Diversity in Science Fiction

Diversity in Science Fiction Discussion
Dec. 7, 2016

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Book cover imageThe Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable (SE-RART) group met at the Carver Public Library onWednesday, Dec. 7, to talk about Science Fiction with a focus on diversity, i.e. science fiction written by authors with perspectives that are often underrepresented both in library collections and in the publishing world in general.

We talked about the Science Fiction chapter in The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed. by Joyce Saricks and two online readings:

Library Journal: Imagined Multiverses | Genre Spotlight: SF/Fantasy

Publishers Weekly: Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014: How Multicultural Is Your Multiverse?

“Knowing something about Science Fiction, even if we have only read one or two books, makes us more comfortable talking to fans and makes them more comfortable relating to us. They see that we understand what it is that they love in this genre.” – The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed.

We talked about why it is important to read authors from diverse backgrounds and how “core” science fiction authors – while often including diverse characters in their work and having a couple of well-known examples of “diversity” to point to (i.e. Octavia E. Butler and Samuel R. Delany) have been a group of white men. We talked about how science fiction appeals to the intellect and can analyze relevant societal issues at a remove. We discussed the importance of world-building, creating a believable universe for the story.

“Setting is crucial and invokes otherness of time, place, and/or reality. Both the physical setting of the story and the inherent technical and scientific detail create this essential frame.” – The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed.

Our discussion questions for the readings are posted here.

Parable of the Sower, a near-future dystopian novel published in 1993, was our benchmark title for Science Fiction. We talked about it terms of appeal factors (dystopian story and philosophical tone) and its themes of race relations, political climate, and environment. (“Octavia Butler is like Nostradamus!”)

Possible Readalikes for Parable of the Sower 

  1. Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
  2. A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
  3. The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

We had several science fiction fans in the group, so we all came away with an appreciation for the genre, as well as some must-read titles, such as The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin and Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler – the conclusion of the story begun in Parable of the Sower.

We certainly didn’t cover anywhere near all aspects of diversity in our meeting, so we will continue our collection of recommended authors and can post additional suggestions as we get them.

Second titles will be posted soon, so please submit any that you would like to share with the group, even if you weren’t at the meeting!

Our next meeting will be in the afternoon at the Brockton Public Library, 304 Main St., on Monday, Feb. 13, 1-3 p.m. (Snow date Thursday, Feb. 16, 10-12) Come talk about diversity in Romance with us, and don’t forget to register on the MLS Web site!

Diversity in Science Fiction

Book cover imageFor the next meeting of the Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable, we’ll be discussing Science Fiction with a focus on reading books by authors from groups that are underrepresented in library collections or who reflect diversity in some way.

The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 7, 10-12, at the Carver Public Library, 2 Meadowbrook Way, in Carver. (Snow date is Friday, Dec. 9, 10-12.)

While reading the benchmark title – Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – and our individually chosen titles from the science fiction genre, we should be considering them in terms of reader’s advisory appeal factors as laid out by RA-guru Joyce Saricks. Second titles will be discussed in terms of appeal, as well:

  • Pacing
  • Characterization
  • Plot/Storyline
  • Tone/Mood
  • Style/Language
  • Frame/Setting

The supplemental readings for discussion at our December SE-RART meeting will be from The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed., by Joyce Saricks and some additional articles on the topic of diversity in science fiction. Readings will be emailed to registered participants.

Don’t forget to register on the MLS Web site!

Although characters in science fiction and fantasy are often more diverse than in other mainstream genres, we wantto familiarize ourselves with authors who in some way reflect diversity so that when we put our list of second titles together the resulting list of authors will be multicultural and diverse in race, ethnicity, nationality, etc. Please choose a book by an author who would fit at least one of these criteria! Women will be considered “diverse” for this genre, at least, as science fiction has been an overwhelmingly male domain for so long.

