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Jun 10 2013

Non-eurocentric science fiction & fantasy?

It exists! The LA Times gives a brief introduction to genre fiction that breaks out of the mold of pale elves and macho engineers. It gives a few well-regarded names (including NK Jemisin, who was mentioned here the other day) to get everyone started.

Now…I can afford to buy these books, and I have my iPad that lets me get them instantly, but does anyone have some spare time they can give me so I can read them?


Related news! This kickstarter was funded in 30 seconds: they propose creating a line of 28mm SF&F miniatures for gaming…featuring all women characters. They’re not perfect — a few of their examples succumb to the bared midriff trope, or accentuate the cleavage, and why do they keep referring to the figures as “girls” in the video? — but it’s a step in the right direction.

I don’t want to hear about it, though. I used to paint miniatures as a hobby…35 years ago. I did a little bit of it again when the kids were growing up, showing them how to drybrush the little guys they used in their games. It was fun, but I don’t have time to read all the books I want to devour, so I can’t afford to get hooked on another hobby now!

85 comments

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  1. 1
    Brett McCoy

    The Earthsea books by Ursula K Le Guin are not Eurocentric and in fact most of the people in the stories aren’t even “white” (never mind the crappy miniseries, they got it wrong).

  2. 2
    mithandir

    Heh … I logged in to mention Earthsea and am pleasantly surprised somebody beat me to it :)

    Earthsea is also interesting in that the first few books feature primarily male protagonists and a typical male-dominated society, but the later instalments (written considerably later) explicitly fight that.

  3. 3
    leftwingfox

    I’m hoping the whole Moribito series by Nahoko Uehashi gets translated. It was adapted into a brilliant anime with an ersatz japanese fantasy flavour.

    Always fun to watch a series where the enemy is arrogance and ignorance, the lead is a warrior who choses not to take lives, the romantic subplot is never resolved, and something resembling science as a process saves the day.

    Oh yeah, and the lead character is a woman who isn’t sexualized, rescuing a relatively helpless boy.

  4. 4
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    My main characters in my story I’m writing (and plan to publish in December) are:

    A pale-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed human man
    Two black-skinned, black-haired, brown-eyed human men
    A dark-skinned, black-haired, green-eyed elven woman (who is asexual)
    A grey-furred canine sem man (a hybrid human-animal hybrid – probably bi, but prefers women)

    Of the more important side characters I have:

    Two tallis women (dragon-people – they’re a married lesbian couple disinterested in children as seems to be standard with all lesbian couples in media I mean seriously)
    A slightly-more-than-pale-skinned, shaved-bald, green-eyed human man
    A dark-skinned, brown-haired, brown-eyed human man
    A pale-skinned, nearly-shaved-black-haired, brown-eyed woman (who has no “girlish figure”)

  5. 5
    Poggio

    If you love Earthsea and Ursula K Le Guin, and hated the sci-fi series, this is a must read.

  6. 6
    Alex

    Katherine Lorraine,

    Are you going to publish it such that it is buyable?

  7. 7
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Tyrant:

    I’m looking at publishing on the E-book market first (Amazon, likely) but I’ll have to do the research into other publishing houses to make sure they won’t get angry if I do E-book publishing first.

    I want to develop a market first, so I’ll be able to say “I sold X number of copies in X months” to a publishing house so they’ll know I’m going to get some traction on the matter. If I can show them direct that I can make them money, they’ll likely be more inclined to accept me.

  8. 8
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Katherine

    My main characters in my story I’m writing (and plan to publish in December) are:

    This sounds rather interesting. Of the central characters I have developed for my current fantasy novel, I have:
    A short, slender light-skinned, black-eyed, agouti-haired rat-shifter girl. Her coloring is related to her animal side, while her human features are modeled on East Asian ancestry.
    A drastically shorter, heavier olive-skinned, black-eyed, black-haired woman with features modeled on North African ancestry.
    A tall, muscular, olive-skinned, blue-eyed, black-and-white-haired wolf-shifter woman, with features modeled on Southern European ancestry.
    A tall, muscular, olive-skinned, brown-eyed, black-haired genderqueer person, with features modeled on northeastern American Indian ancestry.

    One thing that frequently comes up with fantasy novels is that even when characters are described as having dark coloring (or unnatural coloring, as in the case of the shape-shifters), their features and elements of their culture are still clearly eurocentric. Sure, there might be elves with black or purple skin, but they’re still clearly a white fantasy and things like that.

