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POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
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Personal Essay: "Pushing Back Against the Wall" by Aliette de Bodard

Posted by Lightspeed Magazine (Creator)

When we set out to destroy science fiction with this Kickstarter, we didn't want it to be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill campaign. We wanted it to be full of smashing, crashing POC voices, telling what it really means to be POC reading and writing science fiction. One of the ways we hope to do that is by sharing a series of personal essays about the experience of being POC in science fiction.

Personal Essay: "Pushing Back Against the Wall" by Aliette de Bodard

Some days, I despair.

I get up in the morning, and the same things keep happening with clockwork regularity. I see people who don’t understand how hurtful it is for minorities that writers take viscerally painful subjects and mine them for shiny elements that can be put into a story—how gut-wrenching it is when someone takes your wars and your oppression and makes them into bowdlerised theme parks that readers can dip into for a moment’s entertainment—when this watering-down becomes a lauded, awards-garlanded reference, and everything else is inauthentic, or unnecessarily grim, or too political by comparison to it. I see people who don’t understand that to write a culture not your own is hard work, who don’t see that mindsets and values are different across the world, and that not everyone shares the dominant USian, majority white, and individualistic culture that has now become a hegemony strangling everything else.

I am told that I am being silly for protesting—too sensitive, too prescriptive—or, worse, that I’m failing to be supportive enough of diversity. That I should be happy with what I have, with the crumbs of representation that are being thrown my way. With the Vietnamese forever stuck in the Vietnamese/American war, forever in the background of narratives about Westerners. I am told that there are large swathes of things that exist, invisibly, outside the hegemony—as if oppression was always about outright and brutal suppression, as if being invisible and unrecognised wasn’t its own issue. I am told I shouldn’t speak of this, because it makes me angry and unpleasant and unattractive, and is that what I really want to be, as an author?

But I have to speak up, lest I choke.

It took me years to understand that the things I had absorbed from my readings—the plots where family was a hindrance and a stricture, where ancestor worship and spirituality were a quaint/harmful/irrational custom; where the closest people to me were the aliens, those odd and weird cultures presented as exotic counterpoints to the solidity and rationality of Western culture in space—all those things were not givens. That writing science fiction and fantasy didn’t have to involve them, and that I could write my own stuff and that I would still get to use spaceships and artificial intelligences and all the things that I love. That the wall of “this isn’t right, this isn’t proper” wasn’t something I needed to be bound by.

And, sometimes, I still wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Sometimes I worry I’m not writing True Science Fiction (or True Fantasy). Some days I hit that wall really hard, and I have to tell myself that I don’t believe that stuff anymore. That all the things in my brain, all the little voices whispering that I’m Doing It Wrong, this is just how hegemonies work: by continuous reinforcement; by convincing people that there is only one true way (or a handful of such); by promoting and valuing, over and over, the same narratives without thought to how harmful they can be.

And some days I get up in the morning and I realise: There are more and more marginalised people in the field, year after year, and we’re speaking up. We’re sharing our experiences and our points of view. We’re writing our own stories and putting them out there, and the field is expanding ever outwards, to be more and more inclusive. And we’re more and more supported, more and more listened to, more and more recognised. And narratives are changing, too. There is a growing awareness of pitfalls, exoticising, and the difficulty of writing other cultures; a greater thoughtfulness in what is put out there. And this in turn is slowly but surely making its way into the collective psyche. The field as it was in 2006, when I first entered it, is very different from the one now, at the close of 2015.

Some days I realise: We’re pushing back against the wall, inch by painful inch. And yeah, some days it doesn’t feel like it’s moving at all. Some days I remember that books by POCs and other marginalised people still sell fewer copies than dominant narratives, and that they’re held to more exacting standards. Some days it doesn’t feel like the message is getting through. But it is. Little by little, we’re moving that wall. Little by little, we’re making a difference. We’re changing the world—for us, for the ones that will come after us.

And you know what? Some days, I despair. But most days, I get up, and do the work that needs to be done.



Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, as well as numerous short stories. Recent works include The House of Shattered Wings (Roc/Gollanz), a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, and “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls” (Asimov’s Oct/Nov), a novella set in the same universe as her Vietnamese space opera On a Red Station Drifting.

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    1. Missing avatar

      Nina Kiriki Hoffman on

      LIGHTSPEED, these essays are fantastic! Thanks so much for sending them, and thanks to Aliette, Malon, and Yash (so far) for sharing their views. What a rewarding project already!

    2. Tasha Turner

      I can't find the words. Thank you.