Friday, July 10, 2009

CORA Diversity Roll Call: Science Fiction & Fantasy

Bi-weekly Ali at Worducopia and I, co-host a meme designed to encourage readers to broaden their reading habits. We want to add color and diversity in other ways to your reading choices. This week, I want to explore science fiction and fantasy, two genres where people of color are often absent or sidekicks, but rarely the main character.

Your assignment: spotlight science fiction and fantasy titles where people of color are the leads, works by people of color in these genres or discuss your thoughts about race in these genres. Do you notice the absence of color? In what ways is race portrayed in fantasy and science fiction beyond using traditional racial terms like black and white? If the book covers prominently features people of color, does it affect your perception? Are we more comfortable with imaginary characters versus different race in these works?

Let's strive to give our gut reactions. Being politically correct is polite but how much does that further a substantive discussion? Thanks for participating. Leave us a link to your post with Mr. Linky.


mbpbooks said...

Looking forward to reading the posts! Thanks for asking the question.

Ali said...

Love the new look!

Interesting topic. This will be a tough one for me because I don't read a lot of science fiction or fantasy. I don't know if I've read any by authors of color or with people of color as the leads. I'm looking forward to putting some thought into how race plays into the SF/fantasy books I have read.

Beverly said...

Hi -

Here are a couple of authors of color who write scifi/fantasy
Octavia Bulter - almost always the main character is a female of color
L. A. Banks - VHL series
Nisi Shawl - whose book recently won an award
samuel Delany
Nalo Hopkinson
Tananarive Due
Steven Barnes
David Anthony Durham

The are also several anthologies which center around scifi by authors of color or the characters are people of color:
Dark Matter - edited by Sheree Thomas
Mojo - Conjure stories edited by Nalo Hopkinson
So Long been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson

Not trying to leave anyone out by these are the ones I know off the top of my head

Color Online said...

Hi Beverly,

And welcome to Color Online.

I'm a big time Butler fan. Appreciate the info. Are you going to blog and participate in the meme on your blog?

Hope you'll come back and check out links to other readers' responses.

sarah said...

Ursula Le Guin's acclaimed Wizard of Earthsea series features a dark-skinned hero, in a generally dark-skinned world - despite the caucasian shambles a recent movie made of it.

Patricia McKillip writes luminous fantasy and several of her books have dark-skinned heroes or heroines. The Moon and the Face, The Cygnet and the Sorceress, etc.

Doret said...

Great question. This one is going to be a challenge for me. Though I guess that's the point, to get us out of reading comfort zones

Unknown said...

Sarah - I saw the Earthsea movie on DVD. I never would have known that the original had people of color in it. The movie was definitely dominated by white folks.

My blog is participating in this meme for the first time. I invite your blog readers to check out my comments on Octavia Butler and Walter Mosley.

Color Online said...

Hi Villager,

I added your link to Mr. Linky so readers won't miss your post.


Rich said...

Mr. Linky's not working for me, so here ya are:

Color Online said...

Argggg! Mr. Linky is down again! If you have a roll call post, please repost your link in the comments.

susurro said...


Octavia Butler (AF Am fantasy/sci fi)
Derrick Bell (afrocentric sci fi)
Nalo Hopkins (afro-futurism/ black woman centered sci fi)
Kalpa Imperial (fantasy/sci-fi - translated from Spanish available)
Gerald Vizenor's Bearheart
Lee Perry (afro-futurism)
Samuel Delany
Terry Bison Nova Africa (alternative future)
Vandana Singh
Kazui Ishiguro (distopic futurism)
Daniel Heath Justice (Native American alternative future)

Afolfo Casares The Invention of Morel

sites that cover AF-Am in Sci Fi

sites that cover poc in Sci Fi

I look forward to seeing the final list. :D

Chaz A. Young said...


I, too found that there is little in the way of fantasy books with people of color -that is why I wrote the Y/A fantasy adventure, "Travels to Fahdamin-Ra."
The two main characters, Celestine and Joel Bridges are brown kids who discover the lost family secret and travel to Fahdamin-Ra. Once there, they explore the Africanesque land and meet people of the three tribes, the Harun, the Jabulani, and the Masamba. Each tribe has their own characteristics, culture, and lifestyles.

This book is the first one in the series, which will probably be five books. I also plan to write it as a screenplay. Many readers have told me that it would make a great movie, and think of all the opportunities for dozens of black actors!

The book is positive and fun, while it deals with intolerance, bigotry, and people learning to accept one another.

You can check it out at

Doret said...

I just added three more books to my roll call,

Can't believe I forget Troy Cle's, Marvelous World and Allende's City of Beast. As for the third one everyone with have to stop by my blog to find out. That's there is suspense.

