Mon
May 4 2009 9:28am

Pioneer Fantasy: Patricia Wrede’s Thirteenth Child

Patricia C. Wrede has always been good at writing books with charm and the kind of narrative flow that means you can’t put them down, and Thirteenth Child is her best book yet.

You know how some books have “high concept” or “elevator pitches” where you can explain what they’re about very snappily, and others you just flounder? The elevator pitch for Thirteenth Child would be “Little House on the Prairie with mammoths and magic.”

This is an alternate version of our world which is full of magic, and where America (“Columbia”) was discovered empty of people but full of dangerous animals, many of them magical. In this world the frontier is perilous and settlements need magicians to protect them, but the railroads are creeping across the continent and covered wagons are crossing the Great Barrier that runs along the Mississippi. Our narrator, Eff Rothmer, has a wonderful folksy first person voice, which is what carries this book out of the ordinary:

Everybody knows that a seventh son is lucky. Things come a little easier for him, all his life long; love and money and the unexpected turn that brings good fortune from bad circumstances. A lot of seventh sons go for magicians, because if there’s one sort of work that’s more useful than any other it’s making magic.

Eff is born thirteenth, supposed to be unlucky, and her twin Lan, born fourteenth, is the seventh son of a seventh son. The family dynanics, the frontier town they move to, to get away from the relatives, the way Eff studies Aphrikan magic as well as Avropan—there’s a lot about this book that’s just plain charming. Also, as I may have mentioned, it has mammoths and other megafauna, as well as the magical animals. It has Rationalists, who believe you ought to live without magic, even when threatened by it all around, and it has spells for keeping bugs away and making the laundry easier. It does the thing I’m never happy about where some of the names are recognisable and some aren’t, where you have Avropa instead of Europe but you still have Socrates and Thomas Jefferson, but that’s about the only nit I have to pick with the worldbuilding.

It has seemed to me for a long time that there’s plenty of urban fantasy set in the modern US, but not enough of the fantasy of America, secondary worlds that “are” American history in the way most are western European history. For ages all I could point at was Card’s Alvin Maker books. Now, in addition to this, there are Bujold’s Sharing Knife books, and Emma Bull’s Territory and the promised sequel. It seems there’s a recent explosion of them coming out of Minneapolis—and I think that’s just dandy. They’re all doing really different things with the idea, and I like them all—but for sheer enjoyment of reading, I like Thirteenth Child better than any of them because it’s just so much fun. It’s not the mammoths—well, not just the mammoths. It’s Eff’s voice and the characters and the way the magic works and feels so real and the way Eff worries about going bad, the way thirteenth children are supposed to..

I’ve been waiting for this book since I first heard Pat talk about the idea years ago, and I am not disappointed—but now I’m waiting just as eagerly for the sequels.

It’s published as Young Adult, which means that’s where you’re likely to find it in the bookstore. I think I’d have liked it when I was YA age, and I still like it. Buy it for young people, buy it for yourself—YA publication does have the advantage that it’s only $16.99 for the hardback.

277 comments
Kate Nepveu
1. katenepveu
I bought a copy of this solely on the basis of "new Patricia Wrede book!" and, umm, didn't know that it was about

where America (“Columbia”) was discovered empty of people but full of dangerous animals

And now my immediate reaction was "ack, it's a frontier story where American Indians have been literally and completely erased?!"

Which makes me unhappy.

However, mammoths, so will give it a read.

(Looking forward to your _Corambis_ thoughts, btw.)
mongolian
2. mongolian
I've long been a fan of Pat Wrede's books and eagerly read this one as soon as it was released. My main problem with the book is the personality of Eff, the main character. She is clearly intelligent and perceptive (with one glaring exception, which I'll get to later) but she is far too passive. There were a number of situations in the book where she noted something unsettling or unusual (mostly having to do with Lan's growing arrogance and abuse of his power), made a point to tell us that she wanted to bring it up, and then "forgot". I'm used to Wrede heroines of the Cimorene or Cecilia variety, of which Eff is certainly not. Furthermore, based on Eff's narration the reader knows that she is intelligent and perceptive, but yet she still internalizes the stigma of being a 13th child. She actually believes in that nonsense, though her twin, best friend, and parents all consistently tell her otherwise. It's Eff's blind spot, and while it is believable from a characterization perspective in that most people have a fear that they cannot overcome, it's also tiresome in a first person narrator. That said, I did enjoy the worldbuilding and Wrede's writing style, and based on the ending, I don't think the aspects of Eff's character that annoyed me should reappear in any sequels.
mongolian
3. CarlosSkullsplitter
This doesn't sound much like "the fantasy of America" to me. Removing Native America makes the settlement of the Americas wildly different. I can only think of two works of science fiction which come close to the strangeness that would result: Howard Waldrop's African pamphlet short story, and Harry Turtledove's mammoth train short story.

(You'd also have to eliminate at minimum three waves of human colonization; can you imagine how fast the Inuit would move south with tame megafauna on the hoof and no hostile neighbors? Or the relatives of the Ostyaks who became the ancestors of the Athabaskans and the Navajo?)

Moving into a beast-haunted terra nullius isn't very much like the actual settlement of the north central United States. The Little House books are fine, but they're also deeply constructed narratives about a past which was vastly more complex, and much of this simplification seems to have been made for ideological reasons. (Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter, who edited her mother's books for publication, was a far-right libertarian activist, and an interesting character in her own right.)

Here's a thought experiment: can you imagine a book about a magical alternate colonial Quebec that was still recognizably about "the matter of Quebec", but had excised the Native contribution to Quebec by authorial fiat?

Anyway. I haven't read the book, and I trust your judgment about its readability. I'm just not sure it fits your taxonomy.
Patrick Garson
4. patrickg
I feel that Hobb's Soldier's Son trilogy should get a mention here. Her world is, um, otherly, but it slots pretty neatly into a pioneer mythology.

Recommending it is another thing. I thought it was interesting, but had some weaknesses. I don't like saying interesting failure, it sounds so damning, but I actually think that's an okay thing! (In fact, thinking on it, would love to see a post of interesting failures, if only to see where people draw the line with success).

I think pioneer fantasy has a heady appeal, but like Carlos, I'm not entirely sure many authors consider the political/racial implications as deeply as possible.

Robb for example takes a very Samuel Huntington Clash of Civilisations approach, but I'm not sure it was entirely the richest.
Jo Walton
5. bluejo
Kate, Carlos: I think it's very similar to the way in which Guy Gavriel Kay's The Last Light of the Sun left out Ireland. I think when you're doing fantasy history sometimes you want to engage with things and sometimes you want to simplify.

In the book there was absolutely no human settlement of the Americas (no Inuit either) before the magic that made it possible, because the magical opposition was too strong.

I think "OK, let's look at it in a world without the genocide and the slavery" is an interesting thing to do.
mongolian
6. CarlosSkullsplitter
Problem is, removing Native America basically removes mainland Spanish America, and radically changes French and English America. Not only the people, although probably more than fifty million people in the U.S. have some Native ancestry. But also material things, "the structures of everyday life".

I'm sure Kate has thought about Tolkien's inclusion of New World crops like tobacco and potatoes in the context of The Lord of the Rings. But Tolkien could, with some hemming and hawing, fudge that. It's a lot more difficult to fudge Thomas Jefferson in a world without tobacco. Virginia exists because of a Native crop. Trust me, early explorers aren't going to reinvent smoking petunia leaves.

Settlement of the Americas without slavery also changes things radically. The Americas during settlement were "labor poor". There have generally been two responses historically to that: high wages, or coercive labor. The choice shapes societies for centuries. It doesn't affect Wrede's setting much, because the people of the northern tier of the United States mostly made the first choice. (Though there are exceptions, and not only slavery: much of upstate New York had a manorial economy until the Anti-Rent riots of 1839. Feudalism with steamboats.) But for the Americas between, roughly, Baltimore and Buenos Aires, it would render them unrecognizable -- more unrecognizable than a Britain without the Norman conquest, in my opinion.

I agree, it would be an interesting thing to do, whether in fantasy or science fiction. But it's unlikely you'd get anything like a magical pioneer Minneapolis.
mongolian
7. glass_icarus
My problem with "OK, let's look at it in a world without the genocide and the slavery" isn't, in fact, the genocide and slavery-free aspect; it's the fact that in order to achieve that, the victims of the genocide and slavery have been erased. And that does not sit at all well with me.

There are other ways in which one could write an American history, richer ways and more complex ones that don't just cut out entire cultures and histories. The Alvin Maker cycle plays with that to some extent, and while there are probably appropriation issues to be discussed there, the Native American theme is definitely present and felt. Me, I will always prefer a story that plays with darkness and builds the complexity over a story that simply pretends that it doesn't exist.
James Goetsch
8. Jedikalos
glass icarus, I think I agree with you: it is disturbing that in order to imagine a world with no genocide and slavery you imagine away the victims of it and take no note of them in your new world. I'm pretty sure the author had no such intent (to dishoner the indigenous people), but it is on some levels disturbing to me (and icarus helps me pinpoint my uneasiness: h/t).
Jo Walton
9. bluejo
Glass Icarus: The Africans, excuse me, Aphrikans, are there, and major characters. They're not erased, they're just... having a nicer day. And this isn't our world. (I suppose Miss Ochiba is literally a Magical Negro, as she's a black person who teaches magic, but I don't think she's metaphorically one.)

The First Nations people have indeed been erased, and I do see that it's potentially problematic. I'm thinking about this.
Marissa Lingen
10. Mris
My understanding from talking to Pat and a few of her first readers about this at Minicon is that her idea was that the First Nations people were not erased but stayed in the Old World, so Northern Asian culture is a lot more different from in our world than "Avrupan" culture is because it has more of those diverse groups influencing it. I can see how that might still be problematic for people, but I think it's a lot less problematic to say, "These people stayed here and had these influences instead of going there and having those influences," than to say, "These people never existed at all, poof."
mongolian
11. Alo.
bluejo:

I had a very strongly negative reaction to the idea of the erasure of the Native Americans from a story of the settling of America, er, Columbia.

To be perfectly frank, I find it obscene.

I can't fully engage with and critique The Thirteenth Child, as I have not read it--and given the strength of my reaction to one of its major conceits, I'm unlikely to do so, although the scholar in me says I should anyway--but I can speak about the reasons why I find such a disappearing to be highly problematic.

I don't know how familiar you are with the way Native Americans figure in the American consciousness and conscience, but it's really hugely complex, and given the way Native Americans--Indians--figure in the Matter of America (of which I believe the settling of the West is one of the major elements), their erasure cannot be anything but troubling.

In my opinion, it raises major moral and ethical questions.

I've been thinking and writing about this since I read your article yesterday. If you are interested, you can read my ongoing thoughts on it on my LJ, here. I invite your thoughts and comments, if you have the time.

I should note that my original post is very much a cri du coeur, but that I try to refine my objections as I engage with the comments I've received.
Kate Nepveu
12. katenepveu
On thinking about this some more, on one hand, I could see it as a positive that if one only wants the fun stuff about the American frontier, one recognizes that the U.S.'s history regarding American Indians is not compatible with that.

On the other hand, I have a sense that the U.S.'s history regarding American Indians is already glossed over in popular knowledge, and so an American frontier story with only the "good bits" could contribute to that.

On the third hand, I suspect much of my opinion of the background conceit will depend on the details, particularly how it became possible for Europeans to settle when other peoples couldn't.

Which is a long way of saying I ought to read the book already.
mongolian
13. glass_icarus
bluejo: I am glad to see that the Africans haven't been completely erased, but I am equally unsettled by the idea of a "Magical Negro." I hesitate to remark further as I have not read the book.

Kate: As for the American frontier story, I don't believe that exploring new territory can ever be completely dissociated from encounters with Native Americans. For one thing, I highly doubt that any settlers would have been able to survive without the aid of the people who already lived there- foreign vegetation, foreign fauna, foreign climate, you see the problem. In order to even get to the "fun stuff" about exploration, one needs to first establish the possibility of survival: what to eat, how to hunt, how to build effective shelters, what to wear. The shelter problem isn't impossible to overcome, but finding and harvesting plants that are edible and not poisonous, or figuring out the most effective way to trap/hunt game and cure animal hides- without the benefit of someone's prior experience, these things take time. Time in which the settlers, presumably, would already have starved to death.

This is just one of the problems that I have with this particular worldbuilding scenario, and it's not even the one that bothers me most.
Kate Nepveu
14. katenepveu
glass icarus, highly doubt that any settlers would have been able to survive without the aid of the people who already lived there

Don't you have a "someone must've done it once" problem, here, though? Since as far as I'm aware the general consensus is that humanity did not arise on the North American continent.

Anyway. Gonna read the book and see.
mongolian
15. CarlosSkullsplitter
Europeans have settled unoccupied lands: Iceland, the Azores, Madeira. It's not a dealbreaker.

But note: they're not very much like Brazil or the parts of the Midwest settled by Norwegians after the Black Hawk and Dakota wars.
mongolian
16. glass_icarus
What Carlos says. I could see European settlers coping with the areas that were vaguely similar/comparable to European climates, but there's so much variation in the American continents- temperate forests, rainforests, deserts, prairies, mountains, etc.- that I find survival without some sort of help rather unbelievable.

As for the "someone did it first"- I admit I know next to nothing about the migration of the Native Americans through the continents, but it had to have been a much more gradual process than the Manifest Destiny-type race-to-the-finish mentality of the Europeans who came for the express purpose of staking land claims.
Michael Ikeda
17. mikeda
CarlosSkullsplitter@15

And Greenland. The part of the island where the Norse lived was unoccupied when they got there.

Granted that the Greenland colony eventually failed, but it did last for several centuries and it might have hung on if the climate hadn't turned even more hostile than it was at the start.

In any case, given a regular stream of supplies and additional colonists there isn't any particular reason that a colony in a less hostile climate couldn't have survived and eventually expanded.

And at first the colony is going to rely mainly on transplanted crops and transplanted techniques. And the above-mentioned supply ships. Eventually it might start relying more on the local flora and fauna, but that comes later.

(Or maybe not at all. The European settlers in Australia basically transferred Europe to Australia. The Norse in Greenland did the same, although less successfully in the long run.)
Marissa Lingen
18. Mris
Just a note for those who haven't read the book: not all the settlers are Avrupans (Europeans). South America in this universe is settled by Aphrikans (Africans). So if you're thinking about, "How would that work with the cultures available?", include a variety of African cultures in that speculation. (And exclude some kind of "Europeans are good at this stuff and nobody else can manage it" idea, because Pat specifically, explicitly is not doing that in the text. Non-European settlers have done an entire continent or possibly more--not sure what things look like in Central America in this universe.)
mongolian
19. CarlosSkullsplitter
My own guess is that European settlement of the Americas with megafauna and without prior human settlement (and without magic) would initially be rather successful, because of all the possibilities of big game hunting, of animals which never evolved behavioral responses to humans. Although barbecue and jerky and pemmican are Native techniques, it's not like Europeans didn't have their own traditions for dealing with meat on the hoof.

After that, things get dicey, although European plants did rapidly acclimate to eastern North America. But there isn't a good zone for the Mediterranean system of crops until you reach California or Chile. For tropical and subtropical areas, you'd need rice and bananas/plantains and African yams. (Polynesian history will be very different because the sweet potato/kumara would never be domesticated, let alone transferred -- however it was -- to the island Pacific.)

It's possible that some species of plants that we eat would be domesticated by the new colonizers, probably as famine foods at first. But nothing like cobs of corn. (Stalks that shed chickpea-like kernels like wheat, maybe.) Smoking tobacco, chewing gum, tapping maple syrup and rubber -- they're are all pretty low on the list too.

But an empty tropical America would be a splendid place to grow sugarcane. And it would be a vast change from previous Old World practice not to use slaves.
mongolian
20. glass_icarus
Ah, thanks for the clarification, Mris- that's good to know. Although this version of America now appears to be purely black-and-white, and as a reader outside of the black/white dichotomy, I'm not sure how I feel about that... but again, I'll reserve further commentary until after I've read the book.

As a complete sidenote, Carlos and Mikeda, I am totally loving the alt-history speculation game. :)
mongolian
21. Thette
CarlosSkullsplitter @19:

Tapping birch sap is a very old tradition in Scandinavia and Russia. (Described in sixteenth century texts in Swedish.) Although it's usually drunk fresh, it can be fermented or boiled to syrup. I think the alt-history settlers would discover maple sap rather fast.
mongolian
22. CarlosSkullsplitter
Was there birch tapping in England, France, the Netherlands, Spain, or Portugal? I'm doubtful. The Swedish colony was at the southern limit of the sugar maple's range, below the climatic line for a decent sap season. So there's a difficult problem of transmission, setting aside the fact that the Swedish cultural contribution to the early settlement of North America was small.

Historically, English and French settlers adopted Native tapping practices wholesale -- including birches, though there the bark was included as a flavoring with the sap to make birch beer, which you can still get.

Assuming Scandinavian and Russian emigration occur on the same schedule, this wouldn't be discovered until the mid to late nineteenth century.

(But this is a problematic assumption for a number of different reasons. Do you get poor-soiled northern and eastern European population growth without the potato? Probably not. On the other hand, that means those areas reach a carrying capacity limit earlier.)
Jo Walton
23. bluejo
Carlos: But the same thing applies to the First Nations people who figured out maple syrup. Somebody did it, so it's clearly humanly possible.

I've always wondered about that, actually. It must have been someone really optimistic. "Well, the last nine thousand and ninety-nine trees tasted disgusting, let's try this one!"

Having said that, I don't remember maple syrup being mentioned in Thirteenth Child.
mongolian
24. CarlosSkullsplitter
The main difference is time depth. A succession of cultures that have had ten thousand years to learn the uses of the local ecology is on a different footing than new settlers from a different continent who have maybe read an explorer's account with not entirely realistic illustrations.

The original impetus, I don't know. My guess would be as a discovery cutting trees in late winter, which implies a little bit about seasonal cultural activity. (It's not a time when I would especially want to go logging in the forest primeval.) But I'm not even sure it's knowable. Some myths from around the Great Lakes tell of a time when maple syrup flowed freely from the trees, but the trickster thought that humans were getting too lazy and now we have to boil sap and it only happens a few weeks out of the year etc. It's deeply embedded in stories of a golden age and a fall. The centrality of it makes me wonder if it wasn't discovered in a time of famine, stripping bark for food, as people do around the globe.

Anyway. Simplification is a complicated process! Guy Gavriel Kay's stuff leaves me cold because for me, he streamlines the wrong things. Bujold, on the other hand, knows how to imply fractal depths of history, and that appeals. Haven't read the Wrede yet, so I can't comment on that.
mongolian
25. Lois Bujold
glass_icarus @ 20:

You should read the book. It's YA and quite short, and then we could be discussing the real book and not the distorted shadow of it that apparently sprang up in your head from the description.

The book actually began with a contemplation of the what-if question, "What would happen if the megafauna survived into historic times...?" The theory presently being argued in archeology is that the pre-Columbian settlers wiped out said megafauna, and that's the one Pat chose to follow up; so if one wants mammoths and short-faced bears and terror birds, the Bering land bridge human immigration needed not to have taken place, 13,000 years back. From that, the rest followed, q.s. to the limits of a necessarily slim volume.

Ta, L.
Alberto Yáñez
26. Alo.
Lois:

While I've come to the conclusion that I will have to read the book in order to fully examine and engage with it, I still find your post rather glib.

The crux issue for me with regard to Thirteenth Child is the erasure of the Native Americans from the narrative and how that choice plays out in the larger context in which the book was written, not necessarily within the story itself.

I'm having trouble seeing any way to read that kind of decision from an American writer to be moral. Whether it was Wrede's intention or not, it participates in the process of erasure of the Native Americans from not only the historical landscape, but the physical one as well.

Whether the world-building holds up or not, that's a question I'll have to address after I've read the book.

But for now (and continuing), the question of the morality of her auctorial choice and its consequences are what capture my attention.

Your mileage may vary.
mongolian
27. skywardprodigal
@ 26 Alo.

I've been trying to consider how Wrede's book isn't yet another example of white-washing. How is it that though the Avropans would have been unfamiliar with the terrain and the climate, they didn't starve even though there wasn't anyone there to show how to eat or where to settle? Part of that question comes from realizing that there's a metanarrative that white colonists couldn't survive without indigenous people and then slaves. But there's also a metanarrative about empty land and animal people and magic as it applies to 'America before it was discovered' (Like the people living there didn't know about it?)

I haven't found a satisfactory way to separate the central conceit of the book from the treatment of Natives in the Americas by settlers/colonizers when they arrived nor treatment of Natives by settlers right now. The book considered in the context of those tropes supports a variety of disheartening readings.

If my understanding is correct, in addition to supportable, the idea of western settlement and westward expansion in America was that 1) the Indians aren't human/are subhuman/are animals and 2) the Indians know magic/do magic/are wild. By erasing Native nations from that particular world, Wrede appears-- on the surface-- to have crafted a story that falls into the tradition of apologia for genocide and theft ("Human life wasn't native" aka "Native life wasn't human").

Somewhat similar to how Baum made Indians and heathen Chinese into the plague of flying monkeys in the land of Oz.

I've come to the conclusion that based on the shadow cast by white supremacist colonization and the ongoing genocide of the original inhabitants of the Americas, I can't-- in good conscience-- read the Thirteenth Child. It's not so much recoiling from a shadow cast by a distortion in my head but disgust with a trope that holds that even when they're strangers in a strange land, all white people need in order to prosper is whiteness.
mongolian
28. Lois Bujold
Alo @ 26:

Which begs a larger question: what is the function of fiction? Social engineering? Propaganda, sermon? Or something else? Windows? Mirrors?

People who come down on the social-engineering side do tend to value a book by how well it serves some agenda outside of itself. I see that as a slippery slope, myself.

What, by the way, is a "moral writer", in your lexicon? Just for my orientation. That almost slipped past as an undefined term, there.

Ta, L.
mongolian
29. Kialio
Lois Bujold @ 25:

Conversely the story could have been written about those Native Americans who interacted with "mammoths and short-faced bears and terror birds." Yet instead of that convenient bit of historic truth that could have built on myth, Native Americans were written out completely so that another people could frolic with magic and fantastic beasts.
mongolian
30. Kialio
Lois Bujold @ 28:

Truly the only "social-engineering” apparent in this case is the revision of U.S. history as being a distinctly white convention and invention.

When dealing with the hallmarks of fantasy no apologia can go too far or justify too much in the case of historical and fantastical genocide.
mongolian
31. Lois Bujold
skywardprodigal @ 26

You know, I thought you were making a few interesting points, till you came to this:

"I've come to the conclusion that based on the shadow cast by white supremacist colonization and the ongoing genocide of the original inhabitants of the Americas, I can't-- in good conscience-- read the Thirteenth Child. It's not so much recoiling from a shadow cast by a distortion in my head but disgust with a trope that holds that even when they're strangers in a strange land, all white people need in order to prosper is whiteness."

My mother -- born in 1912 -- used to have a phrase for this: "My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with the facts."

A stance of moral superiority really cannot be floated over an abyss of ignorance. (Though I admit, people routinely try.) It's especially not a sound footing for this book which, within the limits of its scope, actually does some very interesting things with subverting assumed Avyrupan dominances.

I will stop recommending you read it, however. The book deserves better than to be pored over by an inquisitor only seeking evidence for a conviction already decided upon.

Ta, L.
mongolian
32. skywardprodigal
@ Kialio 29 & 30

Please forgive me for commenting out of turn (if that's convenient to you),

I'm so grateful for "the story could have been written about those Native Americans who interacted with "mammoths and short-faced bears and terror birds."

I would be so interested in a story that compared and contrasted how even some people (say of Aztlan, a Pueblo, or the Haudenosaunee confederation) would have handled an advent of Really Big magical creatures. There's so much information about ancient libraries, calendars, and ways of keeping time... I would thrill at a story that incorporated that bit of history.

Oh, golly, I'd be so game for a Turtle Island & Aztlan v Wild Magic story. Long or short. (An aside, Ireally liked Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker and his Pastwatch stories even though, arguably, his personal belief system isn't any less problematic when it comes to religion, manifest destiny, and native peoples as any other Christian sect?)

Anyhow, it's something when Orson Scott Card sets a better example with a baseline premise for an alternative America than what's on the table for discussion. O.O

I may go reread some Card. Even though some of his Natives are magical, they are still people. And they exist.

Also, thanks for your comments on social engineering. If we are the story we tell ourselves, well some stories support some ideas and some support others. Some stories support conflicting ideas. *shrugs*
mongolian
33. Darkrose
A while back, someone recommended the Chung Kuo series to me. I managed to get about halfway through before the author explained the lack of black people by saying that one of the continental governors had unleashed a plague in Africa that wiped out all black Africans.

Leaving aside the question of what happened to those of us who don't live in Africa, it felt to me like Wingrove was taking the easy way out. He wanted an East-vs.-West conflict, and black people didn't fit into that, so he killed us all off with a few keystrokes. For some strange reason, that bothered me. But at least there was an acknowledgment that we did, at one time, exist.
mongolian
34. stoneself
"history is written by the victors" should be rewritten to be "history is erased by the victors".

history that "matters" is the history of the powerful. those that have been crushed by genocide and slavery - those histories are easy to erase.

the gross indignity here is that people who have no personal tie to painful and personal history of genocide and slavery that happened in the united states find it so easy to simply erase that history. a history that has repercussions to this day that white people continue to benefit from and non-white people do not. history that is deep personal family history that reverberates in the bones of african americans and native americans to this very day. a real sense of horror for asian americans when they realize that entire generations of asian immigrants were erased from the midwest and west - erased physically and from the histories.

erasing these histories in fiction again compounds the offense. erasing a history of a people to destroy their legacy again. even in fiction.

what harm is there to do this in fiction? well what message does this tell people of color? that these stories are not for you? that you do not matter in these stories? most certainly. it may not be the intention, but that message is plain to read for people of color.

intent - authorial intent and other intent - is not sufficient to prevent or mitigate harm or offense.
mongolian
35. fa_ikaika
I have several NDN friends (now colleagues) from grad school who talk about the fact that their children's schooling includes Indians in the "Pocahontas/Pilgrim/Thanksgiving" mode and then Natives disappear from their school materials until they reappear in the 3rd grade to be wiped out by "Custer". "How come" asks one of my friends kids, "all the Indians died? Aren't we still alive?"

How come all the Indians die in the 3rd grade?

I tell this story because the erasure of Native peoples from the North American continent isn't just something that happens in speculative fiction.

It happens all the time in real life.

One of the reasons there are heaps of non-Native people pretending to be Native or at least purveyors of "the best parts" of Native spirituality, is that there is a perception that there are no "real" Indians left, and the ones who are left are either 1) degenerated descendants from past glory or 2) inauthentic because they have been "spoiled" by Christianity and other spiritual pollutions brought by the "white man". In either case it is thought to be "safe" to ignore these people's protests.

