January 13, 2006

Call for Submissions: Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encylopedia

Filed under:Feminism, Gender, Literature, News, Science Fiction, Writing — Lake Desire @ 12:18 am

Via Academic Gamers, there is a call for contributors for the up-coming, illustrated two volume Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encyclopedia.

The 2-volume, illustrated Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encyclopedia is scheduled to be published by Greenwood Press in 2007. The Editor is seeking contributors for unassigned entries. The focus will be primarily but not exclusively on work in English from the 19th century to the present, covering fiction, nonfiction, film, television, art, comics, graphic novels, music and poetry.

Volume I (175,000 words) will consist of essays. The longer pieces will provide socio-historical context, analysis, and background information on key themes that cross genre boundaries. Two possible schemas are being considered for this volume. The final editorial choice will depend to some extent on the scholarship and interests of the chosen contributors. One approach is multi-genre essays, tightly focused in period. An alternate approach is single-genre essays covering larger historical periods. Scholars chosen to write essays are invited to do some of the A-Z entries relating to their essays.

Volume II (175,000 words) will consist of the A-Z component. Alphabetically organized entries will focus narrowly on key figures and issues. Categories, which can apply to any of the media covered by the work, will include (but are not limited to): single entries on significant writers/artists/composers (primarily women but some men); group and background entries on a range of writers/artists/composers not covered in single entries; and single and group entries on characters and character types, genres, historical periods, national traditions, and major themes.

More details.

I’ve already something exciting to look forward to come 2007. An encyclopedia is a much needed addition to an area that has been paid too little interest.

Cross-posted on Feminist Fantasy and Whileaway


January 11, 2006

More on Whitewashed Scifi/Fantasy

Filed under:Gender, Literature, Race, Science Fiction — Lake Desire @ 6:05 pm

My internet has been down more than up recently, so I’m relying on the university’s computer labs and wireless to get online. (Don’t fret, I’m changing providers. Thank goodness we have not one but three high speed internet options in my city.) Since my internet outage interrupted the World of Warcraft post I was brewing up, in consolation (this is better, really–I wish I’d seen it before I wrote my Race and the Future post) I bring your attention to Pam Noles’s essay Shame on bonding with her dad over scifi movies:

I remember Dad saying, how come you never see anybody like that in the stories you like? And I remember answering, maybe they didn’t have black people back then. He said there’s always been black people. I said but black people can’t be wizards and space people and they can’t fight evil, so they can’t be in the story. When he didn’t say anything back I turned around. He was in full recline mode in his chair and he was very still, looking at me. He didn’t say anything else.

When Noles was a little girl, not finding characters like herself made her think people like herself were incapable of being the heroes. It’s disheartening to see something I love so much–scifi and fantasy–contribute to internalized oppression, and it isn’t just race.

I don’t know firsthand what it is like to be marginalized by the things I enjoy because on my race, but I do because of my gender–and feminism has shown me how the two are very interwoven (and not to try and measure which oppressions are “worse” than others). When I was a little girl, so many of the books and television programs and video games I enjoyed featured one token female, if any, that was a one-dimensional stereotype. She was into her looks or flirting, and I couldn’t identify. When playing make-believe with friends, I lived through the male characters. They were complex characters in their own right, defined by more than their gender, and I could identify with their strengths. They felt like real people, not paperdolls.

Noles’s discovery of A Wizard of Earthsea is really touching:

And because Le Guin snuck up on it, let us thrill with Sparrowhawk as he made his way, the Revelation came as a shock. I do remember bursting out into tears on the living room couch when I understood what was going on. And the tears flowed again when Mom came home from work and I showed her the book while trying to explain. Sparrowhawk is brown. I think he’s like an Indian from India. And Vetch is black like from Africa. There’s a bunch more and they have real power. Not the girls, though. But still they are also the good guys. It’s the white people who are evil. And Sparrowhawk is also Ged, and he’s going to be the most powerful one of them all, ever.

Her experience is reminescent of the times I found a character I really identified with, a strong person like me in the fictional worlds I loved.

And my last favorite bit:

Le Guin’s racial choices in “A Wizard of Earthsea” mattered because her decision said to the wide white world: You Are Not The Whole Of The Universe. For many fans of genre, no matter where they fell on the spectrum of pale, this was the first time such a truth was made alive for them within the pages of the magical worlds they loved.

Yes! I love Le Guin for it, and strive to remind myself that as I catch myself enacting on my privilege to be oblivious to race.

I suggest reading the essay. I really can’t do it justice, especially to Noles reaction to Star Wars as a girl and her critique of news media for ignoring the whitewashing of the Earthsea miniseries.

Via Whileaway, which also alerted me to Invisible Universe: a history of blackness in speculative fiction that I can’t wait to see.


January 7, 2006

Race and the Future

Filed under:Literature, Online Communities, Privilege, Race, Science Fiction — Lake Desire @ 4:10 pm

Like a typical geeky 90s kid, I grew up inhaling scifi and fantasy YA books, fashioning my NES controller into a belt to emulate Captain N, and revolving my schedule around any mediocre scifi TV show. I didn’t realize until I was older that most of the pivotal characters–the captains, the princesses, the superheroes, the predestined saviors–looked like me. Why should I think anything of it? Thanks to my annual MLK assemblies, I thought diversity meant a person of color was present to serve as an ambassador of their race.

