45 - It's very hard to unsee

This episode, I'm joined by novelist and short story author Na'amen Gobert Tilahun (@naamenism) to discuss his history with the genre, the process of Canon formation, and ways of reacting to harmful representation of marginalized identities in both current and older stories.


Transcript here.

The amazing art which inspired me to actually get this project off the ground was created by  @etrandem

Send feedback! Tweet the showBe a guest on the show

Music - Jazzy Ashes by The Underscore Orkestra

If you want to subscribe to the show, the RSS feed is: http://www.cabbagesandkings.audio/?format=rss

33 - Representation with Justina Ireland (2)

This episode is part 2 of my interview with Justina Ireland about race, representation, and reviews in Science Fiction & Fantasy.  In addition, I'll be reviewing the Clarke Award 2016 shortlist with Maureen K Speller and Megan of From Couch to Moon, and I opened by talking a bit about what I think of when I think "Science Fiction"


The Atlantic: Reading a Novel Changes Your Brain (yes, I did just grumble about giving these sorts of articles much credence.  I am not particularly consistent)


Transcript of Interview

JSM - I feel like I've heard two different positive statements about diversity & inclusion.  One that there are familiar (I dunno that tropes is quite the right word), but familiar roles and stories that have been told where there's still a lot of value to retelling those stories with historically marginalized identities at the center of those stories - giving the black woman the chance to be the romantic lead, and probably, and I don't know a whole lot about disability and neurodiversity but I'm sure that being able to retell stories with more diverse or disabled leads, that there are a plethora of stories out there that would give a whole lot of people a chance to see themselves in a role they've never seen themselves in.  I remember that being one of the big things about MAd Max.

JI - Yes

JSM - And I feel like there's also - being able to to experiment and explore and get rid of some of the assumptions that we've always made opens up lots of new possibilities.  Where just there's all sorts of stuff out there that because we've been writing the same sorts of books and if we can get more creators in there & people willing to take more risks and explore the boundaries of their imagination even more, there's a whole host of stories well outside of things that may not put focus on identities that haven't been on the page very much, but will give all of us a chance to see commonalities & see differences in ways that we haven't before.  Which is I think kind of a thing people say about having aliens in SF.  And that that's also a very untapped field and area.

JI - So I think classic stories, I think familiar stories are a good entry point for people who wouldn't necessarily pick up a book with a marginalized main character.  I think there are people who are resistant to picking up a book with a neurodiverse lead, or resistant to pick up a book with a disabled lead, because they're like "oh, it's a hassle book, it's a deep book, it's going to be deep, I just want a light hearted fun read" that's what you hear a lot of times when people are kind of pushing back against diversity, I just want something light & fun I don't want all that seriousness stuff.

And I think when you take something like Snow White or Cinderalla or any kind of classical story, Romeo & Juliet, these stories that we know, I always call it the medicine in the hot dog.  I have a dog, so whenever I have to give him medicine, I shove the medicine in the hot dog and when I do that he wolfs it down and he doesn't even notice the medicine until afterwards.  And I think that when you take a familiar story & you racebend it or you y'know genderbend it or you do something that kind of shifts that narrative enough people seem familiar with the medicine they need, and the medicine they need is the diversity.  You need to see people outside yourselves in stories, just as people need to see themselves in stories, it behooves you as a human being to see people beside yourself so that you can be a better human being and build some of that empathy.  And there's actually a study that was done where if you read books and are situations

JSM - it increases empathy?

JI - Yeah, it increases your cognitive ability to deal with situations & you're more willing to embrace differences in real life & stuff like that.  So I think that's really important, but I also think there are only so many stories that are going to be told.  Ancillary Justice if you look at the story, it is nothing really new.  There are a million swashbuckling revenge space stories out there. What made it different was the way that Leckie used gender,

Rachel Bach who just wrote the Fortune's Pawn books, it's just basically a mercenary in space, but because the main character happens to be a female mercenary all of sudden it's something new & fantastic & fresh.  It's actually an awesome trilogy I loved it.

I think it's really important to think there really are no new plots.  Everyone's had that English Teacher who's like

JSM - Right

JI - all the stories were all told by Shakespeare

JSM - Yep

JI - And that's true to a degree but the difference is the character, y'know.  I will go to hell and back with an interesting character & a shitty plot.  But I'm not going to step 2 with a plot that's formulaic & bland characters.  I don't care how complex your plot is, if your main characters, if your characters are flat, no one's going anywhere with you.  And I think ... just writing different character, giving people something they haven't seen before & a familiar plot, it's really great, it's like training wheels for diversity, it's like people were going to read it just because they know the story, people LOVE the kidnapped Princess, or Mistaken Identity stories, there's million stories of Mistaken Identity in Fantasy, but if you y'know put in two princesses who fall in love instead of a princess and a boy, or if you put in a disabled princess or a neurodiverse princess, all of a sudden the story is different & the obstacles are different

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Of course, even when authors do choose to write stories with characters from marginalized backgrounds who speak and act and live in their own communities and not the federation starships or pseudo-medieval Europe that so many stories are set in, their books are reviewed and discussed by a community that may or may not be familiar with those backgrounds.  I’m going to link to an annual survey by the genre magazine Strange Horizons which looks at the gender and racial backgrounds of reviewers at many genre outlets as well as the books they review.  Certainly there are authors and editors out there taking risks and telling stories from their own perspectives.  More than once on this podcast I’ve mentioned the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History.