However, attempting to portray onesself as a Catholic priest or as a "updated and improved" version of a Vodun/Lukumi or AME religious practitioner is understood to be a highly risky proposition, not only because your ass WILL get kicked, but also because the modern Catholics, Voduisants, "santeros" and AME congregationists have a RIGHT to kick your ass.

I hope you all see the point I'm trying to make here: Real Native people have been erased from popular consciousness in this country, they've been erased from history and they've been erased from the US sense of what it is as a country.

If you want a high-profile illustration of this, you might want to check out Barack Obama's otherwise laudable "Yes We Can" speech: Prominent of mention of "pioneers" and "wilderness", but _nothing_ about Native people. Are they not capable of change we can believe in?

I don't want to get into a discussion about Obama's personal stance towards Indian Country, but I DO think it's telling that in one of the most highly powerful peices of oratory in the late 20th century, its author specifically does NOT mention the indigenous inhabitants of what is now the US. If that's not an erasure, please tell me what is.

In this context, a novel that erases native people cannot be seen as a purely innocent activity, no matter what the original or conscious intent of the author. It contributes to a pervasive sense of "Native not-thereness" that my friends and I have talked about on several different occasions.

I can't stop other people from indulging in it, but I do think it's a sad thing that so many people somehow don't see how this kind of thing is intensely problematic.
mongolian
36. Avalon's Willow
Oh Skyward, Skyward,

Don't you know the Coaltion of White Female SF Authors passed out a memo that states they categorically cannot be thought to hold racist thoughts cause they decided so?

Then Elizabeth Bear told them how all they had to do to interact with PoC was lie to them and belittle them cause it would raise book sales and they all agreed that willful blindness was the new hotness.

What are you doing bringing *HISTORY* and *LOGIC* and *CONTEXT* into conversation? How dare you introduce Post-Colonial Ideology. White people don't know what that is, it involves brown people. How dare we assume they'd pay attention.

Also? This is Tor's site. TOR, Skyward. T. O. R - THE ORIGINAL RACISTS. You seriously should know better.

Meanwhile, yet another fantasy novel that glosses over the ugly realities of colonialist narrative by disappearing the native brutally conquered tribes in order to have white people skipping merrily towards Manifest Destiny?

Colour me unsurprised.

You and I, however, know that if it weren't for grave robbing thus discovering signs of another civilization, stealing of the corn set aside by the natives for their next season's harvest, and lying in wait for someone to return to claim it; the colonists would have starved to death.

But yeah, who needs Tisquantum. They have Mammoths! And hey, at least no one in this book's universe will ever bust out with the typical. "But my great great grandmother was a Cherokee Princess!"
mongolian
37. Ide Cyan
This sounds like Firefly: the book. Or the prequel, rather.
mongolian
38. afrai
I've been thinking that pioneer fantasy of this kind shares a lot in common with things like Regency romances and the steampunk genre, in that the products are all about the fun of being a pioneer/colonial, with none of the ugliness. (There's a good discussion of this in relation to steampunk here.) It's less obvious with Regency romance, because the action isn't centred on the boyfriend in the Navy who sails around the world enforcing Empire, but on what happens when he comes back.

But with Regency romance, as with this kind of pioneer fantasy and most kinds of steampunk, the setting that is being glorified and played around in is one that is sustained by oppression -- by the conquest of peoples living in the "virgin wildernesses" its heroes explore, by the theft of land and resources from those peoples.

I love Regency romance, don't get me wrong. I loved Philip Reeve's Larklight, and I'd probably love this book if I could ever bring myself to read it. But I'm becoming increasingly troubled with my love for such stories, which ignore the brutalities of the periods in which they play and which unquestioningly rely on the ugly tropes that come with the settings.

The reason why these stories are successful is that they allow the reader to pretend they are the woman being asked by a Mr Darcy to walk down the ballroom with him, the Victorian explorer, the pioneer fighting off wild beasts and Indians alike. But what a cruel irony: if I were in that ballroom nobody would come near me because of the colour of my skin and the angle of my eyes; the Victorians took over my country and transported my grandfathers there to work in the tin mines as indentured labourers; the people who looked like me died building railroads in America.
Kate Nepveu
39. katenepveu
No-one had been accusing Wrede of deliberate racism or of being a bad person. People had been pointing out that the scenario as described raised very troubling issues.

People can write things that don't fully realize their intent, or that interact with reality to poor effect, or whatever--from "Aileron is not a good character name for people who know airplanes" to "in the context of institutional racism, a white girl going off and saving a country of brown people is a What These People Need Is a Honky story." What readers have to go on is what's on the page, and authorial intent may be interesting in some cases but does not change what's on the page.

So: I have the greatest respect for Ms. Wrede, I remember her posts from rec.arts.sf.composition with admiration, I have no doubt that her intentions were good, and it is still entirely possible that I will read her book and decide that I can't tolerate the worldbuilding because it is too resonant with racism against American Indians.
Jo Walton
40. bluejo
Afrai: I think, as I said at 9, that the omission of the Native Americans is problematic, and I think one of the reasons it's problematic is exactly what you say here with this very interesting comparison which has helped crystallise some of my thinking about this.

We're used to leaving things out and ignoring things so we can have a fun story, as with Regencies.(Pat Wrede has also written Regencies with magic. I love them too, especially Sorcery and Cecelia.) Jane Austen mentioned slavery and where the money came from, other people since have for the most part just not. It isn't compatible with fun. If you want a story about dancing at Almacks, you don't want to think about where the hero's fifty thousand a year comes from.

Regencies have however often been reimagined from a feminist perspective, and The Thirteenth Child too is a feminist book -- as well as having an active female protagonist it's full of domestic magic, spells that keep off the flies and make washday go faster. It also isn't without people of color -- as I think I mentioned, there are some major characters who are Aphrikan. This isn't a "whitewashing" or an erasure of non-white people by any means.

But... as you can tell from the original post, I pretty much didn't notice the absence of the Native Americans, or rather, I did notice and was prepared to accept it as part of the set up. I'm not American, and I didn't know a lot of this "killing them off in third grade" stuff, but even so the fact that I wasn't bothered is evidence that it is a problem.

I'll re-read it in a few months keeping all the thoughtful things everyone has said about it in mind, and post about it again.
mongolian
41. Jolantru
Ignoring the presence of the Native Americans,ie white-washing them away, is not going to make the issue go away quietly.

I am all for envisioning new futures and pasts but I draw the line at "erasing" a race.
mongolian
42. FionaBarimen
@bluejo But...I want to read feminist novels that don't make people of color feel left out. I want not to have a "magical Negro" coming in and being the stereotypical secondary character of color who does nothing but support the white protagonists. Can't we have feminist novels that do that too?
mongolian
43. skywardprodigal
@ bluejo

If I may,

If the Aphrikans exist in the book, and in doing so serve as a kind of stand-in for people of color, that's also an aspect of erasure of people of color. Nonwhites are not a monolith. Pan-African resistance to white-colonization was often supported and facilitated by alliance with peoples of indigenous nations and vice versa. The Seminole war never formally ended but that's not well known for obvious, to some, reasons.

There is much in surviving Indian and African-American cultures that was born out of adapting to the hostilities and realities of European-based settler societies. How can groups of people of color and individual nonwhites be considered as symbologically interchangeable with one another and that not be an aspect of erasure?
mongolian
44. NanniGoat
I just find that premise really viscerally creepy.

I mean. I doubt Wrede //noticed// that it is creepy. Which, actually, makes it //even creepier// oh my god, I cannot even deal, it is so creepy. It is like those fantasy worlds that tick me off by having analogue Christians with no Jewish tradition in sight! And not even any evidence of there ever having been one, which would still be infuriating if there was one and it is gone but would at least be marginally less - well, it would be some kind of something! It is creepy!

And I mean, as much as the Christians But No Jews Ever thing infuriates and squicks me and has made me drop a lot of books, at least it's not the main //premise//.

If you want megafauna, why not write fantasy set in the Clovis period? Plenty of interesting new technology and mammoths to go around! Exploration! At least semi-nomadic lifestyles! The development of whole new cultural coping strategies! NOT playing into a seriously creepy and distressing racist/imperialist rhetorical strategy!
mongolian
45. NanniGoat
Or at least, not this particular racist/imperialist rhetorical strategy. There are still plenty of places to go off the rails, but.
Alberto Yáñez
46. Alo.
Lois @ 28:

Which begs a larger question: what is the function of fiction? Social engineering? Propaganda, sermon? Or something else? Windows? Mirrors?

Yes.

Art is all those things, and several more. We're a storytelling species, and fiction has the power to change us. You know that. When that power is wielded in a way that results in harm, there's a problem.

Please don't reframe my position incorrectly: I didn't set out to define the "moral writer." Rather, I pointed out--vociferously--that Wrede's choice to erase Native Americans from a narrative of the settling of the Americas is immoral, especially coming from an American writer.

But if you insist on a definition, let's start at "a moral writer is one who does not participate in the further and ongoing erasure of entire peoples from the historical and cultural narrative" and build from there.

Now, can you please address the points I'm actually making, instead of the ancillary ones that are more comfortable for you to address?

Also, Lois @ 31:

Well then, can you please address those interesting points skywardprodigal was making before you decided s/he was getting all huffy about it?
mongolian
47. yeloson
Something that always strikes me in these conversations is that writing a novel is a massive undertaking of effort - and at the end of it, the question is, "What do I want to say?" to make it worth the time and energy.

The places where authors choose and choose not to answer that question, says a lot.

It doesn't require more than a passing familiarity with speculative fiction to see that a lot of worlds and stories are built on the absence of people of color. Or to see examples where we are theoretically present, and then removed (Whedon's Firefly, or the casting issues with the upcoming Avatar movie, for example).

The premise, "Imagine an America without any native inhabitants" is not especially far reaching or new given the fact that it's a common illusion held by many Americans already.

The fact that it made it through the long period of writing, that editor(s) saw it and approved, and now, that people are still surprised to have this conversation, now? Says a lot about how common that illusion is.
mongolian
48. Sparkymonster
@ fa_ikaika #35

Are you aware of Oyate? (http://www.oyate.org/)

"Oyate is a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know our stories belong to us. For Indian children, it is as important as it has ever been for them to know who they are and what they come from. For all children, it is time to know and acknowledge the truths of history. Only then will they come to have the understanding and respect for each other that now, more than ever, will be necessary for life to continue. "

They have a ton of resources online including review of positive (and of course some negative) depictions of Native people, cultures and history. They also have a special section on the myths of US Thanksgiving. I found the site recently, and adore it.

@blu jo #40

I have read many of Wrede's books including her regency + magic books. I really enjoyed them quite a lot. I'm coming at the issues in her book with the POV of "this is an author who I expect to enjoy." Getting a slap in the face of having Native peoples erased is awful. It's even worse if the Aphrikans/Africans are being used as substitute Native Americans. People of Color are not interchangeable. I mean, lets start with how there is no "African" culture; there are large number of diverse cultures existing in the African continent.
mongolian
49. glass_icarus
@ Alo, Skyward, & Sparky:

Thanks for saying what I wanted to say, and saying it better.
mongolian
50. fa_ikaika
@sparkymonster #48

Thanks very much for that. I'll pass this on. And I'll be checking it out myself.

Another interesting erasure (in the context of US colonialism) is the way that Hawaiian history is taught in public schools IN HAWAI`I, not to mention the ghastly versions of history that get perpetrated by the tourist industry.

In this version, pre-1778 Hawai`i is "traditional Hawai`i", but after Cook's arrival, ordinary Hawaiians disappear, and the only brown people who are talked about are Hawaiian Royalty (from Kamehameha I to Lili`uokalani) and then, after the Illegal Overthrow in 1893, nobody unless you count Duke Kahanumoku the surfer.
mongolian
51. Lissa P.
If this were an alternate history that explored how the 19th century U.S. would be different without Native Americans, that would be one thing, but I'm getting the sense from the commenters who have read the book that it's really all about how 19th century U.S. would be different with mammoths and magic, and oh by the way, let's just handwave away Native Americans.

That's icky *and* shoddy writing.
mongolian
52. Kynn
The theory presently being argued in archeology is that the pre-Columbian settlers wiped out said megafauna, and that's the one Pat chose to follow up; so if one wants mammoths and short-faced bears and terror birds, the Bering land bridge human immigration needed not to have taken place, 13,000 years back.


This is a pretty suspect theory to begin with, and one which is rightly considered insulting to the native peoples of the Americas.
mongolian
53. skywardprodigal
@ glass_icarus

Well met!

It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. :)

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas and feelings about the basic premise of Wrede's book, and the historical antecedents of its problematic context. I'm grateful for the details. Thanks so much for leaving me a less ignorant than when I first encountered this post. It's so sad that even though paper isn't just for wiping and some books are long gone. Well, burned if not carried off to Europe. But I digress. If you're ever surfing by skywardprodigal.livejournal.com, I hope you comment if you encounter something that you like.
mongolian
54. glass_icarus
@ Lois: As I have said, I will wait to address specifics until I have read the book. However, as yeloson says, it's not difficult to see the mass erasure or sidestepping of racial and cultural issues in the SF/F genre as a whole. As a person of color, I don't have the luxury of ignoring this fact. As a reader in America outside of black and white racial history, I want to read a story in which my face exists, and in which voices like mine are both present and heard. The paucity of works which satisfy this wish of mine is both statistically illuminating and sadly unsurprising, but I had hoped that an author whose work I admired would have given these issues some thought.

I believe Mris mentioned (@10) that Wrede's suppositions included the non-migration of NDN people across the Bering strait. If so, I think a narrative of the resulting North Asian cultures would have been a much richer story to tell. Instead, it seems that Wrede chose to avoid that story altogether, which rather disappoints me.

@ Skyward: Well met indeed! I've definitely seen you around the Racefail discussions; thanks for being a voice of sense and clarity. :) As for the information, I think Carlos's alt-worldbuilding scenarios are much more interesting and detailed than the bits and pieces I've been talking about, but yay for collaborative efforts, I guess!
s g
55. skg
@54 glass_icarus: I definitely agree that it'd be fascinating to explore the cultures that might've resulted from non-migration, and I agree with those here who've pointed out the huge difficulties with erasing peoples merely to explore NorAm with Mammoths(tm). I've been reading this comment thread with all kinds of !! and disappointment. :(

It's a bit unfair nevertheless, IMO, to suggest, "You, writer, should have written a different story from the one you chose to write." (I'm not sure how else to construe "richer story," even while agreeing with you....)
Michael Ikeda
56. mikeda
Kynn@52

While as far as I can gather the debate over the cause (or causes) of the megafaunal extinctions is not settled, a suggestion that the native peoples of the Americas did something that lots of other groups of people have also done does not seem particularly insulting.

Animals (especially the larger ones) often go extinct when humans settle someplace for the first time. It's one of the things we often do.
mongolian
57. Sparkymonster
@ 46. Alo.
I am really loving what you're bringing to this discussion. Thank you for your comments.

@ 50. fa_ikaika

Ooh what you have to say about Hawaiian history is really interesting. I'm glad to get your input on this issue.

@ 54 glass_icarus

You're welcome, and thank you for your thoughtful comments as well.

@ 55 skg

I don't think anyone is saying "Wrede should not have written this story" but rather "The story she chose to wrote includes a lot of problematic elements including erasing the existence of Native peoples." Why is it unfair to critique her work?
mongolian
58. glass_icarus
@ skg (55): I take your point; I was merely stating that there were other ways the premise might have been used, not requesting a rewrite. :)
Paul Weimer
59. PrinceJvstin
This comment has been deleted by the poster.
mongolian
60. Kynn
@mikeda (56):

The context in which megafauna extinction is considered and discussed has always been pretty damned racist and supremacist against American Indians -- as well as the way that Europeans latch onto explanations for native peoples' origins that make them "just another recent arrival" as a way of negating their claims to North America and denying their own stories of how they came to be.

Whether or not you think it SHOULD be insulting, it definitely IS insulting. (I'm not an American Indian, but I can see the insulting components of this type of worldbuilding.)
mongolian
61. Kynn
@Jvstin (59):

Nice try at derailing. Here's hoping it doesn't take.
mongolian
62. Judd_K
Fantasy is made up of symbols, things from our world that people can cling to, making the alien even moreso and these symbols matter. Fantasy matters. Commenting on our own world matters.

Even if that comment is to say, "Isn't imaging a world where punching people solves crime," or "imagine a world where Native Americans weren't here to make my story all complicated and difficult."

To really dig in to this text and find out what is going on under its skin, someone will have to read it but the concept is repugnant. I have better things to do with my time.
mongolian
63. Avalon's Willow
@ Kynn/ 61

I know right? I read Jvstin and immediately http://www.derailingfordummies.com/ popped into my head.

It's actually kind of fascinating how some people will take the issue at hand and twist it, right?

Meanwhile I'm still over here wondering at an America without aspirin - though I guess they have magic for that. And wondering if there are buffalo in that universe. Cause if there aren't any Indigenous Peoples to try and kill off by wholesale murdering the herd they got sustenance from, then the species should survive.

I mean, if we're going to mention killing megafauna. Then LET US THE HELL discuss it ALL, right?

Then again the Buffalo wouldn't evolve into Buffalo. Just like corn wouldn't evolve without indigenous nations cultivating it as part of their civilization.

Makes things a little like a world without shrimp. This America, my bad, Columbia is filled with wheat people who miraculously raised a transplanted crop in 'The New World'. That's some serious homestead magic they're packing.

Someone upthread mentioned the people free sugar cane paradise of an empty tropical America and I admit to laughing a little at the thought of transplanted European types, trying to cut cane in the hot sun. Are these fantasy Europeans more hardy than their real life analogs? Do they not need native and African slave labour to survive? Or maybe that person upthread thinks sugarcane grows like Monsanto genetically modified corn?

The Thirteenth Child, where Ingenious, Chinese and African contributions to the forming of the Americas are replaced by a couple of spells.

That's a touch of new twist on an old message.
s g
64. skg
@57 Kynn: Of course it's fair to critique Wrede's work, or any writer's. I see a distinction between "This work does x, and I find x problematic for these reasons" and "This work could've done x, y, and z, but doesn't. Why not?"

@58 glass_icarus: Noted! Thanks for clarifying. :)
Paul Weimer
65. PrinceJvstin
@Kynn I was not attempting to derail anything.

Still, I will shut up now.
mongolian
66. seth e.
Delurking to say that, unlike some of the commenters here, I have read the book, and I don't think the interpretation of those who are squicked by the premise is very far off. The worldbuilding backstory mentioned by Mris and Lois Bujold isn't apparent in the text--at least, I missed it--and the settlers do indeed have the same general appurtenances of settler life as in Little House on the Prairie, such as railroads, with no explanation of how they got there in the absence of similar cultural conditions.

There are two Aphrikan characters, one a teacher and the other a scout, both magicians (which isn't unusual in this world). They both fulfill helper roles for the underage white protagonist, and again, it's never really explained what they're doing there, isolated from other Aphrikans, if the Aphrikan explorers went to Central or South America (which I know from this thread, not from the book).

I don't have the book here, so I can't check it, but I have a vague memory that the schoolteacher Aphrikan came to Columbia, or her father did, as a slave. Whatever the exact reference, it's a one-sentence mention that's never elaborated upon, and I may have misremembered it. Certainly these characters are never described as anything more specific that "Aphrikan."

But then, neither are the Avropans, who has far as I recall, are just Avropans. In general, the worldbuilding felt fairly shallow to me; much went unexplained, in a way that made it feel unresolved rather than unspoken. I really did not get a simple world-engineering "how can megafauna exist?" hypothesis out of the lack of Indians, and hearing about it now, I'm not sure why you couldn't create an alternate history in which Indians didn't kill off the megafauna because, you know, they just happened not to. If that theory's even the correct, of course. That way you could have Indians and mammoths! Why not? It doesn't make sense to me, as the reader, unless the active impulse isn't just to have mammoths, but to get rid of the embarrassing, guilt-inducing natives.

I couldn't get past it as a reader. Even the worldbuilding that isn't apparent in the book's first-person narration, that I've heard in this thread, seem like quick fixes so that Wrede could play in a good-parts version of the frontier-romance setting, rather than a full consideration of what she was doing by erasing the people who, so to speak, set up the continent for Europeans.
mongolian
67. Deanna_P
A book taking place w/in American history only without some of the very people who made that history.

Sounds like a basic white washed textbook to me. (Pun very much intended.)

I'll pass.
s g
68. skg
...whereas, for my part, I've become convinced that I want to read this book, to see for myself how Wrede builds or does not build, here. (It'll be a library copy, since I buy books to keep only if (and after) I've really enjoyed them.)
Michael Ikeda
69. mikeda
Kynn@60

Given the following two things happening at roughly the same time:

A) A group of people migrating into a region that had not previously had human inhabitants.

B) Extinctions of a number of species of mostly large animals.

The OBVIOUS explanation based on most of human history is that A was an important factor in causing B. It may not always turn out to be the correct explanation but it had better be one of the explanations that is considered.

This isn't being insulting to the native peoples of the Americas, it's simply understanding that they ARE people.
mongolian
70. Loligo
@29 Kialio:

I love this comment. Because, *yes*, if someone wants to write a story about settlers encountering megafauna and magic in a continent very much like North America... why not make the stars of the story the actual people who, y'know, settled the continent? And encountered the megafauna? You could even delay their arrival until the 19th century, if you want to have that level of technology in the mix.

Ethical problem solved.
mongolian
71. ithiliana
#69 Mikeda

"Given the following two things happening at roughly the same time:

A) A group of people migrating into a region that had not previously had human inhabitants.

B) Extinctions of a number of species of mostly large animals."

Correlation is not cause and effect.

A little research on the internet shows that there are good arguments for climate change as a major if not the sole factor for death of "megafauna":

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/10/011025072315.htm

After all, the buffalo on this continent although hunted by a number of tribal cultures did not nearly go extinct until whites with guns started a program to wipe them out as part of the attempted genocide of Native Americans.

The insult is the apparent fact that the "indigenous peoples killed off the megafauna" is the accepted 'truth' in this discussion so far, ignoring other possible causes. As Kynn pointed out, that's part of a racist history and ideology.
mongolian
72. Jordan179
There IS no "ethical problem." You guys don't seem to grasp the implications of the term "alternate history." Alternate history MEANS that things happened differently -- and if the POD logically erases some peoples from history (for whatever reason), tough.

Heck, POD's logically erase EVERYONE from history born past the POD, unless you have some sort of weird resonance effect as L. Neil Smith did in some of his stories. Does that mean that the writers of AH are endorsing global genocide?

As for

"... if someone wants to write a story about settlers encountering megafauna and magic in a continent very much like North America... why not make the stars of the story the actual people who, y'know, settled the continent? And encountered the megafauna? You could even delay their arrival until the 19th century, if you want to have that level of technology in the mix."

that makes zero sense. Paleoindians with 19th century technology obviously wouldn't BE Paleoindians; they'd have a totally different culture owing to all the stages they would have to pass through to DEVELOP such technology.

You are all VERY silly people.
mongolian
73. glass_icarus
@ Mikeda (69): See, my problem with that theory is this- presumably, the NDN people who originally crossed the Bering Strait were nomadic hunter-gatherers, not farmers. (Given the (very general) time frame of the migration and the latitude of the land bridge, I think that's a reasonable theory.)

A nomadic hunter-gatherer society must, of necessity, have a subsistence mentality: one hunts and gathers enough to live on, and in the autumn, enough to put by during winter. One does NOT- one cannot afford to- hunt game to the brink of extinction, because one knows that if you kill them all this year, there won't be any/enough to get by next year. In addition, one is limited by the amount the group is able to carry with them from place to place.

So, no. The NDN people wouldn't have disturbed the natural balance to such an extent. It would have been the Europeans, who arrived with the "civilized" concept of "more is better"- more land, more game, more treasure, and so on and so forth- who eventually, in their carelessness and their ignorance of the consequences of their actions, would cause such mass extinctions, NOT the NDNs who had learned to live off the land and who respected their environment. (Exhibit A: passenger pigeons.)
mongolian
74. glass_icarus
@ Jordan179: I can only assume that you haven't read the well-reasoned arguments above. If you actually have, please look up the definition of the word derailing. Thanks.
mongolian
75. Quivoly
@ 72 Aaaand we have derail #2. :rolleyes:

@ 71: Correlation is not cause and effect.

You'd think that published authors already skilled at doing research for their other work would have this down, but well. I suppose she was too relieved at finding a way to erase all the unhappy NDN history to look too closely at her failtastic theory.
mongolian
76. Stella Omega
The theory presently being argued in archeology is that the pre-Columbian settlers wiped out said megafauna, and that's the one Pat chose to follow up

Unless this is apparent to the readers, within the context of the book-- so what? And why be scrupulous on that one theoretical point yet indulge in hand-waving about everything else?

Here's hoping Ms. Wrede can understand the message in the comments here without too much defensiveness, and do better next time.

Because we really need well written YA books. Not only white youngsters need them, but black, Hispanic, and yes, even Native Americans.
mongolian
77. Loligo
@72 Jordan179

For your sake, I'll try to use small words, although it doesn't come naturally to me.

When people are hurt by an action, then there are ethical problems with that action. Contemporary Native Americans are largely written out of the American narrative. Like someone said upthread, kids get a happy story about the First Thanksgiving, then a few years later they get a sad story about settlers killing Natives and the survivors getting shoved onto reservations... and then nothing. In the popular imagination, it's as if Native Americans aren't even here anymore -- when in reality they *are*, and they're still suffering from the injustices of the European conquest.

Ask some Native Americans how much that hurts.

Wrede's book unfortunately contributes to that real-life, ongoing erasure. Ethical problem.

In case the magic and dragons didn't tip you off, this book is as much fantasy as alternate history. Other commenters have already pointed out instances of world-building hand-waving in the book -- I don't think anyone would begrudge a few more handwaves to have those pioneer kids be the descendents of Siberian natives rather than Europeans. It would avoid hurting people who are already hurt daily by the stories we tell, and don't tell, about their lives, and I don't think we European-Americans would mind a bit not being the stars of the story. For once.
mongolian
78. Kialio
Loligo @ 70:

Yes, that is what I was getting at, an alternate history full of magic that could even explain how and why these animals disappeared. (In fantasy magical means are never out of someone's grasp.) Would the colonizers help these animals or be indifferent? What types of magic could be put into play and what bonds could be explored between people and beasts?

