Writing a diverse story
Can of worms, right? Every now and again you get that old chestnut about how writing about the experiences of a group you don’t belong to, one that’s ethnically or sexually or physically/mentally different than the one you’re in, is intrinsically wrong and hurtful. That we don’t have the right to use racial issues, or disability, or gender issues in our stories if we haven’t experienced them ourselves. While I call bullshit on that—if I could only write my own experience, how many would be buying books about an aging, white, middle-class ex-civil servant who doesn’t really do anything interesting?—I’m still wary about getting something catastrophically wrong or being accused of appropriation. I want to write about any and every human condition, but I don’t want to be actively hurtful. Who would?
I’m lucky that in the Taking Shield universe at least, I’m not writing a contemporary setting. They’re by far the most difficult to get right (if, that is, the culture being written about isn’t that of the aging, idle ex-civil servant I mentioned earlier). But in space? Not only can no one hear you scream, but you can create the entire world and its culture. It’s rather harder to be accused of appropriation then. Not impossible, but harder.
In the Shield universe, I’ve created what you might describe as an ‘accepting’ culture. It’s 10,000 years in our future and I hope we’ll evolve one day into a more just and equal society.
Different races still exist in the Shield world—Flynn, for one, is biracial—but society as whole doesn’t make a big deal out of it. Consequently, neither do my characters. There’s no real necessity for them to signal it, and since I keep descriptions to a minimum, the point isn’t belaboured. A casual mention here, a name dropped here—such as Zhang Wei, the commander of another dreadnought, the Steeleye—are enough, I hope, to show that the society Bennet and Flynn live within is ethnically diverse and the people of different races don’t consider it a big deal.
Similarly there are women in positions of power all over the place. Of the three military services—Fleet, Infantry and Shield—two are headed by women. A women is president. Another very capable warrior is second-in-command of the Gyrfalcon. Other women command dreadnoughts. Women are warriors and pilots, and no one blinks.
Bennet and Flynn are both bisexual. Bennet, who’s been in a committed relationship with another man for more than seven years when the first book opens, does indeed face opposition from his religious father, but that’s more about personal relationships than a societal norm. And it, too, gets resolved. Caeden learns that accepting his son for who and what Bennet is, is far better then allowing his prejudices to drive a wedge between them.
And finally disability. There’s a physical, as well as social, impact that has to be considered. I have one military character in Heart Scarab lose a hand, and he reappears in Day of Wrath with a bionic prosthetic, promoted and a member of the presidential guard. It hasn’t held him back. He doesn’t pretend it isn’t there, but it doesn’t define him.
I don’t deny that if I were writing a contemporary story with gay, or female, non-binary or disabled characters, they would inevitably come up against prejudice. Sadly, they’d face it every day of their lives. It would be unrealistic to pretend otherwise. But the great thing about creating your own future universe, is that you get to create the sort of society you wish we had now: one where it doesn’t matter about your sex or gender, the colour of your skin, whether you have one hand or two, or whether you’re gay or straight. All that matters is that you’re human.
Ah well. One day, perhaps, we’ll achieve that here as well. Until then, fantasy and scifi have to continue to fill the gap.
Length: 106,470 words
Taking Shield Series
In less than a week, Bennet will finally return to the Shield Regiment, leaving behind the Gyrfalcon, his father, his friends… and Flynn. Promotion to Shield Major and being given command of a battle group despite the political fallout from Makepeace the year before is everything he thought he wanted. Everything he’s worked towards for the last three years. Except for leaving Flynn. He really doesn’t want to leave Flynn.
There’s time for one last flight together. A routine mission. Nothing too taxing, just savouring every moment with the best wingman, the best friend, he’s ever had. That’s the plan.
Bennet should know better than to trust to routine because what waits for them out there will change their lives forever.
June 28 - Gay Book Reviews, June 30 - Bayou Book Junkie, July 2 - MM Good Book Reviews, July 9 - Love Bytes, July 11 - Queer SciFi, July 13 - Two Chicks Obsessed, July 16 - The Novel Approach, July 18 - Making It Happen
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