

#41 Black Wizard

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 04:56 PM

To put it more bluntly: because we don't care.

That's certainly one way of putting it, and probably not far off the truth.

I wonder what would happen if additional minority races were included in fantasy fiction with all the baggage that comes with them. For starters we'd have novels the size of skyscrapers. Look at how long A Storm of Swords is. If Martin included a Latino Quarter in King's Landing, a downtown area where the stereotypical African-Americans dwell and the Judean People's Front he'd have never finished the damn book. Look at the recent Discworld novels: they've been a social commentary and haven't pleased some readers the way that earlier Discworld novels have, at least some people here hold that opinion. If authors were to start introducing several minority races and their politics into novels we'd probably all be turned off. I like to be challenged as much as the next man when I'm reading a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, but I don't think Fantasy Fiction is that place for this. I firstly want a good plot in a novel, the rest comes later. If someone wants to write a novel with blacks, latinos and asians then that's fine. If it sounds like a good book I'll read it, but the quality of the novel has to come before political correctness.

Edited by Ran, 26 June 2011 - 06:35 AM.


#42 Auntie Aoife Eto'o Zed

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 04:59 PM

Would be cool to have a mayan style fantasy setting.

I think Ricardo Pinto's Stone Dance of the Chameleon is Mayan-influenced; certainly his numbering there is. (I must admit that while I read the first two in the trilogy, I haven't yet gone back and picked up the third volume. I also got a vaguely Mayan vibe while reading, but I'm not sure how accurate that was. (Either my impression or any Mayan influence that was actually there.)

http://www.ricardopi...yan_numbers.php

#43 Eugene V. Debspalm

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:00 PM

No. He did not state that folks from Africa and Southern Asia are barely beyond barbarism so please don't use lies to bolster your argument.
He stated that vast areas of those places are. And I don't see how that can be disputed.

Can we move past a Roman empire dichotomic sense of who's and who's out in terms of 'barbarism'? Please, it offends me as a geographer, if nothing else. Social and economic conditions world over are more complex than that. And bring stats if you're trying to prove something.


To the moral point - I find the notion that people in underdeveloped, impoverished and wartorn places, be they East European inner cities or African refugee camps are somehow so... inhuman as for it to be logical that theres no stories to write about them deeply offensive. If we're going there, most genre books, even the ones all about white people, prominently feature social collapse, poverty, hardship, rape, murder, violence and war. This entire tangent of the discussion therefore strikes me as bizzare.



#44 Tormund Ukrainesbane

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:04 PM

First off, your statistics are flawed, ignorant and inaccurate on multiple different levels. If you're going to make an argument using data, back it up with CDC and morbidity/mortality reports.

Ask and ye shall receive

NYPD stats (doesn't include hispanics)
NYC government stats

You fl00bs should learn early I back my shit up.

Also the fact that you just stated that folks from African and Southern Asia are barely beyond barbarism is not just wrong, it is foolish. Poverty and corruption do not equal barbarism. I was hoping for a debate or a civil conversation, not insults and ignorant slinging.


I didn't state that folks from those places are I said large areas of those places are. I don't see how it's really disputable. Places where albinos have to hide lest they be killed and eaten for their magic powers, or where being accused of witchcraft is basically a death sentence qualify as barbaric in my book. Maybe you have a different viewpoint.

Eh? Are books featuring blacks/latinos/etc in any other role than victims or villains therefore...unrealistic?I have hears of writers that try writing social issues or even, like, imagining different realities, but I guess they're not in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Or are you saying books should only be written about nice, happy things and places? Never took you for a rainbows and unicorns man, Tormund, but I hear the new My Little Pony is really good.


I'm saying that a fantasy writer who reflected the reality of today's America (or world) regarding race and put it in a fantasy environment would not be likely to get his/her book published. That's all.

#45 Lion of Venice

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:04 PM

Isn't caring so much about the colour of the skin of a character promoting racism? A character should be appreciated and identified with because of his emotions and actions, not because of how he looks.
Thinking that a character with a different colour of skin can't be identified with is pretty racist in my view, it means that his skin colour becomes the most important aspect to judge him.

