Category: links

On loss of language, colonisation and migration


Two great articles, courtesy of automathic:
-Juliana Qian writes about being of Chinese descent in Australia. A lot of it is either uncomfortably familiar experience and/or strikes home quite accurately:

Our cultures are exotic, fashionable, fascinating and valuable when contained within or filtered through a white Western lens – then our cultures are glittering mines. But drawing from your own background is backward and predictable if you’re a person of colour. Sometimes white people try to sell me back my culture and I have to buy it. My China is as much the BBC version as it is the PRC one. There are things I want to eat but cannot cook.

-Rahel Aima on vernacular English:

Embedded within non-western English lies a parallel tension. The vernacular promises all the seductive freshness of exoticised difference, as well as the inherited anger of the Postcolonial Clever—the comfortably removed expat with a knowing gaze. There’s a certain expectation of kitsch, discernible authenticity and legitimacy, or at the very least, something to appropriate, please yaar? Or—something to awkwardly skirt out of respect to cultural relativism and because we are ostensibly beyond the myth of native English. Except then there’s also the orientalised yet unacknowledged elephant in the room: that the diasporic writer just might be the new bedfellow of cultural imperialism.

Links on Worldbuilding and patchworks


-Tricia Sullivan on “Some Thoughts on SFF and Reality Checks”. As Tricia says: what if authors, through shiny worldbuilding, erase someone else’s reality? What if the Vietnam War becomes replaced by a stream of good American soldiers fighting the evil communists? (or the reverse. Not really saying one is better than the other)
-On the same subject, Marie Brennan has a series of posts on Information Density and whether it is possible to educate the reader away from what they know while keeping a narrative going at full clip: here and here

I guess that, for me, it all boils down to: worldbuilding doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You have obligations not only to produce something cool and shiny to keep your reader entertained–but since your narration will affect other people who read it and shape their idea of the world/the history, you also have an obligation not to distort what you take from, as much as is humanely possible (and “not distorting” can get tricky).

Current mood: thoughtful.

ETA: have edited the post following some hard thinking

Brief update, links


OK, now that I’m almost over the line with the proposal (improvised 2 sequels yesterday, lol), time to lift the blogging hiatus! First off, some shameless plugging links:
-Lovely story by Tori Truslow, “A Catalogue of Unreadable Things”. All I’m going to say is that it takes place in a library of sunken books and mixes sailors and librarians. Doesn’t get much cooler than this!
-You can find me over at the Founding Fields blogging on writing non-Western fantasy, cultural appropriation and the Obsidian and Blood books–many thanks to Abhinav Jain for the invitation (and for the rather awesome review).
-Also, I’m at Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog for “My Favourite Bit”, in which I talk about the monsters in Obsidian and Blood
-Reviews of “Immersion” at too many places to mention (and, hum, I haven’t been keeping track of all of them while I was fighting with my synopsis), but can I jump up and down at having been mentioned by io9 as worthy of Dangerous Visions? Also this one by Bogi Takács, basically thinking it award-worthy. Wow wow wow. Also, lively discussion on imperialism, cultural oppression and standards of beauty happening in the story comments if you’re so inclined.

Presenting the Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card


And… here’s the unveiling ceremony of the project that’s been keeping a bunch of us busy, aka the Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card. With many thanks to everyone involved, who were quite willing to jump through a lot of hoops (some of them last minute!).

If you think colonialism is dead… think again. Globalisation has indeed made the world smaller–furthering the dominance of the West over the developing world, shrinking and devaluing local cultures, and uniformising everything to Western values and Western ways of life. This is a pernicious, omnipresent state of things that leads to the same unfounded things being said, over and over, to people from developing countries and/or on developing countries.

It’s time for this to stop. Time for the hoary, horrid misrepresentation clichés to be pointed out and examined; and for genuine, non-dismissive conversations to start.

Accordingly, here’s a handy bingo card for Western Cultural Imperialism–and we wish we could say we’ve made it all up, but unfortunately every single comment on this card was seen on the Internet.

Card designed by Aliette de Bodard, Joyce Chng, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, @requireshate, Charles Tan, @automathic and @mizHalle. Launch orchestrated with the help of Zen Cho and Ekaterina Sedia in addition to above authors (and an army of willing signal boosters whom we wish to thank very much!)

Would very much appreciate signal boosting of any kinds (reposts, links, RTs, …). Thanks in advance!

