SFF from Less-Represented Cultures

AlexH

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I love travelling, and enjoy watching films and reading fiction set in countries other than my home.

There are some interesting-looking books here:

I mostly read short stories. It's difficult to remember which individual stories were set where, but I remember a couple from Migrations: New Short Fiction from Africa (Things We Found North of the Sunset by Aba Asibon) and The Accusation (City of Specters by Bandi - a North Korean writer). They were both good stories, and gave an insight into the culture. Some of the North Korean stories in that book, while not SFF feel very dystopian - Nineteen Eighty-Four-esque, but even scarier, all based on real events.
 

nixie

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Black Leopard Red Wolf, Marlon James, I wasn't keen, won't be finishing the series. I don't care about any cast, promises a lot but doesn't deliver. The language, sex and violence didn't put me off, it doesn't flow well for me, it was a bit of a slog to get through.

The only other one I've read is Finn Mac Cool, Morgan Llewellyn, few years back but recall it was a decent read.
 

hitmouse

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Havent we had a thread on this in the last few months? Pretty sure I posted something on Bengali SF.
 

AlexH

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Havent we had a thread on this in the last few months? Pretty sure I posted something on Bengali SF.
I did a quick search/scan and have been away a lot in the past few months!

Celtic culture is underrepresented in SFF? Whut?
I thought that too, but noticed the author was American and wondered if Celtic-themes have been as popular in the US?
 

The Big Peat

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I thought that too, but noticed the author was American and wondered if Celtic-themes have been as popular in the US?
*stares at the list of Urban Fantasy with the Sidhe in it from America* I guess it's a live question but I'd go with probably. In fact, I'd have to stop and think about this hard, but I think I might have read more Celtic-tinged work from Americans than from Europe.
 

Jo Zebedee

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Celtic culture is underrepresented in SFF? Whut?
I’m spending an entire week talking about this, I think! It is a pretty small field, actually, especially in sf.

Also - a lot of the sidhe urban fantasy in the US that I’ve come across fall under cultural misappropriation :D think how many genuinely Celtic authors have books available about their Celtic myths/places etc. Not that many. (Infrastructure plays its role in this)
 

dannymcg

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I've read through that list of books and, sadly, there isn't one of them that I'd go "buy this now!" in a bookshop.
I did enjoy the two Rosewater books recently so I'm not being 'western white writers only'

I just need a stand out précis to rock my boat, there must be better out there than the meagre stuff depicted, I hope a decent list builds up in this thread
 

Jo Zebedee

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Ah okay Celtic stuff then. Peadar O’Guilin’s stuff is great, I’m enjoying Sarah Davis Goff’s Last Ones Left Alive, very Irish, very dystopic, Jack Fennell’s brilliant anthology A Brilliant Void of Irish (mostly forgotten) sf is ace. Some lass from Norn Iron writes stuff based there too ;) (NI stuff is the REALLY underrepresented side of things)
 

soulsinging

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Some interesting things on here. I bought The Poppy War recently but have yet to read it, and I also bought the first Rosewater book mentioned above recently. Several of these are pretty cheap on the Kindle.
 

The Big Peat

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I’m spending an entire week talking about this, I think! It is a pretty small field, actually, especially in sf.

Also - a lot of the sidhe urban fantasy in the US that I’ve come across fall under cultural misappropriation :D think how many genuinely Celtic authors have books available about their Celtic myths/places etc. Not that many. (Infrastructure plays its role in this)
That's a fair argument, but once you've deleted all the various approximations and melanges produced by America, what is left that's been well represented in fantasy?

Even then... leaving aside the potentially volatile argument over genuinely Celtic, I feel like I can probably think of more works that fit under that profile than books about Scandinavian myths/places by genuinely Scandinavian authors. Or fantasy books touching on Italy's history by genuinely Italian authors. And so on for the many cultures and places beloved by fantasy but without any Anglosphere representation.

Maybe it feels very frustrating to see all the pseudo-Celtic milieu stuff when doing the real deal, but I think that even with the most stringent applications, Celtic is still doing better than 95% of cultures in fantasy. Possibly different in Sci-Fi - I plead my ignorance there - but not fantasy.
 