Color Online said...

Thanks for the recommendations.

I'm posting mine on Monday.

Anonymous said...

Here's my contribution:

I chose The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson.

Gavin said...

I'd like to add another book of speculative fiction. "The Intuitionist" by Colson Whitehead. I read it when it was first published, way before I started my blog.

Color Online said...

Colson Whitehead. Didn't he write Sag Habor? I have got to check him out. Thanks, Gavin.

Chaz, sorry I missed you. Will check out your book and contact you. Thanks.

Charlotte said...

Thanks for the interesting topic to discuss, and thanks to all the commenters, too, for adding to my to be read list...

I've added a link to my response with Mr. Linky.

stacy said...

I thought I'd bring my comment over here rather than clutter up Mother Reader's thread about a different booklist. You mentioned that in your community, there's not a lot of interest in SF/F. It makes me wonder, though--is it the chicken, or the egg? Fantasy is so much whiter than realism. Realistic multicultural fiction and nonfiction have really got a foothold in diverse communities, much more so than science fiction and fantasy, but I do wonder if it's because so few fantasy books are by people of color and/or reflect the experience of characters of color?

I'm white, but I try to be aware of these things (I have a number of friends from multiple cultures who have been enormously helpful in showing me a wider world), especially because as an editor I want to publish fantasy and science fiction books that pull in readers of all sorts of backgrounds. Not every book will appeal to every reader, but I think that by looking for books that feature strong Asian/African American (or as Nnedi's books do, African) characters, fantasy is more likely to pull in readers who couldn't see themselves in those books before.

Every reader has their preferences--my grandma won't read anything that isn't set in the real world, and preferably a pre-1945 realistic world. I think Steinbeck would probably be the epitome of literature to her. But what about those readers who are reluctant, who haven't found what resonates with them yet? Fantasy is a great genre for a lot of those readers, and I think people who work in fantasy (like me) do those readers a disservice if we don't welcome stories from all over the world, from all sorts of cultures.

Anyway, I'm working on my own list to respond to the actual challenge (I'm afraid I've been a little busy with real life and haven't gotten to it yet) because this is something I've been thinking about for a while.

Color Online said...

Hi Stacy,

My experience is it is a combination: lack of poc characters and exposure to the genre.

I created a separate section in our library, changed the tag from fantasy to Tween (suggesting something more inclusive and not labeling it Fantasy, I'd hope they'd investigate) and still, our girls largely ignore the section. I have put the books on display and when I have the opportunity I chat the girls up about them.

Those who will read them are those who already enjoy it.

Personally, it was Flegling by Octavia E. Butler that got me to revisit the genre. And as a child I didn't read much fantasy. Fairy tales and classic children books didn't include characters who looked like me and even as a child, while I couldn't articulate it, I felt absent in literature.

My parents weren't readers and we didn't grow up with a house full of books. Most of the books my mother would buy, had black characters. (I clearly remember disliking my illustrated copy of Mother Goose and other fairy tales. A complete disconnect for me and I never went back to it either). My formative years occurred in the 70s doing the whole black cultural pride period.

susurro said...

@Stacie - I hope the lists people are generating contradicts the idea that poc are less interested or less likely to write sci fi and fantasy. The reality is that poc have been writing sci fi and fantasy as long as their white counterparts but get far less marketing (press, review, funded book tours) and that is when they are published. The publishing industry has seldom given as much room to authors of color in these genres, forcing many to self-publish or go with independent presses that can only afford small, single run printing. As the market has narrowed, authors of color across genres have been among the first and highest to lose ground in access to publication (especially multi-bk deals that some enjoy) and have been virtually shut out off certain genres in favor of big publishing houses sinking their money exclusively into "urban fiction" (or urban exploitation) over other genres. If you read author based blogs by people of color, you'll notice that all of them have been talking about it and there was even a "girlcott" of a woman's press for failing to publish women of color or advertise woc books on a regular basis last summer.

I'm not sure if the book ever went to print, but there was a CFP out about 7 years ago for a book on women of color super heroines. The CFP had a list of characters that was several pages long. And there are the two links in my previous comment that have long lists as well. And there is a regular convention for poc in scifi/fantasy or at least there is a caucus for them, they did a lot of activism last summer as well. (And their experience of hostility from mainstream scifi/fantasy folk for having their own concurrent sessions at a convention is likely another reason why poc appear to be missing from mainstream forums.)

I really do think that perception + access is the real problem, not interest or even how much written material is out there.

Ali said...

Hardest Roll Call ever for me--thank goodness I had a former fantasy-loving kid willing to help me out on this one!

stacy said...