Would panthera leo atrox be friend or foe to these people? And what basis might this story have on our real present. Could the bonds between these extinct beasts and people back then be the cause for the reverence paid to animals today? It could be an exciting story and I hope that one day it is told.
mongolian
79. seth e.
My previous comment was riddled with typos, gah, and should also have made more clear that I agree with ithiliana (and other comments since): the only reason I see in the text to adopt the simplest possible save-the-megafauna narrative solution is because it gets rid of the Indians. I'm sure Wrede did this because she just wanted to focus on the parts of the setting she liked, and not out of any kind of malevolent intent; but aside from the (real) ethical questions it raises, it just felt simplistic as a setting, and as a narrative.
mongolian
80. Darkrose
@72 Jordan179

I'm well aware of the nature of alternate history. I also understand that the point of departure, and what elements an author changes are choices. Calling something "alternate history" is not a magical pass that allows an author to escape criticism for her choices.
mongolian
81. Foxessa
Actually, the most recent archeological evidence points directly to many entry points into the western hemisphere from Asia and the Pacific, along the Pacific coasts of North and South America. The Bering Strait land bridge is becoming considered of lesser importance.

As well the populations of North and South America had complex and ancient trade relationships with each other, via which came maize, for one example.

So how in this postulated world is there no settlement in North America if there is in South America? And if they are from Aphrika, or however it is spelled, presumably they could navigate so well, why would they have stopped below where -- Mexico? And why no relationships of conflict or otherwise in the Avrope with Aphrika?

And um, whenever in the history of the world -- even now boys and girls -- has sugar cane been raised commercially without slave labor -- yes boys and girls even here right now in North America and the Caribbean?

Tobacco at commercial levels is also done with slave labor -- that is where the farkin' profits came in, so that Virginia could produce a Thomas Jefferson who lived off slaves all his farkin' life, and who had to pay for him when he died by being sold, just as they were sold all along when he needed another new piano and a case of French wine.

This is really bad alternate history.
Kate Nepveu
82. katenepveu
seth e., thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Jordan179, rest assured that I will give your comment precisely as much weight as it deserved.
mongolian
83. Carlanime
For "sheer enjoyment of reading," I tend to prefer fantasies that don't leave me with the impression that erasing broad swaths of humanity would have made history more fun and less problematic for Europeans. However well written it is, that's just not an assumption I can look past, and I can't picture any informed reader being comfortable with a revival of the "vast empty land" version of history; there's not much "fun" to be had in that fantasy.
mongolian
84. crooked
i'm obviously late to the discussion here, but as a Native American who has all her life been called a misnomer because of Columbus' mistaken navigation; watched sports teams and schools parade her people around as nothing more than a novelty act; been taught very little about her peoples' history (and a lot of what was taught was erroneous), despite us having been here before the Europeans who entire classes are devoted to; witnessed very derogatory and exaggerated caricatures used as depictions of Native Americans in cartoons/television/movies/etc; and had to wait until i was in college to even hear the very first hint of the term 'American Genocide' being used in relation to what European settlement meant for Native Americans?

yeah, there's no way the exclusion of Native Americans in this story is going to sit well with me. in fact, i'm not sure what bothers me more: the exclusion of Native Americans, or the fact that their presence has been substituted with animals. it conjures up that whole 'savages' label, and that's every bit as offensive -- if not more.

no, i have not read the book in question, and i honestly have no intention to at this point. does that invalidate my participation in this discussion? perhaps, to some of you. but maybe you'll find it in yourselves to forgive me for not being able to overlook an injustice such as this simply because someone slapped the term 'alternate history' on it. Native Americans don't have that luxury. our history -- and the centuries of pain and suffering that went, and still to this day comes, with it -- is very real.
mongolian
85. skywardprodigal
@ bluejo/40

Who is 'we' here? It almost looks like you're saying that in your fantasies we don't exist.
mongolian
86. skywardprodigal
@ Carlos Skullsplitter 6, 15, 19, 22

O.O

Awesome. I'm just in awe. You spit knowledge like bullets.
mongolian
87. crooked
@skywardprodigal|85.

that is a beautiful, beautiful page. also, i've really enjoyed your contributions to this discussion. figured i'd toss that in while i was commenting! :)
mongolian
88. jmtorres
@LMB 28: I am not sure the question is what is prescriptive function, but instead, what are the observable effects of fiction? For some reason, that line (from one of my favorite books...) about "When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action" seems particularly apt. When you choose what to write, you choose the consequences your writing will have, and once you've been made aware of what those potential consequences are, it's disingenuous to disclaim any responsibility.
mongolian
89. Kialio
@ skywardprodigal 32:

Forgive me for commenting out of order, but yes that's just the sort of speculative fiction I'm looking/hoping to read in the near future. Something that goes beyond the current rut most fiction has run into of being the same sort of story about the same sort of people.

I *just* picked up a different sort of fantasy story today about folk who usually don't have their side of the tale told. I hope to recommend it soon.
Jo Walton
90. bluejo
Skyward Prodigal: "We" there meant "me and Afrai", to whom I was responding, and who had just talked about doing the same thing.

Jordan: Please keep it civil.
Michael Ikeda
91. mikeda
ithiliana@71

Correlation isn't cause and effect but it can be a pointer to possible causes that need to be investigated.

And I'm not (and I don't recall anyone who is doing so on this thread) arguing that "indigenous peoples killed off the megafauna" is "accepted truth". It IS one obvious possible factor and one of the major competing hypotheses.

glass_icarus@73

You don't necessarily need a very high kill rate to nudge some types of animals into extinction. Especially if the system is under stress for other reasons. (I suspect the actual answer to the question "Did climatic change or human influences cause the megafaunal extinctions?" is "Yes".)

And while hunter-gatherers certainly have a strong motivation not to hunt ALL the game into extinction, that doesn't mean they're going to be particularly concerned with preserving specific species.

(Besides that, successful wildlife management is HARD. It can be very easy to be unable to differentiate a downward trend from random noise until it's too late.)

(And if we're talking about the original migration, you have a situation where for generations there's always empty land with more game "over the horizon". Different situation from a hunter-gatherer society that's been in a territory for a long time.)
mongolian
92. CarlosSkullsplitter
Reading through the recent comments on this thread makes me wonder what reactions would have been to a young adult novel about a young Santee Sioux girl dealing with an invasion of alien hive-dwelling intelligent insects into the headwaters of the Mississippi in an alternate nineteenth century with no Europeans.

(Except this is historically difficult too. The effects of European contact caused massive population movements in Native America. The Santee Sioux were where they were in the nineteenth century because the Ojibwa/Chippewa, armed with muskets traded from French fur trappers, pushed them from the Lake Superior area into the Great Plains. Also, horses. The Siouan heartland may have originally been in the Southeast.)
mongolian
93. Sparkymonster
@ 81. Foxessa
Your comment rocks my socks. Seriously. You do an excellent job of breaking down some of the many reasons why you can't hand wave away Native peoples and slavery, without huge changes. I so agree with you on tobacco and sugar cane. There is a great book called "Sweetness and Power" by Stanley Mintz which talks about how the desire for cheap sugar is part of what fueled the slave trade. If you knock out the triangle trade of slaves-rum-sugar, you would radically change the makeup of not just political situations, but what people *ate* every day.
mongolian
94. ithiliana
#91 Mikeda: "And I'm not (and I don't recall anyone who is doing so on this thread) arguing that "indigenous peoples killed off the megafauna" is "accepted truth". It IS one obvious possible factor and one of the major competing hypotheses."

But nobody on the thread before I posed mentioned any other other competing hypothesis, shorthanded as overchill or overill in the work I read. So that theory was the only one stated despite a few hints at other ones. So the unstated assumption is that this is the accepted theory; people didn't argue that, because to argue that they'd have to acknowledge the existence of the other theories. No evidence for the overkill theory is presented, and only a few of us are questioning that assumption.

Two Examples:

Lois @25: "The book actually began with a contemplation of the what-if question, "What would happen if the megafauna survived into historic times...?" The theory presently being argued in archeology is that the pre-Columbian settlers wiped out said megafauna, and that's the one Pat chose to follow up."

Unstated: other theories might exist, but no mention of them. "The theory presently being argued" implies a singularity even with "argument" since no other theory was mentioned.

In Comment 56 you did mention other theories existed--but denied the idea that the cause/blame being assigned indigenous peoples was an insult--but again, no mention of other causes/theories.

The one theory that assigns agency for the extinction singles out the indigenous inhabitants and (inside and outside academic argument) can be used as a way of excusing European actions ("that's just what human beings do). It can also be used as part of a discourse that assigns blame to a ethnic minority in ways that aren't attached to the dominant group.

And since most people aren't reading the scholarship or even googling for an overview of competing theories (I'm guessing,in this thread), the "blame Native Americans" stands as the accepted wisdom in this thread, or did.

And it's apparently the only cause implied as the reason for erasing Native Americans from an alternate history.

This book, these theories, do not exist in a vacuum--not with most academics, especially most scientists, most journalists, most published authors being white. Not with the documented histories of attempted genocide and destruction of cultures and languages and erasurse of Native Americans in the United States. I did some googling for reviews, and most white reviewers seem to lurve the book (most seemed to be female, since it is a YA novel, with a female protagonist, no surprise there).

A few decades ago, white feminists protested fictions by men in which all white women are wiped out (or enslaved). It makes sense for Native Americans who live in today's racist society as well as those of us who come from other cultures but have tried to learn to protest such erasures.
mongolian
95. skywardprodigal
@ Sparkymonster 93/Foxessa (rockstar handle, btw) 81

Oh, my goodness, you two just reminded me of lust for cheap sugar and the hideous predilection to play social capital games through marzipan!!! I had forgotten. LOL.

Otay, so, sugar monopolies, and the social capital that accompanied access to sugar (and the legal right to profit from it), shaped global economies? Can we agree on that? Okay, so if global economies then also society (aka overlapping societies, what have we). And even in the way sugar monopolies were structured and codified meant for the marginalizing of many members of those societies. As in, you (black, free or enslaved) may be integral to the production of sugar, but you (black, free or enslaved) will Never, by decree, profit from the production or sale of sugar. In other words, we make sugar by magic where magic=no humans were harmed or utilized in the creation of this product.

And to this day, some nations are still paying interest on colonial greed for sugar, tobacco, and cotton profits.

I was rereading the Code Noir and found myself wondering if tobacco, indigo, and cotton were subject to similar decrees. I do believe, even, that when colonial possessions traded hands (crowns really) the old laws regarding sugar still applied. So, as it was for the French, it became for the Spanish/English.

An America, here Columbia, without a class and caste(ish) hierarchy based upon European lust for money and sugar greed doesn't really fit. But then, maybe if one has magic one doesn't need to steal the lands of NDNs and the labor of Africans to prosper.

Maybe in Columbia magic functions a little like the Code Noir did in reference to sugar profits. Maybe the benefits go to whites where everyone who isn't white doesn't exist?
mongolian
96. skywardprodigal
@ Darkrose 33

Thanks for sparing me from insulting myself by reading a book that 1) writes in genocide (as an apparent aside) and 2) has less than accurate world-building.

We of the diaspora... We're in the Americas, the Indian subcontinent, and some scholars argue that we're also the Negritos. So. Um. By killing off all sub-Saharan Africans (gag) in sub-Saharan Africa there'd still be members of the diaspora on at least three different continents.

But, yeah, I totally see your point. Even if Wingrove was taking the easy way out (and I suspect he was even though black people so fit into East-vs.-West conflict, just ask Ferdinand and Isabella) maybe Wingrove didn't think he was up to doing a more nuanced try at that kind of story. Or that even that story was worth telling. Which, well, I've gotta wonder, again, if sci-fi isn't dooming itself to go out the way of the club tale (as a genre). Because right now? It's arguable that East (Asia) and West (European colonizer types) are making parts of Africa, if not all of it, into a chessboard.

But back to Chung-Kuo, I think I'm with you. While Wingrove killed off sub-Saharan Africans he did note their existence. That's worth a thanks, I guess.

Now, on account of your handle, I'm going to look up rose varieties. And maybe do some flower-arranging.
mongolian
97. CarlosSkullsplitter
Ithiliana @93, it's a theory, but for many species it's the dominant explanation by a large margin. Post-glacial climatic variation and environmental instability has been proposed for some North American extinctions, e.g. the mammoth species, but many Central and South American mass extinctions of megafauna overlapped with human occupation, in places with much less variation in climate or environment. An example would be the Antillean ground sloths.

It seems a little bizarre to me to call this "blame". No human society recorded a concept of species extinction until the 18th century. You wouldn't believe the intellectual hoops Europeans during the Enlightenment went through to deny that species extinction could happen, well after they had caused and documented a few.
mongolian
98. Moondancer Drake
As tired as I am of the constant whitewashing of history many have grown up with (myself included) I am extremely thankful not to have my time wasted reading monochromatic drivel like this. I love fantasy and paranormal stories, but I want to see the rainbow of cultures and faces that make such stories interesting for me. The people who care for this land before the whites came were not animals and seeing them portrayed as such is as hatefully insulting as a story filled with racial curses. The effects of non white ingenuity and culture in the Americas was a all encompassing result that for far too long the facts of have been hidden from the history taught to our children. This story is no less an insult to all of these people erased from the historical references then the crap they taught while I was in school.
mongolian
99. Anne KG Murphy
@Avalon's Willow I find your comments about White Authors at Tor to be rather strongly contradicted by bluejo's behavior here (hint: she's a white author @ Tor, and she's validating people's concerns about aspects of the basis of this book.)

To all the others who are saying they now refuse to read the book, well, on the one hand it makes sense not to do something you have reason to think may be painful. On the other hand, some of you are reminding me of the sorts of things book burners say about books they have not read yet. The odds that you can get more easily morally outraged about a book you have not read than about a book you have read seem high to me. Facts often complicate moral outrage. I'm not dismissing the comments people have said about what bothers them, but I'm concerned about people laying accusations of great moral irresponsibility on this author. It's a YA book. By its very nature it's simplistic. It sounds like it has some issues, and I hope Pat can find the non-defensive space from which to think about them, and I think some folks here have engaged with them very critically, which has been good and interesting to read. Based on your comments perhaps Pat will do better next time. I certainly hope she tries.

@seth e. thank you especially for your very thoughful commentary about the book itself.

I'm not sure why you couldn't create an alternate history in which Indians didn't kill off the megafauna because, you know, they just happened not to.

I quite agree, and that sounds like a very interesting book or story which I hope gets written.

That said, I *can* understand the allure of exploring the "what-if" of starting out with an empty magical continent and what a particular time/portion of pseudo-historical society would do with it.

In SF generally you have to take people to another planet (or back in time) to explore that question. But as people have said, this isn't SF, it's fantasy, so the author has taken an alternate history approach. Alternate Histories always 'erase' people (by changing the story so their parents never meet up), and they are usually hopelessly simplified and easy to tear apart if you insist on the details, because true history is complicated and interwoven. That doesn't make them not worth writing. Or reading.
mongolian
100. Whee!
Nobody is owed the benefit of the doubt, especially when it comes to whitewashing imaginationlands, something that is all too common in fantasy and scientifictionville.

It is not 'bookburning-like' to not waste one's time reading something that is clearly not even written for one to consume and enjoy.

I for one am quite done with white writers demanding and/or expecting that their faltering, blindly-white universes be consumed in full (read/purchased/requested at libraries) in order to critique them.

It is a stealthy, sneaky exercise of privilege-- 'you have to buy x white writer's material to be given permission to assess its worth'.

No, you aren't getting the money. People every single day read blurbs, summaries, snippets of books and decide 'this one is not worth my time to purchase or read'.

Why is this completely standard thing always called 'bookburning' or some other inflammatory thing when it is people refusing to read yet another whitewashed fantasy?

I suspect that if this were some writer of color's book and it featured an Earth without white people, and white readers stated that they were too uncomfortable with that to read the book, that the list of comments would be much, much shorter. And their refusal to grant such a writer the benefit of the doubt by purchasing would be held to be completely acceptable. There would be no 'you can't not read it! not allowed! you haz to buy before you are permitted to say word one about this thing!'

It would mysteriously be a-ok to exercise free choice in deciding not to visit a world that was bereft of people like them.

My time is worth as much as any writer's or any other person's. I will not waste it reading about worlds that I don't feel affinity with. If some of the posters here do not feel affinity with this text, their time is worth as much as Ms. Wrede's and they are NOT obligated to reward her for spitting on them, however accidentally or incidentally.
mongolian
101. Jonquil
The problem is that not all alternate historic hyotheses are equal. "Let's imagine a world without Jews" is a very different thesis than "Let's imagine a world without Englishmen" because nobody ever tried to create a world without Englishmen. (No. Hitler didn't. He wanted to conquer, not eradicate.) There's an emotional content to the first thesis that cannot be dissected out.

"Let's imagine a world without Native Americans" is exactly like that -- it is inherently a problematic thesis, because people did, in fact, in many places and at many times, try to create that world. "Nits make lice". And then to explain that the thesis was motivated by a desire to have megafauna -- that itself is an example of poor worldbuilding. There are several competing theories about the death of the megafauna; it is simply not true that the scientific consensus blames Native Americans. There is no scientific consensus.

It is completely fair to critique the choice to eradicate Native Americans from America, just as it is completely fair to critique the world-building choices of Gor. Whether you find "imagine no Native American people!" as horrifying as "imagine that women love to be slaves!" is up to you.
mongolian
102. brightfame
@ Anne KG Murphy 99

Alternate Histories always 'erase' people (by changing the story so their parents never meet up), and they are usually hopelessly simplified and easy to tear apart if you insist on the details, because true history is complicated and interwoven. That doesn't make them not worth writing. Or reading.

I ask you to consider the difference between erasing one individual and erasing an entire people who were, in fact, almost erased in truth by the cultural/genetic ancestors of the writer.

It is the juxtaposition of the fantasy 'what if' with the reality that frightens me. Perhaps if the writer had erased a group that had not faced attempts at genetic and cultural genocide in real life, my feelings about the book would be more positive.
mongolian
103. brightfame
@ Jonquil 101

You said it better, and faster!
mongolian
104. glass_icarus
@ Jonquil, brightfame, & Whee! (handle of AWESOME, btw ;D): Well said!

Also, vis-a-vis the writer/reader dynamics being discussed: no, any given writer is NOT obliged to cater to the reader's opinions/prejudices/worldviews on any given point. However, the potential reader is also not obligated to consider the author's intentions, and is perfectly within their rights to judge by the content of the text and/or the blurb. The author can make all the statements they like about what they INTENDED to say, but in the end, reading is an interaction, not a one-way street. What a reader takes away from a text is generally up to the reader.
mongolian
105. Woodrow "asim" Jarvis Hill
Anne KG Murphy@99: As someone who lives in an area where "book burning" is not an unknown part of the background history, even recently, allow me to disabuse you of that notion with regards to these issues.
I've not yet read the comment where anyone has called for a boycott. Nor have I read the comment that expresses the explicit opinion that this book should not be read.

I have read many comments that deride aspects. People who have seen this kind of historical interaction in fiction works -- and in "histories". Aside from any of my ethnic connections, I can tell you in horrific details about, to take one example, how the Victorian-era racism and sexism directed at the Ottoman Empire, told and spread largely through "history" and "stories" that sold well due to their salaciousness, led to a narrative that affects my favorite dance from to this day, to the point where no one seems to have any interest in it's true history. This is one way in which story not only accepts, but destroys, truth, when there are no voices calling out in opposition.

So, too, with this. Minority voices have always been decanted from Western, esp. American history, Despite the realities of Western life, how many people know about, say, the Buffalo Soldiers? How many YA books on the OLD West cover those critical aspects? How many youth-oriented shows touch on it? Yes, many modern portrayals of the West have a better ratio -- but they also tend to be made For Adults, these days, missing the very audience that needs this information.
We grow up with visions of exactly the kind of white-washing so many here rightly declaim. If this is, indeed, a YA book, then where is the complexity, the richness, that we are always saying we want our children to have in their literature? How can we not look at it, and not declaim that loss of another chance to help children understand that much more of the reality of our past, even through the filter of alternative history?
If we don't start talking about it, in authentic voices, and with authentic anger, we risk continuing to treat these critical aspects of history like we treat Santa Claus -- where we don't let our children know about the truth until they are "old enough". That's a far cry from what you assert, because book burners, ma'am, which nothing more than to cut out and defame the Truth.

This is about asking for MORE, not less. Please note the difference.
Anne Gray
106. Netmouse
@bluejo I winced pretty hard when I saw your line,

I suppose Miss Ochiba is literally a Magical Negro, as she's a black person who teaches magic, but I don't think she's metaphorically one.

After thinking about it for a while I think I know why it bothered me so. You're not from the US, so you may not realize how laden the term Negro is here. It's present in that phrase partly because it carries with it an indication that the character being labeled is not merely black but is specifically subservient to the white characters in the story and is not viewed as or depicted as a whole person with their own character development by the author. In other words, they are not being treated as a whole person, but as a Negro.

I hope Miss Ochiba is not literally a Magical Negro because I hope in this alternate history black people are treated as a different shade of human instead as a separate race in the way that the term Negro referred to in our history. I wonder, thinking about this, if you have read Chip Delany's essay on Racism in Science Fiction - and I refer here in particular to this line:

you’ll forgive me if I stick to the nomenclature of my young manhood, that my friends and contemporaries, appropriating it from Dr. Du Bois, fought to set in place, breaking into libraries through the summer of ’68 and taking down the signs saying Negro Literature and replacing them with signs saying “black literature”—the small “b” on “black” is a very significant letter, an attempt to ironize and de-transcendentalize the whole concept of race, to render it provisional and contingent, a significance that many young people today, white and black, who lackadaisically capitalize it, have lost track of
mongolian
107. Avalon's Willow
@99 / Anne KG Murphy

And?

When faced with people pointing out a problem, the ability to rub forehead after the fact, blink a few times and go 'Oh yeah, that's kind of a errh urk...something' requires me to NOT throw that bruised apple out with the rest that are rotten to the core?

Because why?

Heads up. I am not following the white mare.

______

A Bluejo QUOTE:

...as you can tell from the original post, I pretty much didn't notice the absence of the Native Americans, or rather, I did notice and was prepared to accept it as part of the set up.


______

I'm supposed to give a damn about yet another white learning moment? Hell this book's premise is one big white ('well meaning') learning moment of:

"WHAT IF WE(WHITES) DIDN'T HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE GUILT OF CAUSING INTERGENERATIONAL TRAUMA ON MULTIPLE PEOPLES!"

White learning moments? Not actually all that special.
mongolian
108. seth e.
Anne KG Murphy@99: this isn't SF, it's fantasy, so the author has taken an alternate history approach.

Ironically, I think of alternate history as more closely related to hard SF than fantasy. If someone is going to posit a real, specific variation from our cultural history, I want the implications of that variation to be very thoroughly worked out. I didn't think Thirteenth Child delivered on that. In fact I've generally thought that Wrede's books don't come from that SF lets-reimagine-the-world impulse, but instead from lets-cleverly-reimagine-existing-genre-tropes, which is why Lois Bujold's first comment in this thread surprised me. Wrede's Lyra books, for instance, work because any probable reader of the Lyra books has already read a lot of comparable fantasy adventures, and can make the connections on their own. All you have to do is say "ancient harp" and the tropes just line up in a row like ducklings. Her Dragons books work because they calmly subvert some of those same expectations.

In this instance, I feel like some of the existing tropes of frontier fantasy are so objectionable that Wrede just chose to write them out. But since frontier history consists of writing out the Indian experience, this is very far from a non-problematic solution.

I also disagree that YA books are necessarily "simplistic." I like YA books--to some degree, I prefer them nowadays to adult SF/F--because I like their simplicity and clarity, minus the dull padding of a lot of adult-oriented genre novels. But simplicity isn't the same thing as oversimplification, which Wrede commits in this book. For one thing, the world history is simply unclear from the existing text; for another, large groups of people being referred to by nothing more specific than their continent of origin just isn't convincing as cultural context. I wouldn't really call it "worldbuilding" at all, but rather the management of genre tropes, which Wrede has done very cleverly in the past, but in this case is done in a shallow and unconvincing way.
mongolian
109. Avalon's Willow
@105 / Woodrow "asim" Jarvis Hill

Orientalism as you describe it, brings to mind to me much in common with the history of the expansion of the West in America, best summed up to me by this quote.

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Time and time again I hear white authors and white defenders talking about how something is only a story, and thus is unimportant. They neatly sidestep, or conveniently forget (or it was forgotten for them) that Jim Crow started off as a performance. It was fiction. And yet, it became fact and shaped racial attitudes in America for decades. As did Birth of A Nation.

Propoganda doesn't always have a handy FOX NEWS or BAD GUYS R' US printed in small letters on the back of cheap paper pamphlets, rolled off some mimeograph in some back room and littered about in public.

Propoganda is the sultry and mysterious 'Orient', the Opium Dens and the Harems, the subservient Flower Maidens, the heathen violent Zulus, the bare breasts, promiscuous, monkey women of Africa, every doe eyed squaw and semi noble brave despite varied tribes and languages; Mickey Rooney in yellowface, AVATAR: The Last Airbender (the live action) in these present times ALSO being done in Yellowface.

Time and time again fiction has been part of the media blitz to persuade an audience to a certain point of view; a racist, erasing, appropriating (sometimes both) white supremacist (and usually male) point of view. And it worked so successfully that when it's pointed out now, people claim that those who see the truth, are over-reacting, too sensitive, and looking for racism/a problem.
mongolian
110. Lois Bujold
OK, I’ve gone away and thought about this for a few days. Let’s try again. (Also resolved: do not make blog posts after midnight, or after consuming a sleeping pill that isn’t working.)

I have no argument with the larger issues of cultural/racial erasures and historical crimes in the real world; these are real and harrowing (and universal, the more you know about everywhere. _Carthago delenda est_ and all that. But 20,000 wrongs don’t make a right, merely a trend.) Ditto on-going local oppressions; despite the fact that Native Americans are over two million strong, voting citizens, fellow exiles in the 21st century, and many are educated, articulate, and perfectly able to speak for themselves (most of the major tribes have websites now, a thought both hopeful and boggling) poverty and discrimination do still fall disproportionately upon many others. Back to this in a moment.

I still have a profound problem with any argument that leaps from hearsay to condemnation without any intervening stop at “evidence”. It doesn’t matter *what* the subject is, the *form* is wrong, even if the conclusion after examining the evidence bears out the initial belief. And it’s just as wrong in a court of public discourse as it would be in a court of law. Worse, someone making this leap throws every other assertion they may make into doubt -- were they all arrived at as casually and cheaply? Don’t do this, people, and don’t let others get away with it, either -- because someday, your own life or happiness may depend upon just such due process.

But I also believe that a person who holds admirable opinions, yet does nothing, is scarcely distinguishable from a person who holds execrable opinions, and does nothing. Virtual virtue doesn’t count. Talk is cheap (especially on the Internet.) As Stephen Leacock swears he heard two Scottish Calvinists arguing on a train, on whether damnation is achieved through good works or grace alone, I’m on the good works side, myself.

