A Plea for Reason in Sci-Fi/Fantasy “Discrimination”

Edit: November 2, 2013: Don’t like what’s said on this post? Fine by me. But if you choose to mistake maturity for being “oblivious,” then there’s not much I can do to help you. I could go off on another rant, but I’ll defer to Brad Stine on this one.

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Lately I’ve been seeing quite a few accusations of discrimination being flung around the sci-fi/fantasy community. Mainly, it focuses on the fact that many of the writers are white males portraying white male protagonists.

Sorry, what? I must have forgotten to change my race and/or gender before I embarked on writing sci-fi and fantasy. My bad.

Forget about telling me that my “white privilege” is showing or I’m “mansplaining” things to you. I’m addressing you all as human beings, created as equals in the image of God — no more and no less. Look, can everyone quit the mud-slinging for five minutes and just admit this for what it is? If sci-fi and fantasy have somehow been overwhelmed by white, male protagonists/authors (and to a certain extent, that is true), that doesn’t mean it’s racist or sexist. It’s just boring. Well, it’s boring if skin color and gender of the protagonist(s) are a huge deal and determine the quality of a story.

I’m not arguing to keep things the way they are. By all means, let’s start increasing the variety of characters. But it’s nowhere near as important as crafting a good story and fascinating characters to drive it. Aren’t those the basics?

Honestly, I don’t care what the author or character’s race or sex is. I just want the story and the people it’s about to be interesting. In my experience, the only people who have cared a great deal about things the author and character cannot help, like their melanin content or chromosomes, belong to one of two types:

  • Those not-too-common actual racists or sexists — immature people who try to ruin others’ experience with science fiction and fantasy by belittling their race or gender (though I have hardly met any of them)
  • Equally immature people with notes from their classes in race studies or gender studies constantly on the brain, worrying about different types of humans and whether they are “represented” equally among authors or characters, and who think an under-representation of any group is a miscarriage of justice that MUST be addressed (I have met plenty of these, and would rather hope to not run into them again)

Last time I checked, writing classes and books didn’t have much to say on the subject of race or even gender, though that could easily change in the Age of Political Correctness. I don’t care one bit that Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra hardly have any “white” characters. I don’t care that Korra is a girl. I love both series, because the characters are well-developed, and the stories are amazing. And the fight scenes are mind-bogglingly awesome. That too.

But I also don’t care that many of the other stories I love, from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to Jurassic Park, happen to have a lot of white, male characters driving the story. Because those are exactly the traits of human beings no one should be making a big deal about. What was that Martin Luther King, Jr. said, about people being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin (or the arrangement of their chromosomes, for that matter)?

Female protagonists are supposed to have strength of one kind or another and be proactive, not because they’re female, but because they’re the protagonists. That’s why. There’s nothing in the chief character’s sex that robs him/her of the need to be decisive and proactive. No one except for the aforementioned groups is going to care how light or dark an author’s or character’s skin is. Most of us just want a great story, featuring interesting people and created by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Now can we please get back to having fun, writing the best fiction we can and sharing it with the world? Thanks for your time.

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The Remaking: A Brief History of the Wolfglen Legacy’s Origins

I thought I could start coming back to this blog with a fresh start, and keep talking about the world for the (still in-progress) fantasy series, The Wolfglen Legacy. I’m impatient to get things off the ground at the moment, but I’ll make sure the books are worth the wait.

In the meantime, here is a condensed history of the world these books will introduce to you. I’ve been working on it off and on since 2004, and hope you enjoy it. I might as well start at the beginning.

The Remaking – Earth’s new start

Toward the close of the 22nd century AD, mankind is crumbling and crippled, on the edge of extinction at his own hands. Wars, nuclear bombs, engineered viruses, and a loss of willpower have pared the ranks of humanity to a few million.

But that is where outside help arrives at last. The creator of this and every other universe, known as The Maker, shows mercy to mankind and gives them another chance. He does this by sending creatures called Founders to Earth, to repair and reshape it. The Founders sculpt new islands and continents, carve out new oceans and rivers. Unforeseen minerals, plants, and animals take shape under their craftsmanship. Structures are given to mankind as well, including cities and towers and deep caverns, as well as structures whose functions are still not recognized.

