Let’s face it, the corner of the literary world we like to inhabit is not one that’s exactly diverse. I tend to think fantasy is a little bit worse than science fiction. Our genre came from Tolkien. Yes there are plenty of other things that influenced the genre. I would probably call Arthurian legends the deepest root you can get to without getting religious. (Also, feel free to debate that one if you want. I would enjoy other points of view on that) So beyond being Eurocentric, it’s really Anglocentric.
It… is. I’m not debating the merits of history with this. Deal with that.
But the fact that’s the way it is goes a long way to why I think the traditional high fantasy is something I gravitate away from. Yes I’m up to book four of GRRM’s sprawling epic, but in the last few years that’s the exception rather than the rule for my reading lists. From perusing the bookstores (before they all left Rhode Island) it looks like the high fantasy is the exception as far as new books. A lot of the well written standbys are chugging along like GRRM or Terry Goodkind or Mercedes Lakey but most of the new stuff is trying to be different and get away from all this.
Good. Awesome. I’m all for it because I want to read new things, cultures included. I loved the modern mythology Dark Heavens trilogy by Kylie Chan. Obviously a well written story always needs to come first but a large positive for me when I was reading those books was the Chinese lore it incorporates. Hong Kong might as well be another world for someone who has always lived in New England. Between the city and the mythos, I felt like I was learning things while I was reading the fiction. As the main character learned more about the lore surrounding her, I found myself kicking around the internets to read more on the same topics.
It’s impossible to go around the genre circles online lately without hearing all sorts of praise for Saladin Ahmed‘s Throne of the Crescent Moon. One of the things being talked about, (which he talks about himself on Scalzi’s Blog) is that it uses a faux-Arabia rather than a faux-Europe. Again, this is a large part of why it’s nestle in my to-read pile. Tobias Buckell‘s Crystal Rain which I read when it was brandy new back in 06, made me think about how different the world was by being based off a new point of departure. The Caribbean had Europeans in it, but you couldn’t call that book Eurocentric at all.
So this is great for the reader and a really long intro to my point of “What the hell can I do about this as a writer??”
Look at that picture of me to the left. I’m about as Caucasian as you can get. My father’s side of my family came from Ireland a hundredish years ago. My mother’s side of the family is as American as you can get. I’m a direct descendant of William Brewster, the head preacher on the Mayflower. So every time you get that vacation on Thanksgiving? You’re welcome. My ancestors fought in the early Massachusetts battles in the Revolutionary War and took payment in land in New Hampshire and didn’t look back. I was the first in 200 years born outside of New Hampshire.
So being Irish-New Hampshire, how could I write something that brings in other cultures without it being fake? The number one commandment for an author is Thou Shall Make Shit Up but where is that line between where it comes out as lame? I had an old Gary Gygax book that took place in a faux-Arabia I found in a used bookstore that was absolutely horrible. Aside from being a dated “classic DnD party” character line up, the setting was only a veneer. I tend to get dismissive of things that take place in a version of New England I’ve never seen exist in my entire life living here. The classic line is to “Write what you know” but can research make up for it or would people just find it offensive?
I feel I could write a decent New York story or a Boston story. It would probably be clear I wasn’t a native, but I think I could pull it off enough that it wouldn’t be distracting. Research and making shit up wouldn’t enable me to do a city based off Tokyo or Johannesburg or Cairo or even Miami. I could write Greek gods and make a good stab at Norse but I wouldn’t know where to begin anywhere else in the modern mythology world.
These are the questions that have been on my mind. Novel Attempt Number 3 has a planet that was settled by Irish and Japanese (with Norwegian being one of the dominant space cultures). The female lead in the short story I finished this week is Arabic. Adding different cultures makes it more interesting for me to write and I would hope, more interesting for people to read. So I think I just spent the last 800 words asking more questions rather than talking about anything with answers. That’s alright though. They’re good questions to keep in mind. And who knows… maybe someone has helpful thoughts of their own out there.