Linky linky


-Tricia Sullivan on “SFF and reality checks”, aka how “making stuff up” can be actively harmful. Well worth a look; and Cécile Cristofari is also awesome in the comments about Barthes and how we make up stories to interpret “reality”.
“Tiger Stripes” by Nghi Vo, over at Strange Horizons is a fantasy set in Vietnam, which is rare enough to mention. Also pretty impressed that the diacritics were left in, though really, the only word affected is “Huế” (I imagine that if the main character had been called something other than Thanh, which has no accent and no non-Latin vowel, it might have been harder to leave everything in). The story itself is lovely and poignant without being sappy (and it’s got all those lovely details like the chopstick in the mouth of the dead, the references to two of the great rivers of Vietnam, etc.)
-The Million Writers Awards longlist is now up (many thanks to Jason Sanford and the tireless judges). It includes “Exodus Tides”, published in IGMS (and, by a happy coincidence, collected in my forthcoming ebook sampler Scattered Among Strange Worlds); and many other familiar names from Ken Liu to Mari Ness. Also includes “Ghostweight” by Yoon Ha Lee, one of my absolute favorite stories of the last year, one I think was really slighted in the awards season nominations.

More linky linky


-International Science Fiction reprints my Xuya novelette “Butterfly, Falling at Dawn”. Check out the rest of their fiction, too: they focus on non-Western-Anglophone authors, and they’ve got pretty cool stuff up already, including nice non-fiction articles.

@requireshate, Joyce Chng, Rachel Swirsky, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Ekaterina Sedia and I engage in a discussion on non-Western SF. We tackle writing other cultures, exoticism, non-Western narratives: part 1, and part 2. Many thanks to Fabio Fernandes, Lavie Tidhar and Charles Tan for making this possible.

requireshate: I want to respond to a few things Joyce brought up–the expectations for people like us to be exotic. I’m often questioned as to the authenticity of my identity, because to westerners I appear to be writing “just like them,” steeped in “North American culture” (when in truth I know almost nothing about North America!). This assumption comes about because the hegemony is so huge and pervasive that it becomes, itself, an invisible mass and the default assumption. Mostly, if you write in English and aren’t breaking into malapropisms or broken syntax constantly, you’re immediately assumed to be “one of them,” part of the western paradigm.

(also, because I know this is going to come up at some point, and it’d be hypocritical of me not to mention it: I’m well aware that I’m committing outsider narrative in Obsidian and Blood. I’m doing it for what I believe are good motives–out of interest for the Mexica, to rehabilitate a culture that got the really short end of the stick, and show a mindset that is radically different without descending into Barbaric cliché; I’m doing it in reasonably good conscience of the issues involved in cultural appropriation [1] [2]; but it doesn’t change the fact that my books are not insider depictions of 15th-Century Tenochtitlan. It doesn’t make them worthless or bad; but yes, you can totally argue that, as an outsider writing about that culture, in both time and space, I’m to some extent perpetuating an exoticism problem, and I won’t disagree! I did try my best, but I most probably stumbled in places.
Also, I most certainly do not advocate people should stop writing about other cultures. Just pointing out it’s a fraught subject)

[1] Complicated by the fact that this is a historical culture and not a present-day one–makes some issues simpler, makes other issues harder…
[2] To be fair, my conscience of those issues kind of improved over the trilogy, so I can see the cringy bits in Servant of the Underworld that I tried to smooth out by Master of the House of Darts

Linky linky


-Chimadanda Adchie on “The Danger of a Single Story”. I’d been linked to this before, but never actually read it. It’s ultra-interesting, fascinatingly argued; and touches on subjects like the vulnerability of people (esp. children) to the stories they consume, and the skewed balance of power in the depiction of cultures.
-Charles Stross on “DRM and ebooks”. Lots of stuff to chew on.
-Michael Moorcock’s “Starship Stormtroopers” on Reactionary SF. I don’t agree with everything, and I, uh, admit to never reading Heinlein, but it’s still food for thought. Somewhat depressing that it dates back from the late 70ies, though… (among things I am ambivalent on: the simplistic equation of being for or against the Vietnam War with being for or against US imperialism. US imperialism in Vietnam dates *way* back before the war, and the question of their involvement was a freaking tangle by the time it all blew up. Then again, I suspect a lot of people in the US at the time had no idea what was going on or why).
-The always wonderful Rochita Loenen-Ruiz has an essay on “Decolonizing as an SF Writer” over at Kate Elliott’s blog (and also at The Future Fire):

During the American occupation, the passing on of the oral tradition was suppressed as the native priests and their rituals were demonized not only by the white colonizer but also by the white missionaries who followed in their wake. This meant that the true traditions and the original culture were slowly overlaid with the glaze of white culture and white belief.

Add all this up and it is no wonder that the psyche and the culture of the Filipino is so scarred and wounded to the point where we see the white and the west as being superior to us in all things.