#46 Eugene V. Debspalm

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:10 PM

I'm saying that a fantasy writer who reflected the reality of today's America (or world) regarding race and put it in a fantasy environment would not be likely to get his/her book published. That's all.


Richard Morgan seems to be doing fine, for one, though I do recall there was a kerfluffle over the name of "Black Man," but that a tangent - what do you regard as 'reflected the reality'? Personally, I still seem to be seeing fantasy worlds that are entirely white with some sort of inhuman evil black people that need to be civilized/killed or nice black people that know their place. (Way of Kings, hi.)

#47 kauldron26

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:12 PM

Isn't caring so much about the colour of the skin of a character promoting racism? A character should be appreciated and identified with because of his emotions and actions, not because of how he looks.
Thinking that a character with a different colour of skin can't be identified with is pretty racist in my view, it means that his skin colour becomes the most important aspect to judge him.


~sigh~ I didnt want this conversation to go here. No, focusing on color of skin is not promoting racism. Racism is about power, oppression and privilege BASED on the color of skin. This topic focused on CULTURE, not color. Color happens to be a PART of culture.

I'm an epidemiologist for a living. To understand what racism actually is read this article.

http://ajph.aphapubl...t/90/8/1212.pdf

Edited by kauldron26, 24 June 2011 - 05:17 PM.


#48 Sci-2

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:14 PM

Isn't caring so much about the colour of the skin of a character promoting racism? A character should be appreciated and identified with because of his emotions and actions, not because of how he looks.
Thinking that a character with a different colour of skin can't be identified with is pretty racist in my view, it means that his skin colour becomes the most important aspect to judge him.


I think one has to consider the cultural appreciation of such a character. It's the same thing as not having any strong female characters turning away female (and some male) readers. The author isn't obligated to include them, but the consumer is also not obligated to buy them.

Personally, I appreciate honest attempts to depict anything that is beyond your personal identity. Especially when it ties directly back into RL.

This of course then leads into RL minorities vs. minorities in the fantastical world. Does it have to a be character that is Asian or Black or Jew, or is it the same if the non-humans are subject to genocide (Dark Sun) or the elves live in ghettos (Heroes Die)?

Edited by sciborg2, 24 June 2011 - 05:16 PM.


#49 ljkeane

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:21 PM

Color happens to be a PART of culture.


Since presumably we're talking about fictional cultures I'd expect that's entirely up to the author.

#50 Sci-2

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:31 PM

~sigh~ I didnt want this conversation to go here. No, focusing on color of skin is not promoting racism. Racism is about power, oppression and privilege BASED on the color of skin. This topic focused on CULTURE, not color. Color happens to be a PART of culture.

I'm an epidemiologist for a living. To understand what racism actually is read this article.

http://ajph.aphapubl...t/90/8/1212.pdf


If we take color as part of culture, then should a writer have characters of different races be analogues to RL races? Do the experiences have to match up?

Not attacking, just curious. As a kid I turned to fantasy when I ran out of my library's mythology, so I was already Sa-Osiris the magician and a Celtic king and a follower fleeing the evil Smoking Mirror when Quetzcoatl was undone. I was also lucky to have open-minded parents in open-minded scholastic settings, so I barely thought about the race of the characters.

Gender, on other hand, I think came later, but again what mattered to me was magic. I was happy to imagine myself as the Sun Sorceress Sadira in Dark Sun or that girl who gets spellfire in Toril. Even now, characters like the "demon" girl in Mercy hold me in thrall.

To me, what matters is if the character has experienced something I have experienced, thought in the way that I have.

Edited by sciborg2, 24 June 2011 - 05:33 PM.


#51 Ouroboros

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:37 PM

Maori culture would make for a fun fantasy setting, as would Aboriginal myths, both Australian and American.

#52 Raksha the Demon

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 05:52 PM

~sigh~ I didnt want this conversation to go here. No, focusing on color of skin is not promoting racism. Racism is about power, oppression and privilege BASED on the color of skin. This topic focused on CULTURE, not color. Color happens to be a PART of culture.

I'm an epidemiologist for a living. To understand what racism actually is read this article.

http://ajph.aphapubl...t/90/8/1212.pdf



I judge all stories first on the content of the plot, basically whether the narrative is taking me away from my daily life and into the story, sweeping me away, rather than on the colors of the characters' skin. Skin color of characters can be plot catalysts, intensify certain themes, but I don't think I'd buy a story just for a black or asian or (my particular religion) jewish character; what's more important to me is what is the character doing, what is the plot. I'd rather see a story about a white male hero and his jewish (or black) sidekick where the plot is exciting, the characters believable, than a story with a jewish heroine or hero that I find unbelievable or boring, or interesting but the pace of the story is too slow.

Of course, if a writer wants to explore beyond his/her own ethnicity by using a hero/heroine of a different race, and pulls it off, and the plot is good, that's great too. I think a writer should write what she feels passionate about, wants to write, and can write believably about.

Kauldron, have you ever read any of the late Octavia Butler's science fiction? My favorites are Kindred (which was not marketed as science fiction, if I remember right; it does have unexplained time travel in it, and concerns a modern black woman who is pulled back in time to a slave-worked plantation long before the Civil War; what I liked most is that neither the white nor black characters are stereotypes) and Wild Seed (which is definitely science fiction, but also a study in human, and inhuman, behavior, and the heroine is an african mutant). Another favorite science fiction novel of mine is Roger MacBride Allen's novel Orphan of Creation, which takes place in modern times; one of the two heroines is a black American paleontologist; there are other black characters as well.


#53 Seņor de Oop Norte

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 06:08 PM

But there was immigration in Westeros ... First Men. Andals. Rhoynar.

/huh.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':huh:' />

#54 Sci-2

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 06:22 PM

I didn't state that folks from those places are I said large areas of those places are. I don't see how it's really disputable. Places where albinos have to hide lest they be killed and eaten for their magic powers, or where being accused of witchcraft is basically a death sentence qualify as barbaric in my book. Maybe you have a different viewpoint.


Define "large" with some data. I'm most curious about eating of magic white folk. What powers do they have, and what does eating them confer upon the cannibal?

#55 fionwe1987

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 06:33 PM

Speaking as an Indian, I find it sad that few authors have tried to mine the vast resources available in Indian mythology. Sure, there are a few books that do, but given the vast mythology, I'd like to see more.

That said, I totally fail to see why someone should have to go out of their way to do any such thing. It is one thing when an author has all the good guys to be white and the villains to be dark skinned (which, Datepalm, I'd argue is not the case in Way of Kings). That is objectionable.

But I question those people who claim that authors have any obligation to include non-white characters. The reason for so many white characters is that most fantasy and sci-fi in the English language are written in the West, for readers in North America and Europe. If they are obliged to include people from far-off cultures, than so are authors from India, Nigeria and Chine, an argument which I see nobody making. Fiction is not a democracy, and it isn't the job of every work of fiction to please everyone from everywhere.

That said, it does sometimes bug me when SFF works set in the real world end up ignoring the rest of the world.

Take the Dresden Files. I love the books, but when Europe and America are shown to be the centers of magical power, with more magicians, and no explanation for why billion-people countries like China and India don't have more wizards, I'm left scratching my head.

But that isn't restricted to SFF, and is an entirely different argument.

And... I don't know about Central Asia or Africa for certain, but where in South Asia is witchcraft banned and albinos eaten?

Edited by fionwe1987, 24 June 2011 - 06:36 PM.


#56 Brady

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 07:17 PM

"But Westeros is based on Medieval Europe!" You know, Europe, with all it's gigantic walls of ice, snow zombies and dragons. But you can't throw black people in there! THAT WOULD BE CRAZY!

