British Fiction Focus

Diversity in SFF

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus, Tor.com’s regular roundup of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

This week, the debate about diversity in SFF reared its head again, in the aftermath of a Worldcon which seemed to evidence a readiness for real change. Writing for The Guardian on Friday, David Barnett declared that “it’s time for science fiction to face up to discrimination.”

Finally, right?

Later on, Alan Campbell’s new novel, The Art of Hunting, is nearly here. I’ve got the blurb and the cover, of course. And there’s a bunch more cover art to come, because Orbit Books recently revealed “a selection of covers for some of our exciting releases in the first half of 2014. It promises to be a very good year.” I’ll say!

 

Diversity in SFF

Science fiction loves a good paradox. Here’s one for you: how can a genre that dreams up alien cultures and mythic races in such minute detail seemingly ignore the ethnic, religious, gender and sexual diversity right here on the home planet, here in the real world?

So begins David Barnett’s account of what must be one of the biggest problems facing science fiction and fantasy fandom today: the alarming lack of parity not just in terms of gender in the genre, but also race, religion, sexual orientation and so on.

Lone Star Convention

Fair to say this is a familiar refrain—we’ve certainly touched on the subject in the course of the Focus before—but though it’s “an often-talked-about topic,” something seemed different about the discussion resulting from last week’s LoneStarCon:

The difference this time is that people seem hungry for change – and change there was, almost immediately. Tor.com is one of the largest publishers of online fiction in the world, allied to but separate from Tor Books, and within hours they had amended their guidelines to read: “We want our stories to represent the full diversity of speculative fiction, and encourage submissions by writers from underrepresented populations. This includes but is not limited to writers of any race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, class and ability, as well as characters and settings that reflect these experiences.”

Brief pause for applause. I tell you, there are times when I’m particularly proud to be a part of the Tor.com team, and this is oh-so one of those.

But for all that our new and undoubtedly improved submission guidelines might address the predicament in part, if we’re to put this problem to bed once and for all, nothing less than revolution is required, from one end of the industry to another.

And where, I ask you, would a revolution begin in 2013? Why, on Twitter! And indeed, according to Barnett’s article, it all kicked off with the posting of “a picture [seen above] of the all-white past, present and future chairs of WorldCon” taken in 2012, and the adjoining coining of the hashtag #DiversityinSFF by Jim C. Hines.

You can follow the highlights here, but below are a few of the most telling tweets…

“Outside the #worldcon hotel, brown people everywhere. At #worldcon, it takes two hands to count us.” So observed the author and editor Maurice Broaddus.

According to Charles Stross, “The biggest argument for #DiversityinSFF [is that] monocultures are BORING. (Even if the monoculture is your culture: still tediously unchallenging.)”

“Class diversity also needs to be part of #DiversityinSFF,” asserted Saladin Ahmed—and he didn’t mean the class of authors so much as their central characters. “I want fewer kings and starship captains, more coach drivers and space waitresses.”

Hal Duncan went one further, suggesting #DesegregationinSFF as an added hashtag. The Ink author went into more detail about this thesis on his blog, Notes from New Sodom:

Segregation. I do not use this word lightly. I use it literally, not figuratively. I’m saying that segregation can be enforced normatively rather than legally, that prescribing the role you can play in a narrative is no less segregation than prescribing the seat you can take on a bus. And as these fictional narratives we construct and consume shape our readings of the world around us, segregation in them plays out in practical, physical limitations on where you can go without challenge.

Meanwhile, Anne Lyle had this to add:

My point is that you don’t have to throw away all the cool toys that you love—swords, castles, dragons, whatever—to write diverse, inclusive fantasy; a fondness for familiar tropes is no excuse for perpetuating hurtful stereotypes. The joy of fantasy is in stretching our imaginations, so why limit ourselves?

Why indeed. Yet we do, or rather we are, or at the very least we have. A sickening state of affairs, make no mistake.

I can think of no better note with which to round out this round-up than the conclusion Cheryl Morgan came to:

Most of you who have been clamouring for change are not going to help with that fight. You are professional authors or publishers, or you are the sort of person who only wants to buy a ticket to a convention, not help run it, or you have an incredibly busy life doing other things and just can’t afford the time for all that volunteer work. That’s OK, I understand.