    And so I wanted to make sure I described facial features, hair texture, etc, so that the imaginations of readers don’t default to “oddly colored northern European person.” I think back on how shocked and confused people got over The Hunger Games when explicitly dark-skinned characters were played by black actors.

  9. 9
    Lars

    Unfortunately, when I read fiction, I subconsciously cherry-pick the physical features of the characters, so that I more easily can identify with the protagonist(s), etc. I admit to having read through an entire book believing the protagonist was white, when he/she in fact was black, and it said so right there in the first paragraph. That was years ago, I can’t remember the name of the book or writer now. But I may have done the same mistake many more times without even noticing.

    So, if others readers are like me, you might have to repeat the physical descriptions ad nauseam in order to penetrate our thick skulls and/or biases. “The dark brown-skinned woman looked down on her dark brown hand, remembering how it had looked when she was younger; the same shade of dark brown, only slightly smaller and less wrinkled.”

    Aaaand … I hope you’re a better writer than me. :p Good luck with you project though. Sounds cool.

  10. 10
    johnrobie

    I enjoyed Lian Hern/Gillian Rubinstein’s Tales of the Otori series, set in a fantasied version of feudal Japan. I suppose as white person writing about Japanese people, the work is open to allegations of orientalism, but I thought she treated the culture well/with respect. Though admittedly I haven’t spoken to any Japanese people about it myself.

  11. 11
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @TMM:

    Yea, out of that list the only really “European” characters are the three pale-skinned ones (two look more Nordic, the other looks more German.) The elf looks vaguely European admittedly, but I’d say probably more Balkan. The two black-skinned characters are shades of African. The dark-skinned man is very much Middle Eastern. The story takes place in a kingdom that kind of could be Mediterranean in a way, lots of diversity – with Middle-Eastern, African, and European people all mixing together in a weird culture bomb.

    What’s important is not just saying “hey, these characters are both based off of Middle Eastern people, so they look the same.” They really don’t. To continue with that example: there are clear differences in culture, language, and appearance between the people in Southgate and those in Wivverin. Southgate is in the very south of the kingdom, and while they originally came from Wivverin they also mixed with the more European-looking people of the north. The people of Wivverin are very much straight Middle-Eastern.

    It’s hard to come up with those little bits and description enough to make it clear, though.

  12. 12
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Lars

    Unfortunately, when I read fiction, I subconsciously cherry-pick the physical features of the characters, so that I more easily can identify with the protagonist(s), etc.

    Yeah, I ran into this with my best friend and THG, too. I even opened up the book and showed her where it describes what Rue looked like.

    “Oh. Well. I just pictured her having dark hair…”

  13. 13
    Gregory in Seattle

    I’ve greatly enjoyed the works of Nalo Hopkinson. She was born in Jamaica and lives in Toronto, and her stories draw from Caribbean roots. If you want a taste, I highly recommend her short story anthology, “Skin Folk,” mostly urban fantasy and science fiction all with a theme of people not being what they seem on the surface.

  14. 14
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Katherine

    What’s important is not just saying “hey, these characters are both based off of Middle Eastern people, so they look the same.” They really don’t.

    Very true. Because there are a lot of different ethnic groups in my book, I want to work in descriptions of populations and where they come from and what variety there is within that population, etc. The rat-shifters are in no way like Han Chinese people in their culture or history, but they originally come from a land where certain physical features are common, etc., and those features are similar to what we might interpret this way.

    But because European sensibilities are sofuckingubiquitous, I’m not going to feel bad if, yes, I do use my own ancestry and cultural background as inspiration. Lily white people do it all the damn time.

  15. 15
    Alverant

    To the writers here, how do you convey to the readers the physical characteristics of your characters without resorting to an infodump?

  16. 16
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @TMM:

    Right, that too. I try as hard as I can not to suddenly start putting culture in that is clearly European or whatnot. My world developed its own, interesting cultures so while I might borrow from those cultures (the city of Seiis basically has a love affair with Gothic architecture,) that’s as far as it goes. These people developed with certain things we didn’t – magic, dragons, monsters – so their culture has been shaped by it.

  17. 17
    iiandyiiii

    I think my novel, Sailor of the Skysea (available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and other retailers!), fits this discussion pretty closely- it’s a fantasy adventure set in a world with a lot in common with America and the Caribbean in the 1800s. The protagonist and a majority of the characters are black or brown.

    My intent was to create a fantasy setting and story with an authentically American feel, with a real connection to American history, mythology, and lore, just like many other fantasy stories have parallels with medieval European history, mythology, and lore.