The past is beyond anyone’s reach, and history is fractal -- one sperm over, and we would all have been our siblings, and our own self-centered universes would never have sprung into being at all -- so what can an ordinary person do right-here-right-now about any given hurt in the world? The two standard answers are money and time -- well, and blood, but I don’t direct where that goes. And “start anywhere” is usually pretty good advice, when one is spoiled for choice.

So I asked my friend who knows about such things, and she supplied these, her favorites -- more could perhaps be added:

“Oglala Lakota College -- www.olc.edu (They always need contributions to help students pay their loans, without which they can't graduate.)
Lakota Funds (making mini loans for economic development and training people to run their own businesses) http://www.lakotafunds.org/
Soaring Eagle -- not Lakota, but Cheyenne is a neighboring tribe; this is a residential home for elderly Cheyenne started by their long-term priest, Father Emmett Hoffmann, to help elderly folks who needed care (and keep them from being sent off to Denver, away from family and anyone who spoke their language): www.soaringeagle.org/
Also, Running Strong for American Indian Youth -- not limited to Lakota, but does do neat things there -- organic gardens, etc.”

Didn’t take me long to choose, as I’m always for education -- which reminds me that I need to contribute to the engineering scholarship fund in my Dad’s name back at OSU -- but to make it extra easy --

https://www.thedatabank.com/dpg/6/donate.asp?formid=DonateOLC

It’s as much of a snap as Amazon.com, I found.

And you may at least congratulate yourselves for tipping me over from “I really ought to do that one of these days,” to “There! Done!”

Full disclosure: It was I who invited Pat over, a few years back, to watch a fascinating BBC documentary DVD titled “Walking with Prehistoric Beasts”, which started the cascade of interests that resulted in the book you aren’t reading. So, while the first rule for avoiding Internet insanity is still “do not feed the energy monster”, I really cannot tiptoe away from this. Even though it would be *infinitely* smarter to do so.

Ta, L. (Don’t say I never revise…)
mongolian
111. piranha
@88 jmtorres --

you win the internets with that quote. but i think some defensive white SFF authors are blind to being hoist by their own petard.

seth e: agree with you entirely. i also read the book (was looking forward to it, in fact, having been a fan of ms wrede's from a long time back in rec.arts. sf.composition), and was certainly not actively looking for racism. though maybe i was more primed than usual to find it, being as i chewed through much of racefail recently and ended up aghast at the behaviour of so many people i used to respect. *looks at certain TOR editors*.

sorry, jo -- i found wrede's book profoundly lacking -- not just native peoples, but also interesting world-building. allegedly this columbia is filled with amazing diversity, but i'm not seeing it! none of the diversity of actual america is present; no native peoples, no asians, no africans. there is no particular diversity in class, none in religion, nor in language. wrede seemed to not only be ignorant about the huge diversity in african cultures, but also about the diversity in european ones.

in short, you don't get to reduce a myriad of cultures to magical whitey-white mcdonald's american pap, and then have me admire your diversity and world-building. i was extremely disappointed.
Paul Weimer
112. PrinceJvstin

Didn’t take me long to choose, as I’m always for education -- which reminds me that I need to contribute to the engineering scholarship fund in my Dad’s name back at OSU -- but to make it extra easy --

https://www.thedatabank.com/dpg/6/donate.asp?formid=DonateOLC


Thank you for this link. After my own ill advised post on my blog, I felt and feel the need to contribute as well.
Jo Walton
113. bluejo
Netmouse@106 As I understand it Magical Negro is a critical term used for any non-white person in fiction who has mystical powers that sort things out for the white protagonist through the Elder Wisdom of their race. I was intending it as mild humour, because the character in question isn't that and doesn't have that function in the story, but she is a black woman who -- like almost all the characters in the book -- does magic. I'm sorry my use of the term bothered you. It really wasn't intended to be offensive.
Jo Walton
114. bluejo
There's a very interesting post about deleting Native Americans from the landscape and this book here.
mongolian
115. CarlosSkullsplitter
Hi Jo,

I read Thirteenth Child last night. The prose wasn't really my cup of tea, but I'm not the target audience. Three things struck me about the setting, two relative to the actuality of 19th century pioneer Minnesota -- Mill City is an old nickname for Minneapolis -- and one in general.

1) Ethnic differences are very much downplayed, even flattened. And this is a little odd for a depiction of immigrant settlement.

2) On the other hand, the three magic systems -- which happen to parallel the old tripartite racial classification system -- strongly stereotype cultural behavior. One's communal, one's individualistic, and one's based on self-sacrifice (almost magical suicide) for the group.

Um. I think many American readers could match which system goes with what region from that thumbnail alone.

3) Then there's the absence. This is not generally known outside the northern Midwest, but the settlement of Minnesota was horrifically violent. It's taught in the schools there, or it used to be. (In other states, other events from those years overshadow things.) In Thirteenth Child, the loss of settlements at the frontier near Mill City is turned into an easily resolved MacGuffin for Eff. Um?

So I think there are some things that are problematic. The simplifications reinforce group stereotypes and diminish group histories -- including white ethnic complexity, incidentally. On the other hand, I've read genre fiction with deliberate bad intentions, and this ain't it.
Andrew Mason
116. AnotherAndrew
I've been trying for a while to think just why this is disturbing, and I think it's something like this.

I don't think there is anything wrong with imagining a world in which the people who became Native Americans stayed in Asia. Clearly this could have happened; and it it had happened, America could later have been settled, for the first time, by Europeans and Africans. I don't think it is wrong, intrinsically, to write fiction about this possibility.

But such fiction would not be relevant, except perhaps by contrast, to the America which actually exists. What is worrying is the idea that this is - symbolic of? significant for? - the actual history of America, as suggested by the heading 'Pioneer Fantasy' and the reference to 'secondary worlds which "are" America' (for which, I should stress, I'm not blaming Jo: she's expressing what does indeed seem to be the intention of the book). It's the thought you can write something which is recognisably the history of America without Native Americans which is disturbing.
mongolian
117. James David Nicoll
I don't think there is anything wrong with imagining a world in which the people who became Native Americans stayed in Asia. Clearly this could have happened;

How? And more importantly, how without resorting to some mechanism that leaves human history unrecognizable?

and it it had happened, America could later have been settled, for the first time, by Europeans and Africans.

Good luck keeping the Polynesians out. The sweet potato got from the Americas to Polynesia some time between AD 700 and AD 1000.
mongolian
118. rivenwanderer
@114 bluejo - you left off the .html in your url:
http://rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com/310873.html
mongolian
119. sixquarters
@110 Ms. Bujold -- you realize that a lot of the people objecting to this book are in fact Native American/American Indian/First Nations, right? Do you think they need to be activists to legitimize their complaint?
mongolian
120. Avalon's Willow
@Carlos Skullsplitter (115)

While it's been depressing to watch McMaster Bujold white privilege all over herself and then some, it's been amazing to watch your replies.

Thank you for going through the uncomfortable process of reading the book.

However, intentional bad intentions aren't the only ways to cause hurt and damage in the world. The victims of all the drunk drivers in the world aren't victims of intents to kill and/or maim, but of selfishness and a lack of thinking.

A book's influence as part of media is as influential upon a life as several tons of steel.
mongolian
121. Lois Bujold
Sixquarters @ 119:

"@110 Ms. Bujold -- you realize that a lot of the people objecting to this book are in fact Native American/American Indian/First Nations, right? Do you think they need to be activists to legitimize their complaint?"

Yes, and no.

I do think that for me, words aren't enough -- they're too easy to fake. I live awash in words. I could, with a little study, spin out the right mix of contrition, and you would never know if I was sincere, or talking through my hat. Cheap, easy. If my consciousness has been raised along with my blood pressure by all this exchange, how could you tell?

An action is at least palpable. It has a cost. And a real-world effect that will go on existing quite apart from motivations that cannot be proved or disproved.


Carlos @ 115: Thank you (and everyone else who has bothered) for examining the evidence before forming a final opinion. Note that while the assessment is still negative, it is more nuanced -- and, in this case through a donation of time and attention, an opinion that has earned its right to be regarded.

Diligent due process is everyone's friend.

Ta, L.
mongolian
122. thingswithwings
@ 110 Lois Bujold

"despite the fact that Native Americans are over two million strong, voting citizens, fellow exiles in the 21st century, and many are educated, articulate, and perfectly able to speak for themselves (most of the major tribes have websites now, a thought both hopeful and boggling) poverty and discrimination do still fall disproportionately upon many others."

This seems to imply a degree of surprise that Native Americans could manage to speak english (what I assume you mean by 'articulate'), participate in higher education (after centuries of being forced to do so by institutions like Residential Schools) and . . . use the internet? The fact that you are "boggled" by the fact that a Native American tribe might have a website also gives the very troubling impression, again, that it is amazing that such a primitive people could use computers. Perhaps you aren't aware that words like "articulate" and "educated," when used as seeming-compliments in regards to people of colour, are in fact historically inflected as insults, for they imply that it is shocking and amazing that such people could speak, think, or learn at all. When you say "many," it sounds like you're saying "hey, some of these people who we all obviously thought were mute and stupid are in fact salvageable!"
mongolian
123. Quivoly
Ms Bujold @ 121:
I do think that for me, words aren't enough -- they're too easy to fake. I live awash in words. I could, with a little study, spin out the right mix of contrition, and you would never know if I was sincere, or talking through my hat. Cheap, easy. If my consciousness has been raised along with my blood pressure by all this exchange, how could you tell?


Ah, the next step. Translation: "I don't believe you when you say you are Native American. I need to see some ID."

Now, everyone, place that against the context of this discussion, and admire.
mongolian
124. Steven Rogers
Quivoly @123,

I think you can't answer her question, which is a damn good one. How do you tell true conviction from Fake It Till You Make It, especially on the internet?
mongolian
125. Quivoly
Steven Rogers @ 124: I think you can't answer her question, which is a damn good one.

Forgive me, I forgot to add that her question and all her posts in this thread, really, have just been a massive derail off the topic actually at hand. Which is how Wrede's abysmal fact-checking and general lack of historical clue could have gone so unnoticed. "Pioneer Fantasy" completely describes the work for me: it is just Little House on the Prairie all over again, with magical animals, "humorously described" Magical Negroes and disappearing the NDNs and pretty much anyone not black or white and telling us to think of it is them all having a "nicer day". Much like you'd tell a child to think of their dead dog as having a "nicer day" in a "better place".

How do you tell true conviction from Fake It Till You Make It, especially on the internet?

I will answer this question with other, similarly derailing and otherwise useless questions: How do we know that this "Lois Bujold" entity that keeps commenting here is really Lois Bujold? How do we know that every female person on the internet isn't some dirty old guy? How do we know anything on the internet is real??? How do I know you are actually Steve Rogers, and not Steve Brown? How do people manage to carry on meaningful conversations about (gasp) "race" without showing up with ID, credentials and their own detailed FBI report in hand?

Ms. Bujold, I suggest you go offline and ponder these questions. I understand that your great desire to educate all of the surprisingly articulate commenters of indeterminate race, gender and creed may prevent you from taking such a sane and sensible step, but still suggest that you try.
mongolian
126. seth e.
Steven Rogers @124, I'm not sure why this proof of authenticity even matters in the current discussion. First, surely the simple possibility/probability that some Internet readers will not be white is enough to determine how one speaks to them, particularly when one is reading one's audience a lecture on the virtue of real-world activism as charity. Second, I'm not Native American, I did "bother" to read the book in question, and I thought Ms. Bujold @110 was being reductive and dismissive. She says virtuously that we all ought to be better spending our time contributing to worthy causes, rather than contributing to this thread, I suppose. But without any idea whether her readers are doing so already, or engaging in direct action--let alone whether we are Native or white or black or Hispanic--this is just a deflection of attention from the book.

And, to get back to Bujold's other point, in my view people in this thread were mostly not issuing blanket condemnation of Thirteenth Child sight unseen, but questioning the premise, which people who had read the book then answered. I don't know that it's a goal of this conversation that she, or anyone else, is contrite or has their consciousness raised. People are doing exactly what she decries; they're talking about the book, and the issues it raises.

I've delurked rather more than I intended to.
mongolian
127. Steven Rogers
Derailing, eh? Hmm. Not my intent. Will it help if I say that I think the premise of the book in question is badly thought-out (no First Nations, no Amercian society as we know it, period) and creepy to boot?

But here's the thing: Does a creepy premise equal an unwritable story? Just suppose Wrede had written a story with the same plot and setting, but had taken the considerable trouble of presenting the vastly different Columbian society that would have arisen in the absence of said First Nations. Would there still be this level of debate? That would potentially have been an outstanding example of YA fiction: Highly entertainling and educational to boot.

"The Man in the High Castle" was and is one of the flat-out creepiest novels I have ever read, but nobody calls Philip K. Dick clueless or a closet Nazi. the difference is the skill of the presentation.
mongolian
128. Sixquarters
@121 Ms. Bujold -- I'm still not sure I understand what you're saying.

Is Quivoly's paraphrase correct -- are you suggesting that we should doubt their credentials as American Indians/First Nations people? If so, I am dismayed, if unsurprised. However, I can provide you with an easy solution: mail an ARC of Thirteenth Child to Oyate or similar and see the response you get. You can be absolutely certain that they are real people and "real Indians." You can probably be pretty sure that they'd be pissed off, too, considering their response to similar books.

Are you saying that, to some extent, even members of a group should be responsible for activism on their own behalf before their words should be taken into account? It would be wonderful if I were able to volunteer as much as I liked in feminist groups, donate to womanist causes, march with LGBT protests, and work at Jewish mitzvah corps. But I have limited time and wealth. I refuse to believe that my pain at seeing bisexual women treated as whores and sluts is delegitimized by the fact that I'm not a member of a bisexuals action group.

Are you saying that white anti-racists should probably put up or shut up? Sure. How do you know they aren't?

Or is it something else entirely?
les kaye
129. hapax
I understood LMB's comment @121 to be a rueful acknowledgment that *as a professional wordsmith*, it would be difficult for other people to judge her feelings and sincerity on an issue by words alone. That, *speaking for herself*, she felt that words were not sufficient, but actions were also required.

Admittedly, this may be a generous interpretation. But I find that internet conversations lacking the nuance of face-to-face interaction (especially on sensitive, potentially hurtful topics) it is always best to assumme the best faith interpretation, until proven otherwise.

Sometimes even after proven otherwise. Because if we don't believe that people can actually change their minds, what's the point of talking?
mongolian
130. Sixquarters
@129 hapax -- I would be happy to agree with this interpretation, but if the point of talking is to change people's minds, then the implication is that talking has a point -- talking is not doing nothing.
mongolian
131. Fiction_Theory
Lois @ 110:

I said a lot of the same things I'm about to say over at my own blog (http://fiction-theory.livejournal.com/116708.html?mode=reply) and I invite you to read and respond there if you like.

First, let me correct your understanding of biology. If a different sperm met the egg at the time of your conception, you would NOT under any circumstances be your sibling. You might be a different gender or have different characteristics, but your sibling was the product of both a different sperm AND a different egg which met and gestated at a different time under different conditions.

That's nitpicky, but that's about as much as I think I can reasonably say to you and have a dialogue. It's clear that you have no intention of allowing yourself to understand what it is that's wrong with this book.

Let me tell you the problem with this book, for me.

It erased my family. Genetically speaking, it erased a full fourth of my ancestors. My grandfather was Eastern Cherokee. I cannot, though I am considered white and called white and even identified white, exist in Wrede's universe.

I am an American who cannot be in this America.

But you know what, I'm a grown woman. I've come to terms that there will be books and histories and television programs which do not allow me to picture myself in them, because I am queer, because I am female, because I am not completely European.

And I've learned to cope with that. To understand that it's them, not me. To go seek out those authors and TV shows that don't hurt me.

But you know what, this is a YA novel. This is meant to go into the hands of kids who do not yet have my coping mechanism, who are far more vulnerable to the messages, both overt and subvert, that media sends out concerning who can be considered Cool, Beautiful, Important, and Real.

If anything, adolescence is the age in which this sensitivity to who does and doesn't belong is at it's height.

So, I ask you, what are you to say to young people who cannot exist in Wrede's universe, cannot do what youngsters with books are supposed do - which is to pretend that they themselves could have adventures there.

How do you explain to the kids who derive their ancestry in full or in part from the people who just don't exist in this book because a white author did not find an entire people worthy to stick around in the alternate universe of her choosing?

And yes, the author could have done anything she wanted. And this what she did. She did not imagine a world in which Europeans and Native Americans/First Nations/etc co-existed peacefully. She did not imagine a world where the colonization went the other way.

She imagined a world without those people.

Because it is very clear who is and is not important. The Europeans are so important that a world without them is unthinkable. The tales we imagine when we are unencumbered by factual necessity must still wrap around them.

The Native Americans, not so much.

What do you say to the children she imagined being gone and utterly non-existent?

This is not a theoretical question. This is not rhetorical. Nor is this an isolated incident.

What do you say to the kids who read this book and see that their history is not considered in important in the mainstream in the Books That Matter?

What do you say to the kids who read the textbooks in school and find that there is still a celebration of the waves of conquering that destroyed their ancestors, their people? What do you say to the kids who read about American history and find that but for a few, scant figures, there is no one like them? What do you say to children who grow up knowing that when the settlers and white people win a battle, it's a victory. When they win, it's a massacre, an unjust mass slaughter.

And what do you say to children who have watched as people that look like them, the people who represent them (or are supposed to) are either forgotten or used as ploys in somebody else's story?

You think the kids in question haven't been getting this message pounded into their heads over and over again?

So this is what I want answered: when a Native American/First Nations kid comes up to you and asks why all the Native Americans had to die, what are you prepared to tell them?

I would posit that there are extra ethical and cultural concerns when writing YA. That an author must be aware of far reaching implications, of what messages they are reinforcing or contradicting.

And yes, that does bear discussion.

I find it specious, Ms. Bujold, that you throw a few links at us, and that you declare "I'm Done!" after donating a few dollars. This is not an issue you can throw money at and feel justified in never considering again.

These are the selves, the identities, the minds of children being shaped here and there are deep, deep problems with some of the materials that are involved in that process, including yes - this book which is an example of many other books that are deeply problematic. I can't really think what bears more discussion and cautious consideration than the shaping of our future and the values we wish to transmit to the next generation.

So please, don't say or even imply that it is a waste of time to examine the books that are being given to children and what their flaws and shortcomings might be. It is not.

The books we give children now are the seeds of the world we will inhabit. You want to know what the flower will look like, you go take a gander at the bud.
mongolian
132. skywardprodigal
@ Avalon's Willow 36

Don't you know the Coaltion of White Female SF Authors passed out a memo that states they categorically cannot be thought to hold racist thoughts cause they decided so?


I know no such thing. I've got suspicions but the offenses go beyond gagworthy. Identifying the components of that dynamic might be useful but I'd rather stare down a toilet and not flush.

What are you doing bringing *HISTORY* and *LOGIC* and *CONTEXT* into conversation?


Hoping more people will show up and continue the discussion of how premises matter when it comes to world-building not only in the context of fiction but our living realities.

I mean, I hadn't read Neale Hurston's white mare letter-to-the-editor in a minute and it's a damn shame that de-segregation destroyed many a brilliant school in the lower 48, but it gave me a bunny.

Wouldn't it be cool to have a YA AU American story that plays on that? Maybe a YA one where the indigenous Columbians-- already proficient in managing megafauna-- are pooling resources from Aphrikans, and the Avropans who learned how to travel to Columbia from Aphrikan navigators, to further adventure in Columbia? An au where the things that made for European survival in the Americas weren't built on theft, murder, and breaking agreements, but cooperation? Why couldn't the cheap labor "problem" be solved with magic? Railroads laid by magic and not enslaved communities. What a wonder. With dragons on the wing and bison rippling over the plains like a wine-dark sea.

How dare you introduce Post-Colonial Ideology.


Izzat what I did? 'Cause I'm pretty sure post-colonial ideologies been part of this-world-right-now-building since before the ink was dry on the first IMF/World bank loans. Or even the first time a settler found something of world market value on a reserve. Like gold. Or coal. Uranium. Tin. Petroleum. Water. Timber. Dirt. Human bodies they didn't have to legally treat as human.

You seriously should know better.


I'm beginning to think you think I should know better. Oh, golly, on the topic of fantasy novels and the ugly realities of colonialist narratives and Manifest Destiny, have you read any of Daniel Heath Justice's Way of Thorn and Thunder series?

You and I, however, know that if it weren't for grave robbing thus discovering signs of another civilization, stealing of the corn set aside by the natives for their next season's harvest, and lying in wait for someone to return to claim it; the colonists would have starved to death.


Pretty much. Who was the Englishman who wrote about digging up his wife and eating her with sauce?

But yeah, who needs Tisquantum.


Colonizers who journalled about digging up their wives and eating them with sauce? You know, the cannibal next door. And his kin.
mongolian
133. Stella Omega
Lois bujold@121

Oh, dammit. You completely sidestepped the real thing you could be doing, right now-- the topic of this thread.

You could take it upon yourself to write your future novels with plenty of characters of color, that are decently researched in regards to their heritages, individuals in their own right, not relegated to sidekick or walk-on status, and are still standing at the end of the last chapter. Maybe even heroes!

Money is good, those groups need money badly. But you need to understand one thing; any native American child who gets a fine education as a result of your philanthropy will expect to be treated as an equal member of our society-- and that means, among so many other things, not being erased from the common narrative.
mongolian
134. Kynn
I love how you only get to have opinions on books if you've got the disposable income not only to buy the books, but also to "prove" your devotion to the cause by making donations of money to specific Bujold-approved charities.

Maybe if we add on a few more requirements to be able to play, we'll all forget what this is really about.
mongolian
135. Learn Hexadecimal
From reading this discussion, I've concluded two things:

1. Reading this book would definitely not be a worthwhile use of my time.

2. Reading this discussion, on the other hand, would be (and is and has been).

I'd first like to point you all back at jmtorres/88. It's a good point, well made.

Other commenters to this post have already, speaking for themselves, given my reasons for not reading this book. They've said it better than I think I would if I tried, and I suggest anyone who hasn't already done so would benefit from scrolling up and making careful perusal of their responses. I don't have any more words on that subject.

I do have plenty of words on the subject of actions and consequences.

Speech is action.

Let me be more specific: every word that is on this page right now is a contribution to the social and cultural gestalt of humanity. Every person who has read these words, or read some of them, or skimmed them, or heard somebody talk about them once, has been affected by them. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. But to dismiss a conversation like this, to unroll a banner emblazoned "Talk Is Cheap" and prance away towards far-off charity websites, is to elide a very important aspect of what it is to be human: that we can communicate, and that our communication can affect others and allow us to be affected by them in turn when they communicate back to us.

I don't think anyone here actually forgot that fact. It would be kind of difficult. But I never want to hear "virtual virtue" derided as meaningless. It isn't. It can't be. Virtual virtue, Internet virtue, is the exercise of virtue in communication. Such exercise is crucial to all other aspects of what it means to be human and humane and good. How can we be virtuous if we never learn what virtue means? How can we be virtuous if we never teach that meaning to others-- never discuss it-- never remark on its presence or absence in the stories that shape our minds?

Lois Bujold/110, you tell us talk is cheap, and then you demonstrate that it isn't. You tell us that we tipped you over from intention to action; you tell us that this conversation, this dialogue we're having right here, had a material effect on your material contributions to one or more causes.

You're right: holding admirable opinions and doing nothing is indistinguishable from holding execrable opinions and doing nothing. Because if we hold admirable opinions and keep them locked inside our skulls, nobody will ever know about them. But if we hold admirable opinions and talk about them, and defend them in the court of public discourse whose standards of due process you so diligently uphold, we can change other people's minds. Such a powerful phrase, when you think about it: to change someone's mind. That is action. That is admirable.

Lois Bujold/121, I see more of the same. Your stance on falsehood and the provability of motivations, while interesting, isn't my primary concern at the moment.

Consider this: you ask us to rule our statements in the court of public discourse by the measure of due process, and by that, you mean we ought to read a book before discussing why we don't like it. Why can't we ask Patricia Wrede to rule her statements in the public discourse of fiction-- and fiction is a discourse; vast, slow, indirect, but a discourse all the same-- by the measure of virtuous speech?

And by that, I mean that you are engaging in exactly the task which you imply is cheap and easy and not enough for you. Here we are, expressing our dislike for yet another erasure in yet another place of a people who are erased too often already; here you are, expressing your dislike for yet another case in yet another comment thread where people talk a book down without ever having picked up a copy. It must in some sense be a worthwhile task to you, or you wouldn't be doing it.

Yes, monetary donations to charitable organizations often have a more concrete, or at least more measurable, impact on issues than words on the Internet. But somebody still has to say those words. Somebody has to say "no, this is wrong, this story has problems", because if nobody ever does, then the people who write those stories will never realize that they could be doing it better.

You are, if I'm to believe the name attached to your comments, a writer of stories. Realize that you could be doing it better. Realize that everyone you know who also writes stories could be doing it better. In other words, what Stella Omega/133 said.

Fiction_Theory/131, you made a good point extremely well. I'm now in the middle of reading the blog post you linked in the course of introducing that point, and it is a work of further excellence. I encourage anyone whose eyes are passing over these words right now to go and read both of the above; you will be improved thereby.
mongolian
136. Avalon's Willow
@ skywardprodigal /132

I had not heard of Daniel Heath Justice or of Way of Thorn and Thunderp before. I'll have to look to get it. It would be lovely if my local library system has it, but I suspect even they will not. So I will have to find somewhere to buy it (not Amazon. I'm only buying books about gay characters or gay life from them).

There needs to be more titles as ebooks and easier access to ebook readers (/ end random)

Meanwhile I totally avoid your mention of Cannibals, cause I will just go off if I start in on European Lies and Fear Mongering.
les kaye
137. hapax
Fiction-Theory@131: "I would posit that there are extra ethical and cultural concerns when writing YA. That an author must be aware of far reaching implications, of what messages they are reinforcing or contradicting.

And yes, that does bear discussion. "

I hope, then, that I won't be accused of thread de-railing if I want to discuss this.

I haven't read THIRTEENTH CHILD, but I have been convinced by the comments of many on this thread who have read it that Wrede is guilty of sloppy world-building, and that the shortcut she has taken are deeply, deeply hurtful to a number of readers, both in this particular story and as symptomatic of a larger problem in sff.

I'm not sure that the issue of the age of the intended audience, however, is relevant at all.

Is it really the consensus of the reading public that teens are such fragile creatures, and that writers for this audience must take special care not to threaten sensitive adolescent minds?

I ask because I am a lover of YA fiction, and the parent of two rabid YA readers, and all three of us were deeply, deeply offended by this concept.