However, the Founders are not willing to let all their hard work be wasted from mankind nearly destroying himself yet again. They decide to give the remaining humans humbling reminders that they are the Earth’s tenants, and not its landlords. To do this, they remove most fossil fuel deposits to prevent another industrial revolution, lest humanity become capable of destruction on the same scale as before. They even recall the dinosaurs from extinction, and create living, breathing dragons — if you enter a world full of big, strange, wild creatures that weren’t there before, it’s a good reminder that you answer to a higher order.

Earth is not only being renovated for our sake, though. The Maker Himself intervenes more directly by creating new intelligent races, to share the Earth with man as his equals. Five new races are created:

  • Elves, who tend to be even more passionate and aggressive than us, and can live several times as long as a human.
  • Nymphs, an all-female species that look human, apart from the white stripe of hair on their heads.
  • Fairies, two feet high and possessing four leathery wings.
  • Roklew, a green-skinned race of creatures with large, long-snouted heads.
  • Merfolk, more akin to amphibians than fish, who can live in both salt and fresh water.

Humans now have a new world to explore, fill, and share with the five new races. It’s a better world than we had made for ourselves, full of countless mysteries, treasures we never dreamed of…and more danger than we ask for.

It is in dangerous times when the best qualities of these peoples at last come to the forefront. In future millennia, that will become all too clear. And soon that history will be shared as well.

Thank you for your time, and God bless you all.

The Hobbit: Get Ready for Smaug to Desolate

The trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is finally here. Only question is, Why do we have to wait another six months? I can’t get to the theater fast enough for this.

Radagast returns. Smaug is terrifying. Giant spiders and Beorn are finally on our doorstep. Even Legolas is back, and seemingly has a huge role to play (which is awesome!). The cast and crew are bringing a bigger, more epic story than the original book ever could. And even as a Tolkien devotee, I have to admit, I am absolutely delighted with that decision. Everything about this is shaping up into something incredible, and I couldn’t be happier.

Worldbuilding — Races — Fairies

I have been doing a Worldbuilding of the Day series on my author’s page on Facebook, and decided to start putting up the information here instead. Seems like more of a fit here, aside from the Facebook policy of “What you type, we own. Forever.”

Anyway, here’s the entry about fairies in the world of The Wolfglen Legacy. I hope you enjoy it!

Social Influence

Rather than being reclusive people isolated from everyone else or hiding under garden toadstools, fairies are quite well-integrated in most societies. Many have positions of wealth or political power. Almost all large cities have groups of fairy apartments or homes, oftentimes perched on the roofs of other houses or even built into the walls of buildings, resembling large dollhouses. Occasional fairy ghettos or “nests” as they are called will consist entirely of these structures and are sometimes known to hold well over a thousand residents.

There are select roads in many cities with raised platforms, like broad stone railings, that are called “fairy-walks.” Inns and hotels usually have a few fairy-sized rooms available, and all will have appropriately sized cutlery, dishes, cups, and chairs for their pint-sized customers. Currency is an issue, but fairies often can barter gemstones or small bags of spices for meals and drinks, or they’ll have satchels over their shoulders that can hold a few coins.

An average fairy’s diet consists of fruits (particularly berries), sugary foods, and lean protein. Their bug-based cuisine is highly prized, even among humans. Butter-fried winged termites have been known to turn even the most insect-averse eater into someone who will eagerly snack on the little invertebrates.

Anatomy

The smallest of all the world’s races, the fairy stands 18-24 inches high, and possesses four wings. Each wing is framed by one long finger-like group of bones and has a leathery skin membrane, meaning it is structured like the wing of a pterodactyl, rather than like a bat or dragon. However, these are wings made for powered flight, not for hovering. Hovering is a rare art among fairies, which takes a lot of training and discipline.

Most males are slightly taller than the females. All fairies have a light and thin build, with heads the size of nectarines or large plums. When they give birth, the wing buds are either invisible or only show up as four tiny bumps on the baby’s back.

