Now that our internationally themed issue 247 of Vector is officially loose on the world in paper form, we are free to bring a couple of selected items from it to you online.
Back in January 2006 we asked author Judith Berman to write something for Vector on the topic of cultural appropriation and the experiences she had of writing about other cultures with her novel Bear Daughter. Since then, Judith has spoken on a panel on the same subject at Wiscon, which started off a series of online discussions on matters of cultural appopriation. We’re pleased to be able to help contribute further to that discussion by bringing you Judith’s original Vector article, Bears, Bombs and Popcorn: Some considerations when mining other cultures for source material:
But I wouldn’t myself place all indigenous source materials off limits. For writers of the dominant society to avoid responding artistically to indigenous arts and literatures, even for the best of ethical reasons, for mainstream writers to designate minority writers as the only ones who are to write on freighted topics like race, colonialism, or the very existence of minority cultures (and making it the only employment they can get), merely repaints a corner of the colonial picture with the colors of guilt instead of greed and racism. Fictional Others may far too often be no more than a reflection of the writer’s stereotypes, or a pornography of the exotic, but only through contemplation of difference and the history of difference is there opportunity for genuine transformation of colonial relationships. Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for real conversation; the point isn’t to stop one person talking but to make sure others get heard.
The second feature article we’ve put online from issue 247 is Colourful Stories: Fantastic Fiction by African Descended Authors, by another author who was on the cultural appropriation panel at Wiscon, Nisi Shawl. We asked Nisi if she would write something for us, not about writing other cultures, (something she has already meditated on in print in her book Writing the Other,) but about her experiences of drawing from her own cultural background when writing fiction, as well as the cultural issues and traditions she saw reflected in the speculative fiction of a number of other authors of African origin:
Whether familial, social, and cultural concerns are addressed directly and at the work’s outset, as in the case of So Long Been Dreaming, or are intrinsic to the make-up of particular characters, as in the case of the conjure women of Mama Day, whether they provide a carefully constructed backdrop for the action as they do for Crystal Rain, or represent the conflicting forces at a story’s heart as in Stars in My Pocket… or Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, the frequent presence of these concerns is of arguable importance, denoting as it does both a loss of a former social structure’s sufficiency and stability, and often, that absence’s fulfillment. Keeping in mind the idea that writers of African ancestry are more likely to reflect concerns of these sorts in their work may render visible to readers from other races depths they otherwise might miss. I hope that this essay will attract more readers to fabulist fiction by blacks, and that the possibilities inherent in the perspective I’ve sketched above, that which gives pride of place to family, society, and culture will allow them greater enjoyment of its riches.
The Carl Brandon Society is dedicated to addressing the representation of people of color in the fantastical genres such as science fiction, fantasy and horror. We aim to foster dialogue about issues of race, ethnicity and culture, raise awareness both inside and outside the fantastical fiction communities, promote inclusivity in publication/production, and celebrate the accomplishments of people of color in science fiction, fantasy and horror.
Last I heard, they were woefully short on British members, so come on chaps, sign up already (or donate to the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund instead if you’d rather).
As well as those two feature articles, we’ve also put up a number of reviews from First Impressions. In keeping with the international theme of the issue, two are reviews of novels in translation: Elizabeth A. Billinger’s review of Albert Sánchez Piñol’s Cold Skin and my own review of Johanna Sinisalo’s Not Before Sundown. On top of that, you can also read reviews by Niall, comparing feature writer Judith Berman’s novel Bear Daughter with Frances Hardinge’s Fly by Night, and by previous Vector editor Andrew M. Butler, discussing a bushel of John Sladek short stories.
And for those of you waiting on tenterhooks for the third instalment of Graham Sleight’s column The New X, it is also now up on the Vector website, entitled The walls are down, unfortunately.