sexta-feira, outubro 19, 2018

Tickboxing Exercise: "The Fifth Season" by N. K. Jemisin




"Back to the personal. Need to keep things grounded, ha ha"

in "The Fifth Season" by N. K. Jemisin



Surely most decent SF is unique, each story is different from other stories, each writer is different from each other writer?  

Most of the speculative/dystopian/ science fiction I've read has been written by women and queer people, including non-white women and queer people. It's all been "different". But having got used to reading those imaginings (e.g., Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr.), encountering the kind of white-hetero-male-dominated mainstream stuff mentioned in some comments regarding recent SF does feel really limited/limiting. There's often an absence of racial difference or gender variance in the story lines, lazy stereotyping and dialogue whenever these "others" do appear (and in many stories they don't) and no thought given to how whatever changes have taken place in society might impact on those with less of that kind of privilege.

I don't think it's the job of this review to tell you all about how "different" other writers' work might be. But hopefully it's inspired you to go out and read some of it for yourself. I thoroughly recommend Octavia Butler, and James Tiptree Jr. if you want someone to start with.

One of the reasons I read this kind of stuff is that I'm interested in all the different ways that people imagine the world changing. Some of the best examples are really thought-provoking, and give us insights into other people's experiences and ideas and attitudes. As someone who would dearly love the world/system we live in to change, I find this fascinating. Some of the mainstream stuff comes from a more limited perspective, and is therefore much less interesting to me. I don't think I'm alone in being excited to read stories that do explore more of these issues.

Speculative fiction has not unrelated problems that typify stereotypical white male framing that we also see in other areas of fiction, film, TV, plays and all other kinds of story telling: women characters that are "men in women's bodies" along with a dystopian point of view and, let's not forget the vast majority of stories that feature violence and hierarchy that results in the feeling that one has read the same few stories over and over.

So this is all too familiar and infuriating.

And yet I can think of nothing more typifying of the stereotypical than using a narrative voice that pulls me out of the story: "Back to the personal. Need to keep things grounded, ha ha". What the fuck is this????

Which again begs the question: why does ones identity have any bearing on what one wishes to write about? I mean, it might, but it might not. And it might have a bearing in driving you to write about things outside your own experience. I actually prefer alien characters to human. Humans are mostly dull whatever their gender, race or sexual orientation, unless you throw them to a situation outside their comfort zone or general experience. You've seen one you've seen all 7 or 8 billion of them...Jemisin’s prose is bland and terrible dull. Not that it’s awfully awful, but it lacks depth and a consistent narrative voice. But she can write about masturbation, ménage-à-trois, and dildos; why publish this as an adult novel? It should have been marketed as a YA-novel.

SF is not tick boxing. I am in interested in a good story, and universal concepts, problems and truths. SF often deals with Humanity, and Races and they're just part of the landscape and not the driving force of the story. Why can't I read what I want to read exploring Humanist principles (which I feel is what the SF is all about) rather than it being a soulless tickboxing exercise to make sure that it is the Right Speak/Think. I know I should to be so down on tick boxing. I mean, I prefer flea karate myself, but live and let live, right? NO! WRONG!  One of the major functions of SF is and always has been exploring and questioning the status quo and unchallenged assumptions of our own culture. What someone might dismiss as "JW topics" just means 'anything that isn't about me and people like me'.
Have you read The Left Hand of Darkness, for example? One of the great classics of SF that among other things is significantly about gender identity. Iain M. Banks' Culture novels postulate a post-gender society where long-lived people change sex at will, and in The Player of Games he contrasts it with a three-sex alien race.

Many SF books examine cultural imperialism - think of Dune, for example, or Terry Pratchett's marvelous YA book Nation. Harry Harrison sneaked an entire monetarist theory into, of all things, The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted

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