  18. 18
    Louis

    ~20 years ago I designed a roleplaying game world and system (with accompanying fiction) where neither the “elvish” type species nor the “dwarfish” type species contained any “white” races. The “human” species did though. Although they were a bit pitiful, I liked elves at the time! I didn’t do it consciously trying to be non-racist, or anything else, funnily enough, it just seemed natural/automatic to me that my “elves” etc would be brown > black. In the case of the black “elves”, they were REALLY black, as in black not a bit darker brown.

    Hmmmm I might whip the antique out of the cupboard and give it a polish. I’m sure I could make an app out of it as an RPG or something, and I have always wanted to write a novel…

    …’Course there’s loads of spare time around!

    Louis

  19. 19
    Gareth

    Lazy name dropping but…
    Yasutaka Tsutsui and Haruki Murakami, have some sci-fi-ish elements, more so the former rather than the latter, and are generaly good reads (though Tsutsui seems to got the short end of the stick when it came to translations, there again I think Murakami speaks English).

  20. 20
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Alverant

    To the writers here, how do you convey to the readers the physical characteristics of your characters without resorting to an infodump?

    As I do it, it’s sprinkled throughout and then repeated as necessary, and sometimes a bunch of it might come at once. Avoiding an infodump has more to do with showing the information rather than just never giving a lot of information at once.

    So, for example, if the POV character meets someone for the first time, it’s natural to give a detailed description, because they’ve never seen this person before. I’d give a detailed description of new landscape, clothing, artifacts, etc., so why not a person? And because it’s common to gauge others in contrast to yourself, the POV might make contrasts that provide valuable information. “Xe is a good head shorter than I am, but then again who isn’t?” Handling it as an illustration instead of just “I am close to seven feet tall” flows better.

  21. 21
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Alverant:

    I kind of infodump. I give a lot of details up front, and key in on important details for the rest of the story – Owin is beautiful, for example (and yes, he’s beautiful, not handsome) and I mention him being blond more often.

  22. 22
    Alex

    @Katherine Lorraine

    Interesting point, it would be interesting to hear what publishers say to that. But nowadays, it would be a bit backwards to hold it against an author to have published ebooks before… Or are you talking about the *same* book?

    Anyhow, ebook would be nice, because it opens up a huge international market immediately, doesn’t it? (me for example :D)

  23. 23
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Tyrant:

    The same book.

  24. 24
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Katherine, do you follow Dean Wesley Smith‘s blog? He advocates the exact method you’re planning on. He has a lot of great information for authors who want to e-publish as well as traditionally publish.

  25. 25
    Alex

    Katherine Lorraine,

    I’m probably not telling you anything new, but I remember Greta had some posts on this issue like half a year back or so, connected to the angry atheist book I believe.

  26. 26
    hunter

    @ Alverant –

    I’ll do a brief once-over by way of introduction, from another character’s POV: “a big boy, almost a man, copper-gilt hair in a loose knot, a nose that would have been aristocratic, save that it had been broken at least once — it gave him a somewhat combative look. Other than that, he seemed mostly elbows and knees.” This is another character’s impression. That character, incidentally, is described in bits and snatches, so there are scattered references to “eyes like night” and a “glossy black braid” and “massive legs carried him through the forest.”

    I much prefer to build up a picture in increments. My own feeling is that an info dump breaks the rhythm of the story. You can paint a good picture with just a few words — let your audience do some of the work, because they will anyway. A writer just needs to give them the right clues.

  27. 27
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    To the writers here, how do you convey to the readers the physical characteristics of your characters without resorting to an infodump?

    Verbalizing someone’s snap impression on meeting them, and working bits of it into the narration in passing both seem like they’d work.

  28. 28
    Alex

    To the writers here, how do you convey to the readers the physical characteristics of your characters without resorting to an infodump?

    You can make them subject to racist, sexist or ***phobic insults. That’s very subtle :)

  29. 29
    Alex

    ^ by other characters I mean of course, not from the authors voice.

  30. 30
    Dauphni

    I’m shocked that nobody has mentioned Octavia E. Butler yet. Everyone, go rectify that mistake right now! You’re missing out.

  31. 31
    Godric von Falkenrath

    PZ, I think you’re connected to my brain. I was ranting yesterday about how I’ve been allergic to fantasy for years, and the fake-Europe, RP-speaking white people thing has long become ridiculous. Game of Thrones is possibly the worst offender. It’s also so misogynistic I couldn’t get past the first episode. And here I have a nice list of authors whose books I may be able to read!