Their bone cells adopt a honeycomb structure, they can utilize body energy more efficiently than any other race, and they have large flight muscles on their back. This means a reasonably healthy fairy can fly for over an hour (at sea level — very high altitudes can cut that time in half) before he or she is too physically exhausted to do anything but walk.

Common Roles

Due to their small size and ability to fly, fairies can excel at espionage, scouting and reconnaissance, lookouts for hunters, message delivery, and prospecting. They don’t make good soldiers because of their frail and small bodies, but they can serve a military on the sidelines, such as delivering orders or looking for threats on the road ahead when ranks are mobilizing.

The darker parts of society have found them quite handy for pickpocketing (for small items they can fly away with, like jewelry), assassinations, and subtly whispering to passersby to advertise brothels or gambling dens.

Like all other races on this world, magic-workers are rare among fairies. When a fairy is a magic-worker, he or she doesn’t obey different rules or get the magic from some other source. The same principles (as outlined here) apply to them, except that they cannot control nearly as much physical substance with magic, due to their own small size.

A Bumper Crop of Author Promotions

Putting that Kindle story on hold for a moment, to share something much more important with you, dear reader.

The more I’ve gotten into the writing scene, the more amazing authors I have encountered. They are gifted with stories to stir the emotions — inspiration, humor, terror, tragedy, wonder, love, delight, and a thousand others. Imaginings are their pigments, the mind their canvas, and they work in miracles.

And now it’s time for me to introduce you to some of them. I’ll be glad to introduce more of them later. Most of the ones I’m going to mention here are attending my weekly writing workshop, but I’ll work in a couple of others I’ve had the privilege of meeting.

Please do check them out. We authors need all the help we can get.

First, my good friend and writer of character-driven zombie fiction, Rob Killam. His upcoming Apocalypse Springs novel has survivors who have to slay their own personal demons as well as the ghouls banging down their door. It’s got more heart and brains (heehee) than any other zombie-related work I’ve yet seen. You’d be doing yourself a favor in checking him out.

Next, Jason P. Henry has a funny way with words. A very funny way, and twisted in the best possible sense. Plus he sets up tension like nobody’s business when he decides to get serious.

Ashley Bazer is proof that it’s possible to be a stay-at-home mom and a novelist at the same time. Her science fiction novel Asylum: The Circeae Tales came out just last year, and though I haven’t yet read it, I’m impressed with the quality on display at the writer’s workshop we attend. Did I mention she’s a duchess?

Jackie Hames offers a ton of sound and friendly writing advice, and we’ve had a lot of productive discussions. Plus her defense of speculative fiction is worth some serious thought, and I’m quite enthusiastic to read her upcoming fiction projects.

Genuine rocket scientist and modern renaissance man Grant McKenzie applies extensive knowledge and forethought into each piece he writes. He’s working on historical fiction and a YA fantasy novel, plus he’s one of the few people I know who can create a good rhyming poem in ten minutes or less, and he has a great deal of thought to offer on how the relationships between characters can enrich your work.

A.W. Hartoin is getting quite popular these days, as a writer of mysteries and fairy fantasy who just got her first audiobook! She excels at getting readers invested in a character, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Last but not least, Angel Smits has published five books, most of which are more of the romantic variety, including a couple of Harlequin Romances. She’s got a knack for good characterization and immersing the reader in a protagonist’s thoughts. Highly recommended.

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Quite aside from that, I have gotten an author’s page on Facebook that I confess I’m pretty happy with. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, check it out if you “Like.”

Ooh, and though I have encountered a couple of delays in getting my first Kindle story published, I’m still going to release it, and you’ll all be the first to know. Thanks for your time, everyone!

Kindle Story: In Progress…

Semi-big announcement. I’ve come to a rather unexpected decision about my writing.

I’m going to self-publish a couple of short stories on Kindle. There will be other stories I’m trying to get published traditionally, and my novels will, if possible, “go traditional” as well. But I’ll have a few sci-fi and fantasy shorts up for purchase on Amazon, partly to get a little income and partly to get more of an audience. I do hope you’ll read and enjoy these works, and tell you friends about them when they reach the store. 🙂

The first one will be ready to buy for $0.99 within the next few days. I don’t have a title for it yet, but it’s a prequel to my novels. Here’s the pitch: Battle is only the beginning when a young soldier, Morent Wolfglen, develops a dangerous ability. It won’t be a very long story, but hopefully enough to get more people interested in the book when it finally comes out.