Argh! I think I just deleted my comment instead of posting it. Well, it must not have been terribly important because I've forgotten most of it. I've finally finished my own list (sadly, a little short) and now I'm going to go look at other people's lists and see what I've missed.

Color Online said...


I've done. Hate it. Where is your link? I'll come by. Thanks.

Claudia said...

Hello Family! I'm late to the party, but I have posted a contribution to this roll call on Samuel R. Delany. What a pleasure it was to write! I'm looking forward to reading what everyone else has posted since science fiction/fantasy is one of my favorite genres.

"From King Arthur's Court to Delany's Neveryon"

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Feeling a bit shy here, but in case it helps, Miranda, a co-protagonist in Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), is Chinese-Scottish American, and Kieren, from Tantalize: Kieren's Story, a graphic novel in production from Candlewick, is Irish-Mexican American. The casts in the series also are diverse with regard to gender, religion, and orientation.

Color Online said...

Hi Cynthia,

Why shy? Glad you came by. Your work is no stranger to me. You're on our bookshelf.

Thanks for the recommendations.

Come back. Sit a spell and chat with us.

Color Online said...

14 contributors! Whoa!

I'll do a round-up on Monday.

Ali will post our next assignment this Friday at Worducopia.

Thank you all for participating and commenting.

evelyn.n.alfred said...

Um...what's a meme? School me.

P.S. I loved 47 by Walter Mosely. Please make a sequal Mr. Mosely!

Color Online said...

Hi Evelyn,

A meme is a regularly posted activity on a site. A host will post some kind of exercise/challenge.

Participants will respond to the meme on their own blogs and leave a link to their response on the host site. Most participants will also include an avatar (though not required) on their post. We do ask that you identify the name of the meme in your title if you don't use the avatar. Participants are then expected to visit each other's blogs responding to their posts and of course, all readers are encouraged to comment to the original post at the host site.

Does this help?

Color Online said...

Those who don't create blog posts, often leave responses to the original thread.

Mary Ann Scheuer said...

Great idea/question and great responses. I read Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, this summer and I think it fits in with this group. It was an amazing book - there's a terrorist attack on San Francisco, and the Dept of Homeland Security occupies the city, "hunting" potential threats. It isn't classic sci-fi because it felt sooo real, but clearly it hasn't happened.

I liked how the characters were multiracial, as those in any urban high school would be. It just rang true, and added a layer of complexity. There was certainly a point made about how most of the people detained in the DHS prison were people of color.

Enjoy - Mary Ann

Claudia said...

I'm making my way around the posts this evening and I was wondering if the post at Like a Whisper is no longer available? Has prof susurro shared the password with this thread or perhaps it is only for select readers?

Ali said...

Claudia, It seems she had second thoughts about participating--at some point yesterday she closed the post to the public. Luckily, her book list is posted in the comments here as well.

Color Online said...


I was not given the password. I was previously open now it is not.

Mary Ann, Little Brother is sci-fi to my understanding. It is technology based. I've heard mixed reviews of it. I'm not sure who said but I thought I read the ensemble didn't feel all that natural. That the impression was having the diversity showed how cool the white protag was but the secondary characters didn't say or do much. I haven't read it so I don't know. The book has been on my tbr a while. In fact, I asked my library to buy and they did.

Doret said...

I loved Little Brother, though when I think of the book, I draw a blank when it comes to the poc. So I will have to agree with Claudia, it was all about the MC.

I did better on this Roll Call than I thought I would. I've had to update my post 3 times. Now I am off to add Cynthia Leitich Smith title

13 links so far, congrats Susan and Ali, this is the most answer Roll Call yet. I hope it continues.

stacy said...

I put my link in Mr. Linky, but if it didn't show up, here's my list: Note that I focused on YA and middle grade, because that's what I work with, and that I included science fiction as well.

evelyn.n.alfred said...

Thanks for schoolin' me, it did I wrote a blog to add my three cents. Just in case Mr. Linky is on the fritz, here's my link:

Color Online said...

Thanks Evelyn. Anytime. I am so glad you're here and you've chosen to participate.

Dazjae said...

I applaud you.
Def spreading the word on this end. Mentioned the site in 's issue #7 and in the #ConsciousInk hashtag.

Continue to shine and CountTheStars
-Dazjae a.k.a PurpleZoe

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with the access argument. That PoC are not given as much credence as their Caucasian counterparts, both as authors and as characters.
The SciFi I write has a lot of diversity in it because I write fiction in a perceived notion of the future and I can't imagine a future without diversity when the present has something like 85% of the worlds population being of non-European decent.
If anyone would like to read my work I have a blog with some sample chapters and info: