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ETA: If you were planning to read Never Let Me Go, then don't read the blurb they provide. It's spoilery. Similarly, if you click through to their original list of 10 and haven't read Ender's Game, also a complete spoiler! Since I haven't read most of the books, it's entirely possible there's other spoilers as well. So if you intend to read any of these books, safer to skip the blurb and move on.


Flavorwire has just posted 10 Contemporary Books That Challenged White, Male Literary Dominance. And I was like.. yes, awesome.

Until I read the list.

Now I am just puzzled.

"Last week, we published a list of 10 essential books of the past 25 years. It was one of our most popular posts of all time, as well as one of our most contentious, racking up over 100 comments. Much of the argument has focused on the list's lack of diversity: of the 10 books, eight were written by white men."

So.. this is a list of 10 awesome books by people who aren't white men? An otherwise rather random list of them? Because that's what it looks like.

While Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale (which I was surprised to see, because I guess my concept of 'contemporary' did not encompass 25 years ago) does 'challenge' white male dominance in the world, in an outside-the-book kind of way, the world itself in the book is very white male dominated!

But Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro struck me as more about class than anything to do with gender, race, or national origin. Perhaps I'm mis-remembering.

So if the texts don't have to challenge the white male dominance, then the books are challenging them.. simply by being written by women (white or otherwise) or men of color? Um, well.. did you really need to make a top 10 list to prove the majority of the population on the planet is capable of writing good books?! The list didn't even confine itself to books first published in English!

Which just makes you have to question why so many American, Canadian, and British authors made it into the list!

I was originally going to look at the list and complain if there was no sf/f on it. I have a little trouble doing that because whatever Atwood says, her book is sf. And wherever Ishiguro's is placed in libraries and bookstores, it's sf too.

I dunno.. I just.. seriously? There were several approaches you could take to 'challenging' the 'literary dominance' of white males and I don't think this list reflects any of them.

* Books that actually challenge that dominance by exploring worlds where white men aren't dominant, or by subverting that. You know.. feminist or anti-colonialist books, though not limited to those.

* Books written by women or men of color that dominated the bestseller lists. Rowling or Meyer, anyone?

* Books by women or men of color who won the Hugo or the Nebula? (Ah well, pipe dream this. Because sf/f isn't 'literary'.)

* Books by women or men of color that appear on school reading lists? I know that would include Octavia Butler.

* Books that are really big with book groups? With or without the Oprah Bump.

I'm annoyed that this list doesn't have LeGuin or Butler or anyone else in the sf/f world who is a major, major player and who challenged the status quo just by getting their voice heard.

Even while another part of me thinks that was too much to expect.

I should stop reading these top whatever lists just because Shelf Awareness points me to them. They're all rubbish. :P

ETA: I was also wondering about this summary of Handmaid's Tale. "As a result, some are virtuous Wives while others are Handmaids, like the novel's protagonist, Offred, named for their male masters and forced to bear their children so the Wives don't have to." Don't have to? I thought they couldn't! Am I misremembering here? No, wait, that was girly of me. I know they couldn't! That was the whole point! (But if you really want to satisfy the 2% of my brain that isn't sure, could you confirm it for me? Thnx.)
julieandrews: (Default)
Whitewashing the movies again. This time by Disney. Read more here.

But it's okay. Disney's giving us The Princess and the Frog. So that, you know, makes up for it.
julieandrews: (Default)
There's discussion over on SF Signal and elsewhere about the latest table of contents with major issues. It's The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF edited by Mike Ashley.

Immediately obvious is that the 22 names (not counting the editor's) are all male. Less obvious, they're also all white.

Here's some other stats I managed to glean from Wikipedia, with forays into The Internet Speculative Fiction Database and one or two dips into author websites.

I couldn't find anything on Larry McCombs except that he(?) also cowrote a story with Ted White in 1965. So he's either obscure or somebody's pseudonym.

The youngest in the TOC is Ian Creasey, at either 39 or 40.
The one born the earliest is Arthur C. Clarke, in 1917.
Average age if they were all still alive is 62.

9 are British, 12 are American, 1 is unknown. Though at least one American moved to the UK (and Clarke moved to Sri Lanka).

I don't really have enough information to say how many of them are straight, though at least one is not.

5 were born in the Fall
5 were born in the Winter
4 were born in the Spring (3 of them on May 20-something!)
1 was born in the Summer
(7 unknown birth month/day)

Something about being born at the coldest part of the year must have inspired them to write mindblowing science fiction.

A couple have PhDs, some studied math, physics or biology. Though one of the PhDs is in English. But the vast majority, I couldn't find any info on whether they received any sort of advanced degree or what in.

Conclusions? Well, obviously this isn't a sampling of any size, so you can't really draw statistical conclusions. Though it might be interesting to do a birthday breakdown of the field at large. Is there an actual reason behind it? Am I doomed to write fantasy by having a summer birthday? Hmmmmm.

Oh, as for the stories themselves, I don't think I've read any of them. I also don't recognize them from the list of Hugo short story winners, which I've been working my way through. So I guess, my mind, she has not yet been blown.
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I was going to save this for a Wednesday, for my open question. But I feel like writing a post now. So here you go.