  32. 32
    Jonas

    The recent Le Monde Diplo had a piece about african sci fi.
    http://mondediplo.com/2013/06/13scifi

  33. 33
    davehooke

    does anyone have some spare time they can give me so I can read them?

    For $12 an hour, I will read them for you and provide a dinner party precis. Literary jokes $1 each, or $10 for twenty.

  34. 34
    Dutchgirl

    I thoroughly enjoy China Mieville. A white, male writer, but his stories are not eurocentric (mostly) and feature strong women in egalitarian settings. Now I also love JRR Tolkien and just reread LotR for the 25th time, but the lack of women and the constant description of evil men as swarthy is getting more and more grating.

  35. 35
    unclefrogy

    I do not mean to side track the thread but I also was really impressed with the Earthsea stories one of the things I liked most was how it was resolved and the description of the “afterlife” which resembled the description of the afterlife of Greek and Roman mythology. Spoiler alert that the afterlife was made by us and the only way to continue was to dissolve it and accept our mortality and be free!
    uncle frogy

  36. 36
    James

    I don’t know if anyone’s read any of the ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series by Adrian Tchaikovsky, but well worth a read.

  37. 37
    Eristae

    Unfortunately, when I read fiction, I subconsciously cherry-pick the physical features of the characters, so that I more easily can identify with the protagonist(s), etc.

    I have this weird tenancy to subconsciously give blonde haired characters black hair in my head. I don’t know why and it doesn’t seem to happen with characters with other hair colors. Maybe a bunch of blonde characters fit a trope that I associate with black hair? It’s weird what goes on in people’s heads.

  38. 38
    Alverant

    Thanks for the responces. I’m also wondering how much of a physical description is necessary. For example in the Discworld, CMOT Dibbler isn’t much described AFAIK apart from his personality (“He can sell sausages to people who have bought his sausages before which is no small feat considering the nature of his sausages.”) I don’t know his height, eye color, hair style, etc because it’s not important to his character. I have an impression of him, but that’s it.

  39. 39
    rrede

    Thanks for this link–amazing story to see in mainstream press, and I’d say generally, good work in the article, plus good mention of a lot of the most important authors. (I participated in racefail under my fandom pseud, am am doing scholarship on race/isms in fandom, and also teach sf under various sneaky ways in my department–there’s no actual SF course, so I put sf in other classes, such as teaching Pratchett in “Major British Writers,” and just finished a women and sf course which was a cultural history approach, using Helen Merrick’s SECRET FEMINIST CABAL (highly recommended), plus novels by Russ, Scott, Butler, and Hopkinson). I’ve also taught Jemisin’s work in a graduate sf course (my gender theory course, heh).

    I’d also highly recommend Tobias Buckell’s sf–fantastic and amazing stuff.

    http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/

  40. 40
    J B

    Daniel Abraham has got a couple series that are either totally non-Eurocentric–the Long Price Quartet–or that subvert the usual fantasy tropes–the Dagger and Coin series.

    The Quartet has a lot of vaguely Asian/Arabic customs in it, and a novel and interesting magic system, and, Mr. Abraham’s trademark, it takes economics seriously. Here’s a review from Jo Walton, herself a respected author: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/04/fantasy-for-grown-ups-daniel-abrahams-long-price-quartet

    The Dagger & Coin series (just the first three of five out so far, starting with The Dragon’s Path) is more Eurofantasy styled, but with a full dozen engineered humanoid species, each with their own culture, appearance, politics, and so on. I think the women characters in this one are particularly strong, interesting, imperfect characters, and though it’s a violent, medieval world, Abraham doesn’t go in for the face-stomping (and frankly lazy) cruelties that George R.R. Martin does. If you were nauseated by Martin’s excesses but still like intrigue in your fantasy, it’s a sure bet. And the main protagonist is a girl who was raised as a ward of a bank.

    Abraham also has been an excellent advocate of feminism and its particular meaning for men who want to be good allies and to get away from the harms of patriarchal society for men, while never stooping to MRA crap. Worth reading his blog here: http://www.danielabraham.com/

  41. 41
    Inaji

    MM:

    A short, slender light-skinned, black-eyed, agouti-haired rat-shifter girl.

    Ooooh. Thank you for this. Never enough rats in SF/F. :)

    I have N.K. Jemisin’s Kingdom Trilogy on my nook, awaiting reading.

