Thursday, October 6, 2016

Not the Time or Place

I’ve finished my binge reading of the Throne of Glass series, with the most recent book, Empire of Storms, currently out on the shelves. Damn thing ended on a cliffhanger. Now I’ll have to wait an entire year for the grand finale. I should have read more slowly, but I was getting these books from the library and only had two weeks each. Even free comes with a price.

I was going to write a book review of the series so far, but a couple of reviews on Goodreads sent me off in the direction that follows. Overall the series has been getting rave reviews from the Young Adult-reading audience it’s aimed at. There have been dissenters. Some I agreed with, some I didn’t. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

I don’t agree that an author is required to put some particular element, either overt or subtle, into his/her novels, just because a reader thinks it should be there.

What prompted this were the couple of negative reviews where the readers complained that the author hadn’t put enough people of color, or LGBT characters, into her story. It was strongly implied one major character was black, from this fantasy world’s equivalent of Africa. Two walk-on minor characters were gay. One lead character came out in dialogue as bisexual. That was pretty much it. The other characters, male and female, were depicted as white, straight, and oh so very physically attractive. As far as I can tell, this world doesn’t have any fat people of any age, race or orientation. Maybe magic really burns off the calories.

I think what may have brought on the gripes was the way the last book played out. At the end of the 700 or so pages, every major character had been paired up with a lover of the opposite sex. (Including the one main character from the first four books who doesn’t even appear.) Even the bi guy falls for a woman. One character who might possibly have been lesbian, or at the very least asexual, has a sex scene (admittedly an awkward, forced-feeling one) with a lusty, unbelievably handsome male. I can see where readers who support the gay cause would feel like heterosexuality is being crammed down their throats.

As a woman who waved bye-bye to 40 quite a while ago, I get a mite peeved at all the books with women barely into their twenties calling all the shots. Especially because they’re all thinner than I ever was or will be. Like real life, fiction is not fair.

And y’know what? Too frikkin’ bad. To me, and to the complainers. This isn’t my book, or yours. It’s the writer’s. This is how she chose to tell her story. If it doesn’t fall in line with your personal agenda, you’ll just have to suck it up.

Yes, inclusion of other races, peoples, and sexual orientations is a good thing. “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” That was part of the philosophy behind Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. He put blacks and Asians and women on the bridge with all the white guys. And a gay guy (George Takai), even if we didn’t know it back then. The most popular character on the show turned out to be the biracial alien. That was Gene’s vision. He fought for racial and sexual inclusiveness (and for Spock’s pointed ears). That was the story he wanted to tell.

But now that society has finally caught up with Roddenberry, it’s reached the point of getting out of hand. Now everything needs to be racially and sexually diverse. Whether it's logical in story terms or not.

Thor did this quite well. The inclusion of black and Asian Norse gods worked because they were people, not races. I notice from the commercials the remake of The Magnificent Seven is racially diverse. This is historically accurate. There were more black and Hispanic than white cowboys back in the real Old West, and a large Chinese population. But World War II movies? Sorry. The armed forces weren’t desegregated until 1948, by order of President Harry Truman. (Even then, actual desegregation didn’t happen until the 1950s, under Eisenhower.) Not to mention it’s totally ludicrous. The covert spy team sneaks into Nazi Germany, and they don’t think the black guy’s going to stand out? Gimme a break.

Here in my neck of the country we’ve had complaints that Valley Forge has no monuments to the Asians who fought in the American Revolution. That’s because none did. If it makes you feel better, there is a monument at Gettysburg to Stand Watie, the Cherokee leader who commanded the Confederate Indian Cavalry in the Civil War. Happy now?

Harry Potter didn’t have any gay characters. (Dumbledore wasn’t outed until after the series ended.) Neither did Twilight. Nobody seemed to mind. Twilight had a teenage girl lusting for a dead guy a hundred years older than she was. Nobody minded that either. Hunger Games described Rhu as dark-skinned, yet people were pissed when a black actress played her in the movie. You just can’t win.

As for me, I write M/M romances. That’s guy-on-guy, for those of you not up on the terminology. Should I be chastised for not including more women and straights in my gay love stories?

Here’s the deal: Sarah J. Maas has the right to write her series any way she wants to. If she includes—or doesn’t—peoples of varying races, religions, sexual orientations, ages, weight classes, eye color, left-handedness, or anything else you think she should have, that’s her decision to make. If what she writes doesn’t jive with your personal expectations, don’t read her next book. It’s as simple as that. If you’re really that pissed at her lack of inclusiveness, then I suggest you balance the scales by writing your own book, and make the characters as diverse as you think they should be. This is why writers write: to read the books we want to read. If the book you want to read isn’t out there, then go write it yourself.

As for me, I’ve got a WIP I expect will stir up a fuss. It’s about a circus run by shapeshifters. Since, in my view, the animal form’s continent of origin determines the human form’s race (shifters have to blend in with the majority population, after all), and most circus animals come from Africa and Asia, most of my characters are going to be non-Caucasian. Except for the hero, who’s white. Oh wait, he’s a gay guy. But the woman who owns the circus is straight. Looks like I’m not off the hook. We’ll just have to wait and see what the readers say.

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