Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ethnic Issues And Science Fiction/Fantasy

Colleen at Chasing Ray recently did a post about an organization called Books2Prisoners that is trying to build libraries at some New Orleans juvenile facilities and needs book donations. (Middle-grade level and up, dealing with multi-cultural issues and characters.)

Colleen said, "I wanted to ask the Sci Fi and Fantasy reviewers in particular to dig deep on this effort - I think SFF titles are often overlooked for teen readers but can resonate the deepest, as many fans of the genre will attest. Ethnic issues are dealt with differently in SFF titles (when you are dealing with aliens or faeries, humans are just one more part of the mix, not the whole deal), and because of that, it is often SFF authors that children will remember the deepest and return to throughout their lives."

This got me thinking about the books I read as a Cybils scifi/fantasy nominating panelist. We received mostly fantasy nominations, and at first, I had trouble recalling any fantasy titles that I thought were particularly multi-cultural. Then I saw Sheila's post at Wands and Wizards on Avielle of Rhia and remembered that, yeah, that definitely involved a main character who is the product of two cultures. That reminded me of Ursula K. LeGuin's Voices, which involves one ethnic group invading another's country or kingdom. The Softwire, which was probably the only hard-core science fiction book nominated, was the story of humans interacting with aliens. Can an argument be made that many books involving humans interacting with alien races are multi-cultural? That they often are dealing metaphorically with human race issues? (Recall some of those heavy-handed episodes from classic Star Trek*)

I think Larklight by Philip Reeve does some take-offs on British imperialism, but you have to be familiar with nineteenth and early twentieth century British history to get them.

Can others think of science fiction and fantasy titles--Cybils nominees or not--that would fit Books2Prisoners criteria of dealing with multi-cultural themes and characters?

*I know. This is my second Star Trek reference in less than a week. I'm not making fun. I respect its place in popular culture. Plus, as I've mentioned before, I work with close to two hundred Star Trek novels shelved right behind me. It's not as if I can forget about it.


Civilguy said...

Star Trek episodes "...dealing metaphorically with human race issues...". As Spock would say "indeed". Many episodes delt with social issues that either could not or would not be raised or discussed on television at that time in our history. By having the stories deal with aliens, Star Trek was able to.

Gail Gauthier said...

Oh, true. I think some people more knowledgable about science fiction than I am might argue that science fiction did that for decades, anyway, not just on Star Trek. Some of the Star Trek episodes weren't very subtle, though. (You know you agree with me, civilguy.) My question these days is, can a lot of man interacting with alien culture stories be read as more subtle commentary on our own situations? The Softwire involved humans becoming indentured servants to members of an alien culture, which seemed to parallel historical events here on planet Earth.