We’ve reached our halfway point! In case you missed it, we also made the announcement that we’re adding Science Fiction stories to the mix! We have just a week left in our Pozible campaign, so please keep those pledges coming! Today we have a guest post by Fabio Fernandez, editor of We See a Different Frontier.
Diversity is The New Normal (Only It Isn’t)
By Fabio Fernandes
When I had the idea for the title of the anthology We See a Different Frontier, I thought of Star Trek, an American TV series, for sure, but that somehow managed to embody a whole spectrum of gender and race awareness not yet seen on mass media before. In the mid-sixties, there were really two big places where Brazilians watched often and eagerly in search of the new, the cool, be it in culture or in politics: the US and France. In France, philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Roland Barthes were all the rage, and Nouvelle Vague directors like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard showed us the angst of an entire generation. The US provided the flip side: for the most left-wing radicals (and, in Brazil, being an intellectual, how could you not be a left-wing radical when we’d just had a military right-wing coup d’etat? For us, to be a patriot was the opposite of being a military), the US was the evil power behind our coup (a few years ago, documents of Operation Condor proved that the CIA wasn’t exactly responsible, but helped furthering the efforts for overthrowing many left-wing and liberal governments all over Latin America, Brazil included), but we still loved US cinema, music and literature. What’s there not to love about Elvis? And Bob Dylan, for crying out loud? (I’m only scratching the surface, of course.)
But definitions may vary according to the user. When I talk about Frontier, I talk about Star Trek. When a US citizen talks about Frontier, she might as well be talking about the Old West. Not quite opposite discourses; they can even be complementary ones. But there is a very important difference between them.
The ST kind of Frontier entailed, in a first moment, a narrative of exploration; Old West narratives, sooner or later, will have to face exploitation. The fact that, when the white colonizer arrives at a tract of land, someone was already there before. But it didn’t prevent the colonizer from doing whatever he wanted to do with the land, and the hell with who was there before. (This is not about the US: almost every nation in the world had the same issue, and the Latin American ones are still facing the consequences of the extermination of many of its indigenous nations, Brazil among them.) In Star Trek, you have the Prime Directive, which prevents (at least in most of the cases it should) Star Fleet and their allies of committing the errors and brutalities of the past.
Of course, things are much more complex than just comparing the old US West and Star Trek, and science fiction has already approached the post-colonial issue with plenty of wisdom. Just read Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels – or, if you want a fresh example, go read the excellent Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie.
But, even with Banks and Leckie’s stories, there are more frontier narratives that seem to be, even if their authors are not aware of that, more about singing the joys of exploitation than of exploration per se. it doesn’t matter that the subject of exploitation is not addressed formally or directly: what is important to notice is the premises that lead to this exploitation – namely, the estrangement regarding everything that is different. The alien, the other, should be shunned. This is still happening, more visibly on TV and the movies – but it’s happening nevertheless. Should we be surprised to see Ender’s Game in the big screen? Not at all. After all, it’s only a game. Only it isn’t.
The same point could be made for many other narratives involving aliens (and/or diversity) in contemporary SF in the past 30 years, as John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion, where diversity and multiculturalism are laughed at and the story is told more to cater to the belief of its narrator than to anything else. And, if that’s the case, as Samuel Goldwyn would have said (I’m quoting John Varley here): “Include me out!”
Fortunately, I might be exaggerating, and things apparently are getting much better now. But I think they can get even better, and that was one of the reasons why I proposed to The Future Fire editor Djibril al-Ayad the above-mentioned anthology: because, as much as I love Anglo-American narratives (and I do love them), theirs are not the only ones in the world. The world wants and needs to see more SFnal narratives by different authors by different traditions. Even if we must translate these narratives or write them in Earth’s current lingua franca, the English language.
The next step would be how to make everyone read these stories in the languages of their original countries, but THAT would be really utopian. For now, at least.
Fabio Fernandes is a SFF writer and translator living in São Paulo, Brazil. His short fiction in Portuguese has won two Argos Awards in Brazil. In English, he has several stories published in online venues in the US, the UK, New Zealand, Portugal, Romenia, and Brazil. He also contributed to Steampunk Reloaded, Southern Weirdo: Reconstruction, and The Apex Book of World SF Vol. 2. His articles and reviews have appeared in The Fix, Fantasy Book Critic, Tor.com, and SF Signal. He attended Clarion West in 2013.
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