So, here goes. First things first, I just need to make sure I tell a good story. Of course, this little self-published portfolio will be added to as time goes on. I’m excited about this opportunity, and look forward to seeing how it plays out. Thanks for your time!

Fantasy: Too Gritty?

Lots of fiction, especially fantasy fiction, seems to be quickly succumbing to all that is grimy, gritty, and grim. Game of Thrones, Prince of Thorns, The Night Angel Trilogy, The Blade Itself, The Song of the Beast, and many other titles besides take their readers into the darkest, roughest, sharpest, most cynical corners of the genre.

As far as I’m concerned, a little darkness and despair goes a long way in fiction in the same way a little spice adds to the flavor of a given food. But too much ruins the dish, and pretty soon you’re only eating that buffalo wing because one of your buddies promised you $20. (I might actually read The Blade Itself for $100; everything I’ve read about Joe Abercrombie indicates I wouldn’t touch his books otherwise)

Maybe it’s because I’m a big softy, and am immature or naive or expect too much fun in fiction. I don’t know. What I do know is that more books are coming out where the characters’ loved ones get mutilated, raped, and murdered. Literally no one cares about showing them kindness or understanding. It’s pretty much casual, sneering brutality and suffering all the time. And that’s just in the first chapter.

At what point did this start sounding realistic or reasonable? It’s a classic overcorrection against much of the fantasy of yesteryear. Adventures were treated like paintball matches in these books, and you never got the sense your heroes were in any danger. And of course lots of people got tired of the Disney movies that defanged the folktales of the Brothers Grimm.

Reasons abound for why that grit is there. It’s for the sake of honesty and realism, making people care about characters, flavoring the book, and many other reasons besides. Nevertheless, this isn’t really a trend I want to give in to. If possible, I’d rather show more restraint with darkness and make it count for the moments when it’s really needed. Little black needles jammed deep into the story’s nerves.

I got into fiction for adventure and discovery, not to watch the genuinely good guys get betrayed and beheaded, while everyone else gets into petty fights, then they drunkenly amble off to the local whorehouse. That’s all good and fine for a few chapters, but a book becomes manipulative and dishonest when that tone takes up almost every page in the book.

Understand, this grit isn’t the same thing as realism, despite many writers’ claims to the contrary. A cut getting infected if someone doesn’t tend to it? That’s realistic. Getting knocked unconscious causing lasting, even permanent damage (as opposed to all the characters who get knocked out and are perfectly fine afterwards)? That’s realistic, too.

No one at all showing your protagonist any kind of pity or compassion? That’s not so realistic. Everyone in their family being either depraved or a victim of moral degeneracy? Unlikely, albeit not impossible. Every event in someone’s life being meaningless, spent in squalor and sewage, and punctuated by failure, rape, and torture? Definitely not realistic.

Edit: It’s also not necessarily a sign that the genre as a whole is maturing. Grit isn’t the same thing as maturity, even if a story can use some as one ingredient among others (three-dimensional characters, consequences to their actions, etc.) to become more mature. Whatever the case, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of maturity in the “arms race” where the newest big name in fantasy tries to display more rapes, more severed limbs, more sociopathic protagonists, and more excrement than the last big name. One day this movement is going to run out of steam. It truly cannot go on forever, and fantasy will grow out of it.

It is so much easier to contemplate the terrors of Hell than the beauties of Heaven. Anyone can tell a story that basically says “Life sucks, and then you die.” It takes patience and care to see the light that shines through anyway. Sometimes you have to look hard to see something beautiful, like a character doing a noble act for the right reasons (and not losing his head afterwards), but that doesn’t imply the absence of good. I admire those stories that combine grit and smoothness, acting appropriately when one is needed more than the other. Show some kind of balance in your work, and you’ll make the light shine brighter even as the darkness is deepened. Plus, it will be a more convincing story.