*Interstitial Music*


JI - My biggest pet peeve when people do make those daring choices, when they do try something different is the reviews you read & the pushback you see in these reviewers - we saw it with the Long Hidden anthology where someone was like "it was all good except for this one story written in Vernacular AAVE"

JSM - "The Literrary Trick" I believe was the phrase

JI - Yes it was, and I'm like that's not a literary trick, just because you've never been somewhere where people speak that way, doesn't mean it's like a literary trick

Or, when Karen Lord's the Best of All Possible Worlds came out, there was I think a Strange Horizons review that was talking about like "I liked it but it wasn't very feminist because the Main Character falls in love with one of the other characters", and they were like it wasn't feminist because she fell in love, but the idea of a woman of color being able to be in love to be a love interest & to be cherished by somebody, that is pretty feminist for a woman of color, right?

Y'know WOC have been property for most of american history, they've been just something for people to use, so the idea that a WOC can be cherished and loved and be a love interest, that's revolutionary, to think that you're deserving of that same kind of tenderness that white women would take for granted, y'know when was the last time you saw a romantic comedy with a WOC as the lead, that wasn't a quote-unquote Black Movie (that Tyler Perry wasn't involved), so that's the point - just because it's not revolutionary for you doesn't mean it's not revolutionary for me.  And I think that's one of the things that reviewers are terrible at, is taking themselves out of their little narrow headspace of experience & say how would other audiences receive this piece & how do I review this in the broadest possible terms, because I don't think ... if you're a reviewer & you only read, y'know you'd never have a reviewer who's only like "I only read military SF set on a generational spaceship", you would never have a reviewer that's that narrow, yet we do have reviewers who are like I will only give a good rating to something that's very white male heterosexual and plays into that SFF,

JSM - And it may well be doing that not necessarily consciously

JI - Correct

JSM - not saying to themselves, I'm only, but just *we* (and I'm certainly including myself in this one) are used to reading things with a certain audience in mind and so when things are written not towards that audience it is I think easy for a reviewer to miss that and to not, not be aware of the significance of the ways that that's been changed.

JI - And I think that's one of the thigns that as a reviewer you should ... so one of the things I do now when I read, because I'm trying to read, I'm trying to question myself because obviously I have a lot of internalized bias, even against POC, right, that's one of the things about living in society is even as a POC you start to internalize those biases.  So one of the things I do when I read things if I have a negative reaction to something in the text I try to stop myself, and think, why am I having a negative reaction, is it because I find it truly offensive or is it because it goes against something I've been taught?

You see that a lot with promiscuous women on the page, you get that AAAUUGH, why is she a whore? It's like no, wait, like why am I thinking those thoughts when there's nothing wrong with ... if it was a dude, I'd be like yeah! Go Get it!

So that's one of those things that you have to question yourself and I worry about anybody who attempts to be a critic isn't always questioning their own taste and internalized bias, because if you're a critic that should be part of your mantra, is, looking at a piece of work & looking at it critically, looking at the subtext, looking at how people would receive it, and looking at how you received it & what that says about you as well as what it says about the work. And I think there's a lot of folks who aren't willing to look beyond the end of their nose when they read a book.

If it's not something that completely speaks to their experience it's crap.  And it doesn't mean it's not crap if it doesn't speak to your experience, but I do think we need to do better at thinking like how does this play into the larger canon, how does this, what does this say about the larger world around us, how does this fit in this space, and does it have merit even if it's not something I like.  There's a lot of stuff I read, I'm not a big fan of Literature, y'know capital L.  I'm not a big fan of the Franzen's and the ... all those deep Literary meaning kind of books where like middle-aged white dude tries to have sex with someone he shouldn't have sex with.  That's not my deal, but I understand why people like it, and I understand why people think that's a worthwhile  bit of literature. Why it’s a worthwhile reading.

JSM - You're a better person than I am.

JI - *laughs*

JSM - I will try to figure that out sometime later

JI - well they're pretty sentences, like you read those books at a sentence level and they're just yknow it's just a really interesting way of arranging words, and then sometimes you're just like aaah.

But at the same point I understand why people like it, y'know it's not my thing,  but I can critique something and say that this doesn't appeal to me but these are the the people it would appeal to. And I think that's something reviewers especially should do a better job of. I don't expect everyone to give good reviews, but I do think especially when it's something this was clearly not written for me, there was clearly a subtext I missed, that doesn't mean it was a bad book because you missed the subtext, it means you missed the subtext.  Those are two different things.

*Interstitial Music*


JSM - I remember you tweeting, and half the reason I had you on this podcast was to ask you about some things you tweeted.  You tweeted something like "If prejudice is shown on the page, it should be deconstructed on the page" and I think in that you were talking specifically about some books with historical setting, but I think it applies in many ways both to secondary world or to far off science fiction as well as historical.  Are there things that you've noticed that say to you "I'm gettting worried about how the author is going to handle this" or "I really like how the author is handling this, as they're able to both portray prejudice but also kind of deconstruct & show what the problems are with that worldview?

JI - Yeah, so one of the things we see, I see a lot in books, is when you have, we always call it the good white person or the white savior character who's the main character who doesn't necessarily know anything about this world.  We see it a lot with conquerors, the Dances With Wolves syndrome or the Last Samurai syndrome & this white dude shows up in a foreign culture, it could be an alien culture, it could be elves or orcs, or whatever the hell you want to put in there, because it's usually not POC, it's usually some other kind of fantastical stand in, and they show up & they learn a Valuable Lesson, because they do all these things that are wrong, there's this kind person they usually fall in love with, usually this very stereotypical kind of native american woman kind of character.  Just think, what was the movie with the blue people, that

JSM - Avatar, right

JI - Thank you!

JSM - I was just thinking that, I was just thinking are you just giving me the plot synopsis of Avatar here?

