Speculative fiction is so freaking amazing because it’s a story site where almost anything can be made possible. Well beyond the inclusion of magic and magical things in a recognizable world (although clearly this is one of the myriad options), there is space for the exploration of ideas, relationships, systems outside the monolithic force of the normative which we as humans experience in our daily lives as social beings. Speculative fiction has the capacity to unsettle us, to make strange what we thought was familiar, and to have us re-examine our understanding of, and relationship with, “normal.” This is a remarkable and wondrous thing.
I write books for both youth and adults. The last two novels I’ve worked on have been YA crossover dark fantasy, with Darkest Light to be released with Razorbill (Penguin Canada) in Spring 2012.
I’m a writer and reader who is very much conscious of the absence or elision of multiracial characters, particularly female, in stories, books, history, film, popular culture. Are characters all “default” heterosexual? Are there queer-identified characters? Are aged characters present? Are they included without being framed as the figure of ridicule or comic relief? We live in enormously complex and diverse societies and I think it’s crucial that characters in stories also reflect that complexity. For such a very long time the representative figure for North American “mainstream” has meant white and heterosexual--we’re seeing changes in the field, and it’s a blessed relief. Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Who Fears Death, has just won the World Fantasy Award. This kind of win is so important not only for the deserved recognition that Okorafor receives for her remarkable novel, but it also sends a signal to young readers that literature of the fantastic is meant for a wide and diverse audience.
It’s so very important for young people to see reflections of themselves in the stories that they read. This includes not just personality traits, but also gender, race, sexuality, class, culture, histories, and even religion.
When I was a child reading adventure books, science fiction and fantasy, there was never a child who looked like me, who came from a cultural background that was familiar and home-like. In order for me to identify with the central character I had to imagine myself white. This was done in an unthinking way--I was a child with a child’s understanding of the world. I did not have the language and tools to intellectually deconstruct the novels I read. But unconscious self-erasure does a kind of harm that takes a lot of work to undo as an adult. As a writer of tales of the fantastic I can craft great adventures that figures Asian North American young women and youth as the center of their own world and lives rather than being cast on the periphery. They are not supporting cast. They are the heroes. And placing a non-white subjectivity as the center destabilizes existing power structures. It also asks that the white reader imagine herself as“like” with a figure that has been historically (and even now) constructed as “other.”
Now this all may sound like my tales are polemically driven and I am a bore... I am a writer, not a minister, and sermonizing is not my job. My job is to write the best story that I can. And this can surely be done while keeping a part of my brain conscious of the history of erasure or misrepresentations in published fiction.
Japanese myths and ghost stories were very much part of my childhood and these elements seep into my fantasy novels. But I’m not interested in replicating “traditional” tales. Traditions morph and swell, adapt and grow--they become different creatures in a new land, with the passage of time. In literature of the fantastic we can write into materiality that which did not exist and, ohhhhhh, what adventures ensues.
Curiously, I found myself writing a novel with a young male protagonist in Darkest Light. When I realized it was the first time that I was writing a book-length project without a female protagonist I was rather bemused. I wondered about it, briefly, but then continued. The story demanded that his story be followed through to the end. And, after all, I am a mother of a young adult son as well as a daughter... (wry grin). It’s likely that I’ll spend most of my time writing novels about the lives of women and girls. But I would hate to think that we are reductively confined to only writing about our own lived subjectivities. That would be a peculiar thing, indeed. One must, however, always be aware about appropriation of voice and how one will handle this difficult-to-negotiate terrain. (I’ve blogged about this. There’s also Part 2, as well, for those who’d like to read further.) I’m by no means an authority on appropriation of voice. But I’ve thought about it a great deal.
I’m so looking forward to the expansive changes coming to the fields of fantasy and science fiction in North America! What marvelous stories will come to fruition in orchards of such wildly different trees...
Hiromi Goto is the author of the novels Chorus of Mushrooms, Half World, Hopeful Monsters, and the forthcoming Darkest Light, among others. She is the recipient of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award, the Sunburst Award, and the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award.