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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.
POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
2,354 backers pledged $51,734 to help bring this project to life.

Personal Essay: "Penguins, Robins, and Science Fiction" by Caroline M. Yoachim

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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: "Penguins, Robins, and Science Fiction" by Caroline M. Yoachim

Writing this essay, I am a penguin trying to explain what it means to be a bird. People love to categorize, and it isn’t always easy. When people hear “bird,” they are more likely to think of a robin than a penguin. Some things are at the center of a category, and others are at the edges.

For the category “people of color,” I am an edge case. I’m mixed race---my mom is Japanese and my dad is white. Racial identity has always been a struggle for me. As a person of color, I feel like a penguin among robins---awkward and different, lacking the shared experience of flight. But if I don’t identify as a person of color, I feel like a penguin pretending not to be a bird at all.

When I was a kid, I tried to fit in, which at my mostly white elementary school meant hiding anything about me that was Japanese. I wouldn’t tell people my middle name (Mariko), and I was always embarrassed when people came over to my house and I had to ask them to take off their shoes. In my teens, I read a lot of classic science fiction—Asimov, Clarke, etc.—and while I loved the ideas, I never saw myself in any of the characters. The protagonists were mostly white, and mostly male. I didn’t realize that this was a problem, back then. I loved the stories anyway, for the adventure and the science and the sense of wonder.

The fiction from my childhood had a big influence on my writing. I’m still drawn to big ideas and alien worlds and sense of wonder, all of which is fine. But my childhood reading had a more insidious effect, too: if I don’t pay attention, I default to writing white characters. In my early stories, the characters tended to be either white or unspecified (in which case readers will tend to assume that they are white). The idea that characters can’t be like me was so deeply ingrained that I wasn’t in the story even when I was the one writing it.

I’m glad to see people talking about diversity in fiction. Increased awareness is a good first step, one that will hopefully let us recognize our biases and take action against them. Once I realized what I was doing with my characters, I made an effort to represent a wider range of people in my fictional worlds. I worry that I will get everything wrong, because—to go back to my bird metaphor—I’m a penguin, so who am I to write about robins or nightingales? But I try, because reality is diverse, and everyone should get to see themselves in the fiction they read.

Thankfully, my voice isn’t the only one out there. It has been exciting, as an adult, to finally find the perspectives that were missing from the books I read as a teen—in novels and stories by writers like N.K. Jemisin, Ken Liu, Nnedi Okorafor, and Nalo Hopkinson.

Science fiction is a chorus, and we need a wider range of voices. As a penguin, I want to hear the songs of robins and sparrows, toucans and flamingoes. I want to learn what it is like to fly, even if I will never have that experience myself. Perhaps others would like to know how it feels to waddle on the ice or dive beneath the waves, as penguins do. We each have a unique perspective we can share, and we need to make our voices heard.

So to all my fellow birds out there: I hope you’ll sing with me.

______________

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold, cloudy weather. She is the author of dozens of short stories, appearing in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Daily Science Fiction, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, is coming out with Fairwood Press in 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

Comments

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    1. Gearsoul (formerly Orson Cream)
      Superbacker
      on February 18, 2016

      @Cecelia @Tasha -- That sounds like a great idea~! :D

    2. Reinik
      Superbacker
      on February 16, 2016

      That's a good metaphor. I'd probably be a bird that can fly but spends time on the ground.
      I find myself defaulting to white or unspecified characters if I'm not paying attention too. So yeah, we all need to let the different birds add to the chorus,and listen to them.

    3. Tasha Turner Lennhoff
      Superbacker
      on February 16, 2016

      Be a Penguin and enjoy the birds.

      @Cecilia Tan
      I was wondering that same thing.

    4. Cecilia Tan on February 16, 2016

      I kind of wonder if it's time to put together an anthology of mixed-race authors...?

    5. Gearsoul (formerly Orson Cream)
      Superbacker
      on February 16, 2016

      That was an awesome metaphor/share~ :3

      .... I actually kinda want this bird universe now. Fantasy bird stories, science fiction bird stories, I'll pass on the horror, though 'xD You guys can keep that all to yourselves :P

      :0c Unless it's a SciFi Psychological Thriller that dances back and forth across the line into Horror.

      I have to wonder, though.... If people of colour are birds.... what are the white people? Cats? Dogs? Bears? And what if it was something like bears but you came from a country that didn't have any..? :0c

      Maybe bears is a bad choice... There's not a lot of types of bears anyways and the experience of people is different in different countries even if they're all white.

      Sometimes this little niggling voice that sounds like some 'generic voice of another child' growing up tells me I think too much, but I really wanna run with this 'x3 Haha~