Jo Zebedee

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Even in fantasy there’s not a huge amount - but I wouldn’t call it underrepresented. But don’t forget Ireland is only one element of Celtic mythology. Wales, for instance, never seems to be well represented (although Jo Walton’s Among Others is fab).

For my tuppen’s worth - only a certain type of Ireland is really out there much and it doesn’t represent the country I know well at all. And it’s mostly ROI centric. So, yeah, there may be plenty of Celtic stuff out there but it’s very limited in terms of its breadth of what is Celtic.
 

hitmouse

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Even in fantasy there’s not a huge amount - but I wouldn’t call it underrepresented. But don’t forget Ireland is only one element of Celtic mythology. Wales, for instance, never seems to be well represented (although Jo Walton’s Among Others is fab).

For my tuppen’s worth - only a certain type of Ireland is really out there much and it doesn’t represent the country I know well at all. And it’s mostly ROI centric. So, yeah, there may be plenty of Celtic stuff out there but it’s very limited in terms of its breadth of what is Celtic.
Wales, off the top of my head:
Torchwood
An undercurrent in some of Diana Wynn Jones
Susan Cooper
Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books
The Machynlleth Trilogy by Jan Morris
Y Dydd Olaf. The book, and the album by Gwenno.
Selected Alan Garner
 

The Big Peat

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I think Jo was talking more about Welsh authors rather than representation of Welsh myth. Welsh myth is very well represented in fantasy; Welsh authors, well, wiki only gives 10.

That aside... I don't particularly disagree with what Jo's saying, but what is well represented? I'm English, I should have no ground for complaint, but when it comes to UF the world stops at London, our history is mostly ignored outside of the late Plantagenets and Victorian era, very little plays on our specific folklore etc.etc.

Fantasy mainly represents a bowdlerized mish-mash of Northern/Central/Western European history and myth; the real deal about those places is nearly as unrepresented as Indian or African. But only nearly.
 

Toby Frost

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I'm English and I genuinely have no idea if there is any English mythology at all. I suppose there are local legends - Black Shuck, the Lambton Worm, and so on - but as to whether there is any large-scale English myth, I don't know. The only cycle of related stories I can think of that is definitely English and not Celtic or Scandinavian would be Robin Hood, who is often portrayed as a Saxon. Maybe I've forgotten something.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I'm English and I genuinely have no idea if there is any English mythology at all. I suppose there are local legends - Black Shuck, the Lambton Worm, and so on - but as to whether there is any large-scale English myth, I don't know. The only cycle of related stories I can think of that is definitely English and not Celtic or Scandinavian would be Robin Hood, who is often portrayed as a Saxon. Maybe I've forgotten something.
Arthur ;) Although Welsh in origin the modern Arthur is mostly seem as English.
 

The Big Peat

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I'm English and I genuinely have no idea if there is any English mythology at all. I suppose there are local legends - Black Shuck, the Lambton Worm, and so on - but as to whether there is any large-scale English myth, I don't know. The only cycle of related stories I can think of that is definitely English and not Celtic or Scandinavian would be Robin Hood, who is often portrayed as a Saxon. Maybe I've forgotten something.
We've mostly local folklore, but there's Arthur (which introduces the thorny question of how celtic England is), and a few semi-forgotten bits and bobs like Hengist and Horsa, Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (again, celtic), and a few bits of maybe history like Alfred and the cakes, Godiva going starkers and so on.

And yes Robin Hood. Which has gone suspiciously unused.

But then, nobody's really used the Ultonian cycle anytime recently (which I hope stays that way until I find some time tbh :p), or Egill Skallagrímsson and Erik Bloodaxe, or etc.etc.

Anyway. This seems a bit of a tangent.

I tried reading The Bear and the Nightingale - didn't get very far into it.

I did read The Poppy War by RF Kuang, and The City of Brass by SA Chakraborty. They're both fun books and if flawed, no more flawed than most (well. The Poppy War is spectacularly flawed but spectacularly good imo). I do have to kinda note that I've seen both books get pushback in terms of representing their 'place' - particularly The City of Brass, where there's a fairly consistent note of criticism with regards to the portrayal of Muslim characters in the book.