JI - I actually didn't watch that movie because I'd seen Dances With Wolves when I was younger, and Avatar's basically DwW with Blue People

JSM - I didn't see DwW, but that sounds right

JI - So what happens is like you have this character & it happens in fiction all the time, it happens on the page as well, they show up, do everything wrong, they're just terrible, ohmygosh, how can these people be so mean to them, you get to the end of the book, we all learned a Valuable Lesson to be more accepting, and then usually some kind of magical negro fatherly figure or motherly figure is dying, 10 pages from the end of the book, so the main character can learn this valuable lesson from the aliens or orcs or elves or whoever we're learning this lesson from

And we all read the page and we're like oh it was a great book!

But if you're the stand-in, if you're the orcs or the elves, you're like that guy was kind of a dick!  The whole thing! The whole book, and that's what has to happen, if your main character is doing all these things through the book, there needs to be something right after they do it where they deconstruct why they're doing these things that are wrong.

Because for me, I already know he's doing things that are wrong, like I don't need to wait to the end of the book to learn the valuable lesson.  I know racism is real, I know homophobia is real, I don't need to go 20 chapters to get to that.

So that's part of writing for an inclusive audience, if you're writing for that audience, you're like hey, I'm writing about blue people being marginalized, maybe some of my readers have been marginalized, maybe they know what that's like, maybe I should address it on the page right after that happens.  You don't have to have the main character realize it, that's part of craft, but your characters who are around the main character should say something about it, and should have some reaction to it.  And what happens nine times out of 10 is that main character, we're so deep in their POV or their perspective, there's nothing else to tell the reader this was a Bad Thing.  And it isn't until we get to the end and we all learn the valuable lesson that we learn that OOHHH that thing that happened on page 2, that was a bad thing.  But if I'm the person who's already experienced that and didn’t need to learn that lesson, I'm not hanging around with you until page 200, right? I'm bailing on page 2 because I'm like I know where this is going I've seen this story before.  So that's one of the things that I think if you're writing with a margin- and especially if you're writing from a marginalized perspective, so if you're in a marginalized character's POV, the marginalized character's not going to say "oooh, maybe these people are racist?", the marginalized characters going to say "OH, Hell, These People are Racist and I'm just going to get through this day the best I can."

JSM - mmm hmm

JI - What you see a lot of times ... and this is where the whole idea of authenticity, is like you'll have the Big Moment, right, you'll have the Big Moment where the marginalized character is Realizing They're Marginalized, instead of realizing that being marginalized is like a hundred little moments.  It's not a big thing, right, y'know there's it's very rare that I can walk down the street and someone calls me the N-word.  It happens but it's very rare.  But it's a lot of little things, where people are like "oh, can I touch your hair?" or "oh, let me hold your bags while you walk around the store", like y'know and nobody else's bags are being offered to be held, or people following you & offering to help you & they're a little bit too helpful and that kind of stuff.  It's not big things, it's a hundred thousand little things that add up to big things.  And I think that's one of the things that makes me crazy is when you don't address it on the page.  It's just all this stuff is happening and we’re supposed to know it's because this character's going to learn a valuable lesson, but I don't want to wait for them to learn a valuable lessons.

*Interstitial Music*

And part of that's what we call the promise of the story, like if you don't kind of give your reader the, this is one of the reasons I don't read George RR Martin anymore for example, because there's no guarantee that he's going to treat me as a reader well.  Once you get through book 3, you know he's going to kill the person that you love the most.  And it's like do you want to set yourself up for abuse like that anymore? Like how good is the story? It's like, every one you love is going to die, and I'm, I'm good, I don't need that.

And that's part of the promise of the story, it's that, kind of giving the reader, like hey look, it sucks right now, but I'm going to pull you through it and I'm going to make it worth your while.  And if you can't do that for people from marginalized backgrounds just as well as you do for mainstream readers, that's when you have that problem, and that's when you're not looking at your microaggressions and you're not looking at the crap that's going on your page, and deconstructing it.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Thinking back to Court of Fives, and remembering the kind of throughout that, the daughters are very aware that their situation is precarious.

JI - Right

JSM - And I feel like early on, there was the scene in the market and the spiders came through and rounded up a bunch of people, and it was kind of dangerous but it was much less dangerous for her, because the thing was it was going to embarrass her father.

JI - Right

JSM - But then one of the characters who got rounded up, he showed up later & there was a chance to reveal that the official explanation for what was going on was not the actual reason for the repression that was happening.  I felt like Court of Fives did *laugh* did representation really well, and in part did ... I felt like making the reader aware that the protagonist was privileged, and that she came to that realization, but she came to that realization gradually partly because I guess it took her a while to go from realizing I am privileged to "what does privilege actually mean?"

Like I think it is easy for me to acknowledge "I have white privilege" and "I have male privilege", but it is harder for me to describe what does it mean to have those things, and I felt like there was a kind of similar journey to discovery in Court of Fives.

JI - Yeah, I think she does a great job in that, so she, she does a great job in that marketplace scene, right, because you have the spiders who're coming in, because they’re looking for this playwright, this poet, and so y'know her and her sister are just shopping and they're kind of oblivious to all this stuff, she doesn't understand why the people in the marketplace don't like her, she knows she's privileged because her dad is this patron and he's taken care of her mother very well, but it's not until the small child is crushed by the spider and the soldiers are like, just don't even notice that they crushed this small child that she's like holy crap, what's going on here?

She thinks - it's OK, the spiders are here to help, whereas the people in the marketplace, the reactions are very different.  I think Kate does a great job of saying "this is what it looks like to not understand: this is what oppression looks like".  Because even though she knows hey, it's not really fair I'm not going to ever get to be a patron or have those kinds of opportunities, she still doesn't understand the true depth of what is going on in the country, the main character, Jes.

And I was actually lucky enough to read Kate's draft for her second book, and it goes deeper, there's a lot more of that awakening and she realized what it means for her identity to be in between these two worlds, and the second book's actually - I love the first book, but trilogies usually fall apart for me in the second book, I always hate that middle bridge, "what're you doing with this bridge book, just give us the third book!" because usually the second book in a trilogy is usually very weak, but this is a great, the second book is amazing! It's better than the first book, and there's a lot of growth that happens with the character, and there's a lot more of that realization that like y'know what does it mean to be a conquered people, what does it mean to have to give up your identity when somebody new comes onto the scene, y'know how much of history that we're told is true, and how much is rewritten by the conquerers, there's all these kinds of questions.

But I think that marketplace scene is like, for authors & writers who want to understand what it's like to write microaggressions on the page & dismantle them, and not in the obvious way, the obvious way is like "how dare you call that person that thing? that's not nice to call that person", it's a very obvious dismantling of a microaggression or a belief, then there's also the more nuanced where you just have the crowd reacting differently than your main character & you show that and your MC is like why is everyone acting differently? And they just kind of get to observe this stuff.  Court of Fives is such a great book and it's such a good example of how you can do diversity within fantasy without hitting someone over the head with the diversity.

(Close with Paul Weimer’s memory of The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings)



30 - Representation with Justina Ireland (part 1)

This episode, I am joined by Justina Ireland (@justinaireland) a Young Adult author & purveyor of awesomeness.  Justina often tweets about issues of representation of marginalized identities, and recently launched Writing In The Margins which mentors and facilitates emerging authors so that those whose stories have been silenced by history & societal oppression can find their audience.

I apologize for the delay in new episodes (should be back with a slightly looser format and 2-3 episodes per month), Justina talks about seeing yourself on the page (or not), praises Kate Elliott's Court of Fives, and tells her story of reading Ancillary Justice.  Also Charles Payseur is back to recommend short stories.

(We also briefly alluded to the decision to remove the H. P. Lovecraft bust as the symbol of the World Fantasy Award)

Short fiction recommendations from Charles Payseur (of Quick Sip Reviews)

Letter Writing resources: International Geek Girl Letter Writers, Letter Writers Alliance, The League of Extraordinary Penpals

The amazing art which inspired me to actually get this project off the ground was created by @etrandem

Send feedback! Tweet meTweet the showBe a guest on the show

Music - Jazzy Ashes by The Underscore Orkestra

If you want to subscribe to the show, the RSS feed is: http://www.cabbagesandkings.audio/?format=rss



JSM - Me

JI - Justina Ireland

CP - Charles Payseur

*Intro music*

Welcome to Cabbages & Kings, I'm your host Jonah Sutton-Morse, and I want to start by apologizing for the delay in getting this out.  March got a little bit crazy & I realized it was going to be a little while until I got the new episode out & also I wanted to reimagine the show a little bit, so thank you for your patience.  I am rethinking the show a little bit.  You are probably at the beginning of most episodes going to hear me rambling.  Right now it's about the show, in the future it'll be about what I'm reading.  I am also going to have some more guest spots that I am hoping to integrate.  In this episode we've got Charles Payseur back with some short story recommendations for us.  I will probably as part of this not be holding quite so strictly to the 30 minute limit.  Between me, other guests, and the main interview I would expect the show will often be pushing about 40 minutes, but hopefully as I get better at editing & finding key moments in an interview, that'll move back down.  I am certainly not giving myself permission to go ramble forever. Today is the first of two parts interviewing Justina Ireland.

*Interstitial music*

JSM - My guest this episode is Justina Ireland a young adult author and purveyor of awesomeness.  Among many other things, Justina often Tweets and Tumbls about representation of historically marginalized identities, and I wanted to bring her on to talk about this representation. Specifically what it's like to read an identity presented well on the page, and what exactly presented well even means.  And also ways that reader can see negative presentations deconstructed on the page.  And the ways authors can do that, and present problematic material.

I usually start by asking guests about their path into the Science Fiction & Fantasy genre.  Can you tell us a bit about your reading history & what brought you into the genres that you read.

JI - Sure, yeah, I do read pretty broadly, I read a lot of SFF, that's kind of where my heart has always been. The first I think, I mean most people usually point to something like A Wrinkle In Time as the first book where they fell in love with SFF, and for me it was actually Anne McCaffery's Pern Books.


JI - I actually read the Pern books out of order because you know when you're a poor kid & you go to the library you just take whatever's on the shelf.  So I ended up reading, the first book I ended up reading was DragonsDawn, which is this weird mix of SF & F, and so I spent a lot of time reading that kind of stuff and kind of escaping, because like a lot of kids I had a terrible childhood and so  one of the reasons I like SFF is it gives you this outlet to explore heavy subjects without really exploring those really heavy subjects.  So when you talk about race relations or race issues, there's this automatic instinct to hunch your shoulders and take a defensive posture, but when you're talking about y'know the interplay between cat people & mice people, it's a different kind of interplay.  So I've always liked that ability to look at social aspects or aspects of social justice within fantasy & SF, without really looking at those aspects.

So even within young adult when I read Young Adult books or Middle Grade or whatever I read, there's always that aspect of SFF. Young Adult is a little bit more willing to embrace the idea of representation and this, y'know this diversity soapbox, whereas there's a lot of pushback in the SFF world.

JSM - Yeah

JI - Yeah, and very kind of unexpected pushback - wow I didn't really think anybody could actually thing that way

JSM - I was just going to note, since I often run these well after the interview that this is the weekend after the World Fantasy Award announced Lovecraft will no longer be the bust of the WFA.

So some of tgat pushback & people owning their bigotry is happening online right now.

