Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fantasy Fiction That Holds Only One Note

Karnythia has a recent post linking to Zora Neale Hurston's essay; What White Publishers Won't Publish. I haven't read it yet, though I have read another essay of Hurston's.

What prompted me to write now, however, was being on page 38 of EON: Dragoneye Reborn; which I'd picked up despite my misgivings at a white author utilizing Asian culture and also having her author's note not only at the back, but leading to her website for resources on actual asian cultures rather than having a biblography present.

Staring at her words, I suddenly realized why white female authors generally aren't having a conversation I want to be part of; their conversation in speculative fantasy focuses on becoming equal to men. Reading the first thirty eight pages of this book, and I recognized so much; the power of Andre Norton's witches, which the men of the world feared; Menolly and the power of the Queen's Rider on Pern in Anne Mccafrey's Tales.

No wonder I cling to Mercedes Lackey so, her abused children finding strength and making good are equally male and female.

The others tend to be about a woman doing well, maybe even better in a man's world. My priorities as a writer and a reader are very much elsewhere.

Girls dressing up as boys in order to have power that's been decreed off-limits; there's no illicit or self aggrandizing thrill in that for me. There's no sense of 'she showed them' and I have often laughed at the whole concept of denial of women's place turning the elemental balance of power upside down and somehow distorting a world's magic.

My lack of identification with this story might be generational, or it might be that my stories are about a character being seen as human and worthy first, as equal, first and there's equal tales to tell for both male and female characters.

I'm not sure if I'll finish Alison Goodman's book, EON. I only just noticed the blurb from Tamara Pierce on the back, which actually dulls the aching need I'd had to find something of fantasy to read involving characters who aren't white (so far the characters haven't described themselves by physical appearance so I'm holding out hope) - Tamara Pierce's name does not fill me with enthusiasm, though not as much as other author's names make me move to another shelf.

But it feels like a river winning free to flow the way it should that I recognize why the stories currently available for me to read; currently pushed and publicized, bought and exemplified do not speak for or to me.

Whether we have to build our own publishing venues from scratch, there is a place for our tales. Very much so. Very much so indeed.

And maybe the antagonism projected from white, feminist, fantasy writers is because they only have one story to tell, given how they tend to shun intersectionality. While our tales are legion.

[Comments Open. My Moderation is as harsh as ever]


  1. And God knows, the 'feminist struggle' I come across in modern fantasy and urban fantasy books is never very subtle or complex (e.g. it's hard to sympathise with a heroine like Anita Blake whose 'tough and uncompromising' just reads as 'obnoxious'). It feels more like something the authors tack on because they think it's meant to be there for marketability; Girl Power For Grown-Ups, than a serious attempt to engage with equality issues through the medium of the fantasy genre. Which of course means they're never even going to touch on other kinds of equality...

  2. Angeline:

    EON is turning out to very much be 'hundreds of years ago the burned all references to the feminine equal magical power, but now a girl hidden as a boy has called it back and must embraced her womanhood in order to reach her full potential and there are all these signs and portents of a dual if separate and hidden feminine heritage and....'

    *sighs* I seriously don't want to finish reading it now, cause it is all so predictable and well, saying nothing new. And I'm getting offended at the slight parallel between a transwoman and a girl hiding as boy who needs to embrace her 'womanhood' for power.

    It's begun to piss me off that a transwoman is good enough to be a fantasy symbol of the balance of female and male 'energies' but isn't woman enough not to get treated like shit by these same feminists, womym for womyn types.

    It feels pretentious to make such a story parallel, especially with thoughts and phrasing like 'If they discovered what I truly am, they wouldn't just mark me, they would kill me!'

    Just... ugh and sigh and arrg.

    The tacked on bits like Anita Blake aren't any better, though maybe I should have said 'two notes'. 1st note: Bring Back The Power Of The Womyn Spirit! Second note: My Protaganist Is A Girl Who Does IT Better, Not Like Those Silly Girly Girls!

  3. I ate up the girl power stuff as a teen, but eventually I tired of it. Stories requiring women to be better than all the men around them to prove their equality don't appeal to me. I balk at how often these stories require the women in question to step over someone else in order to match themselves to the men around them.

    Nowadays, when I think of feminist SF, I think of stories where men and women are portrayed as equal in every way and no mention is made of it, like some of Robin Hobb's books, especially the Farseer trilogy.