Of course no one argues (I hope) that historical non-fiction FOR ALL AGES should strive to be an accurate and inclusive portrayal. I suppose if there were a particular group of people or type of people completely absent from just YA fiction (or even a particular genre), that could arguably be an issue.

But from my exposure to *current* YA literature, I honestly cannot think of a group that's not represented.

More importantly, I would argue that the most important function of YA fiction (well, the second most important. The first important function of all fiction is to Tell Good Stories) is to present people with characters who are *different* from the reader -- different in every conceivable way, from ethnicity to gender to body shape to social class to talents and abilities to species to planet of origin.

In other words, most of the teens I know read fiction not to find People Like Me, but to "try on" People Who I Might Be.

That was *my* objection, from a meta-critical perspective.

My teenage daughter's was more pithy and to the point. "That's just patronising. That's assuming teens are too stupid to see the problems in books for themselves. And it takes away my right to read Absolute Trash if I want to!"

It troubles me a great deal to hear people who don't belong to a particular group -- ethnic or age or anything else -- make such sweeping statements about what members of that group "need." And that, obviously, goes for me as well.

So I would be delighted if there were other actual teens reading this thread who might like to comment, especially those who found this particular title problematic or hurtful.
mongolian
138. Lois Bujold
thingswithwings @v 122

No, actually, it represents the fact that while most of the persons of Native American ancestry whom I have personally met are highly educated and articulate, etc., and don't need a thing from me apart from friendship, my friend of the links has made me aware that it's certainly not that way yet for all, and any kind of social equity still has far to go. And that I can do more than just sit like a lump at the news.

And other white-bread participants in this thread who might be scratching their heads and going, "Y'know, that's a point, but what could I do?" might like to know, too.

Fiction_theory @ 131

Examining the book was *exactly* what I asked for. The book, not hearsay about it.

Stella Omega @ 133

Thank you, at least that is specific. If rather long-term. It hasn't been easy, figuring out what form a constructive response to this thread is supposed to take. All my first guesses appear to have been wrong.

Of course, there was my black heroine Fiametta Beneforte, whom no one remembers, who fits most of your criteria. But that was earlier in my career, before I figured out that what was being asked for was characters who were culturally of color, not just genetically. (If the critique had even reached that stage of refinement yet. This was also prior to the invention of the internet, so my access to public discourse of this sort was pretty limited.) But the book tanked, which was a mixed feedback signal.


@135 Learn Hexadecimal

This is a very lucid post, which I am going to have to go away and digest. This thread is moving too quickly for me to keep up, so I'll close this post for now, but this one definitely needs coming back to.

Ta, L.
mongolian
139. skywardprodigal
@ Lois Bujold 138

I, and several friends of mine, have been discussing Fiametta and the Spirit Knife at some length and in great detail. Once upon a time, even, I thought it be nice, actually, informative and fun, if Miss Bujold and I could discuss Fiametta, her family, and the Spirit Knife.

Pity.

Ah, well. To your health.
mongolian
140. Yrfeloran
I'm not sure it's appropriate to extrapolate specifically Pilgrim incompetence (they were certainly idiots, don't get me wrong) to Europeans as a whole.

...I don't know. While this book seems to be poorly thought out -at best- and clearly written for an audience of white people...every myth is at heart an immigrant myth that's self-justifying itself. Cultures get erased and born throughout history, often with no-one to mourn and peoples are not static. The way America was when white people arrived wasn't the same as it was a thousand years before that, and so on.

If you write a story based on Navajo myths of the Southwest and leave out the Hopi, is that erasure? If so, why? If not, why not? Northern Canada is really not all that much closer to there than England is to New England. Is displacement and colonization fine if it's slightly longer ago and from slightly less far away and everyone's the same color? Is it fine if it was only moderately successful, or if nobody ever wrote it down?

I guess I'm probably committing cultural-oppression-by-archaeology here, so I'll shut up now.

This discussion reminded of another book that works off the premise that humanity destroyed the megafauna; the Neanderthal books by Sawyer. Actually, come to think of it, worse ridiculousness happened just last year in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. They disappeared their entire Native American-themed continent to an alternate universe and replaced them with...(iirc) white people enslaved by dragons.
mongolian
141. Stella Omega
Lois@143;
Yes, it is long-term indeed, and I'm following that game plan as a yet-unpublished writer. It's tougher, because it means I can't fall back on the culture I know the best, all the time. But I want more than just white people to recognise themselves in my worlds.


yrfeloran@144;

If you write a story based on Navajo myths of the Southwest and leave out the Hopi, is that erasure? If so, why? If not, why not?

Any Hopi who read the story might feel erased. And possibly tell other Hopi not to bother reading that stupid story, because the Hopi are made invisible in it. And that's the point being made here-- not the validity of the details, but the validity of reader's emotion-based reactions, and how those reactions might impact their entertainment choices.
mongolian
142. Lois Bujold
skywardprodigal @ 139

Sounds like a wonderful discussion. Are you so sure I couldn't learn anything from it?

Going back to Stella Omega @ 133 and this, I suspect the quality bar for putting in more characters of color has been raised since I last ventured out with Fiametta. Current work has a setting with a majority-East Asian founder population, but the themes are technology, economics, and death, so race doesn't really enter into it on that level. Hm.

Ta, L.
mongolian
143. Kynn
And other white-bread participants in this thread who might be scratching their heads and going, "Y'know, that's a point, but what could I do?" might like to know, too.

Lois Bujold @ 138, why do you have to make it all about white people all the time?

Why is it so important that you, a white person, tell other white people what they can do to help the poor unfortunate Indians, instead of listening to what the people of color are saying here? Because their words are cheap if they don't have the money to make a public boast about their charitable contributions?

Also, um...

Current work has a setting with a majority-East Asian founder population, but the themes are technology, economics, and death, so race doesn't really enter into it on that level.

You're writing about a POC culture modeled on a specific real-world POC population, and you're talking about societal concerns such as economics, tech, and death, and yet you're saying that race won't enter into it at all?

How exactly are you planning to pull that off?
mongolian
144. Kynn
hapax @ 137

You might want to consider telling your daughter that nobody has proposed taking away her "right" to read garbage. If she thinks that's what this is about, she's pretty mistaken, and it would be good parenting on your part to correct her.

Incidentally, are you and/or your daughters white?
mongolian
145. yeloson
A book with a core premise of an idealized colonization of America in which the primary victims of genocide are absent for the convenience of white people to not have to deal with white guilt, is problematic in the context of centuries of erasing the history of indigenous people.

The above statement is only controversial to those who feel avoiding white guilt takes precedence over NOT participating in cultural genocide.

But hey, I guess UNLESS I BUY THE BOOK, I can't complain right? I better go attend a few Klan rallies before I say anything about them, either.
mongolian
146. Fridgepunk
"I still have a profound problem with any argument that leaps from hearsay to condemnation without any intervening stop at “evidence”."

Is a tor writer suggesting people commit vile acts of piracy and illegally download this book via bittorrent?

Seriously though, why is the age old principle of relying on people's first hand accounts of a book they've read to decide whether or not you read it (previously known as "a review", but now apparently "hearsay"*) not good enough? A sensible and indeed logical approach would be to base the validity of reactions based on first accounts on how valid the first hand accounts were rather than pretending that reviews are now inherently misleading and wrong in all ways.

But then the obvious way to handle that discussion would be to provide proof and "evidence" that the criticisms were invalid in the form of some method of reproducing sections of the texts in question and conveying them to an audience.

alas, no method of doing something like that exists in this world, though I think I once read a sci-fi story which had something like that...

In that story, if I'm remembering correctly, a character's clear guilt was shown by their reluctance, despite claiming to have a means to prove themselves innocent of a crime, refusing to actually prove themselves innocnet and instead showing a clear preference for trying to use a series of unending circular arguements to shift the burden of evidence onto the people who lack the evidence the guilty character was known to have.

I think it was called: "Alien"...

* Is it a cognitive bias to feel slightly less well towards someone when they start playing very curious games with the english language like that?
mongolian
147. skywardprodigal
@ stoneself/34

You make several good points and I like how they're worded.

"history is written by the victors" should be rewritten to be "history is erased by the victors".


I agree.

history that "matters" is the history of the powerful. those that have been crushed by genocide and slavery - those histories are easy to erase.
a history that has repercussions to this day that white people continue to benefit from and non-white people do not.

The invisible weight of marginalization?

history that is deep personal family history that reverberates in the bones of african americans and native americans to this very day. a real sense of horror for asian americans when they realize that entire generations of asian immigrants were erased from the midwest and west - erased physically and from the histories.


It is so weird to drive through the midwest and not see Bunches of ABC's. But then, to wonder if the many white folk I see are the heirs of the people who burned those ABC's out.
mongolian
148. skywardprodigal
@ crooked 87

I'm so glad you like the dailies. :D

I click through it sometimes, just because.

And I'm glad you've enjoyed some of my thinks.
mongolian
149. fa_ikaika
As has been said at least ten times in this thread: The point of commentators such as myself was not that we didn't like the book, but that the premise of the book (as stated by others) was profoundly disturbing.

Nobody has so far come onto this thread or any other to tell us that we had the premise wrong.

Therefore as far as I can see, all the original commentary still stands. You don't get to obfuscate the issue by playing "I've got a bigger disposable income than you".
mongolian
150. Sami at Dreamwidth
Dear Ms. Bujold,

The book actually began with a contemplation of the what-if question, "What would happen if the megafauna survived into historic times...?" The theory presently being argued in archeology is that the pre-Columbian settlers wiped out said megafauna, and that's the one Pat chose to follow up; so if one wants mammoths and short-faced bears and terror birds, the Bering land bridge human immigration needed not to have taken place, 13,000 years back. From that, the rest followed, q.s. to the limits of a necessarily slim volume. From above.

OK, for a start: citation needed. The current state of archaeology is not my personal area of expertise, but if the extinction of the megafauna is being blamed on pre-Columbian settlers, that is not the dominant view, at all, and with good reason: it makes no sense. Why would the same hunter-gatherer groups which later lived in harmony with their prey such that the plains of North America crawled with buffalo hunt even larger animals to extinction?

Lest I become what I seek to destroy, have a reference: The extinction of megafauna around the world was probably due to environmental and ecological factors. It was almost completed by the end of the last ice age. It is believed that megafauna initially came into existence in response to glacial conditions and became extinct with the onset of warmer climates.

In temperate Eurasia and North America, megafauna extinction concluded simultaneously with the replacement of the vast periglacial tundra by an immense area of forest. Glacial species, such as mammoths and woolly rhinocerous, were replaced by animals better adapted to forests, such as elk, deer and pigs. Reindeers (caribou) retreated north, while horses moved south to the central Asian steppe. This all happened about 10 000 years ago, despite the fact that humans colonised North America less than 15 000 years ago and non-tropical Eurasia nearly 1 million years ago. Source: The Australian Museum, factsheet on megafauna extinction.

So... the groups who would later become native Americans moved into North America, spent five thousand years living in harmony with the megafauna, then set about exterminating them utterly. That makes perfect sense OH WAIT no it doesn't.

Secondly, the assumption that crossing the Eurasian land bridge into North America precludes human settlement is blatantly stupid; that's not the only route into the Americas. Potatoes got to Polynesia somehow. And "... it was BECAUSE OF MAGIC" is inadequate explanation for the barriers.

Moving on.

We now have the question of content within the text. As I said previously, it's not impossible to write this kind of speculative fantasy well - but you have to consider the ramifications of your choices. My own study of US history is some years ago now, was mostly focussed on the period from the Civil War to the end of the Cold War, so my historical credentials here are thin - and yet, I nonetheless know better.

Some key points:

1) Crops

Without the "New World" crops and edible flora of all sorts already having been identified and cultivated by the native population, the settlers are going to have trouble working out what's poisonous and what's not. Introduced-crop failures are going to cause mass starvation. This is skated lightly past in the text.

2) Labour

The colonies were severely short of labour. Part of the solution was the indentured servitude of debtors from Europe. (Interestingly, the New Yorker recently had an article on just this. (Abstract only without registration.) Debt to England was one of the issues that - it can and has been argued - produced the American Revolution. However, that wasn't enough, nor was the convict labour (the Americas received convict transportees before Australia did). The rest was slavery.

If you give the "Aphrikans" South America and don't include slavery, then you should have a desperate labour shortage. You should also have widespread starvation and disease in the case of crop failure. (If you have settlers in a land where there aren't any natives, crop failures should be near-constant early on, by the way.)

3) Nothin' but Names

In order to show that the native population was never ever there, all the places in America that have names derived from native sources have different names.

Consider the implication of this (it's a very short reach): the only mark the native population has left on America is place names. Nothing else.

I'm not sure how I can detail exactly what's wrong with that in less than two thousand words. Suffice to say that this is completely, utterly, horrendously inaccurate.

The cultural legacy of American history is complex. Too complex for me - I don't know enough to unravel it. Neither, I suspect, does Wrede, or at least she hasn't thought about it. See this post, again, for a summary treatment of why this is historically invalid.

I hope by now I've established that the critiques of the book aren't operating on knee-jerk hostility. Please note that people who really get into this kind of discussion - the people who stay past "omg that's so racist", and don't in fact ever actually say that - can generally be relied upon not to be reacting on that kind of reflex, because that gets no-one anywhere, especially them. Because now we get to...

The Tone Argument.

I have trouble not inserting an obscene adjective before the word "tone" there.

Lois Bujold, again: Which begs a larger question: what is the function of fiction? Social engineering? Propaganda, sermon? Or something else? Windows? Mirrors?

People who come down on the social-engineering side do tend to value a book by how well it serves some agenda outside of itself. I see that as a slippery slope, myself.

This is wonderfully archetypal derailment.

Fiction has many functions. Anyone who has ever thought about it or looked into it already knows that well.

Not to quote someone's own words against them, but why not? Bujold: More and more as I read I have the sense not of entering another world, but of entering another writer’s head. There are some head-spaces I enjoy occupying, others I don’t. If the scenery is ugly, I don’t hang around.

That one's from an interview, so it may be something you didn't get the chance to think through, so let's take one from an essay of yours, just to be fair (emphasis mine): Every writer writes their world-view; we cannot escape it, unless we're writing utter hack work to order in every detail, and even there it will leak through. And world-view is not limited to writers.

It follows that every time a reader reads a book, two world-views meet, or collide. There are, I think, four possible interactions between the reader's world-view and the writer's.

...

Second, the world-views can collide. In this case, the reader will find his world-views denied or disconfirmed by the text, which can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even infuriating. The reader will in this case heap scorn on the book, and sometimes its author, as when a left-leaning reader rejects the political scenarios in a book by a right-wing writer or a woman derides a book by a man who portrays women in ways she finds idiotic. That same angry reader mentioned before may reject with scorn a book that portrays the world as "too nice". It challenges his world-view, and he rejects it. "People aren't really like that! I know people, and people are scum!" Most people, most of the time, respond to challenges to their world-view and the extreme discomfort it engenders by defending their world-view, and finding some "good reason" to reject the challenging data as false, weak, biased, or wrong. Sometimes, obviously, the rejecting reader is quite right.

Unless they're rejecting something of which you approve, apparently.

Questioning the moral background of fiction is entirely valid, and finding a writer's products problematic is something you have, in the past, acknowledged to be only right and fair. And yet, apparently criticising The Thirteenth Child is not. Anyone who finds that these well-discussed issues, based on undisputed facts about the content of the novel, are too problematic for them? They get told: My mother -- born in 1912 -- used to have a phrase for this: "My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with the facts."

A stance of moral superiority really cannot be floated over an abyss of ignorance. (Though I admit, people routinely try.) It's especially not a sound footing for this book which, within the limits of its scope, actually does some very interesting things with subverting assumed Avyrupan dominances. Because it's ignorant hypocrisy to respond to the facts, apparently. Also, it's not for critics. The book deserves better than to be pored over by an inquisitor only seeking evidence for a conviction already decided upon.

And finally, we have the comment where you claim to have thought about it more. Key point: ... despite the fact that Native Americans are over two million strong, voting citizens, fellow exiles in the 21st century, and many are educated, articulate, and perfectly able to speak for themselves (most of the major tribes have websites now, a thought both hopeful and boggling) poverty and discrimination do still fall disproportionately upon many others.

Why is it boggling that the tribes have websites? Because the savages shouldn't be part of the Internet? Because tribal identity shouldn't persist into the digital age, because everyone should have abandoned that primitive barbarism and adhered to nice, civilised European-American constructions of identity by now? Your prejudices are showing.

Next: I still have a profound problem with any argument that leaps from hearsay to condemnation without any intervening stop at “evidence”. It doesn’t matter *what* the subject is, the *form* is wrong, even if the conclusion after examining the evidence bears out the initial belief.

So, anyone criticising this book was doing it with no evidence, so they're wrong, even if the evidence actually supports their criticisms. The fact that they're right ON THE EVIDENCE doesn't matter, the way (you believe) they arrived at their rightness is flawed therefore the thing they're right about TOTALLY DOESN'T MATTER.

Enter the sanctimony: The past is beyond anyone’s reach, and history is fractal -- one sperm over, and we would all have been our siblings, and our own self-centered universes would never have sprung into being at all -- so what can an ordinary person do right-here-right-now about any given hurt in the world?

First of all, bollocks. "History is fractal" - no, it isn't. It just ISN'T. Do you even understand what these words mean? History is many things, and my love for it is deep and pure, and my knowledge of it, I'd wager, is substantially greater than yours... but history is not "fractal".

Secondly, one sperm over, and I might have been a man, I might have been a slightly different woman, but I would not have been my sibling, because my sister is two and a half years older than I am, and a slight sperm difference is not going to turn me into her. We had different gestational experiences - our mother was older, she was living a moderately different lifestyle, her body was different by virtue of having borne a child before. Even leaving out the difference in our life experiences post-birth, your statement is blatantly stupid.

Thirdly, one of the things ordinary people can do about "any given hurt in the world" is fight against it, and The Thirteenth Child is a "hurt in the world". Trying to deflect doesn't change that. It's not "just fiction", as you damn well know - stories have meaning, stories have power, and stories contribute to the ways in which we define the world in our "own self-centered (sic) universes". This means that - though it's not the biggest wound on the world, it's a wound, and all wounds need to be treated for the patient to recover fully.
mongolian
151. Sami at Dreamwidth
Apologies for any confusion of quotations in above comment. bbCode fail. *sigh* A properly formatted version (with slightly more snark, I admit) is here.
mongolian
152. Steven Rogers
Sami at Dreamwidth,

So far as the Big Chill/Big Kill debate goes, there does not seem to be any dominant explanation for the loss of NA megafauna at this time. I get the impression that if you want to get a bunch of paleontologists hissing and spitting at each other, all you have to do is ask them about it.

Apex predators live in harmony with their prey? Predators kill. There is not much harmony there.

CarlosSkullsplitter's comments upthread address the Megafauna point far better than I could.
Bruce Baugh
153. BruceB
I know I'm coming in on this late, but I want to add something as a white writer sitting on a small, growing pile of story and novel ideas tossed out because I realized I hated the implications in their setups.

I've not read Wrede's book, so I'm not assaying criticism on it. But thinking about the idea of doing something with inspiration from Walking With Prehistoric Beasts, which I also loved...

1. Whatever it was that got the megafauna just doesn't. If it's diseases, they didn't spread. If it's climate, the changes were mitigated just enough and the species adapted just enough to survive. Then you have the Americas' people live on with them, with the cultural changes that seem appropriate, and eventually you get reasonably high-tech people doing fun things with and around modern megafauna now.

2. If we're adding magic, let's add some more. Throw Atlantis and/or Mu into the mix, depopulate them with ancient catastrophes, and get megafauna to them. Then explorers can discover these lands centuries or millennia later, without requiring any real people to go away.

3. Use portals. Portals are reliable. Take a world and depopulate entirely with a 6th century AD impact event (see David Keys' Catastrophe for lots of backstory just waiting to be used), so that you get a world of mostly-now-gone ruins and the better part of two millenia's recovery and speciation, and open passages to there. It's a convention that portals match location in the worlds on each end but what if they don't? Maybe they're off-set 4-12 time zones depending on size, or something.

The conceit for The Thirteenth Child sounds like a lot of fun. It's just that there are things to be done with conceits later, precisely because other real people and their relationships to the rest of society matter.
mongolian
154. Sami at Dreamwidth
Steven Rogers: Citation, once again, needed. My research was not deep, it's true, but my research actually took place, and I offered references from a credible source. So far the counterpoint is just "no, that's totally not how it is!!!"

Describing a human population as "apex predators", who "kill", with the assumption that they will do so indiscriminately, beyond necessity... problematic doesn't cover it. Even non-human predators don't kill just for the sake of killing - you're basically saying the native state of a Native American is an animal-slaughtering rampage. An assertion with no support in evidence, historic or pre-historic. (Or did they only take that up five thousand years after they moved to North America?
mongolian
155. Steven Rogers
No, I'm not saying "no, that's totally not how it is", I'm saying there is still a bun fight going on as to what killed off the NA megafauna. To me that sounds like I am saying the question of "how was it?" is still open.

Citation? Carlos up at post 97 has a good one. Try "1491" by Michael Mann. Probably the best one volume survey of conditions in the New World before Columbus that you are going to find.

And your description of apex predators as predators who kill indiscriminately is yours, not mine.

You wrote: "Even non-human predators don't kill just for the sake of killing - you're basically saying the native state of a Native American is an animal-slaughtering rampage."

Umm.. Where the hell did you get that from what I wrote?

Sharks are an apex predator who occasionally kill indiscrimatly, but that is rare even for them. Most predators most of the time kill what they think they need at the time.

You believe that environmental factors were the key to the loss of the megafauna. Well, OK, but isn't the arrival of a new predator the likes of which the New World had never seen (use of fire, spears, long range attacks, complex social behavior) a significant environmental factor? Is the term "Happy Hunting Ground" a fabrication or is it a genuine First nations myth? If genuine is it widespread among the Nations or localied. If genuine and widespread that sounds to me like a cultural memory of predation upon animals that did not know what was hitting them.

The megafauna survived over twenty climate shifts before the arrival of humans, who arrived in the midst of the most recent (From "Collapse" by Jared Diamond - yeah, I know, lots of problems with that book) was that purely a coincidence? Personally I think the answer to the question "Were the megafauna killed off by Big Chill or Big Kill" is "Yes".
mongolian
156. Steven Rogers
Possible memory lapse on my part: The jared Diamond cite may be from "Guns, Germs and Steel".
mongolian
157. Nancy Lebovitz
Whee! @100, Kynn @ 134:

You don't necessarily have to buy a book to read it-- if you have access to a big box bookstore (I realize not everyone does, nor the time), you can read it there.
mongolian
158. Anne KG Murphy
@ Woodrow "asim" Jarvis Hill

What I said:
some of you are reminding me of the sorts of things book burners say about books they have not read yet.

What you said:
I've not yet read the comment where anyone has called for a boycott. Nor have I read the comment that expresses the explicit opinion that this book should not be read.

Let me get more specific. Skywardprodigal said (post no. 27):
I've come to the conclusion that based on the shadow cast by white supremacist colonization and the ongoing genocide of the original inhabitants of the Americas, I can't-- in good conscience-- read the Thirteenth Child.

The implication of this statement could be paraphrased thus: I have concluded that people of good conscience (like me) ought not read this book.

In other words, there is something about reading material that you have a moral objection to that will pervert your good conscience and leave you in a position of poor moral standing.

I believe this logic is perverse and wrong. This is the logic that indicates we should not ever familiarize ourselves with written material to which we might object, therefore leaving the strength of quoting it and discussing its contents only to those who would embrace it.

I think that approach is wrong.

Further, I see people following Skywardprodigal's post catching the implication and chiming in with "oh, yeah, I don't think I can read the book either due to my moral objection to the problems people have brought up." And there is a very significant difference between "I can't in good conscience read this book" and saying "I don't think I want to read this book." or "sounds like a waste of time to me." or even "I would prefer not to pay money for this book," all three of which are perfectly fine conclusions to come to.

The one about conscience, however, seems to me to be a conclusion based on faulty logic. It is also phrased in a way that has social impact on others who are also guarding their conscience.

"Watch out," it warns, rather like book burners throughout history, "reading this material will mar your conscience and pervert your soul. Better to follow the advice of others and not read the book(!) than to risk the possibility that you might find something worthy in the text and it will thus cause you to stray from the path of righteousness."

We are weak people, this line of logic asserts, and do not have the moral and intellectual fortitude to read something of questionable moral character critically whilst maintaining our own good conscience. It also suggests that to read something is the same thing as to endorse or agree with it, which again simply is not true.
mongolian
159. Jonquil
"Happy hunting ground"

I cannot believe that you asked those questions.

"If genuine is it widespread among the Nations or localized." is like asking the same question about Africa. It's a big ol' continent, and there are a lot of religious beliefs; if you're going to hypothesize, the likeliest hypothesis is that no specific religious belief is shared by everyone. Having asked that hypothetical, and not waited for an answer, you then draw conclusions from it.

I did a hasty Google; the only cites I can find for "happy hunting ground" are Wikipedia-derived, citing an Oglala Sioux, "Many Horses", using it. (There are lots and lots of examples of white people using it, of course.) I then looked for Many Horses on the Oglala Sioux website; nothing. I looked on Google Books for '"Many Horses" happy hunting ground'. I get only one cite, from a book called "Burbank Among The Indians", an as-told-to book from 1944 by a white painter of Native Americans, who uses the term repeatedly, and who knew Many Horses. Many Horses was Navajo, not Sioux; furthermore, the quotation from Many Horses that is listed in Wikipedia is not in the book. Every single citation by Burbank to "Happy Hunting Grounds" is from the Southwest.

So. The megafauna extinction happened all over America. One subset of Native Americans may (or may not -- again, there's one first-hand cite) have used the phrase "happy hunting grounds". That's completely inadequate evidence to reason from.

(The Burbank book, if you're curious, is http://www.harvard-diggins.org/Burbank/Burbank_Among_The_Indians/Burbank_Among_the_Indians.htm )
mongolian
160. Jonquil
And now, with functional links:

Burbank's sketch of Many Horses.

Burbank Among The Indians
Bruce Baugh
161. BruceB
Anne: I have doubts about the general validity of the principle that we ought to include a lot of things we object to in our entertainment time. I have no doubt at all that, even if there is some general merit to the idea, there's no merit at all to telling people who live, day in and day out, with the stark visible reality that people in power over them would like them to disappear, and failing that to live lives of futile struggle and perpetual dependency, that they really ought to spend more time reading fiction in which they're made to disappear as part of the background.