  42. 42
    Eristae

    Thanks for the responces. I’m also wondering how much of a physical description is necessary. For example in the Discworld, CMOT Dibbler isn’t much described AFAIK apart from his personality (“He can sell sausages to people who have bought his sausages before which is no small feat considering the nature of his sausages.”) I don’t know his height, eye color, hair style, etc because it’s not important to his character. I have an impression of him, but that’s it.

    I really prefer it when the author is vague. Pretty much the only thing that I’ll remember throughout the story is coloring; everything else I’m almost certain to forget, ignore, or replace if it isn’t pertinent to the story. However, I don’t like it if the author is vague at first and then drops a description on you half way through the book. Either let me know relatively early on or don’t let me know at all. If I am allowed to form my own idea of what the character looks like (black hair) and this is disputed later (blonde hair), it is jarring. I also really dislike it when an author tells me what the character looks like and how to feel about it. Like, they’ll tell me that so-and-so was so incredibly gorgeous, more so than any other person on the planet . . . and that so-and-so had this type of nose, a type that I do not find to be particularly attractive. It’s one thing if they tell me what other characters feel about so-and-so’s appearance, but beauty isn’t objective; what one person finds attractive, another person will not. I can suspend disbelief if so-and-so isn’t described in detail, but it’s lost otherwise.

    And please, for the love of everything, don’t tell me a woman’s breast size unless it’s relevant (she has a certain breast size and is self-conscious about it in a way that impacts her character development, it impacts how others interact with her, etc etc). I don’t know what it is with some authors and their need to describe a woman’s breasts in greater detail than any other part of her body. Pet peeve of mine.

  43. 43
    Akira MacKenzie

    I’m surprised that no one mention my favorite fantasy setting: the late Prof. M.A.R. Barker’s glorious world of Tékumel (aka “Empire of the Petal Throne”) were humans of the Five Empires are descended from Mesoamerican, African/Middle Eastenr, and Indian stock. The white folks on Earth wiped themselves out by nuclear war hundreds of thousands of years earlier.

  44. 44
    Inaji

    CMOT Dibbler isn’t much described

    He’s described a fair amount, actually, in particular, to having rat-like features.

  45. 45
  46. 46
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Caine:

    My favorite character in my book is a rat sem. He’s an information broker named Duggles (Dugglas to his mom.) He’s a bit shady slippery, untrustworthy but trustworthy, and trying far too hard to be awesome. If this story took place in a more modern world, he’d be wearing a three-piece suit and a fedora.

  47. 47
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Eristae:

    I use the term “beautiful” to describe Owin, which I know is a loaded, subjective term, but it has an unclear reasoning.

  48. 48
    Alverant

    @44
    I always thought that was a reference to his personality given Pratchett’s tendency to use elaborate and amusing comparisons.

  49. 49
    SallyStrange

    Huh. Oddly, I had somehow gotten the impression that China Mieville isn’t white, but I see that, at least in terms of first impressions, he seems to be. I did hear an interview where he said that being gay definitely lends a subversive element to his stories and an appreciation for characters who grow up on the margins of society.

    I started, but am having a hard time finishing Who Fears Death By Nnedi Okorafor. Don’t let me failure to finish it dissuade you though – it’s solely because Ms. Okorafor has incited my empathy for the main character far too skillfully, and I am afraid to read what happens to her at the end.

  50. 50
    Inaji

    Kat Lorraine:

    My favorite character in my book is a rat sem. He’s an information broker named Duggles (Dugglas to his mom.) He’s a bit shady slippery, untrustworthy but trustworthy, and trying far too hard to be awesome. If this story took place in a more modern world, he’d be wearing a three-piece suit and a fedora.

    :D I have a rat or two I could easily imagine in a red zoot suit. Heh. I’d love to see more rats in SF/F, or rat people. It would be nice to have their characteristics a bit more expanded, too. Rats are incredibly loyal, many are utterly fearless, they are amazingly skilled climbers and beyond talented in matters of thievery. They are also prone to being very affectionate. One of these days, I think I’d like to read about a rat person who boggles.

  51. 51
    David Wilford

    I am bemused by the numerous recommendations for non-eurocentric SF&F I’m seeing here and whether or not that bandwagon hasn’t already sailed. It kind of reminds me of the New Wave of SF of the late 60s/early 1970s and how that was perceived at the time vis a vis the prior pulpish traditions in SF.

