Diversity in Sci-Fi: Why Representation Matters

Welcome to Diversity in Sci-Fi! My name is Kirsten, and starting next month, I will be reviewing new, diverse, science fiction books. Today, I would like to offer some insight into why I have started this blog, and what you can expect to find in my reviews.

Why Do We Need Representation?

The science fiction genre is, unfortunately, saturated with books written by straight white men. Many of these books either lack representation or are racist, homophobic, or misogynistic.

This is not a new problem. In her 1980 essay The Lost Races of Science Fictionopens a new window, acclaimed science-fiction author Octavia Butler said, “Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Amerindians, minority characters in general have been noticeably absent from most science fiction. Why? [...] Are minority characters—black characters in this case—so disruptive a force that the mere presence of one alters a story, focuses it on race rather than whatever the author had in mind?” She suggests that writers who have trouble giving black characters interesting backgrounds and stories, and writers who get sidetracked justifying “why” a character is black, are incapable of regarding black people as people. She compares this to the stereotyping that women have historically received and concludes, “It is no more necessary to focus on a character’s blackness than it is to focus on a woman’s femininity.”

Thirty years later, Octavia Butler’s words still hold true. Science fiction is getting more diverse, but minority characters are still sorely lacking. Books written by straight white men still flood the market, many of which conveniently forget the existence of people who exist outside of this demographic. However, Octavia Butler would be pleased to know that there are more black science fiction writers today than there were in 1980. Take a look at N.K. Jemisinopens a new window, who broke new ground in 2016 by becoming the first black author to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel!

POC, LGBTQ+, and female writers are all becoming more and more common. While straight, white, male writers still need to diversify their writing, this blog aims to amplify the voices of minority authors.

Review Criteria

Each book that I review for this blog will adhere to the following criteria:

  1. The author must be a woman, a person of color, or an LGBTQ+ person.
  2. The book’s main character must be a woman, a person of color, or an LGBTQ+ person.
  3. Strong preference is given to recent releases, or books released within the past year.

In each review, I will share my thoughts on the plot and tone of the book and examine any issues with diversity. For example, does a book starring a white, queer woman lack characters of color? Does a book starring a male POC have unflattering depictions of women, with no positive representation to balance the scales?

Next Time...

Next month, I will be reviewing one of my most anticipated titles of 2019, a book with two WOC female leads, a female author, and LGBTQ+ representation: The Luminous Deadopens a new windowopens a new window by Caitlin Starling, a sci-fi/horror book revolving around two characters: one woman descending in a cave, and another woman remotely monitoring her suit and environment. The two are in a messy and potentially toxic relationship. In reading an interview with the authoropens a new windowopens a new window, I learned that in a book-to-movie adaptation of The Luminous Dead, she would cast Afro-Latina actress Tessa Thompson and black singer/actress Janelle Monae to play her characters. I’ve not seen any reviews mentioning these characters as characters of color, however, so tune in next month to find out how race is handled within the book itself.    

BostonPL_12 Sci-Fi Reads with Female Leads

List created by BostonPL_KirstenD

The world of science-fiction is heavily populated with male writers and characters, making it challenging to wade through the genre in search of a good book written by a woman, with a female main character. Looking for something woman-centric to cleanse your palate? Check out one of these great books!

Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ships leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lotif shes willing to sow the seeds of civil war.

Two engineers, Adda and her girlfriend Iridian, hijack a spaceship to join some space pirates--only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Now they have to outwit the AI if they want to join the pirate crew--and survive long enough to enjoy it

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse. Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her. Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Area X has claimed the lives of members of eleven expeditions. The twelfth expedition consisting of four women hopes to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The patched-up ship has seen better days, but it offers her everything she could possible want: a spot to call home, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy and some distance from her past. And nothing could be further from what she's known than the crew of the Wayfarer.

Special agent Lila Black used to be pretty, but after the Quantum Bomb of 2015, she's not so sure. Her body is more than half restless carbon and metal alloy machinery, a machine she's barely in control of. It goes into combat mode, enough weapons for a small army springing from within itself, at the merest provocation. As for her heart, well, ever since being drawn into a game by the rockstar elf Zal (lead singer of The No Shows), who she's been assigned to protect, she's not even sure she can trust that any more either.

Refusing to leave her only home to board the cryo ships, 70-year-old Ofelia hides, content to live alone on an abandoned planet, but when new settlers arrive and are slaughtered by unknown stone age aliens, she takes it upon herself to save the aliens from Earth's wrath.

Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, may be her last...

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received. But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin -- barely of age herself -- finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.

A generation starship can hide many secrets. When an Executive clan suspects Oichi of insurgency and discreetly shoves her out an airlock, one of those secrets finds and rescues her. Officially dead, Oichi begins to rebalance power one assassination at a time and uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship and the Executive clans.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next. Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.

Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity's ancestral habitat. She's spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

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