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Posts Tagged ‘non-anglo characters’

One of the topics I thought was interesting was the types of characters one sees in fantasy and science fiction, that is that they are mostly white. While I’ve not read ‘all the fantasy’ out there, there are a number that I’ve read that do. Some exceptions to this are NK Jemison and Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin among others. My Dragon Wine series features people of mixed race. This is because it’s a post apocalyptic world and because of the destruction people intermarried to survive, so only a very few people would be all white or all black or Asian etc. My main protagonist Salinda is brown skinned and of mixed race. I didn’t consciously try to make my characters non-anglo it was just the result of the world setting.

Today I’ve invited Patty Jansen to the blog to talk about her use of non-anglo characters. Take it away Patty.

Patty Jansen

Patty Jansen

When Donna asked me to blog about what inspires me to use non-Anglo characters, my first thought was: do I need inspiration for that? They’re part of society, part of my life. They have pasts, and because I write SF, I’m interested in their futures. They’re people.

If we can say one thing about the future, it’s that it won’t be “more of the same” of what we have today. It has never been that way in all of humanity’s messy history. History is made up out of interwoven strands that sometimes don’t make sense until you understand the context.

Far too often, science fiction tells the author’s view of the future from a one-sided perspective, usually American, white and male. In my fiction, I strive to make it less monolithic. There are many segments of society whose histories deserve to be pondered on, extrapolated and told.

The majority of people in the world are non-Anglo. I use them in my fiction in hopefully the same way they are used in Harry Potter. For example, nowhere in all of the seven Harry Potter books is it mentioned out loud that the Patel twin sisters are Indian. Of course you can see that they’re Indian. Their name gives it away. So why point at it when it’s not a plot point, as if saying “Hey, LOOK! I’m using a non-Anglo character!!” That sort of pointing out, when done to any minority character, just annoys the crap out of me. As if minority characters are only allowed in a book when they’re a plot point. What rubbish.

Non-Anglo characters play an important role especially in my ISF-Allion interlinked series of novellas and novels. In this world, the future goes like this:

When various problems (disaster, wars, lack of money) forces western countries to scale down the space program, a group of normally disenfranchised people picks up the ball and runs with it: a conglomerate of applied sciences students who study in western countries, but who come from the poorest and most repressive/repressed countries and societies in the world. This group would never have gotten off the ground without two people: the brains and drive of Fatima “Ally” Al Alamein and the financial backing of heiress Marion Gluck. The company they form is Allion Aerospace, the name a combination of their names. They are the first to put a person on Mars. That person is Chandra Lee, a woman, half Indian, half Chinese, not a drop of western blood in sight. The company with a 90% female workforce operates on a shoestring budget (relatively speaking) and makes huge strides because it attracts smart people for whom even the risk of dying in a Mars mission is better than their current lack of opportunities. Within a short time span, Allion has a huge work force, space bases and some ingenious hardware.

Meanwhile the western countries and their International Space Force are forced to do a huge catch-up mission. Their mantra is big and cumbersome, and when they can’t find enough people to crew their huge space stations, they resort to “resettling” people from the poorest, dilapidated cities in the world at that time. They are the people from low-lying areas (Jakarta, Bangladesh) and victims of desertification in India/Pakistan and Africa. Parts of the world that, even today, white men in power do not care about. Here we have colonial behaviour all over again.

These two groups of non-Anglo characters end up on opposite sides of the spectrum. The Allion women, mostly Africans, Indians, Chinese and Arabs and their high-controlled, high-tech environment, versus the raw hardship of the displaced mining workers. While the ISF methods sound akin to slavery, Allion has some very “interesting” ideas (not in a good way) about what constitutes a human being and also about free choice and privacy. There are no angels in this world.

Shifting Reality is a novel that takes place on a giant space station at Epsilon Eridani, amongst second and third generation forced migrants from the slums of Jakarta. Seventy years after their forced departure from Indonesia, they’re no longer Indonesian, but they’ve morphed into something else through circumstance and the tyranny of distance.

I did a lot of reading to construct this society. It is not faithfully cultural and was never intended to be. But there are plenty of weird, quirky and mostly just plain different customs that have morphed into a multi-pronged, diverse Indonesian-based cultural melting pot. There are the political groups, the gossipy block associations where ground-level politics happens between men who want power and old women who hold said power, there are the gay and transvestite bars, there are the religious hypertechs, where men and women both wear face veils, who abstain from “pleasure” and who are a fertile breeding ground for unusual technological, uhm, solutions, including hacking, spyware and other illegal stuff. While the cliché has us see Indonesians visit temples, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, and my characters adhere to the Indonesian brand of Islam which is fairly relaxed and has a good deal of traditional stuff thrown in. Did you know that the spread of Islam to Indonesia dates back to the 1400s?

I wanted to construct a possible future culture that was not based on western ideology and western values. Because often when writers use non-Anglo characters, they still operate in an Anglo cultural framework. I’d encourage other writers to think beyond their borders. Not only is not every person who matters in the world Anglo, not all cultures aspire to be Anglo either.

Patty Jansen is an author of 15 novels and numerous short works of science fiction and fantasy. Find out more about Patty’s fiction here. Find out more about the novel Shifting Reality here. Patty is also on twitter and Facebook and talks about writing, photography and other random things on her blog Must Use Bigger Elephants.

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