  52. 52
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Caine:

    Ooooh. Thank you for this. Never enough rats in SF/F. :)

    I agree! And the rat people are the true heroes in my story, fighting back against all this silly authoritarian stuff trying to invade their land. At first it appears that the wolf shifters are going to be all Badass Legendary Warriors, but there’s nothing like a rat to make siege warfare look like an absolutely absurd effort. “They’re trying to keep us out? From a big stone building full of little holes? And it’s full of food? Should’ve just written an invitation!”

    And the protagonist–the above described rat shifter–does, in fact, boggle when she’s excited.

  53. 53
    Inaji

    MM:

    “They’re trying to keep us out? From a big stone building full of little holes? And it’s full of food? Should’ve just written an invitation!”

    That is pure rat. Complete win. Also, I *love* the choice of Agouti for hair. Agouti wild type is incredibly beautiful.

    And the protagonist–the above described rat shifter–does, in fact, boggle when she’s excited.

    Oh gods, that’s fabulous. Amelia is like that when she’s excited about something, she does a fast brux and quick boggle.

  54. 54
    Inaji

    David Wilford:

    I am bemused by the numerous recommendations for non-eurocentric SF&F I’m seeing here and whether or not that bandwagon hasn’t already sailed.

    How nice for you that you’re bemused. I’m sure it all doesn’t much matter to you, however, as a mixed race, non-hetero woman who is not incredibly beautiful in the traditional SF/F woman way, this shift has barely begun and I welcome a massive tidal wave of such SF/F.

  55. 55
    Nick Gotts

    I’m shocked that nobody has mentioned Octavia E. Butler yet. – Dauphni

    I second this recommendation (and agree with that of Le Guin).

  56. 56
    mikeyb

    Not a book but could the trite predictable overrated godawful Avatar be put in this category?

  57. 57
    Inaji

    Not a book but could the trite predictable overrated godawful Avatar be put in this category?

    Urggh. That glurge filled trash was beyond offensive. Stupid, as well.

  58. 58
    mikeyb

    Though written by a European – Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon (1937), I think is a must read for any true SF fan. The Starmaker is God, I know an instant turn off, but the god conceived is way more interesting than Yahweh or Allah or most other man made gods.

  59. 59
    Inaji

    mikeyb:

    The Starmaker is God, I know an instant turn off

    Why would gods be an instant turn off? The gods of Discworld don’t bother me. The gods of many other books don’t bother me. I’ve just started Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and the gods are most interesting.

  60. 60
    Pen

    My daughter likes Nnedi Okorafor. She’s also written some books for adults that seem a bit more hard core. She’s Nigerian American and seems to set most of her books in Nigeria, my daughter’s favourite is about an American albino girl living in Nigeria. When you see Okorafor’s books you really realise how embedded in ‘deep’ European culture most fantasy is. Not that this is bad, as such, but you don’t really transfer it across ethnic groups just by creating characters with various colours of skin and hair. At least I don’t think so.

    BTW, has anyone noticed that Terry Pratchett’s books are quite intensely eurocentric, in that they’re coming very strongly from a white person’s point of view but under the guise of various species, they’re working with the idea of the multiracial/multicultural societies we actually live in? There’s one called Nation that isn’t so well known, which is well… more intense than Pratchett usually is. Snuff was about slavery. Looked at in that light they’re interesting, sometimes disturbing and I think very self aware.

  61. 61
    Inaji

    Pen:

    There’s one called Nation

    I have Nation. Not enough octopus.

  62. 62
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Alverant

    For example in the Discworld, CMOT Dibbler isn’t much described AFAIK apart from his personality.

    There are bits of physical description scattered through the books; he’s skinny, on the short side, sharp-featured and dark haired, with rodentlike eyes and often a thin moustache.

    Recommendations
    I second the recommendation for the works of Tobias Buckell. I also highly recommend George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Fails (and sequels), which are cyberpunk stories set in North Africa. Amanda Downum’s Necromancer Chronicles are fantasy set in a fantasy world heavily influenced by the Near East and South Asia (depending on where you are in it); one of the protagonists is blonde and pale-skinned, which fact marks her out in her hometown as a refugee from the barbarian kingdoms of the North, which no-one civilized cares about or for.
    Liz Williams’ Detective Inspector Chen novels are also very good; Chen is the Singapore Three police force’s investigator of supernatural crimes and liaison to Hell. In Kylie Chan’s Dark Heavens the protagonist is an Australian of European ancestry, but the story takes place in Hong Kong and is based heavily on Chinese mythology.