JI - Right, and I'm just kinda surprised because it's Lovecraft, but like no one (garble) for Poe, like no one is out there picketing the streets because someone talked bad about, um, Bram Stoker.  It's less about Lovecraft & more about the idea of having to give anything, like give any kind of ground.  Like if we let Lovecraft be removed from the WFA then the terrorists win.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Yeah, do you remember either one of, or an early time or a recent time that you found yourself feeling represented in what you're reading?  I'm assuming it did not happen with Dragonsdawn ...


JI - No, so the strangest thing is it was a different Anne McCaffery book, I think it was Elvenborn, which is this realy really kind of terrible book, with humans and elves - Anne McCaffery & Andre Norton are the two writers, they co-wrote it, and it came out in the mid 90's

JSM - I think Lackey was the coathor, so Andre Norton & Mercedes Lackey

JI - Yeah, there you go, Andre Norton & Mercedes, thank you

The whole premise of the book is there's an alternate planet fantasy kind of realm where like the royalty they're basically like white plantation owners, and humans are enslaved.  But humans have magic but they're all collared

So, I think Norton died before the series was finished, because there were a couple more books that were supposed to happen.

Anyway, there was this character who was half-human and half-elf, so she has this magic & she finds a way to lead a rebellion, which y'know yadda yadda yadda, but she was the first character I had ever that was kind of existed between two worlds. I'm actually biracial, my mom is white & my father is black, and that was a constant theme when I was growing up, that existence between two worlds, and that kind of fitting in, really in neither world, so when I read this book I was, for me it was kind of like oh, wow, this was really awesome, you can do this! But at the same time I kind of was irritated that you had taken something like the idea of being enslaved, and like chattel slavery and then just put white people in there.  *laugh* which is kind of like a terrible thing, let's talk about slavery without talking about slavery.

JSM - the flip side of fantasy & SF being able to tackle social issues without really tackling social issues.

JI - Right, it's very much a double-edged sword to use a cliched term, but at the same time it was nice to see a couple of authors taking on this idea, and there was a whole bunch of stuff about feminism and like equality within there as well, but mostly it was just nice to see someone take on this idea of, y'know, obviously slavery is inherently bad, but how do you reconcile that with, because by the time you get to the third book you get the elves' point of view and you realize y'know they're thinking feeling people too, they're not all just evil, terrible plantation owners, so how do you reconcile being a good person with participating in this ... kind of system that is, terrible?

JSM - mmhmm

JI - I kind of like really enjoyed that but at the same time

I was kinda like, you took black people out of slavery, and you just completely erased them from the landscape, and we always talk about reading White, and that when you read the default is White unless somebody tells you otherwise, and it was very much, this was very much the case, like the humans had tan skin and the elves had really, really pale skin, and that was really the only variation in skin tone you got in the books.

So, just more recently I read Kate Elliott's Court of Fives, and she does a similar thing.  Her main character is biracial as well, but Kate does a really great job of actually saying this person is half black, and she talks  about how the mother has this very coily hair, how she's very tall, how the main character is very strong, and everyone looks at her and calls her a mule because of her looks, but she does a great job of doing the same thing that Lackey & Norton had done, but without the erasure of people of color, and I think that's so so important, to be able to tackle these very deep ideas of colonialism & identity and actually put them into constructs that don't erase POC.

Because when you don't, you're kind of saying it's a problem but it's not really a problem for those people who are impacted, so you're kind of giving the real meat of the subject short shrift.  So, I'm just really in love with what Kate's done in the book. I'm a sucker for a romance, forbidden romance has always been my deal, y'know I think we can blame Romeo and Juliet for that, but I think she does a great job of acknowledging those cultural differences, and the fact that she can do it as a woman who does have a lot of privilege, she's taken herself out of her current construct and we always talk about the empathy, always trying to find that empathy, and like I won't lie, I've read a lot of books where I think it's going to go well, and there's something in the middle of the story where it's like "oh my god! it just went off the rails! where'd the empathy go?

JSM - mm hmm

JI - And I didn't have that moment with Kate's book, and I think that's just, it's just really nice to be able to lose yourself in a story & not get to a point halfway through where you're like "whelp, here's the part where now I'm upset" and just be able to enjoy the story.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Going back for a second to sort of noticing ... noticing representation and noticing seeing yourself on the page, do you remember kind of the flip side of that and when you noticed an author or commenter or reviewer or something who was not writing with that empathy and just sort of imagining a world that doesn't include me or that I don't fit into?

JI - I think that's part of the nature of marginalization, after a while you don't expect to see yourself anymore, which is probably kind of the saddest thing of all.  So what happens is when you do see yourself it becomes a huge treat.  I've had this conversation ... my husband is a white dude so you know he has all the privilege, and we've had this conversation a lot and he's like, I don't, I can't imagine picking up a book and not being able to see myself in the pages at some point.  And I'm like y'know it's kind of funny, I'm the opposite, if I pick up a book and I can see myself in the pages, that's pretty exciting, y'know, the majority of the western canon revolves around heterosexual able bodied white men, so y'know you spend your entire childhood reading books that are not about you, everything you read is not about you except for like a couple books about suffering like Sounder and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and I'm thinking even Sounder that's a children's book but it's a male lead, so you go through your entire life being told the world is not for you, that at best you can be like a secondary character.