Reading the history of conquest and colonization is a traumatic experience for the colonized. The Philippines went through not one, but two colonizers. I wonder how many colonizers other countries had to endure.

From reading these histories, it becomes clear to me that the erasure and subjugation of existing indigenous narratives were prioritized as these were viewed as being rival to the colonizing power.

Well worth reading, discussing and sharing.

Linky linky


And a roundup of links, while I’m off writing:
-The BSFA on BSFA Awards Ceremony: An Apology. Due to the fallout of the ceremony (and the fact that several committee members were angrily accosted late at night in the bar, which is not a very pleasant experience), they’ve had a spate of resignations. They’re short of people now, for various reasons. If you want to volunteer, now would be a good time.
ETA: fixed this, as fjm pointed out that I had been mistaken.
-Foz Meadows on Why Teaching Equality Hurts Men. I’m actually not convinced that “hurt” is the right word, insofar as it seems to put the privileged on the same level as those people who actively suffer from the misogyny/racism problem, but it’s a post that’s well worth reading.
-Tori Truslow on Dear Western SFF: stop it with “exotic” already: the use of the word “exotic” and the baggage it carries (this time, do check out the comments, there’s some very interesting discussion going on)
-Kate Elliott on The Narrative of Women in Fear and Pain. Also very important points on women as victims. It reminded me of last week, when I opened up a horror book: it had one of those characters who was clearly meant to be an unlikable protagonist, killing a young woman (not his first) in a particularly nasty and unpleasant way. I closed the book, and chucked it straight in the bin. It’s an easy and nasty shorthand for characterisation, and quite frankly makes me want to chuck the character through the window rather than follow him. It’s also voyeuristic as Hell, and I have no intention of being in any way a participant in that kind of narrative. Also, the day we get the trope of serial killers focusing their attention on helpless young men [1], I’ll cheer.

[1]There is one book I read which features a serial killer dispatching men instead of young women: Val McDermid’s The Mermaids, Singing. It has a boatload of problems (killer is a trans, and the only trans we see in the book, which is uber problematic), but at least it’s an interesting take. And I can confirm that neither the male-killing nor the female-killing kind of serial killers attract me in any way.

Linky linky


-Wisconsin repeals its Equal Pay Act, under the grounds that “men are more money-conscious than women”, and the main breadwinners of families (nah, single mothers never happened, and families with two working parents are just a fallacy). WTF. Cat Valente comments, mostly on how the heck we got here, and how we shouldn’t assume we’re safe away from the US (while I do agree with her, I believe in Europe people are more likely to get our rights denied for practising Islam and being vaguely Arab-looking. The US has gone women-phobic, in my neck of the woods it’s more like xenophobic).

-In the same vein, a rather terrifying post by Libby Anne on the erosion of pregnant women’s rights in the US. Do avoid the comments if you want to keep your blood pressure down, because they’re a morass of dumb people telling women that their noblest goal is to give their lives for their fetuses (seriously. Not even the Catholic Church is that regressive, and God knows I have issues with their handling of abortion and gender equality).

-On Eastercon: I love the con, I had a great time personally, but… you might want to take a look at this blogpost by Alex Dally McFarlane on some less awesome stuff that went on there. I don’t agree with everything, and I do think it’s important to point out that it’s been a con with many many degrees of awesomeness (not aware of everything, but the incident about gender equality on panels and how it was swiftly dealt with are a particular example of how stuff was efficiently and strongly dealt with). And again, I personally haven’t experienced anything I’d classify as offensive, but I had the privilege of being able to stick to my rather large comfort circle(s). I remain confident those are issues we’re working on as a genre, and that things can only get better (I’m quite sure cons used to be much less gender-equal than they are now, for instance–this is an area where we’ve definitely made progress). And the whole discussion has given me ideas for future panels at Bradford!

-Charles A. Tan on the fallacy of World SF, languages, cultural domination within the field

-Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life” is up at Apex–it’s a wonderful story of alienation and immigration, and what it means to be a foreigner in one’s own country

-Saladin Ahmed’s post on Game of Thrones. Read the comments at your own risks.

Linky linky


-Rose Lemberg on Feminist Characters (aka how agency isn’t only limited to the Warrior Woman trope), and Alex Dally MacFarlane on Female Friendships and Why They Matter.
Master of the House of Darts is up against The Wise Man’s Fear in Book Spot Central’s Annual tournament: vote early, vote often, etc. (especially since I suspect it’s going to take me a miracle to reach the second round given the competition…)

Meanwhile, I think I have a first scene for the book, except that it doesn’t have enough magical fireworks. Will go add them in.