Okay, here it is. This is my genre, the genre I work in, the genre I read in. It’s open-minded. It’s imaginative. It’s speculative. It flies on great, draconic wings over mountains and plains, it slides between worlds with engines made from captive wormholes. It holds the line against vast legions of orcs, it bespeaks artificial intelligences that sit at the heart of Dyson spheres. Timelords, Eternal Champions, unicorns, Frankenstein’s Monster, Laputa, the Grey Mouser, Lyra, the fellowship, White Walkers, the Ringworld…
We can imagine all of that, and more. More than you can possibly ever list. We deconstruct the past, we create the futures. The possibilities are endless.
Unless you want to include women, gay characters, trans characters, disabled characters, characters with mental health issues who aren’t automatically serial killers, real social issues, characters from other races than the generically white/Western automatic character creation mould – and do so well and positively.¹
Because fuck, no, we don’t want real life infecting our genre. Shit, that would ruin everything, wouldn’t it? What if, as well as imagining dragons and aliens and starships and robots and orcs and castles and all that, and crafting them to within an inch of perfection, you had to do women, and non-white people too? And you had to give them rounded personalities and motivations, and had to treat them as… human? My god, that would be far too much like real life, wouldn’t it? And don’t we work in this genre precisely so that we can do unto imagined others what we cannot do in real life?
Well, no, we don’t. Not unless we’re total fucking tools. (John C Wright, I’m looking at you here. Do unto yourself what you willed upon the creators of Korra, please.)²
But apparently we can’t talk about diversity in fantasy and science fiction without bringing the genre into disrepute, without tarnishing it and ruining it for the “genuine” fans who don’t want politics in their fiction. Diversity should be invisible, ignored, unspoken. There are far more important issues to address in fantasy and science fiction – like orcs, elves, sweaty grunting males swinging axes at each other, deep and meaningful Christian allegories, the inevitable defeat of evil social justice at the hands of valiant capitalist starship captains³. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t try to be represented. Don’t take valuable air from those it rightfully belongs to.
And now, with America Tango’d by a squinty-faced peanut and a VP who wants to “re-educate” gay children in “camps” (presumably guarded, and walled with barbed wire), with intolerance and violence rife on both sides of the pond, fiction is only one of the frontlines for visibility and oxygen in the face of celebrity fascists and anti-intellectuals.
What can we do? Simple: Keep those voices alive. Keep those books in the public eye. Make diversity count. Make people uncomfortable in their privilege.
Who am I to say this? A white, middle-aged, bearded bloke with a mortgage and a cat? Yeah. And I’m not the most diverse writer in the world. But doesn’t that mean that I’m one of the people who really ought to be saying this?
I’ll go further. If you think politics and social issues should be kept out of fantasy and science fiction, and that by extension they should be made invisible in real life too, it’s you who is living in fantasyland. If you voted Trump, or for the appalling cackwitted shift to the far right over here in Britain, then you’re legitimising hatred and fear and encouraging the silencing of diverse voices. If you feel threatened by the presence in this genre of people who are not like you, then you don’t belong.
Get the fuck out of my genre.
¹I’m very aware of the irony here, by the way. Scroll back through the last few posts to see criticism of Heir to the North for its lack of female characters aside from Cassia. The TL;DR is that I’m aware of my own shortcomings and working to overcome them.
²He’s not the only one, obviously. But I’d rather write a good book than list a whole bunch of fucksticks who don’t deserve any more publicity than they already have.