*Interstitial Music*

JI - It's difficult to say like when did you recognize the world was not for you, I think the bigger question is "when did you recognize the world didn't have to be that way?" And for me as a reader I mean honestly it was probably five years ago that I was like wait a minute, why am I not a main character in a book, and not just like The Bluest Eye which is a book about suffering, something like I can have a happily ever after, you see the same thing in Romance, where you have all these couples and you have, maybe a hundred redheads,  on the page, but god help you if you find a woman of color, and I think that's ... a profound thing to see and to think, hey wait a minute I could be a main character, why am I not a main character? Even thinking like to movies, like it's y'know it's very rare that you even see a woman of color leading in movies.  Now TV has gotten a little better, the percentages are still awful, we're so used to seeing white dudes that even a couple women we're like "oh my god women are taking over!" but yeah I think it's more a fact that I should be able to see myself, but I don't expect to.  And I think that's what makes me sad, is even ... I'm pretty plugged into this stuff, I talk about diversity a lot, I talk about it with my friends a lot, with my husband a lot, I talk about it at work a lot, but even me being somebody who we always say "someone who's woke", I still don't expect it.

For example, back to TV when I watched Empire and I saw, like Cookie (the main character on the show who she served 17 years in jail is Cookie), but she's not a stereotype she's got depth to her, and when I watched that I was like "holy crap! there's a woman who has depth, who has something going on!" because even movies where you have a woman of color starring and she has this role & people are like oh such a moving role & so awesome, it's still reduced to a stereotype.

Like if you look at the movie Precious, that's a terrible movie! It's the most depressing story of the inner-city there is no light in that movie, there is no hope in that movie.  That doesn't mean it's not realistic or authentic, but that's the story that usually gets told.  I always joke that if you're a Woman of Color on TV, you're probably the maid or a slave, or marching for civil rights, the civil rights movement, so like the roles & positions that you see WOC in both in TV and movies, and on the pags of books tend to be very reductive, but then like you look now and you're like we have How To Get Away With Murder and we have Empire and we have all these really great roles for women especially WOC, but then you have Sleepy Hollow where you have a great role for WOC, and then halfway through the second season she's reduced to some sort of caricature again.


So it makes me mad, it makes me mad at myself because I don't expect to see myself anymore, and it makes me mad that why have I given in to that idea so easily when I should demand more representation, instead of just saying "wow I'm excited I have some representation", and as far as bad representation that's *laugh* that's more often than not, to the point where the more the reviews talk about how great & moving a book is, the more I know its going to be a terrible terrible book.  I always call it The Help syndrome.  Like the more mainstream white America likes a book, the more I know it's probably a terrible depiction of people of color.  I think it's a Chris Rock joke who says "the movie that's great about slavery is the one black people want to see not the one white people want to see because Nazis aren't lining up to see movies about the holocaust", right, so if it's an authentic & moving portrayal of slavery for POC, it's probably not going to be something white people want to see.

And that tends to be, that's more that conversation of who are you writing for, who is your lens, because what you see a lot of times is even when authors of color write books, they're still thinking of a white middle-class heterosexual audience and that tends to skew the story that's told.

*Interstitial Music*


JSM - I read Sorcerer of the Wildeeps recently, which is one of TorDotComs novellas, by Kai Ashante Wilson

JI - I haven't had a chance to read it, but I've seen the cover and the cover's amazing.

JSM - The cover's amazing, it is spectacular, it's very secondary world, they're off on an adventure, going traveling through a jungle, but it's a group of caravan guards so it's a group of Men being Men Together and two of them are in love with each other, and many of them are speaking African American Vernacular English, and some of them are speaking French, and there are different varieties of Black Men together, and they have different attitudes towards gay people and different attitudes towards women when they stop off at the caravan stop & there are the brothels down the street, and it was interesting for me reading it, partly because there would be scenes where there would be dialog between 5 or 6 people, and I kind of pick up on what a couple of them were talking about, and ways that a couple of those conversations related to conversations that I've y'know heard people talking about on Twitter and talked about with African American friends, but there was stuff there that I wasn't getting, and it was clear to me that there was some level of discussion of masculinity and black masculinity that just I was not aware of, and I don't have the context for, and that was there in the book, and thinking about who is the author writing for, it's one of the very few times that I've read a book and felt "I don't understand this, this isn't being written for me, I don't have the context to know what's going on there." But I really enjoyed it.

JI - *laughs*, yeah and I think I don't think the book all the time has to be for us.  I think you get something different from a story when you're not necessarily the intended audience.  The problem comes when you're always not the intended audience.  And this is one of the things I talk about a lot with Hamilton, because y'know everything in my brain right now is Hamilton

JSM - Sooo goood.

JI - It's so good, it really is. But one of the things I love about Hamilton is that there's this subtext that you don't get if you aren't necessarily, there's subtext if you're an immigrant in there.  There's subtext about respectability.  Like I talk about Hamilton with some people and they're like, I didn't get that they were doing that.  Like the fact that Burr doesn't Rap, that Burr is always all about being the respectable, black man

JSM - I had missed that ...

JI - right, so when you're listening to it, you get different things from it.  I had a coworker who tried listening to it who said "Oh I didn't like it, it was just too much", and I'm like, well, I understand, I get that, but y'know for me when I listen to it, it reminds me, it's very much like the rap music I listened to in my childhood: y'know old Run DMC and Beastie Boys and that kind of stuff, and then it kind of as you move through the story the styles change and like I have this conversation I think I said with my husband, and his rap touchpoints tend to be different from mine, just because different upbringings, so it's kind of funny that the things he picks up on are not the things I pick up on, so we have these conversation and he's like "oh I see what you're saying I totally missed that" and I'm like "right" and in addition my bachelor's degree's in History, so there's also this historical subtext. And I think not everybody needs to pick up on  every subtext to enjoy the story. But I think it's super-super important to include those groups that don't ever get any kind of subtext to give them a subtext.


