DiverSFFy: Karen Memory

DiverSFFy is a feature hosted by yours truly! The goal is to get the word out about books in science fiction and fantasy that do a good job of portraying people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives - be it race, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic levels, etc. I'd love it if you joined in - just link me to your posts in the comments or on twitter (@spidersilksnow)!

This week's pick: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear


The Rundown

Title: Karen Memory
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Genre: Steampunk, fantasy

Goodreads Summary:
"You ain't gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It's French, so Beatrice tells me."
Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable's high-quality bordello. Through Karen's eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone's mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.
Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen's own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

So what's so diverse about this book?

SO MUCH. This is one of those rare books where most of the characters are women and they actually talk to each other and help each other out and have each others' backs. This is so incredibly rare, especially in fantasy/steampunk, so I was really excited to get to know all of the lovely "seamstresses" in this book.

Aside from featuring a lot of women, it also has a lot of characters who are POC. One of the main characters is an Indian girl (squee! Someone who looks like me is in a fantasy book!!) and another is Chinese. There's also a black man and a native American man who work together (!! People of different races helping each other!!). And all of these people are characterized with care, and there is far more to them than the stereotypes that define their races and cultures.

AND it also features people from all across the LGBTQ spectrum, and none of these people are defined by their sexuality. Everyone is a person first, and who they love and how they perceive themselves is important but definitely secondary to the rest of their personalities/motivations/desires.

Despite all the different diverse perspectives in this book, I never once felt that someone was characterized in a certain way just to include a token "unique" perspective. All the characters were multi-faceted and no one was just there to diversify the melting pot.

Why you should read it:

This book is just plain awesome. It's basically a steampunk Western, complete with a murder mystery, horseback shoot-outs, automatons, and lovely ladies. The best part is that instead of just being eye-candy, the lovely ladies are all pretty badass and are the ones who actually save the day!

Also, just look at that cover. It's gorgeous. You know you want that on your bookshelf, creepy octopus silhouette and all.

A small note: some people might find Karen's narrative style annoying. It's written in dialect, so if you're the type of person who likes their narrator to dot all the "i"s and cross all the "t"s, this isn't the book for you. I loved Karen's voice because it seemed more authentic given her background and the society she lives in, but I realize it's not for everyone.

In short, this book is awesome, and I am definitely going to be reading more from Elizabeth Bear.

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