The Multiracial Multiverse by Al Donato
How Writers of Colour Are Re imagining The Speculative Fiction Industry
SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA WILL DESTROY US AL L.
Moreno-garcia lives in Vancouver, but she's unleashing her terrifying brood across the world in the upcoming People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror!, a special issue she's edited for Lightspeed Magazine. This edition is just one of several offshoots of Lightspeed's successfully crowdfunded issues devoted to speculative fiction writers of colour. Through initiatives like these, today's writers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) are including themselves in a narrative landscape that has long been an ethnic snowstorm.
Speculative fiction does as it suggests. Genres that fall under this mantle, such as fantasy, horror, and science fiction, ask “what if?” of powerful institutions and universally-held truths. These narratives refuse to accept situations as they are, be it post-apocalyptic wastelands or oppressive intergalactic dictatorships. Similarly, spec-fic writers of colour resist oppression by virtue of their existence. They're told book covers with faces like theirs won't sell; their readership can learn Tolkien's Elvish, but will balk at patois. The message is clear: give up, this isn't a craft for people like you. But now more than ever, emerging BIPOC storytellers are striking back and terraforming the literary scene so that it's habitable for all. Unafraid of reimagining realities for brown bodies and queer love, a new wave of spec-fic writers are building on the work of past generations; in doing so, they're smashing through the publishing industry's status quo.
From the get-go, Canada's speculative fiction scene has been racially charged. An “electric Chinaman” started it all in Tsab Ting, the first documented Canadian sci-fi story, written by white female writer Ida Ferguson under the male psuedonym Dyjan Fergus in 1896. It was harder to find people of colour behind the bylines; there's no way of knowing a definitive early history of BIPOC speculative fiction writers, since marginalized writers often find safety in aliases (much as Ferguson did with her male alias.)
When Nalo Hopkinson first started writing, she scoured the shelves for Black writers working in science fiction and fantasy. She found five living ones in Samuel R. Delany, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Charles Saunders, and Octavia Butler. Hopkinson and Butler were Clarion writing workshop students while Delany was teaching, each becoming writerly titans in their own right.
Delany mentions the duo in an essay detailing racism he encountered from the industry. He describes fighting the urge to roll his eyes after winning a 1967 Nebula Award for Aye, and Gomorrah, when I, Robot author Isaac Asimov jokingly told him: “..we only voted you those awards because you were Negro.”
Although untrue for the established Delany, tokenism is a real fear for many writers of colour. Hiromi Goto, who bears the mantle of Canada's first published Japanese speculative writer, remembers getting Highlander vibes early in her career.
“I'd say that in the ‘90s there was a sense that ‘there could only be one,'” Goto says, referring to the idea that there could be
only one successful writer of colour from each culture.
“Professionally published speculative fiction in Canada at that time felt predominantly white. I felt a strong desire to bust that open.”
Beyond themes, heritage for Goto influences her formatting. The Japanese pronoun system is a web of inference, honorifics, gender, and region, reflected in Goto's liberal use of sentence fragments in her work.
“This is literally how I think and is deeply a part of my writerly voice,” Goto says. “Some people may say: write in the way that most people will understand most easily. I don't agree with that thinking. Instead of re-inscribing what has been expected — heteronormative white culture — we actually need to write and read from a broader range of voices, aesthetics, knowledges. Many readers are dying to read stories like this.” Hopkinson is a testament to that demand. “I believe it was a revelation to the science fiction community when I used some Anglo-caribbean languages and vernaculars in my writing,” she writes in an email interview, where she later notes that some sci-fi readers found her usage of Caribbean Creole too difficult to understand. “This in a field where some fans will happily learn Klingon,” she adds.
“Science fiction and fantasy are, in many ways, about culture, and about what happens when cultures meet and one has more devastating firepower.”