The OF Blog: Y.T. Listism?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Y.T. Listism?

So the discussion still continues in a few quarters about that New Yorker list of "seven essential fantasies" that I blogged about a few days ago. There have been some interesting lists that have sprung up - see the comments to my post, to Aidan's, to Pat's, to James's, to Suvudu's, to Mark Newton's, and to Adam's, for example. But it's J.M. McDermott's reply this evening to my list (which I ought to add is not intended for "beginners," but rather for the jaded and for those who are equally comfortable in the "literary" and "speculative" narrative modes) that grabbed my attention:

I thought the NYer list was... embarassing.

Look, each of these authors is pretty good, at least, and a couple (GGK, for instance) are as good as it gets.

But, the thing about the list that really bugged me was it was six white guys and only one woman.

If we want readers to actually get a sense of the diversity that is happening, it takes only a moment to go one step farther and reach out to writers who are arguably better than a lot of the people on the list, just as accessible, and who each come with a cultural perspective that isn't exactly like the other ones. Our increasingly diverse cultural heritage and cultural influences are related to our constant splintering off into subgenre after subgenre.

Your list is far better, Larry, and I wish the NYer asked you instead of the person they did ask. But, don't you kind of think part of what makes your list better is the cultural diversity?

I mean, this isn't to say that a list of all 7 white guys couldn't be acceptibly representative of all fiction (or, in this case 6 white guys and one woman). It's to say that any seven you choose is going to be limiting and broken, anyway. And, applying diversity doesn't even remotely make it hard to find quality books that meet the stated goals of the list.

Anyway... To hook 'em young and keep 'em, with more diversity of ethnicity!

1) Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
2) Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
3) Kindred by Octavia Butler
4) The Etched City by K. J. Parker (I believe he meant K.J. Bishop)
5) Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murikami
6) Lavinia by Ursula K LeGuinn
7) In The Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss

I could come up with a more diverse list, but I think - for a young reader - it would be difficult not to find something that hooks 'em here. And, each of these writers is one of the best at what they do. Each comes from a very different cultural perspective (if you think Canada, US, Australia, and UK each count as different...).
J.M.'s comments touches upon something that I decided to slip in there to see if any noticed. I purposely did not want this to be all Y.T., all the time here. In fact, if I hadn't limited myself to just seven, I easily would have included more female authors (I'm kicking myself for leaving off Patricia McKillip's The Riddle-Master trilogy, for example, as it kicks all sorts of ass, so consider her exclusion and that of Italo Calvino to be brain farts). Margo Lanagan, for example, deserves every bit of praise she receives and more. And that's leaving out possible choices such as Ben Okri, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, Steven Barnes, Samuel Delany (even if he's SF at best and not really considered to have written "fantasy"), etc.

All these are from the top of my head and doubtless even more would bubble up if I were to glance around at my bookshelves. So why is it that in most suggested lists (and not just in the original post) that virtually all the suggestions are male and mostly Caucasian to boot?

Could one make the argument that by perpetuating mostly all-Y.T. lists that sense of separation might have been created that would isolate African American, Asian American, Latinos and Latinas, and others from various cultural traditions (not to mention females and LGBTs of each of those categories) from the presumed "mainstream?" Or is it more complex than that? Do you see this situation changing now or anytime in the near future?

10 comments:

marco said...

Well...
I did say that I would have disregarded authors already mentioned - so out from the start went Murakami, Schulz, Le Guin, Bolano, among others. I've tried to limit myself to fantasy rather than pure sf, and so didn't consider Octavia Butler. (Even though Kindred could have qualified). Other than that, I think the problem is that fantasy, as a genre, is historically very much an Anglo-American thing, and therefore overwhelmingly white. This genre may elect precursors and accept or claim some foreigners (Murakami, Pelevin, South American Magical Realism) -but any similarity is convergent evolution, really. And the kind of fantasy inspired by Tolkien, Moorcock et al. is still a too recent, or perhaps too marginal, phenomenon in non-English speaking lands. As such, I suppose with my lists I wanted to highlight works in the Anglosaxon tradition which are not generally considered fantasy or may have fallen into obscurity, leaving only a few windows open into other traditions.

I mean, once you include Eco, Saramago or Calvino, why not think of Rushdie (Midnight Children) Okri (The Famished Road) or Potocki, Meyrink, Capek, Buzzati, Cortazar, Akutagawa, Journey to the West, and all those African, South-American, Caribbean or Asian authors whose work from time to time inserts elements of fable and folktale in a otherwise realistic narration?

Niall said...

Samuel Delany (even if he's SF at best and not really considered to have written "fantasy")

Er, Neveryon?

J M McDermott said...

I did mean K J Bishop. Oops! (I've got Kage Baker on my to-be-read pile soon...)

By Y.T. do you mean young teen or "whitey"? I can't tell from your post.

felix said...

he means "Yukon Territories," of course, he's sick of them goddamn Yukonners dominating fantasy

Felix said...

if i see one more three-volume doorstopper epic by some god damn Yukonner about a humble beaver-trapper's boy who finds a magic snowmobile and rises to become Governor of the Hudson Bay Company I swear I'll throw up

Larry said...

Marco,

Good points. There could be something said for a sort of cultural imperialism that's shaped global understandings of that "Fantasy" (capitalized for a reason) narrative.

Niall,

True, as I should have said primarily (but not exclusively) known best for his SF?

J.M., Felix:

Y.T. embraces a diversity of possibilities. And of course, the Yukoners is just code for Palin Hate, no? :P Or it's just a phonetic thing ;)

bookshelves said...

Well, except some Murakami books, i don't have any other of them in my bookshelves.

Larry said...

Maybe there are some books/authors mentioned here that might be candidates for future additions?

J M McDermott said...

I can't hate Yukoners because David Marusek rocks my socks.

Larry said...

But how much does he > Sarah Palin, though? That's the important question.

 
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