-Athena Andreadis has two posts on “Safe Exoticism”, where she tackles the challenge of representing concepts that you don’t master (both on the science front, and on the culture front).
There is nothing wrong with writers using other cultures than their own, especially if they’re good storytellers with sensitive antennae. But when such works are taken for the real thing, the real thing often gets devalued or rejected outright, just as real science gets rejected in SF in favor of notions that are false or obsolete and often duller than the real thing.
There’s another equivalence between science and non-Anglo cultures in speculative fiction. Namely, the devil’s in the details. You need to have absorbed enough of your subject’s essence to know what counts, what needs to be included for verisimilitude. You may get the large picture right by conscientious research; you may get by with bluffing – but small things give away the game even when the bigger items pass cursory inspection. The diminutive of Konstantin in Russian is not Kostyn, it’s Kostya. Hellenic names have vocative endings that differ from the nominative. The real thing is both more familiar and more alien than it appears in stories written by cultural tourists. And often it’s the small touches that transport you inside another culture.
(I’ve lost count the stories set in France which got the first names completely wrong, so no argument there. Though tend to be more unforgiving of stories that get the details right in obsessive minutiae, and then completely fail on the mindset. I’ve read stories set in Ancient China where the main character insulted their father to his face, which is pretty much, er, fail?)
-Bryan Thao Worra on Lao steampunk (funnily enough, Minh Mạng’s reign was one of the possible turning points I envisioned for Việt Nam’s history in the Xuya continuity , but in the end I decided to dispense with the ill-fated Nguyễn dynasty altogether).
Packing up the boxes in the cellar tonight, and then perhaps an episode of Doctor Who (1st ep of S5), or, if we have more time, Trần Anh Hùng’s The Vertical Ray of the Sun, which looks nice.