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31 October 2010 @ 02:15 pm
Thoughts on Speculative Tourism  
I think I've been poking at this one for a while behind the scenes, with vague discomfort manifesting every so often.

There's this ostensibly pro-diversity phrasing that several zines use; some variant on "We're looking for settings we don't see all the time". I think some newer zines may be taking that phrasing from the Strange Horizons guidelines (maybe because "if SH is using it then it must be fine"?)

But Strange Horizons also says, "We'd like to help make the field of speculative fiction more inclusive, more welcoming to both authors and readers from traditionally underrepresented groups, so we're interested in seeing stories from diverse perspectives and backgrounds." And somehow, I'm not seeing that pop up in other places.

Here's the problem, as I see it: used in isolation, "settings we don't see all the time" frames the problem as the boredom of the privileged, not the silencing of the marginalized. Who, after all, is we? (Yes, narrowly speaking, 'the editors'; but broadly speaking?)

This framing does not distinguish between (a) well-researched, culturally sensitive depictions of places that are Other to the anglophone mostly-UK/US audience, and (b) happy shiny Cultural Appropriation. And the fact is that many published (and even award-winning) "settings we don't see all the time" are in fact appropriative in nature and Othering in presentation. They're speculative tourism. Let's go visit the Mayans! And now the China-Japan-Korea blend! And now Mystic Arabia!

Meanwhile, "exotic" is still a good word in reviews (yeah, I don't get tired of that point).

So while part of me is grateful that more editors are considering any sort of diversity at all, a bigger part is uncomfortable. Because that easy road gets us to "diversity" for the privileged, not diversity in fact.

I do think though that for the most part, the phrasing's being used in good faith (which is part of why I am not going to call anyone out). This doesn't make it less of a problem, just... maybe one that can be worked on, by thinking and talking about it.

Thoughts?

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ETA: Of course, there's a lot more here than just ethnic/cultural diversity, but it's the one I've been thinking about most; I need to do even more more-thinking on other axes-of-diversity.
 
 
Current Mood: nervousnervous
 
 
 
elysdir on November 4th, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this; good food for thought, as usual. I've been mulling it over, and while I don't have a lot of coherent thoughts yet, I do have a question.

SH's version of the line in question is:

"We like settings and cultures that we don't see all the time in speculative fiction."

I probably wrote that, but I don't remember when or why or what exactly I was thinking of. It may have been around the time (fairly early in SH's history) that a friend (who was a nonfiction editor at SH at the time) pointed out to me that almost all of the fiction we had published up to that point was set in English-speaking countries.

So the line was certainly well-intentioned. But after reading your entry, I wonder if--even given the context of the rest of our guidelines--our version of the "settings" line is still kind of exoticizing. I suspect there was some exoticizing going on in my head when I wrote that line, if I wrote it. (I probably did, but I'm not certain.)

So do you think we'd be better off cutting that line entirely, given that we already say the "more inclusive" thing?

Or--especially given that the rest of the paragraph is already set up as contrasts ("we like x as long as it's not y" kinds of things)--maybe we could add a qualifier, perhaps something like "We like settings and cultures that we don't see all the time in speculative fiction, as long as they're well-researched and not exoticized." Or something along those lines.

Whatcha think? I don't mean to be saying You Must Educate Me On How To Phrase Our Guidelines; feel free to ignore this question, and we'll think about it more and decide what to do. But if you or your readers have thoughts or opinions on this, I'd be interested in hearing them.

PS: In case anyone reading this is hesitant to criticize SH about this kind of thing, please don't be; we want to try to get this stuff right, and we're aware that we're likely to fail at it sometimes, so we appreciate it when people help us fail less, though of course it's nobody else's responsibility to do that. I'm including this paragraph only because I know how awkward the editor/writer power dynamic can make things; I don't want anyone to think "If I say something negative, they'll never publish me!"
shweta_narayan: mangatarshweta_narayan on November 4th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
in which fence-sitting ensues
So of course I can only speak for myself -- but I don't find the line in SH inherently eoticizing, given context. It's when it's taken in isolation that it gets problematic to me.

Having said that, I must note that I am biased. SH is the first place I ever found that outright said it gave a damn about non-Eurocentric fiction; so I remain full of squee over that and may be missing something because of it.

Now to argue the other side! I do like "We like settings and cultures that we don't see all the time in speculative fiction, as long as they're well-researched and not exoticized." even better :)

And, given that (if I'm right and other people are getting that phrasing from you) SH is something of an exemplar of how to do it right, it might be worth erring on the more-careful side and changing it even if the current guidelines are fine?
elysdir on January 1st, 2011 02:28 am (UTC)
Re: in which fence-sitting ensues
Belatedly: I've now updated the guidelines to use this new phrasing; it'll be there when we reopen to subs in a couple hours.

Thanks again for bringing this up! And for the further discussion.
shweta_narayan: mangatarshweta_narayan on January 1st, 2011 07:57 am (UTC)
Re: in which fence-sitting ensues
Yay! And thanks for telling me :)

Next step: get better enough to write stuff I can send you *grins*