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COLUMN: Sci-fi racism must end



Science fiction writers typically struggle with the problem of writing a believable world that is not our own.

The most important thing to do, though, is not write an alien species that is comparable to any human race that is not white.

While writing science fiction and fantasy is challenging, it is important to recognize when the stories told are problematic. It is also important to recognize when the authors promoting problematic stories are testing the water.

Veronica Roth, the author of the Divergent series, recently came out with the first novel in an upcoming series called "Carve the Mark".

The novel is about war between special species who are born with special powers. One of the species is coded to be representative of a white elite society while another species is coded as dark skinned, brutal and not civilized.

I do not have an issue with alien species representing races we are already familiar with. Representation is important and rare in science fiction series, so the idea of representation is awesome.

However, my issue lies here: the species coded as white is represented as being more important and more civilized than the nomadic species that has dark skin.

The nomadic species kidnapped one of the members of the elite society, which starts the main conflict of the novel. This story is recreating colonial narratives that actually happened.

Not only does Roth code species as being superior to the other and more elite, she also taught her readers that having a debilitating chronic pain is a gift.

When writing the novel, Roth stated that she is surrounded by friends who suffer from chronic pain and wanted to explore this. However, the chronic pain is described as a gift because the women afflicted with it can inflict pain upon others whenever they want to.

Again, reading a novel about a protagonist who suffers from chronic pain but perseveres would be amazing, yet Roth has missed the mark here.

Roth is by no means the only author to do this in a science fiction or fantasy novel. It happens too often.

On the bright side, though, many authors have tackled race and racism in a positive light. Octavia Butler and Ursula le Guin are both female science fiction authors who have not disappointed me.

I’ve tackled the topic of representation and who can write what in a previous column but it remains relevant. Representation in fiction novels and in real life is extremely important in the political climate where people do not feel comfortable in their own skins.

Racism in the science fiction community is not only within the novels, but also toward the authors. The publishing science fiction community does not steadily publish works by black authors.

Out of more than 2,000 stories published in 2015, only 38 of them were written by black authors.

I had a hard time reading the articles that exposed "Carve the Mark" because I am a fan of Roth’s writing. Sometimes you like an author and then they write something you can’t support so you no longer feel you can support them either.

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