With the #DiversityinSFF conversation happening on twitter, nicely summarised by Jim C. Hines here, I thought I would post my thoughts on the subject and what I’m doing about it.
The issue, as described very well by this Guardian article, is that SF writers but also science fiction characters and settings tend to be very white, very male and very much based on the current day US and UK societies and cultures. I fully agree with the article. Women, non-straight sexual identities, disabilities, non-white ethnicity are all under-represented, or when present often in ways that further bland backwards stereotypes of those groups. I’ve lost track of the amount of times the main female characters in a story are just there to be love/fuck interests for the male protagonist.
I’m a straight, white, middle-class, British writer which there is certainly no shortage of. There need to be more writers being published or being promoted who come from different ethnic, cultural and also class backgrounds so that we get sci-fi stories as varied as humanity is. But as part of the main kinds of writers there are I can make a conscious choice in how I write, what I write and the characters I put in my stories to make the situation better.
This has certainly informed my choice of characters for the September series. There are three protagonists, the storyline swapping between their perspectives to tell the overall plot. Each of them is going to be a woman.
Note: all the information I reveal here is established fairly early on in Oranje so shouldn’t really spoil anything when I come to post up early sections of the book later on.
Isi is the youngest in her late twenties and is part of the Curators a group that maintains and control the Net, a galactic scale version of the internet. She is from an Indian ethnic background (the series is set a 1000-years in the future so there has been more mixing between different ethnic groups). She is a lesbian and has Waardenburg syndrome and will have many of the symptoms of the condition. Brilliant blue eyes, grey hair, wide-set eyes leading to a self-described ‘interesting’ face and profound hearing loss so she uses hearing implants to hear as normal. A passionate and driven idealist, she can be reckless in her actions and has problems with her confidence from time to time.
Marienne is in her late fifties, straight and married with a daughter. She is a General in the Space Force of the Union of Nine Worlds. She is short and from a West African ethnic origin, going back to one of the old French colonies. She used to lead the Academy that trained new officers but has now been appointed to command one of the regional forces that protects the Union. A disciplined officer and consummate professional she does not let personal issues get in the way of doing her job.
Violeta is Governor of the planet Arausio that is part of the Arausio Republic. In her late sixties and one of the most influential politicians in the Republic she is also in an on-going relationship with one of the Ministers in the Republic Government (because it frankly annoys me that women in most stories past a certain age seem to have completely forgotten their sex drive when people tend to be interested in that for a very long time). Driven by deeply-held beliefs she is popular with the public but can antagonise those that oppose her views. She is from a North African/Middle Eastern ethnic origin.
So three main characters, all women, all from ethnic backgrounds you don’t tend to see for protagonists and representing a wide range of ages and personalities and different sexual orientations. All have strengths and weaknesses, all are flawed, all are human.
It might seem a big much going from mostly male protagonists to all female ones, but I see it more as a statement of intent. I care deeply about feminism and gay rights and equality and that is inevitably going to filter through into my writing. This is just one series, but I hope it is part of a move in the SF community that leads to more protagonists from a wide range of backgrounds so that no matter who you are or where you are from there is a character that represents you. The universe of the September series is very much extrapolated from current British and American society so it’s not going to break any grounds there simply because that is the background I come from. I’m looking to do better on that front in future books, but right now I’m going to make sure that a diverse cast of characters inhabit the worlds I’ve created.
Equality isn’t optional, stories shouldn’t have less diversity in them than real life. It is time that written SF realised that, and this is how I will play my part in it.