No. We ought not tell each other that. We ought not tell anyone that. We ought to agree that when your real life has this big gaping hole of suck in it, it makes a great deal of sense to wish to have nothing to do with it in what's supposed to be breaks from the daily grind. Furthermore, when someone tells us, "This drags in the B.G.H.o.S. that I need a break from, and I wish it didn't, and I'm tired of dealing with the B.G.H.o.S. in all these places it doesn't need to be," we have an obligation as human beings and as people not subjected to that particular etc etc to listen up, to understand, to get some more clues without them having to be our teachers all the time, and then to think again about gaping hole-less kinds of entertainment and how to make them.

It's not like anyone objecting to this book is proposing to stop teaching history or literature or political theory or comparative music or whatever. They're saying they don't want it mucking up their entertainment. That sounds awfully damn reasonable to me.
mongolian
162. Quivoly
Steven Rogers @ 127: Derailing, eh? Hmm. Not my intent.

And yet you continue to derail, derail, derail by asking the same stupid question that has already been taken out back several times in this thread. Ignoring you now.

Lois Bujold @ 138: Of course, there was my black heroine Fiametta Beneforte, whom no one remembers, who fits most of your criteria.

Astute veterans of racefaily conversations such as this may recognize this as a slightly modified version of "My Black Friend". Note that Bujold in this case went on to never write another black hero or heroine, because she was never rewarded with the adulation of grateful black women oh so glad to finally be embraced by her fiction.

From the same comment: And other white-bread participants in this thread who might be scratching their heads and going, "Y'know, that's a point, but what could I do?" might like to know, too.

And again, @ 142: Sounds like a wonderful discussion. Are you so sure I couldn't learn anything from it?

Ah, the well-worn cry of lazy white writers across the globe: HELP ME LEARN!!!

Because discussions like this, full of pain and anger and the rehashing and retelling of unpleasant memories on the part of minorities, only exist to, wait for it, help Ms. Bujold learn.

You want to 'learn'? Do us all a mighty goddamn favor and utilise Mr. Google. Wait, I'll even help: this link will google something instructive for you, and help you 'learn'.
mongolian
163. Quivoly
@ BruceB @ 161

Hear, hear.
Bruce Baugh
164. BruceB
One other thing, while I'm at it:

It's not the fault of people of color that they live in a racist world and are therefore not so interested in reading an imaginary world in which they're whisked off-screen. It's not the fault of women that they live in a world where the risk of rape is so high and so widespread, and might like not to read sympathetic rationales for rape of various kinds. It's not the fault of disabled people that the architects and managers of able-bodied society so often disregard the accommodations they'll need, and would therefore like to read stories that don't have the equivalent of "and then one day all disabled people disappear and never clutter the story".

All of these things are the fault of people with social power using it badly. It's the latter-day lords, the guys with real political, economic, and social power, who maintain a system in which so many kinds of people have so many kinds of suck in their lives. Insofar as we would wish readers to read stories that include echoes of vileness from reality in them (and I'm still pretty firmly convinced that's not a good goal), the cure is to remove the real-world suck. We do not do this by telling people of color to sit down and hush their whining - we do it by pushing for laws that constrain racist authorities from making PoCs' lives sucky, and by pushing social changes that make it more shameful for anyone to try, and by pushing on all the members of the dominant group to better understand what we - not they - are doing that makes the problem worse even though we didn't have overtly bad intentions, and by cutting all that crap out. And likewise with every other ground of discrimination and prejudicial action. The people up the ladder have to stop doing bad stuff, as an early stage in getting everyone onto the same level and then smashing the ladder.

I've been told this is me getting radicalized. Low bar for radicalism, if so.
mongolian
165. brightfame
@ BruceB

Thank you for 161. Thank you thank you for 164. I really think there's nothing more to be said.
mongolian
166. glass_icarus
@ BruceB & Learn Hexadecimal: Well said! I keep coming back to this conversation to chew over the arguments being presented, and every time, I find someone new expressing my opinions better than I otherwise would have. It's very heartening.

@ AnneKGMurphy: Please look up the definition of the word derailing before you return to the topics of conversation that have been introduced.

@ Lois: Actions may speak louder than words, but speech in itself is an action. And words on a page last far, far longer than most donations I can think of. To question, to think, to learn and communicate- are those not worthy goals of a conversation?
mongolian
167. skywardprodigal
Relevant to settler prairie life, and how white-washing involves the literal shedding of blood:

Little House on the Osage Prairie by Dennis McAuliffe, Jr. at Oyate.
mongolian
168. HelenS
Why is the sibling comment so stupid? If a different sperm had hit the egg that became Lois, Lois's parents would not have had Lois, but a different child (call it Lois Prime). Sure, since Lois now doesn't exist, she doesn't strictly speaking have siblings, but if you have to talk about Lois and Lois Prime in the same context, what else do you call them but siblings? Identical twins are siblings. Fraternal twins are siblings. Lois and Lois Prime would be halfway in between.

I'm not ignoring the rest of the thread, by the way -- just trying to do mouth shut, ears open for a bit.
mongolian
169. Learn Hexadecimal
Anne KG Murphy/158, I can see where you're coming from but I think you may have gotten lost in transit.

Predictably, while I was drinking tea and carefully laying out my response, someone else said it better. Thank you, BruceB.

I'll only add that I think there is a big difference between "I can't in good conscience read this book" and "I believe this book will corrupt its readers with its loathsomeness and must be avoided for the sake of retaining purity". We're not, as far as I can tell, avoiding this book because its text promotes moral corruption of any kind; we're avoiding it because its premise has implications we find vile, which is an entirely different kettle filled with entirely different fish.

And thank you, glass_icarus/166 and Lois Bujold/138, for appreciating my words.
Alberto Yáñez
170. Alo.
Lois, passim:

Again, can you please address the points we are actually making, instead of the ancillary ones that are more comfortable for you to address?

In other words: quit ducking the damn questions.

The point of contention here, at least for me, is the moral implication of Wrede's auctorial choice in disappearing the Native Americans from her narrative of the colonization of the Americas vis-à-vis the actual historical context in which she's writing.

I'm latching on to this specific point because:

a) it's the most important point for examination as it has real-world consequences for many, many people,

b) it's open to discussion with even a simple summary of the text and basic conceits, especially as the issue is, again, the consequence(s),

c) her choice participates in the pernicious system of cultural erasure of American Indians,

d) I am completely unwilling to leave this type of moral outrage unchallenged when it is being touted as an example of a (talented) writer's "best book yet" in a community where I am a member, and

e) the immorality of this auctorial choice apparently needs to be pointed out, loudly, repeatedly, and at length, for such a condemnation to make any sort of impact on the many people who cannot yet see the ethical implications of erasing peoples in literature who have in actual history been subject to eradication and why such a thing matters.

There has been a wonderful discussion here, and in many other places online. This is great, especially since this is so important to discuss. Thanks to everyone for participating; I am constantly growing because of it.

Now, on a more personal level beyond the issues above, directly to you, Lois McMaster Bujold, writer:

It's all very nice and well that you wrote Fiammetta, but to quote Ms. Jackson, what have you done for me lately?

That is to say: you are a writer of great and remarkable talent--you have several well-deserved awards for brilliant works that I, for one, love--but in general, your work is lacking in people who look like me (not white), at least on the outside. I overlook that because I see that your characters are recognizably people like me, flawed and splendid, on the inside, and because I'm experienced enough to know that people who look like me aren't going to figure in stories written by people who look like you as a general rule because we live in a deeply structurally racist society and that's just how it's been for ages and ages.

Now, here's the thing: this conversation, and every other one before it and every other one that will follow after, is part of the way we all of us can change that deep structure of racism that lies along our cultural bones.

A writer of your talent can and should address race--and more importantly, culture--as something more than window dressing. In so many respects, you already do this wonderfully; please continue. You mentioned that you're writing a society whose founders are primarily of East Asian ancestry but that you don't see how race will factor in your writing of them. I suppose that if they're all effectively of the same race, then I don't see that race, per se, would be salient, but in the writing of them, how can their culture--for which "race" often serves as shorthand--not be? Those characters, if they're coming from East Asian cultures, will have different worldviews than characters built from white American cultures, which is the presumed default in this society in which you the author are writing and we the readers are reading, and it is problematic not to show that... to just paint a yellow face over a white soul.

So, please, choose to bring your talents to bear in way that can help.

I, and others like me, regardless of our race, will be doing so. We're writing, reading, and critiquing stories all the time. And more and more, those stories include people of every color.

We're changing our world. We'll do it with or without you. I think it'd be more fun with you, so please join us if you can.
mongolian
171. skywardprodigal
@ glass_icarus 166

Is it just me, or is denigrating the power and meaning of word an old meme?

If so, Vine Deloria, Jr.'s not the first, or last, academic to have written of it. Though, at the moment, other names escape me.
les kaye
172. hapax
Kynn @ 144 "You might want to consider telling your daughter that nobody has proposed taking away her "right" to read garbage. If she thinks that's what this is about, she's pretty mistaken, and it would be good parenting on your part to correct her. "

Unfortunately, Kynn, you are wrong.

Please note: None of the following is intended in any way to be a comment upon the merits, or lack of, in the particular book under discussion.

But several people (most specifically Fiction_Theory, but it's come up in other posts) have alluded both in defense and condemnation of the title that it is intended for a YA audience, and that this somehow either excuses its "simplifications" or imposes upon it special "responsibilities."

And I think that is not only an irrelevant argument but also an offensive and potentially dangerous one.


The Supreme Court of the United States over the past decade or so has made it increasingly clear that freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of the press, privacy rights and other civil rights do not apply to minors. Accordingly, at least every other year, various pressure groups in the town where I live have made it their business to try to restrict the access of teens to reading material using almost word for word the arguments proposed by Fiction_Theory in the post I quoted above.

The harms they are trying to protect "vulnerable" youth from vary of course. Depictions of people loving each other in ways they don't like. Scientific theories they don't approve of. Families that don't look like theirs. Words that have the wrong numbers of letters in them. Gods they don't worship, or the absence of those they do. Parents who do "bad things" to their children. Children who do "bad things" to their parents. And always, always, always, that "people like me" aren't represented in a way that corresponds to my desired self-image.

And always, always, always, the disingenuous cry goes up "Nobody is saying that you don't have the right to read any thing you want!"

No, they don't say *that*. They just say: You may not buy this book for this library. Or, you may buy it, but you may not allow the title to be listed in the catalog. Or, you may list it, but the book has to be put behind the desk, and you have to have a note from your parents before I give it to you.

Or they say, well, sure, teens have the right to read whatever they want. But authors for teens have a "special responsibility" to make sure that the "message" in their stories is one that is acceptable and healthy and moral.

Because the audience is "vulnerable" and needs to be "protected." Because somehow in these discussions, YA becomes "kids" becomes "children," because THIS book magically turns into a representative of EVERY book, because STORIES elide into HISTORIES into TEXTBOOKS into the real life tragedies that people have and continue to inflict upon other people.

Refuse to buy and read books you find distasteful, hurtful, or poorly crafted, or uninteresting*. Don't recommend them, tell people what you didn't like about them. Argue about them with your friends, your teachers, their authors, online. That's all healthy and appropriate and (for the most part) is what is going on here.

What is not healthy or appropriate is when it becomes a general argument about what authors SHOULD or SHOULD NOT write, publishers OUGHT or OUGHT not publish, or what OTHER readers (who lack my super special "coping mechanisms") somehow be exposed to.

Let good ideas drive out bad ideas. Let good books drive out bad books.

Oh, in answer to your astonishingly irrelevant and impertinent question, why yes, I *am* white. May I ask in return how old you are?

*not synonymous, by the way, for all those arguing that it requires purchasing or stealing to read this particular title. As a public librarian, every year I read hundreds of books I did not pay for -- and my library buys thousands of books that I do not read.
Bruce Baugh
173. BruceB
Hapax: As with an earlier comment from someone else, I'm having trouble believing I'm reading this right. It looks like you're arguing that because there are would-be censors acting out of what I'd agree are bad motives, people with concerns you'd agree are good have an obligation not to express them in any way that might affect the sales of a book that, however good otherwise, nonetheless does something that hits on the real pain and frustration of people marginalized in real life. That seems weird enough to me that I want to check: Are you actually saying that it's bad for people who have problems with sexism, racism, and the like in entertainment reading to speak up in a way that might hurt the sales of works that they see as flawed with real-world consequences? Because even if their concern is just, it'll end up as support for genuinely censorious efforts?
Bruce Baugh
174. BruceB
As a quick follow-up: I don't see how good books can drive out bad ones if people don't say, individually and collectively, "Here's what I see as wrong with A. Don't buy A, and don't buy other books with that problem. Buy B and books like it instead."
will shetterly
175. willshetterly
I strongly second the recommendation of Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, and I recommend "From Jack Weatherford’s “Indian Givers” from here:

http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/from-jack-weatherfords-indian-givers/

Based on it, I've reserved Weatherford's book at the library.

That said, saying that Pat's premise is racist is like saying anyone who does an alternate universe in which the Nazis win is a Nazi. The important questions are:

1. How does Pat handle the Africans in her story?

2. What's going on in Asia if no one had the chance to come to the Americas long ago?

One limitation of alternate history fiction is that answering all questions is impossible. All you're obliged to tell is what's relevant to your pov characters.

And it is legit to answer the reader sometimes with "that's in the sequel." I haven't read Pat's book yet, but I understand it focuses on a kid. I strongly suspect the readers will learn about her world as the character does.

(Apologies if a second comment like this one turns up. I posted something with links, and it might be in a spam filter, or I might've screwed up.)
mongolian
176. skywardprodigal
@ glass_icarus 166 re: me 171

Sorry for the borked code.

Now, with working links (I hope).

Is it just me, or is denigrating the power and meaning of word an old meme?

If so, Vine Deloria, Jr.'s not the first, or last, academic to have written of it. Though, at the moment, other names escape me.
mongolian
177. Steven Rogers
I seem to be stepping on toes here, but if you are going to talk about a what-if book in which the NA megafauna survives, it seem to me that a discussion of why they died is germane and to the point. I have already stated my agreement that the premise of the book in question is badly thought-out (no First Nations, no American society as we know it, period) and creepy to boot. Other than Bujold, nobody seems to be arguing otherwise.
mongolian
178. Steven Rogers
Charles C. Mann!! AAAH! Brain F*rt, in my case. Thank you for the correction.
les kaye
179. hapax
BruceB@173: "Are you actually saying that it's bad for people who have problems with sexism, racism, and the like in entertainment reading to speak up in a way that might hurt the sales of works that they see as flawed with real-world consequences?"

No. If that's how what I wrote came across, I wrote it really badly.

I am saying that there are two ways to criticize a particular book. Both are valid,appropriate, and necessary kinds of criticism, but they serve different purposes.

One is: This book was poorly written, with sloppy worldbuilding, a confusing plot, shallow characters, jerky pacing, badly edited, a derivative premise, etc. This is criticism of the book *as a book.* It is a way of saying that "this book does not work."

I am justified in concluding such a review with "I do not recommend this book" the same way I would say "I do not recommend anyone going on a long trip buy that car with the wonky engine, it will conk out after ten thousand miles."

The other is: This book made me feel bad. It delivered a message I find hurtful. The ideas didn't interest me. I felt excluded by its premise and offended by its themes. This is a criticism of the book *as read by a particular reader.* It is a way of saying that "reading (or even thinking about) this book is a painful experience for me."

I am justified in concluding such a review with "I do not recommend this book" the same way I would say "I do not recommend anyone *with back problems like mine* buy that car with the bucket seats, I was in agony after ten thousand miles."

Once again, both are PERFECTLY VALID criticisms of a particular book. Both have applied to this particular title on this thread in sensitive and intelligent ways. Both can be, and should be expressed in ways that can affect the sales of a particular title.

But I think that the second kind of criticism can become very very dangerous if I should make it proscriptive for other people who are NOT me. Even if I have the very very best of intentions. "Men shouldn't read porn because it objectifies women. Women shouldn't read romances because it sets up impossible expectations for relationships. Libraries shouldn't carry LITTLE BLACK SAMBO because it presents demeaning pictures of Indians." and so on.

And I find it especially frightening when these proscriptions are made on the presumption that "the other" is a group that in someway less competent to judge and process their reading experience than the person making it (men are somehow prisoners of their animal instincts, women incapable of distinguishing fantasy from real life, and the children, the poor children, vulnerable in so many ways....)

By the way, I think that this distinction is equally valid when *praising* a particular title. "Buy this book for its graceful language / thrilling plot / vivid setting / in-depth exploration of the characters" is different from "I loved the way this book made me want to hug my children / re-think my opinion of our foreign policy / mount a crusade against the Evil Overlord" although both are equally valid. "EVERYONE should read this book so that they will go and hug their children", however, is scary.
mongolian
180. TiredObserver
Release, Will.
mongolian
181. glass_icarus
@ Hapax:

"What is not healthy or appropriate is when it becomes a general argument about what authors SHOULD or SHOULD NOT write, publishers OUGHT or OUGHT not publish, or what OTHER readers (who lack my super special "coping mechanisms") somehow be exposed to."

I don't see anyone here trying to dictate those things. What we ARE discussing involves various alternate scenarios that, for one reason or another, people have NOT written to the best of our collective knowledge, and also possible unexamined reasons for this avoidance.

Also, I don't think any of us are suggesting that people NOT read the book, although many of us have stated our personal decisions to avoid it. We aren't trying to impugn anyone's intellect or decision-making skills. We simply ask that the people who DO decide to read this book are aware of the points of view we have laid out above, even if they personally don't see/disagree with the things we've said.
les kaye
182. hapax
And to your follow-up:

"Buy B and books like it instead."

Oh, I wish there were more of that on this thread! And I suppose I'm as guilty as anyone. I can think of lots of authors of great YA fiction featuring Native Americans: Sherman Alexie, of course, Louise Erdrich, Michael Dorris, Graham Salisbury, etc. etc. (Our proximity to the Cherokee Nation leads to a lot of requests, but mostly for adult fiction.)

The only good fantasy author I can come up with off the top of my head is Joseph Bruchac, and since I deeply dislike alternative history as a genre, I'm drawing a blank there for recommendations. Oyate doesn't seem to have any leads, either.

I'd love to hear some.
mongolian
183. glass_icarus
@ Skyward: Thanks for the links! :) Am checking them out now.
mongolian
184. Steven Rogers
Jonquil @160,

Thank you for those links, they were very informative.

I asked the questions out of ignoraance. there is a whale load of knowledge about First Nations culture posting/lurking on this thread, and am unsurprised that someone would chime in with useful links to correct me if I was wrong. You were polite about it, thank you.

I don't think you should be too surprised I would ask those questions because I would wager that the "Happy Hunting Ground" comment is part of the cultural assumptions that most non First Nation Americans have about First Nation culture. My statement is probably common (false) knowledge.
Bruce Baugh
185. BruceB
Hapax: Thanks for the clarification. But I still see a problem of diminuition. If one reader says, "I have a real problem with this premise, and here's why," that's one reader's reaction." If another one comes along and says, "I found the concept horrifying, and here's why", and another says, "I've liked the author's books in the past but I just can't bring myself to read yet another story with this feature", and it goes like that...surely there's a point at which we can say "Readers of this kind have problem X with this book"? After all, one of the basic techniques of repression (unintended as well as deliberate) is to keep people isolated and atomistic, and there's a reason liberation efforts tend to work as movements.

So as a general thing, I don't know how to identify thresholds at which we should accept patterns as real and serious. But I'm inclined to set the threshold quite low when it comes to histories of discrimination precisely because it's so easy for those of us who aren't in the affected group to underestimate the breadth and scope of a pain inflicted on others.
mongolian
186. Avalon's Willow
I want to ask Hapax (172) if they think that concern over the continual poisoning of minds, the continuing of institutional racism - racism being something most people in society at least SAY is a wrong thing - isn't a valid reason to protest, to put books and authors on lists to avoid.

How do we eradicate racism, if pointing it out in books and trying to inform people (who are already proving difficult to educate despite their claims of wanting HELP TO LEARN) that what's in the books is racism and doing those acts should be avoided. How do we eradicate racism if when we people who are doing the pointing out of the racism, are admitting logically that we can't be everywhere and so there are others who're absorbing the subtext narrative, but our pointing out this fact - the fact of unhindered harm - is being reframed by those being defensive as 'OMG censorship! Text years to be free! They're not freeing the text! Everyone should read and write whatever they want all the time!'

Isn't there a difference between a 'trashy' book, one that's lite fair or even badly written in terms of the prose itself and a book that harms? And isn't there a problem since most parents can field questions on sexuality and gender equality should their child go "This trashy book has issues...I think", but most white parents DO NOT know the difference between being polite and being anti-racist. Therefore this is something they will miss or worse misinform their child or teen about?

No one's even calling for a ban on this book. It's more like they're calling for the possibility should a second addition arise, that the author include notes in the front discussing the problems with her premise, what they are, why they exist, how it plays into the larger context of the real world.

I will try to check in to see Hapax's response. But this thread now involves William Shetterly. I will not be part of any conversation involving W.S, even obliquely, as his tactics on issues of race involve derailing, intimidation of women (both of colour and white) by stalking, by actually spreading their personal information around, or threatening to. His tactics also involve reframing all discussions on race to exclude the People of Colour/Non White Peoples taking part, so he can focus on white to white conversation and then describe the context as all about class.

It is one thing to have McMaster Bujold have the gall to say "NDN's are two million strong. What near extinction?". It's another to have WS join a conversation where that statement is out there. It brings the level of vile and disgusting concepts in this thread, over the top and flowing onto the ground.
les kaye
187. hapax
BruceB: You raise an interesting point, and I will have to think about it.

I do not wish to belittle anyone else's pain. I've had that happen to me, and yes, it is worse than the original wound.

But I do not wish to devalue anyone else's strength, either. Nor do I wish to make evaluations on the reactions of people as groups -- even if it were a group to which I belong.

So if we're talking in abstract terms my immediate reaction is that there is NO story, no theme, no idea so dangerous, painful, vicious, or wrong, that it can't be read, looked at, and talked about. Maybe not by everyone, but by someone.

I *am* the parent, after all, who actually paid her children cash money to read and report on bad books ("bad" in both senses, of being atrociously written AND filled with what I found to be harmful, pernicious ideas) because I told them "you need a baseline for comparison for all these books I'm recommending to you."

So, yeah, I'd personally set the threshold very high indeed. So high that I've yet to see it met.

That's far from a universal value, though, and merits discussion.
Bruce Baugh
188. BruceB
Thanks, Hapax, I'll be interested to see what you come up with. My own thought, when I set down to poke at it a little while ago, was that it started off seeming easy and got harder and harder as I went to formulate anything useful as a general principle.
les kaye
189. hapax
Avalon's Willow, you ask provocative questions, and I am sorry you feel the need to leave the conversation.

Especially since I don't think I can answer your questions the way that you framed them.

I just don't see stories as "poisoning minds or continuing institutional racism" as you put it.

Before you get angry, I agree wholeheartedly that institutional racism exists. That it can be internalized by both perpetrators and victims, and expressed both explicitly and implicitly in the stories we choose to tell, and those we choose not to tell.

And it is valid and useful and by God necessary for people to point it out when they see it.

But I do not think that the story conveyed by a text -- overtly or subvertly -- is at all the same as the story the reader receives.

Reading is an active process. No readers sit passively and allow themselves to be "poisoned", any more than they allow themselves to be "enlightened." Readers engage with the text. They bring their own experiences and prejudices and priorities and assumptions to the story. (Forgive me the truism, but this is leading somewhere, I hope).

But they also bring the experiences, prejudices, priorities, and assumptions of everyone they encounter. Just from reading this thread, I have the experiences and reactions of you and dozens of other people to add to my mental toolkit.

To put it as clearly as possible, if I were to read THIRTEENTH CHILD now, it would not in any way be the same story as if I had read it before this thread came about. I doubt it will be for anyone who has followed along here.

It might have been a "better" story, in some ways, before (More fun? perhaps, but since I've already said I don't much care for alternative history, probably not.) I am actually MORE likely to read it now than I was before, because I will now be reading it with your story and Carlos_skullsplitter's and skywardprodigal's and so many other people's stories running alongside it, telling me what isn't there.

But of course, that's me -- others might find it too painful, or not worth the effort, or simply have other things to do with their limited time and attention. (I am still eager for a list of "Read this instead!" titles, by the way. Surely there are some out there the well-read folks around here can recommend?)

And yes, I think that parents and teachers and librarians and readers and total strangers have a close to sacred responsibility to equip children and teens and each other with the broadest and most effective mental toolkit for engaging with text imaginable. Recognizing racism and sexism and homophobia and discrimination against the disabled, and bad science and anachronism and logical fallacies, and if someone could do something about all those red-haired green-eyed girls who are feisty and bad-tempered, I'd take it as a personal favor.

So criticism and protest, yes, absolutely. Here and everywhere else that discussion of this book comes up. "Lists of books to avoid", though, not so much.

Because when a story isn't engaged with, it loses the opportunity to become all those infinite stories it could be.

And what we need are more stories, not less.

And I suspect that you will feel that didn't answer your questions at all.
Bruce Baugh
190. BruceB
Hapax, I don't want this to sound like picking on you in particular, but I think there's a huge set of unexamined factors in advocacy of "engaging with the story anyway", if that's a fair representation.

I'll take an example that's individual. One of my brothers was once in a severe car accident, and spent some substantial time in brain injury rehab afterward. Some of what I saw there traumatized me pretty deeply, and some scenes can remind me of those in a very bad way, giving me panic attacks and nightmares and stuff. One such trigger, it happens, is the makeup job for Heath Ledger as the Joker. Every time I see it, I am overwhelmed with a recollection of another of the guys in the rehab ward, with particular disfigurations that are, for me, particularly horrible. Seeing stills of Ledger in makeup is bad enough; the trailer left me feeling gut-punched.

So I didn't go see The Dark Knight, and explained to friends who'd invited me to go with them why. They were all okay with it. But I've mentioned it in public forums a time or two, and gotten responses that include direct accusations of cowardice and a general sense of "stop being such a whiner, suck it up and go, or we'll kick you out of nerd academy". That makes me angry. I refuse to have my entertainment time dominated by personal horror just to impress someone else, and the handful of people on the planet I might grant a right to tell me I ought to have all refrained, out of knowledge and respect for me as a person.

From where I sit, telling folks "Oh, don't be such a baby and drag in your real-life experience of everyday racism and dismissal, because this is a really cool book" is very much the same kind of thing, and I hate it. I think there is no duty of any kind to engage with this or that piece of entertainment at all. The only duty of engagement I recognize deals with the works that have influenced real-world society in big ways. I don't think you can be a really good critic of Western societies without knowing the Bible, for instance. But this isn't a work like that. This is a fantasy novel, and there are, frankly, more good fantasy novels than we have time to read - we fan types are, after all, always talking about our huge stacks of unread books. I simply can't make out the workings of a moral argument that ends up saying that we ought to give preferential treatment to the entertainment that horrifies us, just to prove our intellectual studliness or something.