The thing is, though, that if you don’t help, who will?

 

Cover Art Corner: The Art of Hunting by Alan Campbell

Alan Campbell The Art of Hunting

These days, for good or for ill, the majority of genre authors can be relied upon to release a new book each and every year. This increasingly prevalent practice generates momentum, yes, and helps keep certain names on the tip of our tongues, but as frustrating as it is to wait and wait for new work from our favourite writers, I for one would prefer that they took their time to make each book the very best it could conceivably be.

Which brings me to the Scottish author Alan Campbell, whose Deepgate Codex impressed me immensely, and whose new novel—the second volume of The Gravedigger Chronicles, which began in 2011 with Sea of Ghosts—was revealed (I believe) this past week, via Civilian Reader. It’s called The Art of Hunting, and doesn’t it look lovely?

Sounds pretty good, too:

The Haurstaf have been decimated. The Unmer have seized the palace at Awl. Ianthe’s father carries her to safety. But she is not interested in a life of treasure hunting with him. She returns to the palace, hoping to find the Unmer prince with whom she shared some of her darkest moments.

Prince Paulus Marquetta discovers a friend and ally in Ianthe, albeit a dangerous one. She has the power to destroy his mind with a single thought, and yet she herself remains at risk from his own innate sorcerous abilities. The handsome young prince could murder her with a simple touch.

Briana Marks, meanwhile, has escaped with her life. Fearful of Marquetta’s rule, she travels to the Dragon Isles to seek out the exiled Unmer lord, Argusto Conquillas and beg him to help her assassinate Ianthe. When Granger learns of this plot to kill his daughter, he must use every scrap of his resourcefulness and cunning to protect her.

Maskelyne returns to Scythe Island to study the crystal he plucked from the wreckage of the Unmer chariot. The artifact leads him to discover exactly why the Drowned continue to deposit thousands upon thousands of keys on the beach beneath his fortress. The Unmer, in their quest to unlock the secrets of the universe, forged a monster. Now Maskelyne knows where this thing is imprisoned…

The Art of Hunting will be published in November by Tor UK. I’m sorely tempted to say I can’t wait, but for this, I can and I shall.

 

Orbiting Tomorrow

The Art of Hunting wasn’t the only forthcoming novel detailed this week. On the contrary, Orbit recently released an absolute raft of cover art, announcing in the process not a few new books.

We’d heard about several of said already, but count The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham, and Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey among the more notable newcomers.

The first half of 2014 will also bring the inaugural instalments of brand new series by Glenda Larke and Karen Miller.

First Fifteen Lives of Harry August Claire North But the most intriguing of all the new books Orbit revealed last week must be The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, “a truly exceptional book that we’ll be releasing worldwide next year—one unlike anything you have ever read before, and set to be one of our biggest launches in 2014. And it starts,” in something of an emerging September trend (see More Than This and Saxon’s Bane both), “with an ending.”

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message. It has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back through generations from a thousand years forward in time. The message is that the world is ending, and we cannot prevent it. So now it’s up to you.’

This is the extraordinary journey of one unforgettable character – a story of friendship and betrayal, loyalty and redemption, love and loneliness and the inevitable march of time.

An interesting note before we go: Claire North is apparently “a pseudonym for an acclaimed British author who has previously published several novels.” Safe as houses to count J. K. Rowling out; I’m sure she wouldn’t name another central character Harry. So who could Claire North be? Any educated guesses?

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August will be released worldwide in early April. There may be more clues about its author’s identity here.

 

Apologies if the Focus has been a bit bleary this week. I’ve been sick as a dog, however I’d have hated to miss all the news about the books I’ll be reading next year, not to mention the #DiversityinSFF discussion, so here I am, albeit dosed with decongestant and other such substances.

Fingers crossed I’ll be fighting fit in time for the next edition of the British Genre Fiction Hitlist this coming Sunday, but one way or the other, you can bet your last penny I’ll have another abundance of bookish news ready for next Wednesday.


Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons and Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

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