More to the point - they're all YA. Going from guesses and knowledge, I'd say 2/3rds of that list is YA. I think YA gets a bum rap but I'm not sure that's doing the world's greatest job of showcasing the best of what the world has to offer. Guess it's what B&N think their nobles want though.

Also... I think about half to 2/3rds of that list is North American born and raised, with most of those not now living there. Without wishing to criticise any of the authors they've picked in the slightest, there's something ironic and off-putting about a "World Tour" that's so heavily centred around authors undergoing a common(ish) cultural experience. Would it have been a worse list for having Andrzej Sapkowski and the Witcher, or Jin Yong and Legends of the Condor Heroes etc.etc.? Because it would have certainly been a more global list.

Going back to the list - I do intend to read James and Roanhorse off that list at the very least.
 

soulsinging

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I did read The Poppy War by RF Kuang, and The City of Brass by SA Chakraborty.
Those are the 2 I have, plus the Roanhorse book.

Also... I think about half to 2/3rds of that list is North American born and raised.
That was interesting to discover for me as well. The publisher seems to go to great lengths to hide it, but Kuang is American. The Throne of the Crescent Moon was written by a guy born here in Detroit, MI. I'd be curious how those still living in the regions in which the book is set would feel about it and how well it represents them. I even wonder if his book would be deemed blasphemous rather than representative, given that I understand Islam to have significant proscriptions about religious depictions and it sounds like the angels and heavens play a pretty active role in the book. Still, I'm inclined to check it out some day because the author is from the American midwest and cites Dragonlance as an influence, haha.
 

The Big Peat

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That was interesting to discover for me as well. The publisher seems to go to great lengths to hide it, but Kuang is American. The Throne of the Crescent Moon was written by a guy born here in Detroit, MI. I'd be curious how those still living in the regions in which the book is set would feel about it and how well it represents them. I even wonder if his book would be deemed blasphemous rather than representative, given that I understand Islam to have significant proscriptions about religious depictions and it sounds like the angels and heavens play a pretty active role in the book. Still, I'm inclined to check it out some day because the author is from the American midwest and cites Dragonlance as an influence, haha.
You can generally find someone somewhere who deems something offensive :p But yes, I suppose it is possible.

That said, I certainly believe there's nothing wrong with authors exploring the myths and history of their heritage in fantasy, even if they're doing it in ways that other sharers of their heritage mightn't care about. And while I do think it is a shame if non-Anglosphere authors are ignored, as has happened with this list, but Anglosphere authors of non-white ethnicities deserve all the good things they're getting.

And as for what's representative - well, representative of what? I'm wary of getting too involved in such arguments, but it's not like every person in China or the Middle East shares the same views - or that the cultures of various diasporas don't deserve representation. So who knows? Probably best to take the most positive view and give full credit.

I just wish it had given more props to a wider circle.
 
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The Throne of the Crescent Moon was written by a guy born here in Detroit, MI. I'd be curious how those still living in the regions in which the book is set would feel about it and how well it represents them. I even wonder if his book would be deemed blasphemous rather than representative, given that I understand Islam to have significant proscriptions about religious depictions and it sounds like the angels and heavens play a pretty active role in the book.
To be fair, the Detroit metro area contains Dearborn, home to the largest Muslim community in the U.S. (somewhere around 40,000 people). In fact, I'd say it's the epicenter of Islamic and Middle-Eastern culture in the U.S. So, I wouldn't say that the author was far removed from his subject matter, especially since he is Muslim of Middle-Eastern descent.

Getting back on topic, as a Native American, I find the description of Rebecca Roanhorse's series interesting. For once a Native American culture is not portrayed in an offensively stereotypical or belittling way. Hurray? It's kind of a low bar to clear, but still... I'd like to see more NA cultures portrayed correctly in sci-fi and fantasy, but alas J.K. Rowling currently dominates with her offensive renditions.
 
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