In fact, I'll go to the other pole. I think that people who experience a routine discrimination in real life should very much stay away from entertainment that drags it in unless they're doing specific scholarship or something. The more any of us is ground down, the more we need some building up. It's as important as pumping gas into a car that's about to run out, rather than siphoning what remains and saying it's a lesson about alternative perspectives on emptiness.
mongolian
191. skywardprodigal
@ kialio 89

Please let me know if the fantasy you're reading pleases you over at lj or elsewhere. Also, I didn't think you addressed me out of turn. I'm always glad to read, see, or hear from you. I respect, admire, and am regularly heartened by your love of beauty and people.
mongolian
192. skywardprodigal
A consequence of writing Indigenous people out of the collective consciousness of the general population is that while many white people (that understand themselves to be well educated/well meaning) can be surprised that all Indians aren't extinct, other white people that live in close proximity to Indians and consider only themselves human continue the frontier tradition of rape as sport.
les kaye
193. hapax
BruceB @190:
I don't feel picked on in any way. As I said repeatedly, these are very interesting questions to me.

I am sorry about your experience with your brother's accident, and doubly sorry about the dismissive reaction you received from people. That is exactly what I was talking about when I described dismissal as hurting more than the original wound.

"telling folks "Oh, don't be such a baby and drag in your real-life experience of everyday racism and dismissal, because this is a really cool book" is very much the same kind of thing, and I hate it."

Did it sound like I was saying that? I must have been VERY obscure. I thought I was saying the exact opposite -- that it is irresponsible and dishonest to NOT drag in your real life experience, and everybody else's real-life experience as well. That is what "engaging with a book" means. It is also the thing that makes what might be a "cool book" to me (as I said, the Wrede book looks a lot more interesting me now BECAUSE I can now read it with a far better sense of "the story not being told") a "boring" or even "hurtful" book to someone else.

I don't think that *everyone* has a duty to engage with every book. I think that *I* do -- or better, within the scope of a certain fields of contemporary YA fiction and genre literature, I have a duty to be aware of as much as possible, and engage with as many as I can that seem to be particularly significant in both positive and negative ways. That is because this is my profession, my passion, and pretty much my religion.

I hope that I made clear above that I don't expect everyone to share that priority!

"I think that people who experience a routine discrimination in real life should very much stay away from entertainment that drags it in unless they're doing specific scholarship or something."

Ah. Well, this is where I will have to disagree with you. STRONGLY.

To start with, by this argument, I would have had to "stay away" from pretty much all sff (or really, all literature) written before 1960 or so, and my life would have been the poorer for it.

Second of all, while I can not and would not fault anyone else for choosing to avoid entertainment that contains elements they find hurtful, *speaking only for myself*, putting my hands over my ears and saying "la-la-la I can't hear you" when I encounter sexist or homophobic entertainment doesn't do anything to build up my self-esteem. It's a pretty fragile foundation if I have to build up my self identity by pretending I live in a world that doesn't exist, instead of acknowledging and working to change the one that does.

Both points lead to the underlying fundamental premise, that I do not think it is anyone's business to say what individual members of any other group SHOULD or SHOULD NOT choose to encounter. I find it frightening that anyone feels that they have a better sense than I what will "build me up", what will "tear me down", whether that is due to their estimation of my experiences of discrimination, my physical or mental maturity, or any other well-meaning criteria based solely upon group categorization.

But as interesting and enlightening as this conversation has been, if you or anyone else wants to ask or argue about anything that I have said, please don't think that I am dismissing you if I don't respond for a couple of days. (If I have inadvertently managed to insult somebody, however, please consider heartfelt apologies delivered IMMEDIATELY and chalk it up to any personal failing on my part that pleases you)

Life (tm) alas, is making other demands...
Bruce Baugh
194. BruceB
Hapax: But: Both points lead to the underlying fundamental premise, that I do not think it is anyone's business to say what individual members of any other group SHOULD or SHOULD NOT choose to encounter.

And yet here we are, doing exactly that. I don't think it's avoidable. We can of course keep silent, and disappear from the discourse. Otherwise we are going to be recommending action, of one sort or another. We each from our experience, and what we observe of others', and derive something from them, which we share with others.
Bruce Baugh
195. BruceB
And with that, I'm gonna knock off unless something genuinely new comes up. I'm still unhappy with the extent to which my simply repeating things said by actually directly affected people of color has gotten better responses in many cases than their own words, and there's a real temptation to end up as Designated Speaker on Other People's Behalf that I'd like not to fall into.
Alberto Yáñez
196. Alo.
I just came across this bit of Usenet history and it just makes everything all the worse for me. I've got something to say to Ms. Wrede, wherever she is--

Patricia C. Wrede:

You FAIL.

The *plan* is for it to be a "settling the frontier" book, only without Indians (because I really hate both the older Indians-as-savages viewpoint that was common in that sort of book, *and* the modern Indians-as-gentle-ecologists viewpoint that seems to be so popular lately, and this seems the best way of eliminating the problem, plus it'll let me play with all sorts of cool megafauna). I'm not looking for wildly divergent history, because if it goes too far afield I won't get the right feel. (emphasis added)

Was writing the Indians as people beyond you?

Did you simply not comprehend that erasing entire peoples is, in fact, wildly divergent?

Not only did you make a morally reprehensible choice in this situation, you clearly failed to understand that there was any morality to it. You failed.
mongolian
197. Stella Omega
Hapax@193;

you say; I hope that I made clear above that I don't expect everyone to share that priority!

No, until this particular post, you didn't. Nor was it clear that you felt that people had a right to steer clear of books they felt to be hurtful-- in fact, you specifically say this;

("I think that people who experience a routine discrimination in real life should very much stay away from entertainment that drags it in unless they're doing specific scholarship or something.")

Ah. Well, this is where I will have to disagree with you. STRONGLY.

To start with, by this argument, I would have had to "stay away" from pretty much all sff (or really, all literature) written before 1960 or so, and my life would have been the poorer for it.


Which means you are female, of course. because prior to 1960, all sci-fi was written by, and about, men. White men. geeky white men.

And there was no uproar because, the only women reading the stuff were ten-year-old girls like yourself and me, and we discovered the magazines from dad or big brother. And ten-year-old girls, especially in those days-- had no idea that they were invisible in the media they were reading.

But you may remember that as we grew older we figured that out. And began complaining, and agitating, and-- vis Joanna Russ the "angry lesbian," began writing sci-fi that featured women. And nowadays, you are likely to find women heroes in SF-F.

So, you're seeing the same thing beginning to happen now as more and more minority members of our common society begin to take part in our society's common *entertainments.* Don't bother shaking your finger about it. I swatted those shaking fingers away in the sixties, my friends of color are swatting them away now.

Now that I have a bigger choice of quality entertainment that includes me as a white woman-- I really don't care much at all about those old white dude writers, they weren't *that* good. As we begin to see a bigger choice of quality entertainment that includes people of color, you will see a turning away from all-white worldbuilders-- it's not as if any of them are *that* good.



You are ignoring a very important key word;

!* ENTERTAINMENT *!

And that's all I have to say about that.
mongolian
198. Quivoly
Alo @ 196

... Wow. Massive, massive fail. Newsflash, NDNs, Patricia Wrede views you as a "problem" to clear out of the way so she can have her cool megafauna. Yes, that was probably already apparent, but you all know where we're having this discussion.

@ hapax: To start with, by this argument, I would have had to "stay away" from pretty much all sff (or really, all literature) written before 1960 or so, and my life would have been the poorer for it.

Newsflash, minorities, you need to read poisonous literature for your edification. Because if you don't buy it, well, the poor white writers and readers will just keel over and die without your pained support, right after pillorying you for refusing to give their racist and othering work 'a chance'. Because none of this is about your feelings. It is about changing the world! By buying and consuming the work of, again, racist white writers.

Thanks, hapax, for making sure I never feel the need to read Heinlein, Card and all the original racists; if any of their work offended *you*, then I'm certainly not going to bother checking them out of the library.

PS: For those still needing to learn, ahem, read more works by minorities, Mr. Google is your friend. Seriously, people; you managed to find and post in this discussion. Is your internet-fu so broken by the presence of minorities criticizing Wrede that you cannot type "oyate" in at Amazon and look for related works? Christ.
mongolian
199. Raincitygirl
With regards to the "overkill" hypothesis, i.e. that North American megafauna were hunted to extinction by pre-Columbian First Nations, that hypothesis is most definitely NOT the only possible explanation, and is in fact considered pretty dodgy science in many academic circles. Please see http://www.pnas.org/content/105/11/4077.full for more details on the causes of North American megafaunal extinctions.
mongolian
200. Kynn
Hapax @ 172

Oh, in answer to your astonishingly irrelevant and impertinent question, why yes, I *am* white. May I ask in return how old you are?

It's not irrelevant and impertinent, though. It's a legitimate question when we're talking about race and how racism -- accidental or intentional -- is perceived.

How we can we talk about race if we aren't even willing to acknowledge that we have races and those races may affect our viewpoints?

As for me, I'm going to be 41 this summer, on August 1. I'm also white.
mongolian
201. Kynn
Also, hapax, your privilege is really dripping all over the place in ways that may prove too caustic for many people to want to engage you, especially if they are people of color who have been subject to oppressions you have not had to face. You are very glib and white and privileged, and I wince (as a white person) at many of the things you are saying.

I don't think it's an accident that only white people (such as Bruce, who has been excellent on this thread) are willing to engage you. You seemingly just don't realize how repellent your words are.
mongolian
202. Kynn
Oh, an edit to my previous post. "Only white people" should read "primarily white people". I don't want to assume anything, nor make invisible the people of color who HAVE responded to hapax, such as Avalon's Willow.

But even AW's response is different from those responses given by Bruce or Stella or me.
mongolian
203. Stella Omega
kynn @202

But even AW's response is different from those responses given by Bruce or Stella or me.


That's because we three white folks can speak from a relatively comfortable position. It's not so hard for us to be polite-ish, give a little benefit of the doubt, not take it quite so personally; that's our...

privilege, comma, white.
mongolian
204. stargazer
I've read the comments all the way up to #193. I haven't read the book in question so I shall not comment on it. Neither shall I comment on the comments about it.

I will however comment on something I see missing in the discussion. Links to "Book B" as described by BruceB @ 174. I've seen all manner of links to race-related topics, but I've seen no links to good works of fiction with POC. Why is that? Do none exist?

I'd like to find some Authors of Color writing about Characters of Color. Recommendations?
Caoimhe Ora Snow
205. keeva
@stargazer I'd like to find some Authors of Color writing about Characters of Color. Recommendations?

Try Mr. Google.

(I'm sorry to be terse, but you're asking for some pretty basic 101 stuff here. Expecting other people to do your work for you is kind of privileged and derailing. It's not hard to locate what you're looking for, as it's been discussed many, many times in the past by people of color and white people alike.)
mongolian
206. Stella Omega
stargazer@204;
here is a partial list to get you started... There are more recommendations in the comments.
mongolian
207. sixquarters
@204: I agree with Keeva here. But, nevertheless:

50booksPOC, which is full of people trying to read 50 books by PoC a year, many of which are sci-fi/fantasy. There are comments here that are recommended genre fiction by PoC. Here is a list of such lists.

There are such books out there, yes. They face significant obstacles to publication. Read up on how Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix almost didn't make it to print.
Zeborah .
208. Zeborah
stargazer@204: "Do none exist?" is... not something liable to convince people that you're asking in good faith. But if you are, and if anyone else reading is interested, another resource is the LJ community http://community.livejournal.com/50books_poc It's full of reviews of books by People of Colour, and there's a very thorough tagging system.
mongolian
209. kyuuketsukirui
Alo@196

Thanks for finding that comment. It's rather...illuminating.

Good to know that Native Americans are nothing more than a "problem" to be "eliminated", that the task of, as Alo said, writing them as people was beyond her, that she felt she had no choice (her hands were tied, folks!) but to write them as one tired stereotype or another. Apparently she found the stereotyped roles allowed "Aphrikans" to be more palatable.

And the "right feel"? What was the "right feel"? That white settlers were awesome and singlehandedly turned this (empty) country into a prosperous nation? Was there not a single thought going through this woman's head other than "squee! megafauna!!!1111!!!"?
mongolian
211. jonquil
Steve@184: I actually wasn't any politer than other people in this thread; I was just less confrontational. As I have recently been reminded, there's a big difference. The people who've been talking here have been passionate and eloquent and confrontational, but not rude.

The difference is that I'm a Midwestern white girl, I avoid conflict, and my version of "very angry" (which I was) reads in the dominant culture like "polite".
mongolian
212. jonquil
But Stella Omega put it better:

It's not so hard for us to be polite-ish, give a little benefit of the doubt, not take it quite so personally; that's our...

privilege, comma, white.
mongolian
213. Steven Rogers
Jonquil@211,

Heh. There is a saying where I live: "A true southerner will remain polite right up to the point of being mad enough to kill you." At risk of being accused of derailing again, is there really a difference between more polite/less confrontational?

Anger is fine. I can fully understand the level of anger on the topic, particularly in light of Alo@196's quote of Wrede. My own response to that is WTF?

Out of curiosity, do you think I was wrong in my statement that the "Happy Hunting Ground" idea is an example of false common knowledge held by most Americans of multiple races/ethnicites? I am deeply impressed by the knowledge displayed in this discussion, which obviously is the result of many hours of study. But there are only so many hours in a day. If we get a thread going about the involuntary transportation of Scots-Irish settlers to the new world, the pacific theater of WWII or maybe even the Ottoman Empire I might be willing to go hammer and tongs on the subject.
Josh Jasper
214. joshjasper
Coming to this late. I'm surprised that no one has brought in Steve Barnes, who did a near reverse of the "POC are wiped out in a catastrophic event" in his Lions Blood books, and wiped out most of white Europe from the plague, leaving African Muslim cultures ascendant, and a protagonist who's a Celtic slave. I think his Shadow Valley books are primarily set in Africa, with no whites, but that's because (IIRC) they're pre-historic in nature.
mongolian
215. Anne KG Murphy
@glass_icarus

I know the definition of the term derailing and I feel at this point you are using the tactic yourself by asserting my post is off-topic from the official thrust of the discussion to avoid admiting that I have a point. I am not trying to derail the conversation, just, in a couple of posts, clarify my reference to a logic fail that I thought I observed being perpetuated in the midst of it. In fact, I have clearly not derailed the conversation, which of course pleases me.

@BruceB, I thought I said, quite clearly, that I have no problem with people saying they don't think reading the book is worth the time, I was *only* raising a concern about saying people of conscience ought not to *read* the book as though it was a moral question whether or not to do so. I mean, how you allocate your time in general is always partly a moral question,because there are so many important things to be learning and working on and only so much time here on earth, but time allocation didn't seem to me to be the thrust of Skywardprodigal's comment about conscience.

I like what you wrote about the question of which big ideas take up space and time in our Entertainment, which gets into the question of what people *write, publish, produce, sell, and buy*. Especially considering limited air time and limited shelf space on stores, it is definitely relevant to consider the issue of limited resources and exposure in conjunction with the question of how seeing such stories promoted (over and over again, especially) affects the people who find themselves and their people hurt by the overall trend of making them and their history invisible.
mongolian
216. Sparkymonster
@ stargazer 204

I suggest going to your local library and talking to a librarian, or going to your local independent bookstore and asking the staff for help. You could also go to Mr. Google and try something like "african american science fiction authors" or "asian american science fiction"
mongolian
217. glass_icarus
@ Alo 196: .... WOW. Thanks for digging up that piece of information; that basically tells me everything I needed to know re: the authorial intent question.
mongolian
218. Learn Hexadecimal
Anne KG Murphy/215, the point you are arguing against does not exist. Nobody in this thread is dictating a universal ethical imperative against reading Thirteenth Child. We're saying that we each, as individuals, aren't going to read it because it is a product of vileness.

Alo/196, thank you for posting that quote. We've all been theorizing that this book was created out of ignorance and the careless abuse of privilege; now we know it for a fact.
mongolian
219. Haddayr
I am also late to this; I have not been online. But I just have to poke my head in, here, because I'm seeing some very strange assertions.

For the record: It's okay to object to the premise of a book without reading it.

Yes, yes it is. And it's okay to critique the premise, and to choose not to read a book because you find the premise appalling. And to talk about the history behind your objection, and to speak out on it, and to ask writers to think about the impact of their creative decisions.

This is not called "censorship." This is called "criticism."
mongolian
220. glass_icarus
@ joshjasper: First, a caveat- I haven't read Steve Barnes and can't really comment with any specificity. However, from your brief outline above, I would say no one's mentioned it because the two scenarios cannot be equated. The premise of Thirteenth Child is based upon the erasure of victims of genocide whose histories have already been erased. Historically, no one has ever tried to wipe all white people off the face of the planet; in the racist constructs of society, they have always been at the top of the ladder. An inversion of this status quo is therefore an interesting thought experiment, but nothing else, as nobody will be HURT by it (except perhaps for white supremacists, but they seem to be hurt by the presence of PoCs like myself in their everyday lives, so).
mongolian
221. PixelFish
I particularly liked Loligo's comment at 77 and Jonquil's comment at 101 as distilling what was so problematical about the erasure of North American peoples (or their fantasy analogues) from this book. It's not that one can't imagine it, but given the context of the society (ours) in which this book is published and will be read, it does feel like this is one more extrusion from the public school whitewashed versions of history.

It's not that The Thirteenth Child won't necessarily be a fun read or that the "people on the frontier with megafauna" premise isn't a neat one. But execution does change how people view things. I loved a bunch of books where boys would get together to form clubs and go detectiving while the girls were relegated to love interests and pesky little sisters. (See The Mad Scientists Club, the Brains Benton mysteries, the Alvin Fernald books, Homer Price, the Three Investigators, and a number of floppy softcovers from my parents' youth wherein there is a sekrit clubhouse and a rival gang.) I noticed as a kid that there were no girls with real parts in these books, but it took me well into adulthood to realise there were no people of colour either. If I were to choose to write an updated kid's gang series on the basis that those stories were fun, but still choose to erase all the people who never existed in those stories in their original tropes, because I thought it would solve the problem of racial or sexual tensions....um....that just sounds like a big recipe for reinforcing the status quo. Just because you didn't see the pattern being reinforced, or just because it wasn't intentional, doesn't mean it wasn't there.


I think Stella makes a the start of a pretty good point, re: how we used to shake our fingers about the portrayal of women, and now it's PoC shaking their fingers. But in reality--and I don't think Stella meant to imply this wasn't the case--PoC have been shaking their fingers just as long as women have. (Two fingers in some cases, one for being women, one for being PoC.)
mongolian
222. Stella Omega
Pixelfish@221
Well, actually, I meant that, back in the '70's and '80's, male writers shook their fingers at the women who wanted to read about women in sci-fi. That was the visible battle of the moment.

Now we are watching white writers shake their fingers at POC who want to read about POC in Sci-fi-- as if the idea of changing the status quo had never happened in any way before.

Well, status quo always changes, and what I wanted to remind Hapax of, or explain to her if she weren't there, that that old battle was loud, messy, unpleasant. Women were accused of being harpies, of co opting men's prerogatives, making things difficult because how can any man understand women well enough to write them? (and really, this is feminist history 101)

And don't those arguments sound familiar right now? Any woman ought to be able to look back on that history and make the cognitive leap that will tell her why books such as this one are worth criticising.
David Dyer-Bennet
223. dd-b
It's okay to object to the premise of a book without reading it.

Well, possibly it is. On the other hand, assertions about what the premise of a book might be, coming from people who have not read the book, seem to me to lack a certain something.
Caoimhe Ora Snow
224. keeva
dd-b @ 223

Well, possibly it is. On the other hand, assertions about what the premise of a book might be, coming from people who have not read the book, seem to me to lack a certain something.

Actually, people who have read the book -- and some who liked it! -- are the ones asserting what the premise of the book is.

People like Jo Walton, who has read it, have said what the book is about.
mongolian
225. blue-monarch
dd-b@223

Given that the premise of the book is in fact given in detail at the top of this page, I fail to see what you're arguing.
mongolian
226. eric11
It isn't reasonable to object the premise of a book without understanding the book itself. If I tell you that the premise of a book is that women have been have enslaved as baby-making machines, you should try to figure out whether this is a cautionary tale in the style of Margret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale or offensive trash in the style of John Norman's Gor or maybe something more subtle and not so easily identified.

Different authors can take the same scenario and run with it in a lot of different directions, and ideally, when they are done, unlike with Atwood & Norman, there won't always be a painfully obvious way to sum up what they were trying to do. There are lots of subtle ways to be not only non-offensive, but righteous. Labeling a whole class of scenarios as offensive is too simplistic. Upon encountering just the scenario of a book, there shouldn't be a rush to judgment that precludes either actually reading the book or at least reading one and ideally multiple thoughtful in-depth reviews -- reviews which address the issue you are trying to judge.
mongolian
227. Stella Omega
eric11@226

You are demanding that the readership prove itself worthy to read a paperback novel.

Better try your contention the other way around-- let the author prove herself worthy of her audience.
Bruce Baugh
228. BruceB
Stella Omega@227: This is a problem I know about because, um, a friend called me out on it. So I learned about it by being shown the evidence that I was doing it, and I know I still do; no moral high ground was approached in the making of this post.

Morals seem creepy to a lot of people. Specifically, morals seem creepy when they'd interfere with our fun.

If someone says, "Oh, yeah, heard about Wrede's new book, but I'm working through my backlog, and I just came across this great series of Japanese sf in translation, so I dunno when I'll get to it," that's just fine. They're likely to counter little or no objection, and very little wheedling or harassment.

If someone says, "Oh, yeah, heard about Wrede's new book, but the premise doesn't really hook me, I'm on this kick for lower-tech milieus," same deal.

It's when someone says, "Oh, yeah, heard about Wrede's new book, but the premise really rubs me the wrong way, and I don't think I want to engage with something that starts off with a concept I abhor," that's when the judgment comes out. They'll be accused of hypocrisy if they don't go on to hate everything that someone else demands they attend to, of the eeeeevul political correctness, of bookburning, of all sorts of terrible things, because they find a concept wrong enough that they wish to keep out of it. Any moral judgment, as opposed to a practical or aesthetic one that implies no particular moral consideration, gets treated as much more of a threat than any quickly-dismissed possibility of harmful prejudice in actually published books and stories.

Fans with standards are taken as more of a threat, and as the perpetrators of more real harm to the field, than any author can conceivably be this side of the author of The Turner Diaries. The notion that one may feel it wise to pass on a pleasure because it has an aspect that holds justice down is apparently far too dangerous to take seriously when we all know that the author means well and has a good history.

This bugs me, a lot. Including when I lapse into it myself.
mongolian
229. Nick Mamatas
It isn't reasonable to object the premise of a book without understanding the book itself.

One would suspect that the 620-word review posted above would provide for sufficient understanding. It's a coherent review.

If not, how about the 40,000 words of commentary that follows, some from people who have read the book, others from people who seem pretty familiar with the physical history and prehistory of the region?

At any rate, I do wonder if the folks suggesting that an uncomplicated elimination of the various Indian groups from two continents cannot be judged (unless treated, rather inexplicably, as a lot more complicated than the text appears to have it be) would think of the work of Peter Sotos? Shorter Sotos: news stories about raped and murdered children are awesome material to create literary collages to which Peter Sotos, author, may masturbate to.
mongolian
230. HArai
@227 Surely the onus is both reader and author alike to exercise their own gift of thought? To my mind reading a novel is a shared experience not a dump of delivered wisdom. I don't see where "being worthy" comes in. Are you saying an author should only write a novel if it meets your expectation in every particular? If the reader has to decide what to take in and what to leave behind, the author is not worthy? I don't think that's what you mean, but I'm not sure what you do mean.
Bruce Baugh
231. BruceB
Harai@230: Of course the book has to earn readers' attention and sympathy. There are a lot of books out there, and a lot of other things to spend our time on, too. Like forums. :) It's not possible to read every book that suggests it might be rewarding, so we're always discarding most of the options, routinely. What is so weird about the idea of making some selections because this premise is repellent and that one isn't? Why does this arouse so much dudgeon when "I don't go for romances", "I favor adult protagonists", and "Very few stories with prominent magic ever do it for me" don't?
mongolian
232. Eric11
Nick Mamatas@229, I was speaking generally. Other scenarios have been discussed here (such a Europe without Jews), and I wanted to point out that you can't judge a book by its opening scenario - any given scenario might used by an author to create a book which is either horrible or wonderful. Regarding Wrede's book, I don't think Jo Walton's review sufficiently addressed the issue that caused so much outrage, but some of the reviews in this thread, such as Carlos' certainly did.
Caoimhe Ora Snow
233. keeva
Bruce @ 231:

Because concerns about racism (and sexism and heterosexism and cissexism and ableism and...) are not considered worthy things to worry about. Why, if fans started doing THAT, there wouldn't be anything left to read!

Also, I'd like everyone here to read my book, Teach Yourself CSS in 24 Hours. I know, yeah, maybe web design books aren't your thing, and maybe you haven't ever even wanted to know about cascading style sheets -- or maybe you know more about them than I do. Whatever. I don't care. I really want you all to go out and purchase it or at least read it in the store.

It could change your life. How will you know without reading it first? Surely you are not in favor of censoring books, and if you fail to read my CSS book, that pretty much would amount to total destruction of the civilization. How can we claim to be an enlightened people if we refuse to read books?? If nobody reads my CSS book, then isn't that the same as silencing me??
mongolian
234. Stella Omega
eric@232;

In this book, the absence of an entire nation of people isn't even an opening scenario, or a plot point, or a theme-- it's a basic precept of the book.

It isn't explained, or changed, or expounded on. The "how do I make room for my characters in this setting?" question was answered with "I'll simply get rid of the people who ought to be there!"

Keeva, I'll buy your book, but I'm expecting my usual kickback. XDD
mongolian
235. Jay Blanc
Response to Louis Bujold @31.

Form and Concept Matter.

For instance, I wouldn't try selling a children's book called "Fluffy Bunny slaughters the horse to to make gelatine for your birthday jello." For a start, the title is too long.

A story which has an unsettling form or concept that doesn't fit/is wrong/jars the reader too much is a pretty hefty strike against it. It doesn't really matter from that point on if the prose is nice, and it has internal consistency, and all the characterisation is well thought out... If the fundamental premise is so disturbing that it puts off the reader, then that reader isn't going to enjoy the book.

I don't go see gory horror flicks, even if they're artful and well done. Because they squick me, and I just can't like them.

People are human, most of them can't just 'enjoy it just for what it is' when there's something about it that pushes their buttons. And let's face it, a book that drops an entire race from the face of the earth, and one that was systematically persecuted and almost wiped out in real history, is going to be something that pushes a lot of people's buttons.

