SFF in Conversation: Smugglers and Magical Creatures

A couple of months ago, I got an email from Ana and Thea over at The Book Smugglers. They were doing a round table on diversity in spec-fic and wanted me to take part. Specifically, diversity in magical creatures – and as someone who’s getting really bloody sick of reading about elves and dwarves and goblin-types, all I can say to that is Yay.

I mean, there’s more to fantasy, right? You’d think with all the options out there, the widest-open genre would be able to mix it up a little. Yet in many ways fantasy is a conservative beastie – the province, often, of kings and queens and social structures that belong more to hundreds-of-years-ago if not to today. It’s bizarre – these continue to exist even when imagination is hurling up weird shit all over the place. Look, for instance, at what reliable, accessible contraception did for women and women’s rights in the real world. But insert that into a mediaeval society – as Martin does with moon tea in ASOIAF – and nope! No difference. Traditional models remain, against all odds and common sense. Little wonder that in a lot of fantasy lit the critters tend to the traditional as well.

Luckily, the recent push in spec-fic for more diversity, more inclusion, has seen a number of authors bringing different ideas to the table. Different monsters, different animals, different magical creatures. As a reader, I’m all for this – reading should stretch me beyond what I already know, expose me to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. Otherwise it’s just baby-food, right? Apple sauce and sugar puffs. Fun and entertaining, but not enough to learn from.

I live in NZ, so even pasty white as I am there’s at least exposure to another culture’s mythology – I’ve never met a Kiwi who doesn’t know what a taniwha is, for instance. That exposure gives a certain advantage, but by itself that isn’t enough. No-one wants to be an appropriator, to rifle through another culture’s stories and misuse them for gain. Likewise, it’s hard to write with any integrity if you’re deliberately excising the rest of the world from your work so you don’t have to deal with it. I mean, for fuck’s sake. You’re a writer. Crack a book sometime, it won’t kill you. Talk to people. Communicate, learn. There’s more out there than mirrors.

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