Inspired by this article over on The Guardian: It’s pretty heartening to hear that the situation is beginning to improve, albeit at a stupidly glacial pace. I’ve always had a lot of existential guilt about genre fiction, I know that simply by entering the writing world I am potentially crowding out someone who may be more deserving by virtue of race and gender rather than any actual merit to my writing. If, in the future, I happen to get picked up by a decent publishing house and achieve something more widespread it will probably be at the expense of someone else – that in and of itself is fine, art as a job is going to be inherently competitive until cultures start coming together to support a living wage, but I abhor the idea of having a leg up instead of my stuff being taken on its own value.
A more level playing field is beneficial as a reader, too. Even if I didn’t want to write and be able to make something of a living off of that, it’s good to have a wider variety of stuff out there readily accessible to read without a certain subsection receiving the lion’s share of advertising and forcing you to go hunting for the other “minority” work. Ever since I started reading Lightspeed reviews and frequenting Tor.com’s upcoming novels section I feel like my world has really expanded.
The Grace of Kings was a breath of fresh air to me and juxtaposed “traditional” epic fantasy over a living, breathing world drawn from a wide variety of eastern cultures without falling back on the blandness of western-written orientalism. Throne of the Crescent Moon did similar with a middle-eastern secondary world where horrible insect djinn are way scarier than dragons and orcs and the intricacies of struggle between reform and orthodox schools of Islam are a break from feudal European nobility drama #81251. NK Jemisin’s Egyptian flavored Dreamblood series and Kai Wilson’s extraordinarily trippy journey through queer, transhuman sci-fantasy Africa in Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. Even supertraditional space opera approached from a radical new angle like the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie.
And I say that as someone who still loves his literary comfort foods of epic fantasy! I read a ton of grimdark shit about sullen, black-humored mercenaries slaughtering their way across lovingly crafted totally-not-1500s-England, and sprawling bildungsroman sagas with elfin figures and glowing crystal swords and whatever. I just hate how hard you have to dig to find anything besides that and look forward to the time when more options are presented with as much gusto on the same shelves. I mean, I’m coming hot off some really lovely Russian mythology repurposed by Catherynne Valente and diving headlong into the Malazan novels, admittedly I’m only a chunk of the way through the first book but it definitely has some love letters to Glen Cook and Fritz Leiber going on and features a bunch of dour mercenary bros leading a rebellion against the totally-not-Roman-Empire (also flying moon fortresses (also undead space raptors with swords for arms (go read Malazan sometime))), and by the time I chug through all ten volumes of that I can guarantee you I’ll be in the mood for something radically different. Give me a fantasy thriller set in mythical Mesopotamia or jaguar priestesses kicking ass in an alt-history Aztec sprawl or something like that to balance things out. Give me something with the scope and grandeur of Game of Thrones set somewhere really weird and unique, the more research required the better, and the more esoteric the more compelling.