[Please enjoy this guest post by Donna S. Frelick, author of the Interstellar Rescue series!]
I’m proud to say the heroine of the latest installment of my Interstellar Rescue series stands out from the crowd in a lot of ways. Not least is that Rayna Carver, the kick-ass undercover Rescue agent of Fools Rush In, is a woman of color in a science fiction galaxy of mostly white, mostly male lead characters.
Not that she’s the only one, of course. A host of SFR writers have struggled in recent years to live up to the ideal Gene Roddenberry sketched out only roughly in STAR TREK days of yore. In fact, our little subgenre (and YA writers) have probably done better than many in this regard. Check out this Goodreads list to get an idea.
But an article published in SF Signal last year by author Anthony Vicino about the difficulty of persuading old-school SF publishers to put people of color on the cover demonstrates clearly that we still have a long way to go.
Rayna is my own contribution to diversity in SFR. She was first introduced to readers as “Dozen,” the Rescue “conductor” who helped Asia escape the mines of Gallodon IV in Unchained Memory. (She appears in Trouble in Mind, also.) She was one of those characters that literally leapt off the page as I was writing, so full of life and energy my job was just to describe what I saw in my head and write down whatever she said. She was that real.
Note that I didn’t set out to deliberately add “color” to my story by including a woman of African-American descent. Rayna just came into my head that way, like many other characters in my books are “born” half-alien or with an Earth Asian background or a same-sex orientation. Diversity in my books is organic, part of the fabric of my characters’ lives and the universe they live in. Just like the world we ourselves live in, if we only allow ourselves to see it.
The best writers are keen observers of the world around them. Just because we write about worlds that don’t exist (yet) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use that observational power to inform our future worldbuilding. Any observer of Earth in 2016 cannot fail to notice that people of color, particularly Asians, vastly outnumber Caucasians. How could they not be well represented in any future worlds we create?
The problem is too many writers of the “dominant” culture in literature (that is white, and usually male) tend to go suddenly color-blind when looking at the world around them. They see only members of their own dominant culture, that is, only people who look like themselves. So we end up with too many starships captained by white guys and full of white, male crew members.
The first step, then, is to take the blinders off before we start writing. But there is a far subtler trap waiting for the unwary Caucasian author in creating diverse characters, especially in stories set in the future. How does a character’s racial and cultural background inform the way the character talks, acts and appears on the page? And how much of that (largely Earth-bound) background would still be relevant in the alternate SFR universe we’ve created?
Rayna grew up not on Earth, but in Terrene, a melting-pot colony of rescued slaves (of all races and from different planets), alien traders, Rescue fighters and petty criminals. Her parents were African-American, abducted as teenagers from outside Chicago and kept as slaves by the alien Grays before their extraction by the Interstellar Council for Abolition and Rescue. But they retained so little of what they knew of home through the Grays’ mindwipe procedure that it was impossible for them to be returned to Earth. How much of their African-American culture would they have been able to pass on to Rayna?
And yet she shares significant aspects of her personality with her parents—her stubborn will to survive, her resistance to the mindwipe, her endurance, her courage. Should we attribute these positive traits to her ancestral heritage, to the way her parents raised her, or just to the way she is?
As the writer who created the mindwipe and Rayna’s backstory, I think Rayna’s speech and mannerisms would hold only a faint echo of urban Chicago and African-American culture. She is something altogether new and different, born of a different set of circumstances.
It’s a tough challenge for a writer to avoid stereotyping and still give a character like Rayna free rein to express her unique personality. But, then, experimenting with spicy mustard on rye is a lot more fun than sticking with mayo and white bread. I hope I got the recipe just right.
The very tasty Fools Rush In launches Tuesday, October 18 on Amazon.
Blurb for Fools Rush In
She thought she had the toughest job in Rescue—until the day she had to convert a pirate into a hero.
Interstellar Rescue “conductor” Rayna Carver is deep undercover on a slave ship bound for an isolated region of space when the ship is attacked by pirates. Her liberator is Captain Sam Murphy, a man known in the spacer bars to love only profit, adventure and women.
But Murphy hates a few things, too, chief among them slavers. Will it be enough to gain his help for Rayna’s mission—ferreting out two spies bent on sabotaging an arms factory to turn the tide in an alien civil war?
About the author
A number of years ago, as an aspiring science fiction writer, I took a workshop from noted SF writer Ann C. Crispin. She took one look at my SF short story and said, “You have a talent for writing romance.”
“Romance” in those days meant “historical” or maybe “contemporary”. There was no “paranormal” and certainly no “science fiction” romance. So I wasn’t sure how to take that comment. Then I realized that much of the kind of science fiction I loved was full of romantic elements–Classic STAR TREK, X-FILES, AVATAR, even many New Age SF authors like Ursula K. Leguin, Zenna Henderson and Theodore Sturgeon.Thankfully, the world has turned, these and other wonderful pioneers have laid the groundwork and now I can finally take Ann’s advice and follow my true calling.
Along the way to my science fiction suspense career I’ve been married to a wonderful guy since just out of college, been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, raised a family (two girls, two grandkids), tried organic farming, worked as a freelance journalist and editor, been a community activist, earned black belts in two different styles of martial arts and written four STAR TREK fanfic novels (and a number of short stories) for “underground” publication. (Ask me sometime about STAR TREK cons!)
In 2012, my first two SFR novels finaled in the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® contest. Shortly thereafter, I found a literary home with the fabulous Michelle Johnson, founder of Inklings Literary Agency and INK’d Press. Unchained Memorywas released in February, 2015 from INK’d Press. Trouble in Mind will follow in February, 2016.
I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Science Fiction Romance Brigade, the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter of RWA, the Golden Network (of past and current Golden Heart finalists) and the Firebirds (2012 Golden Heart finalists).
I live on 44 beautiful mountain acres in Marshall, NC, with my husband and two talkative cats.
Follow Donna S. Frelick on Twitter: @DonnaSFrelick