I was trying to think of examples of geeks or nerds who're black. Either celebrities or characters in tv shows or movies. I only managed to come up with two.

Neil deGrasse Tyson - Astronomer, Pluto-Demoter
Steve Urkel - A nerd of the nerdiest kind

There may be other very smart black celebrities, or very smart black characters, but I mean truly nerdy or truly geeky. I don't mean they're smart, but also buff. I don't mean they're doctors, but also cool. I don't mean they're computer whizzes, but also kick butt.

I don't want to lay it all on the feet of 'cool' or 'not cool', because I think geeks are pretty darned cool. But that does get close to what I mean. Any not-cool black characters on the screen with a nice geeky vibe?
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I just finished reading the last book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore series. Well, last published one. I don't know if she plans more.

Some spoilers for the entire series will follow, but I'm not going to bother with a cut tag.

Taken as a whole, the series seems to me to be about two themes. One, slavery in several different forms and two, reading and knowledge.

I think when Americans think of slavery, the first thing that comes to mind is blacks working on Southern plantations. And if we think a bit harder, we might come up with examples from the Bible and Moses leading Egyptian slaves to freedom. And maybe that will lead us to think of Roman slavery. But it probably pretty much ends there. (Or, if we're geeky Americans like myself, we might think of the Tenctonese.) So the books provide for us a different way, actually several different ways, of looking at slavery. And it's even hard for me to explain the different types in each book in a succinct fashion, because Le Guin has done such a great job of creating a number of different rich societies in these books. You might call the first serfs, the second book an occupied city, and the third book something that comes closest to the history of US slavery. But they're all more complicated than that and tied to the notions of family.

As for the reading, that just touches my geeky little heart. And I imagine for any nongeeks who might pick this up, it'll at least touch their bookwormy heart, which is a close relative. The main character in the first book learns to read from his mother, while the rest of the community around him is illiterate and uninterested. The character in the second book, her city is occupied by soldiers to whom books are evil and have been worse than banned, but she learns in secret from the city's hidden cache of books. And the character in the third is living in a literate society in a family who believes in educating everyone, including the slaves. And he is meant to grow up to be the teacher of the next generation of the family's children and young slaves. So you've got an instant bond with all these main characters, as well as stories and knowledge continuing to be a theme throughout all the books.

I liked all the main characters quite well. The second book is the one with a female main character, though, and I ended up rather disappointed by the end of it. One of the problems with first person narration is that your main character needs to be there for everything important, or you'll be reporting things secondhand. And there were a number of times this happened in the book. It wouldn't have been true to the character, perhaps, to have been there as witness, but it was rather annoying to me as a reader to hear her talking about how she heard about this. It put me at a remove, and it took her out of the action. And I just find it particularly problematic because she's the only female lead in any of these books. She's not exactly passive, but the character from the first book who's coming over into this one seems to be playing more of a role in some of the crucial bits. If it wasn't Le Guin, I'd probably be a bit harsher in my criticism, but I do cut her some slack. I have to think she knew what she was doing.. but I just can't figure out why.

Another odd thing that struck me was skin color. In the first book, I didn't notice much reference to skin color. Was it me not noticing? Not caring? Or was it less of a big deal in that book in particular.. with the next two characters caring about their lineage and appearance a lot more? Did it have something to do with the cover? Because the editions I read, the first cover looked like this. Two small silhouettes. Whereas the next two books looked like this (a closeup of a young black woman) and this (a similar closeup of a black teen boy). No way a white reader can comfortably pretend to not know what color the main character (and everyone else) is.

I noticed that the newer edition of the first book looks like this (a closeup but with dark hair obscuring more than half the face). This leads me to the conclusion that the publisher wanted all the books to look alike once they had a series on their hands. But that first cover is still odd. You can't see his face. And I couldn't tell you what color he is.

Is this meant to sucker in the white readers? Hey, look, here's a cool book. Oh, now you liked that book? Then you won't mind we put a black girl on the next one, right?

What's going on here exactly?

Me, personally, while I love Memer's hair, it's the cover of the third book that appeals to me the most. Though.. on further thought, it's probably the second book that would stand out the most on a shelf and is probably the one I noticed first. Not that I read them on the basis of the covers, but because I knew they were new Le Guin YA fantasies.

Covers aside, let me conclude this post by highly recommending this series to anyone who likes fantasy, regardless of age. You're allowed to get books out of the YA section, honestly you are. And they're not all about teenage vampire angst. (Though some of them are good too.)

And if you haven't read any Le Guin, well, then.. as good a place to start as any, just so long as you do start!
julieandrews: (Default)
For the moment, I've said all I have to say about this in her comment thread. I'll likely come up with more to say as the conversation progresses. I'll definitely be eagerly watching it.

But for right now, I'm just going to direct you over to [livejournal.com profile] shweta_narayan's lj. It's a new lj, but she's already garnering lots of comments for her post: Dealing with "dealing with race".


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