Fantasy Friday - Diversity in SFF

This is a meme hosted by Rinn Reads where anyone can join in and talk about anything Fantasy!

I was talking to a friend about how fantasy was very white-male-dominated, and it got me thinking about some of my favorite stories either written by or featuring diverse people. This includes women, minorities/people from multiracial backgrounds, and LGBTQ. Diversity is especially important to me as a reader, because I'm a woman, and I'm a woman of color (Yes, people from Asia/India are also women of color - an excellent article on that topic here). It's important to me that my fiction has diversity not just for the sake of being politically correct - the world is diverse, and our stories need to start reflecting that.

In almost any high fantasy world, you'll be able to group different groups of people into a loose representation of ethnicities from our world. Take Westeros, for example: the Dothraki are tan, horse-riding nomads (Arab); the mystical dragon-riding people are off to the East (Asian); the nobility that make up the majority of the story are all white (European). The problem here is that you start to see a lot of stereotypes. I have noticed that a lot of fantasy/SFF portrays Asian and Middle-Eastern cultures and people as "exotic" as "liberating". I mean, how often have we seen the trope where the (usually white) protagonist goes off to some far away land and falls in love with one of the locals and is irrevocably changed, but manages to be a savior for the native people? (Jake Sully in Avatar/Daenerys in Song of Ice and Fire/Milo in Disney's Atlantis). It's quite difficult, but thankfully not impossible, to find stories that portray people from different backgrounds without resorting to stereotypes and cliches.

I know this is a pathetic excuse, but it just goes to illustrate my point: I couldn't come up with many diverse fantasy novels/authors, so I opened this up to be a post about SFF (science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction).

So here are some novels/novellas/short stories to check out:

The Water That Falls on You from NowhereThis is a fantastic short story that features both POC and LBTQ characters. I loved the sci-fi element and how it helped the situation play out. It's really well written, and I really enjoyed it. You can read it on by clicking on the cover!

18210634 Not only is this excellent science fiction novel written by a woman, it features a society where women have the power in the community and in relationships. It also has an alien conspiracy, nomadic hunters, and power struggles. You can read my full review here.

6363322 This is an LGBTQ retelling of Cinderella. It's beautifully written and it's quite interesting to see the alternate dynamics between the prince, Cinderella, her stepmother, and her love. This is one of the best Cinderella retellings I have read - I highly recommend it! Also check out the author's Diversity in YA blog.

12476820 This book features a strong young woman as the protagonist, and portrays characters of all sorts of races and socioeconomic backgrounds. The cool thing is that no one is defined by their ethnicity - in this world, people come from different backgrounds because that's just how the real world is. The series is action-packed and intense - I highly recommend it if you're interested in reading a bio/medical dystopian novel. You can read my full review here.

Here's what the author had to say about diversity in his books during a Q&A on Goodreads!

Diversity is very important to me, because I like my characters to reflect my readers. We all need to be able to see ourselves in our fiction. I read a quote once by Geena Davis, who was talking about the massive disparity between men and women in Hollywood--only 30% of all speaking roles in movies are women, and when you look at lead roles it's only 16%. She said that all it would take to fix this was two things: first, every time a script says 'a crowd,' replace it with 'a crowd of men and women;' second, go through all the speaking roles in the script and make every other one a woman. Those two simple changes, which are really the easiest things in the whole world, would rock the entire foundation of our movie industry. I've thought a lot about that, and how easy it is for a writer to 'cast' his or her characters, and I decided that I was going to do it, not just for gender but for race as well. I went through the manuscript I was working on, counted the characters, and realized that I was defaulting to white men pretty much every time I needed to invent a new character. I started changing the genders and races, doing my best to mix things up, and realized that suddenly the book was far more interesting and vibrant than it had ever been before. I'm refining this process as I go, trying the make the characters feel different instead of just looking different; the new series I have coming out next year is all about a Mexican family in a cyberpunk Los Angeles. It's incredibly fun to write.

4932435 In case you didn't know already, I am a die-hard Melina Marchetta fan. I have loved every single one of her books, and they have all never failed to make me cry. She's an amazing author and writes about her characters with such compassion it's hard to remember that her stories are fiction. Her fantasy series especially has an excellent cast of characters, featuring strong men and women, people of different colors, and people of different backgrounds, but they are all ultimately human. I cannot say this enough: READ HER STUFF!

7235533 I guess I'm cheating a little because I haven't actually read this yet, but I am convinced that Brandon Sanderson, like Melina Marchetta, is a story-telling god and can do no wrong. I have been told that this series features people of many different colors and some strong women, although I cannot personally confirm that. I'll be doing a readalong of this book this summer, if you're interested in joining!

13658 This is (unfortunately) the only book of LeGuin's that I have read, but I love it! She is an incredible SFF writer, and her Earthsea cycle portrays so many characters of different cultures and communities. Le Guin's characters are incredibly realistic, and although you can see some East/West influences on her world, they are certainly not stereotypical.

Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? Why is diversity in fiction important to you?

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  1. Rinn (Rinn Reads)June 14, 2014 at 4:34 AM

    I've often noticed that the 'barbaric' cultures in fantasy are often represented by Middle-Eastern peoples and I just don't understand why so many authors always do it that way. It would be interesting if things got mixed up a bit!

    I have the short ebook of your first selection, I had no idea what it was really about so I'm glad to hear that there's some diversity in there! I also have Partials by Dan Wells to read, and his writing technique sounds really interesting!

    Love Finnikin! I haven't read the others yet though.

    There's been some similar fuss over video games because of E3 this week. Loads of people have said that it's like almost every game studio sat down to think about their new game, asked 'what protagonist would be perfect for this game? Oh, a white male with stubble!' and.... yeah. Apparently Ubisoft won't be making any female characters for the new Assassins' Creed because 'making female models doubles the production time'. Riiiight...

  2. You're so right! I mean, not only do we not have enough diversity in fantasy (especially High Fantasy) but so often it's all very stereotypical! It seems like fantasy books would be such a great place to challenge those stereotypes, too bad it doesn't happen more often! Great post!!

  3. It really would! I don't know if it's unconscious or if people just have a hard time imagining barbarians looking or acting a little differently.
    I really enjoyed both of those - I hope you like them!

    Oh wow that's awful. I find that so hard to it honestly that difficult? And even if it is, isn't it worth it to represent half the world's population? Sighs.

  4. Yeah, you'd think that when you can make your own world you'd mix things up a bit but it's surprisingly rare. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I love that quote you have by Dan Wells. I think I may hunt down Partials purely for that alone.

    Anyways, fully agree with you on this post. I'm also fairly conscious of diversity when I read - especially when it comes to gender & LGBT stuff, although I try to keep a critical eye out for race when I read too. I don't really care if diversity has been included for "PC" reasons or not - if it's there, it makes me happy & I'm far more likely to pick up the book and/or its sequels.

  6. It's always nice to hear the author's side of things and why they write about what they do!
    Same - as long as it's there, and it's not stereotypical, I'm definitely more likely to pick it up.


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