Five authors you should read who aren’t straight white men

There’s a big discrimination problem right now. The problem exists both in the general public and in fandom / literary circles. Need an example? Look at these stories from the last week.

  • In the news:

    • George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who he followed, confronted and ultimately shot to death. He used stand your ground laws as the basis of a defence that focused on trying to vilify his victim.
    • Marissa Alexander, in the same state and supposedly subject to the same laws as George Zimmerman fired a warning shot at her abusive husband. Nobody was killed. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. She was denied access to stand your ground laws.
    • Conservative politicians in Texas made it all but impossible to get an abortion in the state.
    • One-time darling of the Canadian environmentalist community, David Suzuki made the statement that “Canada is full.” In response I provide this map: Canada map population
  • In the publishing world:

    • Orson Scott Card asks for tolerance from the gay community after groups in fandom call for a boycott on the grounds that Card is a member of anti-gay organizations and spends a lot of his profit fighting to deny gay people their rights.
    • Twitter trolls create the @SFWAFascists account in order to make passive-aggressive swipes at a small group of progressive authors who took a stand against sexism in SFWA publications. (To be fair, the internet replied with a lot of awesome as most of the authors labled “Fascist” were promptly inundated with new followers interested in them.
    • Some critic attacked Scott Lynch’s work by suggesting his POC single mother pirate character Zamira Drakasha pushed the limits of believability because she was a woman, not white. Never mind that there were plenty of women in historical piracy, some of them decidedly not white.

It’s pretty obvious that something isn’t right here when this is one week. Things have to be done to fix these sorts of toxic problems.

But this is a book blog. So let’s talk about books. Today I’m providing a list of authors who aren’t white, straight men. One way that we can fight against discrimination is to listen to voices of people who have been othered. Frankly, and I say this as a frequent ally, one of the best things we can do is listen, really listen.

Books are an exceptional medium for coming to an understanding of other peoples experiences. We are able to inhabit the thoughts and feelings of the characters created by these authors and, in doing so, perhaps learn just a little bit about how it feels to be discriminated against, marginalized or silenced. With that understanding maybe it’ll be that much easier for us to help to change things, make them better.

With that in mind, read these authors:

1. Saladin Ahmed

Ahmed almost made my lists  twice this week already because Throne of the Crescent Moon is an amazing book. I was so lucky to get to read it – I’d wandered into a bookstore and went up to the sci-fi and fantasy area receptionist. I told him I wanted to read a secondary world fantasy not set in a European setting (was feeling a bit worn out by GoT to be honest) and he pointed me to this.

Seriously, read it! Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is one of the kindest and most truly good protagonists I have ever encountered. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a book about the triumph of compassion and love over cruelty. This is a book that will make you want to be a better person.

I hope that Ahmed has a long career after this. I will certainly buy his books. (Bonus points – Ahmed is one of the authors on the SFWA fascists list, and anybody on that list probably deserves a read.)

2. Samuel R. Delany

He wrote Dhalgren. Let me repeat this: this man is the genius who wrote that book that veteran SF nerds use to terrify newcomers to genre. He’s a literary mastermind to rival James Joyce.

He’s won four nebula awards and two hugo awards. He is the director of the graduate creative writing program at Temple university. If you’ve been reading Speculative Fiction for a long time the chances are that you have read Delany. If you haven’t read him yet fix that. Fix that now!

3. All the authors in the Dragon and the Stars anthology

Cheating a little bit again, but this short story anthology deserves mention. Edited by Eric Choi and Derwin Mak, The Dragon and the Stars is an anthology of authors who are members of the Chinese diaspora. This little book is one of the most interesting short story anthologies in my collection and I do love it very much.

The first story in the collection, Tony Pi‘s The Character of the Hound is my personal favourite but there isn’t a bad story in this entire book.

4. Madeline Ashby

It takes a particularly deft touch to take a story that is fundamentally derived from Asimov’s three laws of robotics and create from it a parable of gender inequality and slavery. It takes an even defter hand to do so in a way that makes an exciting and refreshing adventure novel. Madeline Ashby accomplishes this easily with vN.

There’s a reason that her second novel, iD is the very next book that I will be buying myself.

5. Michael Rowe

Rowe wrote the best vampire novel since Salem’s Lot at the very least, possibly the best vampire novel since Dracula when he wrote Enter Night. Like all really good horror what sets Enter Night apart from its peers is the quality of characterization of its protagonists.

One of the key protagonists is the openly gay son of the local matriarch. After a traumatic forced stint in a mental institution, part of a misguided attempt to “cure” him, he left his distant northern town for the bright lights of Toronto. But when his brother dies he’s forced to return home to help protect his sister in law and her daughter from the cruelty of his mother.

Also there are vampires.

If you like stories where the vampires don’t sparkle and where the fundamental humanity of the protagonists and their relationships creates enough compassion for us to care about their fates this is the horror story for you.

Help to make things better

Buying and reading these books, on its own, won’t make things better. Still its important to confront the fact that discrimination exists. Furthermore discrimination exists within our community.

By supporting authors who represent disparate voices from the dominant one of straight white men, by sharing them and encouraging other people to read them, we can start to break down that discrimination within our community.

Speculative Fiction is supposed to be a place of acceptance; there is a myth in fandom that we’re a bunch of outcasts and misfits. I think that myth isn’t really that true, certainly not anymore. Being a nerd is not exactly a stigmatizing thing in the age of the internet. But still, if we can create the community of acceptance, NOT tolerance but real, open and welcoming acceptance of diversity that is part of our origin story perhaps we can use the expanded influence that genre has on popular culture to help shape the greater culture.

Buying and reading these books won’t end discrimination, but at least it’s somewhere to start.

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