There was a YA book, not spec fic, but a contemporary YA called Gabi: Girl in Pieces, and huge portions of the story were in Spanish, the author did that on purpose, she wanted to kind of communicate this experience of being in America and then also being part of this other culture, and y'know people were really upset because they're like I don't read Spanish why is so much of this book in Spanish, but I'm like "if you are a Spanish speaker there's a different story you take away from that."  You can still get the great story even if you aren't able to read the Spanish, being able to read the Spanish helps, now I don't think it was, especially difficult Spanish, there was enough you could google it, google translate is a thing.  But people were really angry that they felt they were left out of this story because they didn't speak Spanish.

And I'm like imagine feeling like that All the Time

JSM- *intensely* THAT'S ...

JI - That's the thing, like imagine you pick up a story and you know like only half the story's going to be for you.  I don't think people understand that's what it feels like to never see yourself reflected in media.  You know going in there's going to be something that's going to make you feel like oh, well this sucks.

That's what happens when you never see yourself reflected, or you see yourself reflected poorly consistently.  Like oh look here comes the magical negro character, obviously they're going to help out and then die in some self-sacrificing heroic act, they never make it through Act II.  so I think it's really important to keep that in mind that y'know not every story has to be for every person, but if you never have any stories for you, that's a huge tragedy.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - On that note, we're going to take a break to get some short fiction recommendations, then Justina will be back to talk about Ancillary Justice and share a memory of a significant book.

*Interstitial Music*


CP - Dear Listeners, it looks like you're trying to recommend short fiction. Do you need assistance?

Hello, and if that clever intro did not clue you in, I'm going to be recommending some stories today that take the form of letters, and part of why I'm doing this is that I want to show just how versatile the form of the letter is in fiction.  It's very prevalent, it's used all the time, and yet it's done so for a very good reason.  And most of the stories that I'll be recommending today are from 2016, one of them is from 2015, but very still worth checking out.  Without further ado, I'm just going to get straight into it.  There are 5 in total, the first 2 came out in February, important I guess, or appropriate, because February is both the month that includes Valentines day, which these are both romantic stories, or kind of romantic stories and secondly that February is lettermo, so letter writing even more appropriate.  The first appeared at Flash Fiction Online in February and it is Love Letters on the Nightmare Sea by Rachael K Jones and it's this very romantically dark story, so you get that juxtaposition right in the title: love letters / nightmare sea, and it's about two people who had a long distance, or are in a long-distance relationship that is finally coming together and the power of words to overcome barriers.  And to pierce the distance and to get over anxieties and worries.  And it's this very romantic story that is told as a letter to someone who's present but mentally not there.  That sort of feeling of distance between the characters is palpable, and there's also Nightmare Jellyfish which is creepy.  It's just all very well done.

The second story is very different but still very romantic.  It appeared in Uncanny's February content, and it is the Deseret Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Barrevyar by Rose Lemberg and in this one this features letters two-sided.  The letters in the previous story were pretty much one-sided but here you get both sides of the exchange and people meeting for the first time in letters, and establishing a relationship in letters, and talking about art and about distance again and that sense that letters are something that overcomes distance.  That here are two people who are separated not just by miles but by cultures, by climates, by all of these things, that they're just from two incredibly different worlds, linked by the art, linked by the magic that they share, and they have this connection that goes deeply and allows them to sort of bridge the gap between them and take chances that they wouldn't and just it's a very lifting romantic story.

so the first two are like the romantic stories and the theme sort of continues and gets a little darker as we progress.

The next story could be almost considered romantic, but it is more on the erotic side of things.  It appeared in The Flesh Made Word, an anthology of speculative erotica from Circlet Press in later 2015, and it is Rival Pens by Benji Bright.  And that story, it's in a collection of erotica for a reason but it's not exactly what one would call romantic.  It's sensually rich, the tone of it, the voice is charming & it's about two playwrights who are kind of frenemies I guess, or the current term would be frenemies, who are exchanging letters back and forth, and the letters sort of both inspire and destroy each other's muses.  It's like they're sharing a muse, it's like they have the opportunity to do something constructive and instead they decide to be destructive, and the outcome of that is that they're both completely, well, I will not spoil too much, but it's a very evocative and strong piece that uses the form of the letter to, these letters back and forth between them to show just how kind of nasty they can be, just how biting, but also captures this eroticism in the piece that's just very good and worth checking out.

Along a similar vein but darker still we move to a piece that appeared in the first issue of Orthogonal Science Fiction, which was out I believe in late January of 2016, called The First Wife by Sarah L Johnson.  This piece is very short, like the first one that I did, but it is ... very dark.  And it's nicely done, it's like brilliantly done because it's a little bit of a mystery & it has this great twist later on & you're getting this sense of what's going on.  It's taking a very classic kind of letter, one that is normally reserved to something that's much more innocent, and it's making it something that is definitely not.  It's another one that has a great sense of eroticism to it, a dark eroticism definitely but a sensualness and a language that is just sharp and cutting and hits and very much worth checking out, and then we get to the last piece which sort of goes full circle, now we're into like full horror.  So we've transitioned from more romantic sides of things into the more strictly horror side of things.  And this one appeared in Nightmare Magazine's March issue.  And it's the Modern Lady's Letter Writer by Sandra McDonald and this story again is taking the form of the letter & dos something different than all of the other ones.  The other ones were about bridging distances or creating distances, this one is about how letters and language can be used as tools of oppression, and just the ways that letters are used throughout these stories is very interesting.  This one is letters being written to a woman to try & get her to do a specific thing, to get her to fit into a specific role, it's part letter, part etiquette manual, but it's very well done, it captures a feeling of a time & it works itself into a different kind of story, it's a Cthulu-Mythos story which is very well and subtly done here, it's not a monster story, it is definitely one that is exploring the idea of letters & the idea of voice, and the idea of things reaching out in these ways that are unexpected and all of these stories really do an excellent job showing why the form of fiction of letter has endured, and why it probably isn't going anywhere despite the fact that many people don't see letter-writing as exactly a thing to do anymore, which is a shame.

