Wednesday, August 5, 2015

NK Jemisin On Fantasy Worlds & Status Quo

Cover for the collection "The Inheritance
Trilogy" by N.K. Jemisin
There was a great interview in The Guardian last week with one of my favorite fantasy writers-- N. K. Jemisin. I first heard of her during the whole racefail 09 debacle. But she didn't just rest on her laurels. She's not just been continuing to write novels and novellas, but also working with other POC to confront racism and sexism in the industry head on.

In part of the interview she talks about how so much of epic fantasy and science fiction seems to end up reinforce a lot of industry and genre status quo in particular as well as the status quo for viewpoints and stories told in general. She puts forth the idea that not only is that contrary to the nature of fantasy, it is contrary to who she is as an author, and person, and why she seeks to challenge and change with her writing:
 “As a black woman, I have no particular interest in maintaining the status quo. Why would I? The status quo is harmful, the status quo is significantly racist and sexist and a whole bunch of other things that I think need to change. With epic fantasy there is a tendency for it to be quintessentially conservative, in that its job is to restore what is perceived to be out of whack... I hear all the excuses: things were just like that back then. There really were 90% men in medieval Europe and they were all white and somehow they magically got silk from East Asia and we don’t know how that happened... But that makes no sense to me. I don’t really understand why so many fantasy writers choose to focus on worlds that just seem strangely denuded. But to them I guess it doesn’t seem strange. And I guess that’s their privilege. It isn’t mine.” 
For some concrete examples, of Nemisin's work, the collection pictured aboce, is an amazing series of stories, with action and intrigue, alliances and betrayals set in a far-future fantasy Egypt-like kingdom. It was nominated for, and won a pile of awards, and rightly so!  If you'd like to get a good idea of what her writing style is like for free, you can read her story "Non-Zero Probability" here. It;s available in both text and audio versions.

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