Richly Colored 

Photo by Gretchen E.K. Engel

Photo by Gretchen E.K. Engel

One topic that came up after Realm Makers was one about diversity in the spec fiction community.

For me, I love reading books about people from diverse backgrounds. One of my favorite series in grade school were Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind family series about Jewish children in turn-of-the-century New York City. I loved learning about the holidays, traditions, and foods.

Two of my favorite non-speculative Christian authors are Camy Tang and Rajdeep Paulus. Camy Tang’s “Sushi series” had me laughing out loud more than once as the Japanese-Chinese-American cousins navigated life and love. Rajdeep Paulus’s Swimming Through Clouds and its sequels were gut-wrenching as the heroine and her brother were held captive in an abusive situation. While the situation could happen in any family, the main characters’ Indian-Dutch South African background added depth and texture. Another one of my favorite authors is Ronie Kendig. Her military thrillers have a diverse cast and several with interracial or intercultural couples that are organic and realistic.

As for speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy can be a great place to explore race, culture, religion, country identity, and every other demographic. Right now I’m reading Kathrese McKee’s novella, The Healer’s Curse. It’s heroine is black but because it’s set in a different world, she’s able to explore cultural, racial, and political differences without the framework of 21st century America. It’s a prequel to Mardan’s Mark, which has an equally diverse cast and both are set during a time of two kingdoms on the brink of war.

Think about it. The Fellowship of the Ring is about unity among Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, and Humans. Star Wars wouldn’t be the same without the strife between nationality, religion, race, species, even sentient beings versus artificial intelligence: Jedi, Sith, Rebels, Empire, Wookies, Gungans, clones, droids, and creatures I don’t even know their species name.

One of the things I love best about my steam punk Elf stories is that the worlds have their own people and culture. I get to explore how people are truly alike and different. And at the end of the day, really it only matters whether or not they have pointed ears.

What is your favorite book featuring characters who are from a different race, culture, or species?


About Gretchen E K Engel

Chemical engineer by day, spec fiction writer by night

11 comments on “Richly Colored 

  1. One of my favorite series of all time is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. It’s a great example of diversity of culture and the realities of that diversity. Not only are there different cultures, but you see them clashing and the characters dealing with the differences and challenges of prejudice, class standing, disabilities, etc.

    It’s all so integral to the story that you don’t even notice while reading, but when I stand back and really analyze it, she deals with some important social issues.

  2. I enjoyed the heck out of Cinder, because it’s set in a futuristic China. Cyborgs get lunch off the noodle carts, eat with chopsticks, and worry about their ancestors–set against a Cinderella retelling. Or the Temeraire books, which is the Napoleonic wars had both sides had a dragon Air Force. There’s a couple of books set in China, one in Africa, one in Australia, one in Japan, one in South America–and it’s a treat to see each culture and how their dragons are treated. In Africa the dragons are revered as family members, while in Russia they’re treated like animals with vicious wing-hobbles.
    Each new book in the series is a delight, and the diversity of the dragons and culture sis a big part.

  3. One of my favorites is Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, “a novel of an ancient China that never was.” It was a 1985 World Fantasy Award winner for best novel (along with Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood) and 1986 Mythopoeic Award winner for best fantasy.
    Both ferocious and fiercely funny, this book has stayed in my top 10 all-time favorite novels. Starts a bit slow but it’s a delight.
    Oh, a warning: there is a seduction scene, but it has to be the most hysterically funny one in history.

  4. Thanks for the kind words about Healer’s Curse and Mardan’s Mark, Gretchen. My family is richly colored, and I wanted to reflect that in my fiction. The family of man is richly colored, and we shouldn’t be shy about embracing that fact. Thanks again for writing this thoughtful article.

  5. […] I want to recommend a post written by an acquaintance of mine, Gretchen E. K. Engel, entitled “Richly Colored.” […]

  6. Heather LL FitzGerald’s Tethered World Chronicles also has a diverse cast.

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