  63. 63
    smhll

    I have one of NK Jemisin’s books and the intention to finish it. (It starts well.) (But the library keeps emailing me that books I have requested have come in and those jump to the top of the queue.)

    For people who don’t even LIKE fantasy, Octavia Butler’s book Kindred is mostly very realistic, with some time-travel thrown in. I enjoyed it a lot and recommend it. It can be used as a gateway drug to her other sci fi, I think.

    I read a book titled Bridge of Birds, subtitled A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was. Picking it up just now and cracking it open, my eye fell on these lines, which any admirer of creative invective would surely love. “In answer to your question, my esteemed colleague,” hissed Ma the Grub, “I would advise you to piss upon the ground and examine your reflection in the puddle.”

  64. 64
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Caine:

    It sounds a lot better coming from someone with rats than the stereotype of rats being cruel and manipulative and cowards. Duggles is, admittedly, out for himself, but he – like me – keeps all his promises. He’s a highly-skilled thief, but due to the fact he’s an information broker, no one trusts him to thief for them. And yea, fearless (though it won’t play out til the third book) and probably a good climber.

  65. 65
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Oh, yes, and Ashok K Banker does a wonderful adaptation of the Ramayana

  66. 66
    SallyStrange

    Not a book but could the trite predictable overrated godawful Avatar be put in this category?

    Please, put away from your mind the live-action film “Avatar” and consider picking up the cartoon series, if you haven’t already. I normally never read/watch things more than once, but I am in the middle of my second viewing of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (that is, the original Nickelodeon series) and it is truly excellent AND definitely not heterosexist or Eurocentric.

  67. 67
    Inaji

    Kat Lorraine:

    Duggles is, admittedly, out for himself, but he – like me – keeps all his promises.

    This too, is rat, though. Rats have a high level of self-interest, just as we do. Much like people, you have to earn their trust, it’s not automatic. When it comes to something like food and a very well stocked hoard, they have much in common with a hobbit, who also has a vested interest in food and a very well stocked pantry. :D They are also prone to being fussy about their digs – they like pillows, soft cloths, crackly paper, complicated entrances and are true believers in one can never have too many exits/backdoors. They often have strong colour preferences, too. Vasco loves red – all the red cloths and paper belong to him. Vasco also loves taking extended baths. Rats are great swimmers, they can tread water for 3 days and can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes when diving.

    He’s a highly-skilled thief, but due to the fact he’s an information broker, no one trusts him to thief for them. And yea, fearless (though it won’t play out til the third book) and probably a good climber.

    Ah, well, information is power.

  68. 68
    M can help you with that.

    Most of my favorite SF/F authors (not just my favorite non-eurocentric SF/F writers) are already mentioned in the article.

    In particular –
    Samuel R. Delany definitely writes as an American (and sometimes identifiably as a New Yorker), but as a gay black generally-feminist American. The Return to Nevèrÿon series in particular is sword-and-sorcery fantasy (think Conan, etc.) but anti-Eurocentric and anti-patriarchal. The whole thing is set in a vaguely Fertile Crescent/North Africa-flavored world with bits of Mesoamerica, in a time where writing and money are both new concepts. (Well, except the parts that take place in New York when the AIDS crisis hit.)

    Nisi Shawl is one of the best SF/F short-story writers out there. Filter House is probably the best introduction; the breadth of her writing (mythic to urban SF and fantasy to interstellar space travel) is impressive, and all of it is well-crafted, layered, and subtly thorny. And deeply non-Eurocentric.

    Nalo Hopkinson, Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor… Yes.

  69. 69
    M can help you with that.

    SallyStrange @ 66 –

    I am in the middle of my second viewing of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (that is, the original Nickelodeon series) and it is truly excellent AND definitely not heterosexist or Eurocentric.

    I see the non-Eurocentric side (quite refreshingly), but it definitely seemed at least heteronormative in the standard “show mostly for kids = everybody’s either straight or (usually) it’s never mentioned at all” way. And don’t get me started on the “everyone marries their school-age sweetheart” trope…

  70. 70
    mikeyb

    Caine @59. Good point. Gods are only a problem when they leave the realm of mythology or story telling or you cannot find the Arthur C. Clark gimmick behind the god.

  71. 71
    Dutchgirl

    I am going back through this thread and taking notes. I’m a voracious reader and am looking forward to some of these authors I’m unfamiliar with.