If you’re looking for ideas for your second title, Maggie has put together a list of suggestions, including GoodReads annotations, and suggests looking up theLambda Awards, as well:

Children of Gavrilek — Julie Kirton Chandler

A young woman (Audrianna) and her mysterious son (Devon) are shipwrecked and left for dead. They survive thanks to the mystical efforts of a small community located on the coast of 1920s Georgia. While in the care of this unique group and its beautiful and loving leader, Kendis, Audrianna comes to discover the secrets of her son’s cognitive powers, his (and Kendis’s) otherworldly origins, and an enthralling, Earth-changing “game” that threatens the existences of both the alien descendants of Gavrilek and the unsuspecting inhabitants of Earth.

Dhalgren — Samuel R. Delany

Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and groundbreaking work of American magical realism.

The Best of All Possible Worlds — Karen Lord

A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.

The Female Man — Joanna Russ

It’s influenced William Gibson and been listed as one of the ten essential works of science fiction. Most importantly, Joanna Russ’s THE FEMALE MAN is a suspenseful, surprising and darkly witty chronicle of what happens when Jeannine, Janet, Joanna, and Jael–four alternative selves from drastically different realities–meet.

Left hand of Darkness — Ursula LeGuin

A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose -and change – their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.

Lizard Radio — Pat Schmatz (rhymes with “lots”)

Fifteen-year-old Kivali has never fit in. As a girl in boys’ clothes, she is accepted by neither tribe, bullied by both. What are you? they ask. Abandoned as a baby wrapped in a T-shirt with an image of a lizard on the front, Kivali found a home with nonconformist artist Sheila. Is it true what Sheila says, that Kivali was left by a mysterious race of saurians and that she’ll one day save the world? Kivali doesn’t think so. But if it is true, why has Sheila sent her off to CropCamp, with its schedules and regs and what feels like indoctrination into a gov-controlled society Kivali isn’t sure has good intentions?

Redwood and Wildfire — Andrea Hairston

At the turn of the 20th century, minstrel shows transform into vaudeville which slides into moving pictures. Hunkering together in dark theatres, diverse audiences marvel at flickering images. This “dreaming in public” becomes common culture and part of what transforms immigrants and “native” born into Americans. Redwood, an African American woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, journey from Georgia to Chicago, from haunted swampland to a “city of the future.”

Air — Geoff Ryman

Chung Mae is the only connection her small farming village has to culture of a wider world beyond the fields and simple houses of her village. A new communications technology is sweeping the world and promises to connect everyone, everywhere without power lines, computers, or machines. This technology is Air. An initial testing of Air goes disastrously wrong and people are killed from the shock. Not to be stopped Air is arriving with or without the blessing of Mae’s village. Mae is the only one who knows how to harness Air and ready her people for it’s arrival, but will they listen before it’s too late?

Ammonite — Nicola Griffith

Change or die. These are the only options available on the planet Jeep. Centuries earlier, a deadly virus shattered the original colony, killing the men and forever altering the few surviving women. Now, generations after the colony has lost touch with the rest of humanity, a company arrives to exploit Jeep–and its forces find themselves fighting for their lives.

Up the Walls of the World — James Tiptree

The book explores the possibility that telepathy & other psychic phenomena are real. It sympathetically describes an Earth invasion attempt by beings with telepathic abilities from the planet Tyree. It considers the subject of sentience in different lifeforms inhabiting widely different environments, in computers & in a vast sentient inhabitant of deep space formed of a network of widely spaced nodes. It’s her skill to be able to write convicingly of the experience of such beings.

Hammerfall — C.J. Cherryh

Now at the peak of her career, this three-time Hugo Award winner launches her most ambitious work in decades, Hammerfall, part of a far-ranging series, The Gene Wars, set in an entirely new universe scarred by the most vicious of future weaponry, nanotechnology.

If you want to post your second titles before the next meeting you can, and if you haven’t posted your Graphic Novels second title, please do so.