Monday, 22 May 2017

Recommend: Feminist SF with POC protagonists

For this month’s recommend feature we’d like to hear from all our readers your favorite examples of a perhaps rare beast, the feminist science fiction/fantasy story with protagonist or protagonists of color. We’ll be inclusive about all these terms, most of all we want to hear from you. Give us some titles to add to our reading lists! To prime the pump, as always, we’ve asked a handful of TFF authors, editors and other friends to give us a few suggestions on this theme.

Chinelo Onwualu (website, twitter)

One of my complaints with genre fiction is that simply having a protagonist of colour doesn't necessarily make a work anti-racist, nor does having a female main character mean the work is feminist. This is especially true if the character simply perpetuates the same sexist, racist and imperialist tropes as a white male would. A good example of this is Grace Jones’ warrior woman character in the film Conan the Destroyer.

So when I discovered feminist fiction that featured men and women who looked like me, I was thrilled. I think the first was Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness whose scientist protagonist, Genly Ai, is a black man. The book so thoroughly interrogates gender that it was the template of my own world building for a long time. Octavia Butler’s character of Anyawu in Wild Seed also questioned some of the underlying power imbalances of heterosexual relationships and may have fundamentally messed up my view of superpowers. It also helped that the character was from my ethnic group.

More recently, N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms—the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms—was one of the first books I'd ever read that depicted black feminine strength without ever having the central character, Oree Shoth, pick up a weapon. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord is another nuanced feminist work, with its two characters of colour working to navigate identity, emotion and history to come together in the most satisfying way. And Betsy James’ Roadsouls has what I feel is one of the best rendered feminist romances I've ever come across.

Writing feminist fiction is tricky, and there's not as much out there with PoC as there should be. You can find more stories about goblins and vampires than black people! So I'd love to get more recommendations. What else is out there?

Joyce Chng (A Wolf’s Tale, twitter)

Ah, feminist SF story with POC protags.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi!

This novel is underrated and deserves to be signal boosted to the max, because 1) it's good, 2) it has a kickass POC protag and 3) it’s space opera, one of my favorite things in the world. The main character is Alana Quick, a black lesbian who got stowed away on the cargo ship Tangled Axon. It is also LGBT! To me, it is excellent feminist SF, because it's so hard to see women with actual agency and feminism is intersectional.

So, there you go. My feminist SF story with POC protags. Go, run, read Ascension.



S.J. Shabri (story)

This is a novel that stays with you. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven weaves the threads of its plot between our present day and the shattered ruin of civilization after the Georgia Flu has wiped out all but a remnant of the peoples of earth. A number of plot-lines slowly converge; all linked by the only two copies of a superb but unpublished graphic novel, also titled Station Eleven. There is Miranda, the creator of that graphic novel; Kirsten, probably the main character, (though this novel is really an ensemble piece) who is an actor in the Travelling Symphony; Jeevan Chaudhary, the paramedic who will have to become a doctor; not to mention the disturbing, deadly figure of the Prophet. The enslavement of the Prophet’s followers and his reduction of women to property force the Symphony to intervene, whatever the consequences.

The Symphony’s motto, ‘Survival is insufficient’, comes from Star Trek: Voyager. This touring troupe of musicians and Shakespearian actors is all that connects a few tiny surviving communities with each other and with the lost past. This is art as a heroic act, the candle in the dark. Mandel lets us feel the precarious, vivid enchantment of those theatrical performances:
‘Kirsten as Titania, a crown of flowers on her close-cropped hair, the jagged scar on cheekbone half-erased by candlelight. The audience is silent. Sayid, circling her in a tuxedo that Kirsten found in a dead man’s closet… ’
This novel takes the strength and capacity of women for granted just as it takes a multicultural future for granted, a future where Kirsten and others like her fight to preserve what is essential to civilization when the cities have all been snuffed out.

Vanessa Fogg (blog, twitter)

Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty is a soaring and ambitious work, “epic” in every sense—portraying the rise and fall of empires, a dizzyingly large cast, plot turns and betrayals, astonishing battle scenes. The plot draws on history and legends surrounding the founding of China’s Han Dynasty, but Liu adds his own twists and ornamentations and sets the action in the imaginary archipelago world of Dara.

The story of a new empire’s rise is also the story of the rise of women. This isn’t clear at first; like the cunning strategists of his novels, Liu plays a long game. Some criticized The Grace of Kings for the fact that its strong, intelligent women characters are often sidelined in favor of the stories of male generals, kings, and fighters.

But toward the end of The Grace of Kings, Gin Mazoti, a brilliant woman general, makes her appearance to lead an emperor’s army. In the second novel, women begin to take center stage. The patriarchal world of Dara is under threat from forces both external and within, and needs people of all talent—male and female, rich and poor. Women scientists, engineers, strategists, soldiers, and queens work with each other as well as with men to save their world. One of the greatest treats of this novel is seeing that teamwork: women working together, supporting one another, and loving one another. The Dandelion Dynasty is about revolutions fought both on the battlefield and in the mind and heart. I’m very much looking forward to the next installment.

Over to you, dear readers! What are the best feminist SFF stories/novels with POC protag(s) that we should be reading?

Monday, 15 May 2017

Accessing the Future reviewed in BMJ

Our 2015 anthology of disability-themed speculative fiction, Accessing the Future guest edited by Kathryn Allan, has received a fabulous, in-depth, lengthy and positive review in an imprint of the British Medical Journal. (The journal Medical Humanities has been running since 2000, and the fourth issue of 2016 was themed “Science Fiction and Medical Humanities.”)

This review, by Hannah Tweed (University of Glasgow), is behind BMJ’s paywall, but the first couple of paragraphs are available at the link:

http://mh.bmj.com/content/42/4/e36

(Full citation: Medical Humanities 42.4 (December 2016): Science Fiction and Medical Humanities. Pp. e36-e37.)

Dr Tweed summarizes the goals of the anthology in some detail, including the fact that the volume is not just about accessibility, but endeavors to be accessible as far as possible. She then discusses most of the stories individually, drawing out themes including intersectionality and disability, access, autonomy, invisible disability and communication. This is a scholarly review from a critical studies and English literature tutor who I think really gets what we were going for, so it’s great to see it in such an august venue! (If you get the chance to read the whole thing—try logging onto wifi in your local university library if they subscribe—do, it’s worth it.)