Thursday, February 12, 2015

Diversity in Fantasy: The Lone and Level Sands

And now, our second guest post by a truly treasured friend and author, Nyki Blatchley:
Diversity in The Lone and Level Sands
The ancient ruins in the desert hide more than just scientific interest — evil lurks there from the dawn of history. Archaeology students Zadith and Musu thought it would give them valuable experience to spend their summer break on an important dig in the desert with their professor. They didn't expect to be menaced by the local military, a rival expedition with unorthodox methods, or an ancient evil from the dawn of history. But this is no ordinary site. An outpost of the city of Kebash, lost for ten thousand years, it holds terrors worse than death for Zadith and Musu.

I'm Nyki Blatchley, fantasy author. I've been writing fiction almost all my life (I started at four) and I've had a novel and about forty shorter pieces published, around a dozen as stand-alone ebooks. I live just north of London and work as a freelance copywriter. Which means that, when I'm not writing — I'm writing.

My short ebook The Lone and Level Sands, published in December by Musa Publishing, is the latest story set in a secondary world that I've been developing for several decades. Many of them, including my novel At An Uncertain Hour, have a traditional type of setting for fantasy — no gunpowder, no heavy industry — but I've recently beenbringing the world "up to date".

The Lone and Level Sands is archaeological fantasy in the tradition of Indiana Jones, and set in an equivalent period. Not all needs to be the same, though, since this society has developed in its own way. In particular, although the society isn't entirely without sexism, women are far less restricted than they were in the 1930s, and the two women (out of six significant people in the story) are anything but along for the ride.

In general, I tend to gravitate towards writing about women about as much as men, and I try to avoid falling too far into the traps either way. It's easy to assume that a "strong woman" in fantasy will be a tough, brawling, swearing swordswoman. Well, I do have characters like that, but I also have women who are strong as scholars, mothers, businesswomen — or archaeologists.

Racial diversity is a little more complex. As a white European, I started off (in my teens) writing exclusively about white characters, before I began to understand this as a shortcoming. Fortunately, one advantage of working with the canvas of an entire world — as opposed to a few neighbouring countries — is that can be put right without having to alter the original few realms. I've written from the POV of people from most of my world's races — one of my most recurring characters, Eltava, would in our-world terms be a cross between Chinese and Native American.

My world has a racial distribution not unlike our own (give or take the odd green-skinned people), but culturally it doesn't work in quite the same way. As in our world, civilisation rose more or less separately in several zones. Unlike our world, no one of these zones managed to overwhelm the rest, so the "modern" world is much more even, both politically and culturally, than our own.

The continent that provides the setting for The Lone and Level Sands, for instance, has a geographical and racial profile similar to Africa — black peoples mostly, with "Mediterranean" type races in the far north — but, unlike Africa, its ancient and high-achieving civilisations haven't been suppressed. In a real-world setting, the archaeological expedition would have been dispatched from an American or European institution. Here, it's come from the south, from a world-beating university in a highly influential country with a black population.

So, by presenting black people who've never known the cultural trauma of the slave trade and destructive colonialism, am I demeaning that real-world heritage? The exact opposite, I'd say. There were specific global reasons in our world for what was done to Africa (and to the Americas, Australia and many other places), but to create a different world, with a different history, where the black races still suffered as slaves would come perilously close to suggesting this was their inevitable destiny. Which is obviously nonsense.

It's sometimes suggested that there should always be a "reason" for having a character who's not male, white and straight. As far as I can see, the only reason needed is that the world (ours or any other) is a wide and wonderful place full of diversity, and not to reflect that would be stupid. It would be unrealistic. And it would be boring.

Click on the cover image above or on the title here to purchase the book: The Lone and Level Sands
Be sure to visit Nyki's Website
And his Blog

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