I am a letter-writer myself, I like the old snail mail, and to see these stories just gives me a bit of a uplifting boost even though they're by and large kind of on the darker side of things, they're very much also capturing sort of the strength of why people write letters, the hope that they can inspire, the amount of damage that they can do.  Yes, they have this thing, there's a sort of intimacy and also a facelessness that comes with writing letters that all of these do very well to capture.

And they come from some unusual sources, or at least sources that I feel people don't always look to for Speculative Fiction.  The first two places, Uncanny Magazine & Flash Fiction online are fairly big.  Orthogonal is brand new the last two - Nightmare despite being a SFWA qualifying market & putting out amazing content I don't think gets enough credit for the, it's speculative horror, and I think too often people see the horror aspects and just don't want to look at it.  But it's speculative fiction first and that applies as well to the Circlet piece, which is seculative fiction first, erotica as well.  They're linked, yet, but it's not like the erotica makes it not SFF.  So, there you have it, 5 stories that do an amazing job with the form of the letter.  Most of them from 2016.

For people who might think about getting into snail mail, just on a similar topic, there are a number of geeky ways that you can do that: there is the International Geek Girl Letter Writers, the IGGL, which you can look up.  There is the Letter Writers Alliance, which does a lot of wierd things with the mail, like you can send fake pigeons, there is the League of Extraordinary penpals, which again sort of a geeky letter-writing group, some of them you have to pay for, some of them are free, but, indeed.

Sincerely, Charles Payseur


*Interstitial Music*

JSM - We've talked about the impact of representation, it's scarcity, the problems with chronically stereotyped representation. Justina also talked about her experience reading Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, both in terms of reader representation and also the importance of challenging reader assumptions.

I hadn't read any review I had just heard some buzz it was a really great book, oh that's cool, there hadn't been any cool space operas in a minute that had come across my radar and so I picked it up & I had no idea about the everything was female pronoun, so I'm reading this book & probably a third of the way through I'm like "man there's a lot of women in this book!" and then I'm like "holy shit! that's not really the case right she's just using this female pronoun in like a wierd way", so then I had to go back to the beginning and read again and I was halfway through the book and I was like "why do I care?"

JSM - ah hah

JI - It doesn't matter because she's managed to write a book, Leckie managed to write a book that, like, the main character is empowered enough that like it you assume the main character's, I assume the main character's female regardless of the gender pronouns, but what she kind of did there was kind of give everyone a way into the story, unless you are truly a genderfluid person in which case she kind of didn't do the, that so great, but y'know if you subscribe to like if you're cisgender and you're just kind of like this is my pronoun you could imagine Breq as male just using a female pronoun or you could imagine Breq is truly female.

And for me that was like, it shouldn't be, it's 2015, it's the future, but for me that was groundbreaking because this is the first time I can actually read a story and not worry that the person, that the main character's going to end up falling in love with the wrong person (because that happens all the time when you have a female main character), or doing something stupid so the male character can save her (because that happens all the time when you hve a female main character),

And then this is why I'm excited! I'm excited to read, read something that's truly gender-neutral.  I'm excited to read something that's truly genderfluid, I'm excited to read a fantasy with a trans main character. because y'know when you take people out of their comfort zone & when you give them that thing they're not expecting and you do it well, it opens up whole new ideas. I'm Cis, I don't think about gender as much as I do in terms of y'know feminism, so I don't think about gender identity and the more I read about it, the more I think about it, the more I think about it, the more I questions how we interact in the world, and I think the more I question how we interact in the world the more I'm open and receptive to new ideas.

*Interstitial Music*


JSM - Each episode closes with a memory of a significant book: The Right Book at the right time, an interesting find, or just something that stuck around.

*Interstitial Music*

JI - Probably my favorite book, we were just talking about Jemisin, that I read and the book that I was like it doesn't have to always be this way! Was the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  I picked that up kind of on accident, somebody had given it to me & they were like "you have to read this book" & I was like "Okay" and it was somebody who actually didn't like Fantasy, so that's always a nice thing when somebody who doesn't like fantasy is like you like fantasy, you'll like this book.

But it was just amazing! Like, I am a huge, huge, fan of the pantheon fantasy where you have the gods kind of the meddling gods in the story but to be able to finally read a story where you had POC, where you had brown people feature prominently, and you also had, she was, back again being between two worlds, the main character in that book is also biracial, and that was my first book I ever read and I'm like y'know you could write a fantasy with POC and it doesn't have to be reductive & POC don't have to be orcs or some other type of fantastical creature, you could have just really well-done fantasy that doesn't feel alienating, and that was kind of the first book I read and I was just, this, and it's still on my shortlist whenever someone's like "I want to start reading fantasy what should I start with?" That's the one I hand them. Without fail.

JSM - Yeah, it's so good.

JI - It's so good

JSM - That was another one I had to read more than once, the first time through for me it was all about Nahadoth and Sieh & her relationship with the gods and the romance going on there, and I just, I was at that point kind of walking away from fantasy because I'd been reading the same book over and over again by lots of different authors with lots of different titles and then I read Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and sooo good.

JI - Yeah, you're right it did come at a time where everything was very much the same, I saw a quote on Twitter the other day: "Maybe you're not tired of Fantasy, maybe you're tired of old white kings camping in the woods?"

That's really the thing, how has something that allows us to dream as big as we want to dream become so reductive? Like how does that happen?

Jemisin is, she's my literary hero!

*Interstitial Music*

JSM- Thanks for listening to Cabbages & Kings, please let me know what you think of the show!