    I also want to agree with other commenters above that changing the skin color of the main character or setting the story in a not-Europe-like country doesn’t make it non-eurocentric. It takes a sensibility, an attitude, a differing world view that is more far reaching than the surface details of culture.

  72. 72
    khms

    Non-eurocentric science fiction & fantasy?

    It exists!

    Sure does – the field is filled with lots and lots of US-centric F&SF; when they don’t pretend Europe doesn’t exist, they usually paint a picture that’s pretty much unrecognizable from where I sit. Or it just consists of the British isles.

    The LA Times gives a brief introduction to genre fiction that breaks out of the mold of pale elves and macho engineers.

    And that is supposed to be Euro-centric? That is exactly US-plus-Britain-centric. The pale elves are British, and the macho engineers American.

  73. 73
    Inaji

    And that is supposed to be Euro-centric?

    Yes, because that is what the world building is based on.

  74. 74
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I believe khms is saying it’s even narrower than just Euro-centric; it’s UK-centric. Ze has a point there, I believe: I agree that UK-centred is more common than other European. Though not entirely, as the Nordic pantheon & Classic world are also quite common in fantasy. You don’t see so much in the way of French or Slavic or Spanish or Dutch, though they do exist. And then non-Euro is even less common than those.

  75. 75
    David Wilford

    Caine @54,

    I’m bemused because the fact that there already is cheering and celebrating means that there is something to cheer and celebrate. That’s a good thing. SF&F certainly has a ways to go, but that’s in part due to it being a genre, which means there are expectations readers have, just like Romance readers do. When the New Wave of SF hit with it’s radical changes in style thanks to influences from modern literature, a lot of readers who liked their good old pulpy SF were a bit put out. But there were a lot of new readers who liked the New Wave stuff, myself included. I’m very happy to see SF grow in all sorts of ways. I still like some of the old pulpy stuff like Fritz Leiber’s wonderful swords and sorcery tales. I’m ecumenical that way, I guess.

  76. 76
    FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!)

    Non-eurocentric sci-fi?

    Minster Faust.

    Set in North America but the characters are of African decent and quite pointedly so.

  77. 77
    toddsweeney

    Oh, great. There goes my urban fantasy pairing a (somewhat) macho engineer with a pale blond elf (or at least she glamours that way).

  78. 78
    Harry Tuttle

    Um… Wuxia anyone? Funny how that Chinese fantasy is so sinocentric though.

    However, on the non-eurocentric western fantasy with a feminist slant tip; Check out Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Tomoe Gozen trilogy (The Disfavored Hero, The Golden Naginata and Thousand Shrine Warrior) if you get the chance. Fantasy feudal Japan with a kick-ass female protagonist (based on an historical onna-bugeisha).

  79. 79
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    Well, I’m going to plug an Indie author and book The Fox’s Mask. Set in ancient Japan and it’s GLBT for those looking for something not heterosexist. The author is really nice so if you do read it and have feedback, I’m sure it will be appreciated. It’s also short so not a huge commitment. The second book is already out and I’m going to be reading it shortly.

  80. 80
    vaiyt

    The worst part is when you try your hand at fantasy and realize that, despite not living anywhere near Europe, the years of reading nothing but Eurocentric fantasy has numbed your ability to get out of that mold…

  81. 81
    Tuválkin

    Katherine Lorraine (#11: 10 June 2013 at 10:28 am) says: «vaguely European admittedly, but I’d say probably more Balkan.» I’m lost for words, and cannot really add anything witty, or scathing, or helpful here, as I’d want. Apart from stating the obvious notion that, for all practical purposes, the Balkans are in Europe.

  82. 82
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Tuvalkin:

    Sorry. That sentence was worded more weirdly than what I was trying to say. I was drawing off the previous parens.

    She’s vaguely European cause she’s an elf. Unlike the Nordic and German characters, she’d look Balkan.

  83. 83
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Since I’m skipping Katherine’s descriptions of her characters so as not to spoil the book, I haven’t even noticed that.
    *waves to Katherine from the Balkans*
    (even though my country consideres itself part of Central Europe, thanks to “Balkan” becoming a nasty word around here)

    We look totally European… I think, I’m not even sure what a Balkan person should stereotypically look like.

  84. 84
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    I should refresh more often :)

  85. 85
    Candy Freeman

    There’s a fantasy out called Landwhig’s Pride-The fifth token of life.
    The protagonists is a black girl named Bridget Reid. She rides a beast named Malcon and wields a green sword. I learned of the book at yahoo just yesterday.

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