damned if you do, and damned if you don’t

There’s been a fair amount of kerfuffle recently about the representation of certain groups in Science Fiction, both as authors and characters. Granted, it feels like Science Fiction is one of the last remaining bastions of traditional white males.

I think part of the male/female problem is the very nature of Science Fiction, and the boundaries of definition of the genre. When reading SF anthologies or magazines, invariably the stories written by women represent ‘softer’, more sociological aspects of culture. Technology doesn’t seem to draw interest from many women, and there aren’t many of us writing anything near what could be termed ‘hard Science Fiction’. A lot of SF written by women slants off into fantasy, and one could argue, by some definitions of the genre, whether it is Science Fiction at all. For myself as writer, I can see a practical solution to the under-representation problem. I am a woman. I write hard Science Fiction.

A similar debate is raging over race/culture representation in SF. Alastair Reynolds says it eloquently here.

For me, as writer, this brings a different set of feelings. Yes, I’m a woman, and I also happen to be white. Not much I can do about that. I write about characters from different races, but often those races are made-up. I feel uncomfortable about writing characters from different existing cultures. I feel I’m intruding upon their turf. I feel like I have no authority to write about them, because they’re not my culture, and using the culture in a story may be construed as ‘patronising white person’. I just don’t want to go there. So I write about existing Earth cultures only in future worlds.

Race is not the issue, I think. I don’t spend a lot of time describing my characters, and don’t really care what colour they are on the outside. I leave that for readers to fill in. Culture, though, is on the inside, and I can only truly represent cultures that are my own, either real or made-up.

All of which means that my present-day characters are usually white.

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