Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Non-Western Fantasy: not really a Minicon panel report

When I was on the Non-Western Fantasy panel at Minicon, I told the audience that I'd post a list of the books mentioned in the Non-Western Fantasy (and Sometimes SF) vein. I want to make it absolutely clear that not all mentions were positive and that inclusion on this list is not endorsement of a book either as a book or as a portrayal of a particular non-Western culture; some of the panel was specifically intended to talk about problems that might arise. Some of these are not set in a non-Western culture but were instead influenced by one or more in ways the panelists or audience felt were clearly visible. It was a pretty far-ranging discussion, but it's also not meant to be comprehensive; people should feel welcome to add good or bad examples in the comments.

Judith Tarr, Alamut
Minister Faust
Jessica Salmonson
Karen Healey, Guardian of the Dead
Jenn Reese, Jade Tiger
Nnedi Okorafor (-Mbachu)
Diana Wynne Jones, Castle in the Air
Tobias Buckell
Nalo Hopkinson
Karin Lowachee, Gaslight Dogs
Sarah Zettel, Fool's War
Nancy Farmer, The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
Naomi Novik
Colin Cotterill
Alaya Dawn Johnson, Racing the Dark
Guy Gavriel Kay, the Sarantine Mosaic books and Under Heaven
Lian Hearn
Daniel Fox
Amanda Downum
Chaz Brenchley
Kylie Chan
Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
Larry Niven, Dream Park
Kim Stanley Robinson, Years of Rice and Salt
Maureen McHugh, China Mountain Zhang
Steven Barnes
Barry Hughart
Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light
Frank Herbert, Dune
Hunter's Run

?Patricia Wrightson? Someone in the audience was trying to come up with an author of Australian aboriginal fantasy, and the guess someone else could come up with in an internet search was Wrightson, but we have no confirmation that this was correct.

Books from Haikasoru were also mentioned as a category to explore, and also anime and manga in general (not that all anime and manga are speculative, but some are--I would prefer someone who is more expert than I am in this field to get into specifics), some types of movies from Hong Kong, and the Tekumel RPG.

One of the sub-topics on the panel was supposed to be about pitfalls of writing from a non-Western culture (particularly one not one's own, I think), and there were some things I didn't think of until later, and I wanted to put them here.

First of all, I think it's much harder to see what's an interesting twist on a story when it's from a culture you're not intimately familiar with. On the one hand, there's the failure mode of the twist that completely misunderstands the culture in question--making it more like your own culture of origin, or just wrong in a way that someone who knows that culture better can spot immediately. And on the other hand, there's the failure mode of being utterly, utterly boring: of a twist ending that has already been done a million and one times and no longer reads like anything of a twist to people who have grown up in that culture.

The second thing I thought of was a problem with the authoritative voice. We talked a lot about research and getting things right so that the story felt smooth to the reader, and that's absolutely important. But the same things that can give a reader a feeling of assurance that the writer knew what they were about can lull the reader into that sense mistakenly. "Sit back, relax, I'm telling you a story, and I know how it goes," is only a good thing if you actually do know how it goes. The real-world consequences are larger if you use the authoritative voice to give someone a mistaken impression of Iran than if you use it to give them a mistaken impression of Arrakis.
Tags: bookses precious, cons
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