Being oblivious to my own race was part of the privilege being white gave me. I wish I would have discovered Ursula K. Le Guin when I was younger. She was one of the earliest fantasy and scifi authors to have nonwhites star in her novels. She had difficulty getting publishers to accurately represent characters on her book covers because they thought featuring a person of color on the cover would hurt sales.

I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don’t notice, don’t care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being “colorblind.” Nobody else does.

I have heard, not often, but very memorably, from readers of color who told me that the Earthsea books were the only books in the genre that they felt included in—and how much this meant to them, particularly as adolescents, when they’d found nothing to read in fantasy and science fiction except the adventures of white people in white worlds. Those letters have been a tremendous reward and true joy to me.

So far no reader of color has told me I ought to butt out, or that I got the ethnicity wrong. When they do, I’ll listen. As an anthropologist’s daughter, I am intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism—a white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice, an act of extreme arrogance. In a totally invented fantasy world, or in a far-future science fiction setting, in the rainbow world we can imagine, this risk is mitigated. That’s the beauty of science fiction and fantasy—freedom of invention.

(On a side note, Le Guin says in the same article that she had difficulty getting publishers to accurately represent characters on her book covers because they thought featuring a person of color on the cover would hurt sales.)

Although I do wish I’d read Le Guin when I was younger, I don’t know that, as a child, I wouldn’t have been one of those oblivious readers. I’d been trained to ignore race until I hit university and realized my experiences weren’t as universal as I thought. I began noticing how race was portrayed in the literature and movies and video games that I enjoyed. So often a person of color (or woman, or person with disability, or… the list goes on) was included as a token, as someone who had made it into the white world. Scifi did this, too, and if any genre should be free of tokenism, it should be scifi. The freedom of invention Le Guin mentions is an ideal tool for showing, for inventing, other possibilities. And in scifi, the excuses for the same old white dominance get rather contrived than they do in fantasy. Globally, whites are not the majority. If the world were to move onto the galaxy, wouldn’t that be reflected in the people we’re seeing in stories and films?

I’ve role-played online since I was a knee-high, and was oblivious, like most privileged whites, to race in the scifi and fantasy games I played until a few years ago. Around the time I started university, I founded a play-by-E-mail role-playing club based on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsdawn. The story took place ten years after the planet Pern had been colonized, several hundred years into a future where humans dealt regularly with aliens, nations of old were long dissolved and humans had founded colonies across the galaxy. I had a hard time getting players to veer away from creating peaches and cream Britons and red-headed Irish-folk (it didn’t help the heroes of McCaffrey’s novel were Irish). Too many others, rather than writing characters of ambiguous lineage, empathized how exotic their “dark” characters looked–further enforcing the idea that white is the norm.

What was my gripe? Five hundred or more years down the road, I didn’t picture such a racial homogeny. Maybe it was the optimist in me hoping for a future without white supremacy, without white men (or the token woman or “minority”) continuing to be the picture of authority and normality. Role-playing is self-indulgent, and I certainly didn’t want to role-play in a world like that, I had real life. At the same time, was it wrong of me to ask players to play a character who looked different than them?

Submitted to the Radical Woman of Color Carnival:


January 2, 2006

Scifi Museum and a Ride Chicks Dig

Filed under:Literature, Science Fiction — Lake Desire @ 9:42 am

Yesterday, my father and I visited the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. It was small with a lot crammed in two rooms, but an enjoyable hour and a half. As I expected, the museum spoke from the dominant narrative scifi is too often told from, but I was pleasantly surprised the Powers that Be (Paul Allen?) gave us more than just Star Wars and Trek memorabilia. The literary side of scifi was well represented, and about a fourth of the members of the Hall of Fame were women (to my joy, Anne McCaffrey was no where to be found there or in the entire museum).
Ursula K. Le Guin was probably the author most mentioned throughout the exhibits. There was even a blurb about feminist scifi and the importance of The Left Hand of Darkness. The museum had a big pannel on James Tiptree, Jr. breaking the division between women’s and men’s writing when she revealed she was a woman, and a plate given for the annual award in her namesake for “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.”

Fandom and cosplaying was mentioned with a few pieces even on display. The first scifi convention was in 1939!

Octavia Butler made the museum not for being the first woman of color to write scifi or using the medium to challenge racial prejudice, but for Lauren, the narrator of Parable of the Sower, making the hero archetype. Huh.

On the way out, I checked out the gift shop. They were well stocked with several varieties of women’s tees. This was nice for a change, because usually geeky shops seem to have one or two token women shirts with some girly or sexist saying. Instead, the sexist shirt was for the guys: a TIE-Fighter that said “Chicks Dig My Sweet Ride.” Since, you know, a good spaceship is the quickest way to get in MY pants.


December 10, 2005

Rowling Isn’t Real

Filed under:Literature, News, Writing — Lake Desire @ 10:30 am

From whileaway, apparently J.K. Rowling doesn’t really exist.

Grünfeld called it a “fantastic” story, that “gives hope” not least to single mothers around the world as well as mothers with unrealized dreams and strong purchasing power.

So apparently Rowling is a carefully crafted token to support the rags-to-riches myth.

On a more positive Potter note, Feminist Characters in Harry Potter.