Friday, December 11, 2009

SF writing and race

Over at the SFWA blog, Nisi Shawl writes on the subject of writing about characters from races and cultures other than your own.  It's a great article and has some excellent ideas for improving one's own knowledge and insight.

The number of aspiring authors who shy away from writing about characters of other races because they believe themselves unable to do so well is strange, since there is probably no genre that spends more time with people or beings unlike the author than science fiction.  Jack McDevitt is not an archaeologist.  Elizabeth Moon is not autistic.  Iain M. Banks is not a machine intelligence.  David Drake is not a psychologically reconditioned rapist.  Neal Asher is not an alien space-faring biomechanical sphereoid with a penchant for strange, cryptic pronouncements.  Dan Simmons is not a Jewish college professor who has spent the last twenty years grappling with his religious beliefs while watching helplessly as his beloved daughter ages backwards into infancy.

Writing about characters of another race or culture is not an insurmountable challenge compared to this.  There is, of course, an added degree of risk if it is done badly, in terms of causing real-world offense or anger, that doesn't apply to portraying the inhuman; Peter Watts need not fear being upbraided by space-going philosophical zombies who thought the aliens in Blindsight were offensive stereotypes.

Anyway, I definitely recommend checking out Shawl's article.  Discussion of racial and cultural diversity in science fiction topic tends to be vague and platitudinous,  so it's great to see more writing about the nuts and bolts of actually doing something about it.

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