Now, the reaction here looks a whole lot like "Your offended by that? Well, I wasn't offended by it, and didn't even notice that there could be anything to be offended about. Therefore you can't really be fundamentally offended by it, so you should just suck it up and not complain." It's all probably subconscious, and not intentional. But that's how it comes across to people.

People have very good reasons for the concept of this book to squick them. Don't blame them for being squicked by the concept.
Bruce Baugh
236. BruceB
I wrote yesterday that I'm not trying to be Speaker On Others' Behalf, and it's still true. But I do want to call attention to something.

A lot of the counter-criticism here, as in many such exchanges, describes the anger (and sorrow) of people of color raising objections as "manufactured" and the like. I just want to say that that's really damned wrong.

If you go look at the journals and blogs of the people raising concerns, what you find are...genre fans. Lifelong fans, people steeped in exactly the same kinds of escapist adventurous fun and deep-ranging speculative thinking and all the other stfnal stuff that, say, I am. When they write about the works they love, they turn out to be loving the same stuff I am, pretty much. We have a bond of enthusiasms. It's just that, like a lot of other white folks, I hadn't seen them before, and a lot of that is because I let cultural prejudices keep me from looking. But they're not newcomers or interlopers - they have histories as long as mine, or longer.

The idea that someone you haven't seen before is therefore an outsider is an easy one, but it's very often perniciously wrong. There's no reason I couldn't have seen the writing of someone like, say, Avalon's Willow or Skywardprodigal many years back, given how many interests we share, except that I didn't look. And it's not their fault that I didn't. The world of readers and viewers has always been bigger than the set of people any one of us happens to be interacting with, and anyone inclined to presume that their circle is the only true Amber of the fannish multiverse really should sit down, think it over, and then go look at the histories of the people they've been missing.

There is nothing in the appreciation of sf/f that calls for being white, and furthermore, there never was. There's always been fandom among people of color, it's just that they got marginalized out of one particular subset of fandom. But they didn't spring into being from the brow of Tim Berners-Lee. When they say things like "I feel betrayed" and "I feel cast aside yet again", these are our compadres in fandom talking about matters of mutual fannish interest, not interlopers bused in as part of some devilish technocratic scheme to impose an outer darkness on the heart of whiteness.

People of color have been outsiders in the institutions of (semi-)organized fandom, but they aren't and never were outsiders when it comes to reading, enjoying, and thinking and writing about the stuff. And anyone who wants to assert otherwise should have a pretty high burden of proof.
mongolian
237. Nick Mamatas
Nick Mamatas@229, I was speaking generally

And I was asking specifically. It seems pretty obvious to me that people judge books based on their premises all the time. Even leaving out the politically fraught premises of the Americas sans indigenous groups or the prurience of child molestation, people surely and unproblematically avoid certain sections of the bookstore--I've not bought any novels from the "Inspirational" section, for example (though I have read some homesteading Christian romances my mother had years ago). Who complains about such things?

It's no big deal, really, except insofar that Wrede's premise is politically problematical, and there doesn't seem to be any nod to the fact of this problem in the book.

A counterexample: in Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas, and Electric, most of the world's black people are wiped out. Around the same time, some semi-intelligent humanoid robots are mass-produced, and an artifact of the production process is that they have dark skin. The whites of the world, who no longer have to worry about what black people think, call these machines Electric Negroes. (Ruff discusses the book here: http://home.att.net/~storytellers/sewergen.html)

The premise is broadly similar; the difference is that Ruff, in the text, acknowledges how problematic the premise is--as Atwood does and Norman does not, to use your examples. If Wrede problematizes her premise in her book, I sure wish someone would quote chapter and verse.

(Of course, that said, it would continue to be utterly reasonable to critique Ruff either for his premise or execution. I don't even like well-done books about police who violate civil rights to track down "criminal scum" for example. I just don't. It upsets me. I quite like a lot of books with premises that would make the meat fall from the asses of many of the participants in this thread, however.)
mongolian
238. Foxessa
Am I really going to post this? Guess so. This weekend was spent at Princeton at a symposium titled "Radio Free Dixie: Or -- De Dirty South Broke-Down) A Symposium on New South Sounds & Culture."

It was not surprising to me how much of this weekend (as with so many of the other symposiums and conferences I've been attending throughout North America., the Caribbean, South America and in Europe too) applied to this discussion.

Here's one part that I put up on my own blog in reply to an argument made elsewhere about these very issues:

"Not all the participants were music people. Among those who were not was Arthur Jafa Fielder (look him up on IMDB). He began his presentation with three short stories from his family and childhood, while growing up in Clarksdale, Mississippi. (Look up Clarksdale on google.) All three of these stories were fascinating, well-told and revelatory of a different facet of growing up black and male in the Delta post the Civil Rights era. But this particular story is about science fiction. I shall reproduce it as best I can from my notebook. This is from his presentation, "A Dialogue on Southern Cinema and African-centered Visual Culture:"

AJ speaks (and yes, I do shorthand) ---



Because Big Name SF/FPros didn't notice anybody except themselves in connection with SF/F, doesn't mean in the least that People of Color, here in the U.S. and all over the globe, weren't there; they were there, and they were dialogueing with sf/f, and with each other about Sf/F -- shoot don't you ever listen to music made by people of color in the 20th century, filled with sf/f tropes? Shoot, to my own knowledge, black guys around here learned about Chinese martial arts -- kung fu for short -- movies before the sf/f world got all wet for them, and were talking about them in their music.

It's just shameful, and embarrassing, to see the levels of, the depth, the breadth of ignorance of anything except themselves, as exhibited by Nameless Southern Chick Rocker described in the previous entry, who weighed in on these matters later on Saturday."
Bruce Baugh
239. BruceB
Wow, Foxessa. Thank you for bringing that. That's a lot to think about, and take to heart.

I...was not expecting to learn so much today.
mongolian
240. CountessBaltar
No wonder SF/F is on skids.

I can't even read something that hasn't been beaten to death by the self-appointed Politically Correct Police.

Ironically the same PC police who recently discounted the part of my racial heritage that IS Native American and insisted I was really 100% white.
Jo Walton
241. bluejo
CountessBaltar: You are a troll and I claim my five pounds.

Everyone else: please don't feed the energy creature.
Sumana Harihareswara
242. brainwane
I'm finding this thread very educational. Thank you for writing it. It's especially been useful to me in teasing out the reasons we find legitimate, or not, to choose to read or not read a story.

Foxessa, thank you so much for sharing that story.

Bruec @231, it really makes one's guard go up when one's friend says, "I am going to act differently than you act because my moral code says to do so." I find an analogy here in how meat-eaters treat vegetarians who refuse meat on ethical grounds (instead of health reasons). The meat eater assumes that the vegetarian is implicitly judging her, and preemptively judges back.

Some people think the world should follow their example. Some don't. Members of the latter group might be hypocrites or they might be humble. In any case, it does take rather a lot of patience, humility, and empathy to see someone say "My morals tell me to make a different choice than the one you made" and not get defensive.

Stargazer @ 204, I hereby plug the book I just edited, Thoughtcrime Experiments, which includes a few short stories by people of color. You can read it for free online.
mongolian
243. Tom Scudder
brainwave: On the "ethical vegetarianism" thing, Jim Henley has an interesting post from a few days ago on the pre-emptive hostility vegetarians and vegans often get from omnivores (bleah, pasting in link below because I forget the non-html bbCode commands):

http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2009/05/10/9339#comments
mongolian
244. CountessBaltar
To bluejo@241

That's the funniest thing I've heard this week.

You actually have seen many of my posts under a different handle on Usenet. It's only the pity party that hangs out on Live Journal that doesn't like my responses to the point of resorting to name calling and banning me from commenting on the astounding hypocrisy expressed on their "private" journals (and posted to Metafandom).

You can blame Ron Moore for me getting crabby and speaking my mind regarding the current state of SF/F.
mongolian
245. kingsman
Personally, I think this is all a bunch of hooey over nothing.

What if I wrote an alternate history where Islam took over europe in the 1600's? Would you be raising such a ruckus?

Or what if we wrote one where the european continent was never settled for the same reason as those in the novel? Would that be a problem?

What if the Native americans had been wiped out by europeans that had settled in the Americas before the Native Americans got here? Would that be a problem?
Bruce Baugh
246. BruceB
I'm curious, kingsman.

Say that there was something of great importance to you but not widely appreciated in the rest of society. You and some of your friends, and people you don't know but who happen to agree with you, put thousands of words' effort into explaining your specific concern, general context, and what in your life stories has contributed to your thoughts.

Someone comes along and says "I think this is all a bunch of hooey over nothing." Would you be inclined to give them a courteous answer? Would you feel that they were entitled to a respectful answer and that you ought to just choke down whatever resentment you may feel and start all over again?

Would it matter in such a situation if the critic demonstrates that they haven't actually paid attention to much of what you said the first time? I bring this up because you've done just that, in bringing up the idea of Native Americans wiped out that way. One of the issues raised repeatedly is the matter of legacy: if there are no Native Americans, who made corn and tobacco, who taught the first settlers key survival skills, who engaged in the decades and centuries of altering landscapes to be as the settlers found them, and on and on.

So maybe you'd benefit from actually reading some more before posturing anymore, and explain why the objectors owe you a respect you clearly aren't prepared to extend to them.
Alberto Yáñez
247. Alo.
kingsman @ 245:

I think that you've overlooked the posts above that answer your questions. Still, I just got home from watching Star Trek again and I'm in a good mood, so I'll answer.

One of the major reasons the premise of the book is so problematic is because it erases in literature peoples who were actually almost entirely erased in reality.

It erases peoples from narratives who were not only murdered, but whose languages, religions, histories, literatures, and cultures were also destroyed.

It erases peoples who are still under real cultural attack every single day, and in fact, perpetuates such an attack.

It erases peoples who cannot, and whom we cannot, afford to be erased even in fiction, because that is too close to what their actual history has been--and could still be.

The difference between imagining that the Native Americans never were and that the Europeans never were is that the Native Americans really were almost all destroyed.

The difference is that a world in which the Europeans never were is clearly fiction, but one in which the Native Americans never were was nearly reality.

If you don't understand the difference, then I'm sorry for you.
mongolian
248. Shrike58
Having skimmed through this thread I'm amazed at the level of vituperation that a probably mediocre novel has generated.

All I can say is that the people here swinging the bloody shirt of genocide had better be doing something useful in the real world for the supposed downtrodden rather then just braying about how others are morally tone deaf. You and what god are going to tell me I'm suffering from false consciousness?
mongolian
249. glass_icarus
@ Shrike58: "Swinging the bloody shirt of genocide," eh? That oozes of privilege to me. Closing one's eyes to history is only a luxury to the people who don't actually have to live with the consequences of it. Apparently, you haven't read any of the educational and illuminating comments here (see: Alo, Sparky, Skyward, Foxessa, Carlos... I could go on, but what's the point?).

As to your complaints about "doing something useful in the real world," none of us here- PoCs and white allies alike- are obligated to inform you of what we are doing with our lives. In fact, none of us are even obligated to be here in public discussing exactly how the premise of this book is problematic. We do it because it's important to us, and because there are people out there less "tone deaf" than you appear to be who might actually benefit from such a discussion, and because we know- in some cases, personally- that there are tons of other PoCs and allies who are too tired or too hurt to engage in this particular iteration of Racefail. So, basically, no, sorry. This isn't all about you.
mongolian
250. Astraea
It's taken me a long time to get through all these comments, and I just have one observation to share (because all my other thoughts were either @#$(*@!! or have been explained more eloquently already).

There are a lot of people repeatedly scolding people for criticizing a book they haven't read, but as far as I can tell not ONE SINGLE person has used the actual text of the book to refute the problems observed with the premise (and intent as quoted by the author herself). In fact, the only people who are using the actual content of the book have confirmed that the reading of the premise as giant fail is upheld in the way the book is written.
mongolian
251. Foxessa
Islam nearly did take over Europe in the 1600's.

The Polish King and cavalry prevented that at Vienna.

Which, however, did not stop the consciences of Austria, Russia and Prussia from Disappearing Poland entirely, then, in 1795, including forbidding even the word Poland to be used.
mongolian
252. Tom Scudder
Frankly, if I'd heard of a story about Islam taking over Europe in 1600, written in Arabic by a radical Islamist writer, I would find it creepy-in-premise, though possibly not creepy-in-execution.
mongolian
253. Astraea
Islam is a religion, not a race. Islamic dominance of Europe doesn't require the elimination of white people in Europe.
mongolian
254. Shrike58
#249: I'm a student of military history and have a degree in conflict analysis and resolution. Trust me, I've spent a lot of time contemplating the abyss of mass violence. That's why I find a lot of this debate over the top. The implication at the bottom of this appears to me to be that because Ms. Wrede wrote such a novel she would prefer to live a world like the one she depicted, for which I've seen no evidence. What looks like a mediocre fantasy novel is not "Mein Kampf."

As for what you should do with your life that is certainly your business; excuse me if I take as strong a line as some of the folks who are casually tossing around the accusations of racism (tacit or otherwise). I'm just more impressed with the people who comfort the afflicted rather then with those who think that they're afflicting the comfortable.
mongolian
255. Foxessa
Up the thread of comments Steve Barnes's *Lion's Blood" and *Zulu Heart* were mentioned as alternate history novels that postulated enormous European population loss due to a plague. Among the consequences of this population loss was the settlement and dominance of North America by a variety of populations who are followers of Islam. (Also, for some rather, to this reader, foggy reasons, Pharaonic Egypt never disappeared, thus it is the dominant organizing empire still, ruling from the Mediterranean basin.)

Why, the commentator wondered, did nobody criticize Steve for this, if the same people are criticizing *Frontier Magic* for disappearing all the indigenous populations in this alternate fantasy America?

Among the elements of these two novels that distinguish them from what's happened in *Frontier Magic* is that Barnes's books clearly are an examination of empire, conquest and of skin-tone based justification for slavery (as well as telling a ripping good yarn with a cast of fascinating characters).

By reversing the religion and region of the conquerors in our world, this alternate history is a mirror of what happened here, and the consequences of that which are still suffered in this history. This mirror reversal points up in great detail just how bogus all the rationalities are, regarding the enslavement of Africans and forcing them to a new continent, in order to live off, and profit from, their uncompensated labor and perpetual enslavement.

Additionally this mirrorr reversal reflects the stereotypes and unexamined assumptions still so prevelant in our history -- such as how slaves are happy because they sing and dance whenever they can. The primary slave pool this world draws upon are the northern Celts. And why yes, even in our history the Irish are known for their music, and indeed are a rich current of what makes part of several varieties of American popular musics.

This is very smart writing, in every way. It demonstrates how hard and clearly the author has thought about his material and what he's chosen to include and how to include it.

That's a very different thing Barnes has done in these novels than postulating the indigenous populations of both South and North America never existed. It's also far more interesting. It makes you THINK while being entertained.

Kim Stanley Robinson's *The Years of Rice and Salt* does the same thing. These are true alternate HISTORIES, because the authors have paid a great deal of attention to history.

Every attempt to found a port at the mouth of the Mississippi failed, for the ground was just too soft. New Orleans wouldn't have existed if the Louisiana residents hadn't shown Iberville the only solid ground that would also allow an egress-ingress to the Gulf from the Mississippi. Though Wrede's people are located on the prairie, still commercial trade demands that the products of the prairie have a route to the south. Which is why, in our own history, New Orleans exists, why it exists where it does, and why it must continue to exist, but that another subject!
Josh Jasper
256. joshjasper
@ glass_icarus - I was mentioning Barnes's work as a contrast, in the same way Nick Mamatas mentions Sewer Gas And Electric - it's someone taking a sideways view at the real extermination/slavery question, and attempting to invert it, not side-step it as alt.history.

I hope what I wrote didn't come across as condoning Wrede because Barnes wrote something else. I'm just mentioning other books that dealt with similar issues (race and alt.history) in very different directions.

The extermination angle is a lot uglier. But Barnes does talk about "what would happen if whites never ascended or mostly got wiped out" in his blog from time to time. And in fact, his protagonists in Lions blood happen to be Muslims. Black Muslims who own (among other races) white slaves at around the same date as white Americans owned black slaves.

What I'm trying to do is place Wrede's book the context of other books, this one in particular, being a pair of books by a POC author. I'm not trying to point to one or the other as justification for anything. I'm just trying to create a a broader context in which to talk about this issue.
mongolian
257. Stella Omega
Shrike38@254

You seem to have a syndrome that many other people share with you; a certain discomfort and intolerance towards the voices of anger and complaint in themselves.

It seems to be acceptable to you to have read about a protest, but you are witnessing a protest, right here-- and look at you, wincing away from it all, and complaining that the subject just isn't important enough!

That is a common method of dismissal. You can just bet that some people wondered why Rosa Parks was worried about "just a seat on a bus."

If you care enough to chastise, you should care enough to read more of the thread, with more care. You will find numerous posts in it that set out reasons for this topic's importance.

If you don't care that much, well-- good luck to you, have a nice life.

JoshJasper@256-- Don't let your search for a wider angle on the subject distract you from the actual subject itself; the societal effects on a group of people who are regularly neglected as part of the common narrative.
mongolian
258. Nick Mamatas
254The implication at the bottom of this appears to me to be that because Ms. Wrede wrote such a novel she would prefer to live a world like the one she depicted, for which I've seen no evidence.

Speaking of a lack of evidence...

by simply suggesting that the strawman you present exists only via implication, you swiftly free yourself from having to actually provide evidence that anyone, anywhere, is saying that Wrede wishes that the Americas had no indigenous peoples (but plenty of magic and megafauna and whatnot). As there isn't any such evidence because, indeed, there is no such implication, this is a good move on your part.

Nobody is implying that Wrede is wishing for some sort of reverse-ghost dance that would reset the demographical clock, much less that she is a proponent of genocide. Try being sliiightly less ridiculous next time. Surely, in your studies of conflict analysis and resolution, the idea of not making bad-faith claims regarding the positions of rhetorical opponents came up once or twice?

Hmm?

Hmmmmmmmm?
mongolian
259. Foxessa
It's revealing, this choice of 'bloody shirt,' to diminutize, to dismiss, to shrug off, the concerns that have been brought up here.

We all know what that term signifies, right? And how often that term is dragged out (since at least the 7th century AD, in ISLAM history, to Shakespeare in *Julius Caesar", to, of course, northern politicians post the Civil War.
If we don't know, plug 'bloody shirt' into your search engine.
mongolian
261. Nick Mamatas
tarred

feathered

shot

beaten

essentially lynch


Hahahaha! Pretend victim much?
Bruce Baugh
262. BruceB
FoxtrotTango: I just spent twenty minutes writing a reply which would probably have gotten me tarred, feathered, and shot. Luckily, I came to my senses before hitting enter. I expect this one will only get me beaten and sent home with a warning.

I'm not sure if you realize it, but you're replying to people who have, some of them, been beaten, robbed, raped, and shot at because of their race (and others because of their sex, gender identity, or orientation), and more whose immediate family history includes lynching, sundown town eviction, and the like. Some of them live in communities where racist violence is a routine fact of life. (Did you see the link to the problem of unpunished rape on reservations?) Others don't now but grew up with it.

In a just world you'd think about it and be ashamed. In an approximation of a just world you'd realize that "respectfully disagree" is a pathetic farce, given your opening trivialization of entire communities' real pain. We may hope.
mongolian
263. FoxtrotTango
How do I edit my post, then? Because in retrospect, I'd rather not have the salient points of my post lost because people don't like how I used certain words.

Then again, I think I'd like to delete my post and back out altogether. There's nothing I can say that will do the slightest bit of good, and I only realized that too late.

I am indeed ashamed.

I'm also frustrated and annoyed that you played the "our pain is greater than your pain, therefore your opinions are less valid than ours" card. I have nothing to compare.

Sorry.
Sumana Harihareswara
264. brainwane
FoxtrotTango, you can edit a previous post of yours using the "edit" link under the timestamp. You should see three links there: "FLAG | BOOKMARK | EDIT".
Bruce Baugh
265. BruceB
FoxtrotTango, I'm a middle-class white person. I have never lived under systematic racial prejudice, and I have benefitted from white privilege all my life. (I've seen how much better response I get from Social Security than people of color with my same medical condition, for instance.) I'm observing, that's all.

One very important and very simple thing I've learned about talking about matters of bias and privilege: keep it simple. You can say "I feel like I'm setting myself up for harsh criticism", for instance, and that would be clear and right on. So many things those of us who've not lived at the butt end of real institutional marginalization turn out to be real, it's by far the safest thing to stick to what's directly, un-metaphorically true in our own experience.
mongolian
266. Nick Mamatas

I'm also frustrated and annoyed that you played the "our pain is greater than your pain, therefore your opinions are less valid than ours" card. I have nothing to compare.


You think that's annoying? You just played the Pretend Victim card a second time! Do you even have any others?
mongolian
267. Zahra
I have to thank so many people on this thread for their comments--especially afrai, for that point about steampunk and Regencies. My brain cells are still sizzling.

Foxessa, I concur; Barnes's alternative history series about Bilalistan actually engages in the the questions of power and dominance that his changes provoke. I didn't particularly like how he portrayed the Aztecs, but he's obviously thought about it and considered them as people rather than problems.

I think there's so much more to say about the white biases of history and their effect on AUs. I actually haven't read The Years of Rice and Salt yet, though I intend to, because part of Robinson's premise squicks me. As I understand it, the original point of departure is the pandemic of bubonic plague (aka Black Death) killing off all of Europe, and the Islamic world taking its place as the main colonizing power in the early modern period. (I understand China, India, and the Americas also play major parts.)

My problem is that the Black Death/Great Mortality also hit the Islamic world, and had a far more devastating effect there, for the simple reason that it was more urbanized, more populous, had better roads, etc. Disease doesn't stop at cultural borders.

This is nowhere near the erasure that Wrede commits, but it seems based on ignorance of non-Western history, and the idea that the plague tragedy somehow "belongs" to Europeans, and that all those other people who died didn't matter.

It's not on the level of Wrede's erasure, but it gives me pause. I will probably read the book eventually because the idea of a non-white-dominated world fascinates me. But as a reader I am adamant about my right to choose when or whether to read a book. That's hardly censorship.
Jo Walton
268. bluejo
Zahra: Read what you like, but what actually happens in YoR&S is that the plague hits exactly as it really did, and then a mutation hits Europe again, wiping it out. Islamic Spain is hit again, the rest of it isn't. And China is as important a colonial power as Islam later in the book. I've just done a post about it.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
269. pnh
Comments 260 (which accused those critical of Wrede's book of engaging in "essentially a lynching") and 269 ("Fuck you") have been deleted. The author of 269 subsequently reposted it as "F You", thus missing the point; the issue isn't the iconic power of the mighty "F word," but rather that we aren't going to be having conversations in which " you" is an acceptable move.

Comments are temporarily closed while everyone cools off.
Torie Atkinson
270. Torie
I'm re-opening this thread, but please be respectful of one another. This is a serious conversation worthy of serious discussion: keep that in mind with your tone and your language.
mongolian
271. Stella Omega
Torie, I understand what you mean to say; but don't confuse "tone" and "language" with "content." That leads to a nasty game, whereby the first person who "says a bad word" "loses" the argument-- in the minds of the game players only.

I could speak endlessly on the most ridiculous and meaningless topics in perfectly serious language. I could make vile and hateful statements in completely civil language.

It's when we speak of what's most important to us, what has hurt or angered or harmed us, that language slips below the "tone" bar. TOR must, if it's serious about hosting this discussion, make that distinction.

When I came here last Thursday to see what new insights had been shared, I found that the TOR moderator had seized on posts from two people-- one who exhibited some rather sickening passive-aggressiveness, and another who reacted badly to that-- and used them to shut down a thread of nearly three hundred comments. If there were, as I understand, three (3) truly objectionable posts, TOR chose to react to one percent (1%) with a scorched-earth policy.
This conversation is, as you point out, serious and important. I think it's more important than the offended sensibilities of one or two moderators.
mongolian
272. FoxtrotTango
I sincerely apologize for my choice of words and tone in my previous posts. As I have learned, there are no excuses for what I said or how I said it. I meant no harm, and I really am sorry. I'm thankful my post was deleted. I would have deleted or edited it myself once I realized my mistake, had I been able. I apologize to those hurt by my unacceptable words, and promise to think harder before speaking again under the circumstances.
mongolian
273. Jesurgislac
Hapax: But I think that the second kind of criticism can become very very dangerous if I should make it proscriptive for other people who are NOT me.

I'm surprised you've never said anything like this in response to Fred Clark's detailed criticism of Left Behind.

You never have. You've had plenty of opportunity to do so. (At least, you never did for the entire time I was reading Slacktivist comment threads, which was years.)

Could it be that you just don't feel the same way about a white man criticising books he thinks are bad for people to read, as you do about people of color criticising books?
Torie Atkinson
274. Torie
@ 273 Jesurgislac

Please, no personal attacks, and stick to things said in the current comment thread.
mongolian
275. Stella Omega
As we see, "shutting comments for 24 hours" (plus or minus a few days) will at least stop the conversation entirely-- at least at this particular blog.

Did anyone cool off? Not exactly. The topic simply moved to other venues.
mongolian
276. Yonmei
More venues than just Dreamwidth, Stella - there were also a couple of posts about it from myself and Liz Henry at the FeministSF blog.
mongolian
277. Carole McDonnell
Reading this I am amazed at our lack of knowledge of Pre-columbian history. Aside from the various different waves of migration from various places -- after all, it takes only one family moving from the north or from the east to create pioneering and over the years there definitely were instances and reasons why many people would have migrated toward Columbia--..but precolumbian history is rich and long. The Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incas and other peoples existed. Wouldn't they have moved north? Or even traveled towards Europe or Africa? One has to go back pretty far in history to remove everyone from the western hemisphere so white folks from Europe can take the country without actually "taking" it from any native peoples. We really need some pre-columbian history courses to enlighten all Americans about all the great nations and tribes that lived in the north and south portions of the western hemisphere.
mongolian
284. Quirk
I share the white privilege expressed above, and normally I'd be in the "read the book" camp, but I see no illegitimacy in challenging the erasure of Native Americans, based on a synopsis. For people who are routinely hurt by such erasure, it's a matter of self-protection to avoid sources that raise high warning flags. For others, it's a matter of protecting consciousness: when you think "this bothers me, but there could be something worthwhile there if I ignore that", /that's/ when you let in ideas that reinforce privilege (more than usual). Finally, the burden should be on the author to make it clear to all readership that Manifest Destiny is not the ideal to support. I am trying to say this concisely and to avoid repeating comments above, but am a bit upset. I wanted to think one of my favorite authors, and another one who is her good friend, knew better than this.

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