Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Writing the Other in SFF

Rob makes a very valid point in his post.  It seems that Speculative Fiction (in its broadest sense) is somewhat uniquely positioned to take on a bit of controversy.  I believe much of this comes from ability we have to remove the reader from the world they know and place them into a world where anything is possible.

I believe that this is especially important when one considers issues of The Other - that is, the being that is different than I.  We as humans have a tendency to see Otherness as threatening, even evil.  Discussions about reconciliation and tolerance are often difficult, charged with stereotypical baggage and imperfect experience.  

In spec fic, we have an opportunity to talk about what it means to be Other while removing the baggage.  We write of alien races and magical beings, things so far removed from the here and now that the reader has difficulty attach a label or stereotype.  The Other is expected, even embraced (after all, what would a space opera be without an alien encounter?).  As readers, we put ourselves into the position of outsider, insider, companion and enemy, all without batting an eye.  Because it's a story.  And a weird one at that.

Story allows us to plumb the depths of who we are as humans.  Speculative fiction, by it's very nature, forces us to think about how we relate to one another.  As writers, we do a great disservice if we do not consider how our characters relate to one another and how The Other is portrayed.

How do you use The Other in your fiction?  Do you allow your readers an insider's perspective of a foreign way?  Do you allow them to be on the outside looking in?  What does your treatment of The Other in your fiction say about your relationships and beliefs in the Real World?

1 comment:

Laura Bradley Rede said...

Hey, Nola, you raise some great questions. As a feminist. I try to be aware of how I am "mainstream" and benefiting from the privilege as such (for example, because I'm white, because I was raised upper-middle-class etc.) and the ways in which I am "other" (because I'm a woman in a multi-racial family, because I'm Queer, because I have a child with a disability, etc.) As a reader, I appreciate the new trend towards retelling old stories from the Other perspective, for example the book/musical "Wicked", the movie "Shrek", etc. I think as a culture we are looking at our own history and the fact that it has been primarily told from a white male perspective and, as we are re-examining that, we are also retelling our mythology and our fairy tales, which I think is very healthy. Also as a reader I'm a sucker for the story in which the Other's perspective is used to reflect on what it means to be human (I'm thinking of Data in Star Trek Next Generation or Anya on Buffy) In my own writing, I haven't done very much telling the story from the Other perspective. That's something I'd like to explore more in the future. I hope I've been respectful of the Other perspective, for example, when I wrote people who worked in a freak show I tied to make them whole, sympathetic characters. Years ago, I helped start a woman's theater company called the OtherWISE women's theater. We chose our name because we thought there was a certain wisdom in the outsider perspective and that it was our job to convey that. I still believe that strongly and the more I write, the more hope that comes through in my writing