#57 Sci-2

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 07:28 PM

"But Westeros is based on Medieval Europe!" You know, Europe, with all it's gigantic walls of ice, snow zombies and dragons. But you can't throw black people in there! THAT WOULD BE CRAZY!


.....damn. touche.

#58 Contrarius

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 07:40 PM

I didn't state that folks from those places are I said large areas of those places are. I don't see how it's really disputable. Places where albinos have to hide lest they be killed and eaten for their magic powers, or where being accused of witchcraft is basically a death sentence qualify as barbaric in my book.


wtf??

#59 Galactus

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 08:37 PM

There are a couple of things here I think.


-The first one is simple privilege. White people write about white people because they don't really have a reason not to. (Unless they want to write something "exotic" and that has it's own problems)

-Once you "fantasize" a culture I think they tend to float together a bit. Honestly, apart from language there's not *that* much of a difference between iron-age Sweden and iron-age Finland and Russia. Nomadic hunter-gatherers are pretty similar too (the sami live pretty much like some of the northern First Nations tribes, for instance) you need to be *really* familiar with a culture to tell them apart (most people aren't) if you strip way the superficiality.

So when fantazising (which generally involves at least fuzzing the superficial details, unless you write fantasy set in our world) you only tend to have a few cues. If someone is named Erkki or Pekka it's probably a finnic fantasy, if they're named Sven or Olof it's a scandinavian one.

-Another point is... Familiarity? Not quite the right word but... in a culture there are symbols, that basically everyone inside that culture "gets". We all know what a sword in a stone means, we know what dragons and swords and kings and farmboys mean. (and, kind of unfairly, we've exported this so that a large portion of the rest of the world, if far from everyone, also knows what our symbols mean) but the reverse isn't neccessarily true. So in order to write a non-superficial story set in another culture you need to learn their cultural "language", what symbols mean and such. And that's tricky. For us westerners, checking out how christianity is presented in anime is a good excercise... it tends to be wrong on a level that's really beyond the "Rule of Cool" (which is liberally applied!) And this is something the west does ALL the time. (or to take another example, Marve's Thor character: there's something invariably *wrong* about that character, no matter the revamp they never seem to get him right, which doesen't mean it's a bad comic, far from it, it's just vaguely unsettling)

That barrier cuts both ways by the way, westerners might be okay with an "exotic" setting, but once people starts messing with the expected cultural cues casual readers tends to be alienated.

So in other words, trying to write a setting that's more than superficial kitsch is difficult, and even if you succeed people tend to just be alienated by it.

-Then comes the other solution, keep within your own culture but add people of different ethnicities. That's much easier, it's a minor compromise on worldbuilding consistency, but if the effect is that people is more comfortable in their reading because there's a black guy there why not do it?

-SF tends to have less issues with this, they still tend to assume that western culture will be dominant/recognizable in the future, but at least they can throw in a bunch of non-whites without having to explain everything. (Since all future is american, it won't matter, or something)

Take the Dresden Files. I love the books, but when Europe and America are shown to be the centers of magical power, with more magicians, and no explanation for why billion-people countries like China and India don't have more wizards, I'm left scratching my head.


Dresden Files does the entire annoying "Oh yeah, the rest of the world exists and does stuff, they're just not important to the story." thing. (they mention there's a Jade Court, along with the Black, White & Red, for instance, presumably it's made up of hopping corpses...)

#60 Liadin

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 09:14 PM

I think a lot of it is that people tend to have a very narrow view of what "the past" was like. A lot of people think that prior to, say, the 20th century, cultures never interacted in a meaningful way, women never did or thought anything interesting, nobody was gay, etc. Witness all the people who complain that including non-white characters in a predominantly white setting, interesting and plot-important women, or gay people at all, is nothing more than a "concession to modern sensibilities"--because obviously such things never happened/such people never existed in "the past." Start thinking that way and the entire cast of a book winds up being straight white men--not because it's necessarily more "realistic" but because enough people think it is. Probably because straight white men wrote the history that those authors and their primary audience are familiar with.