Rhodochrosite and Pyrite; Cassandra Mines, Chalkidiki Prefecture, Greece
Looking at the most visible exemplars of epic fantasy — from J.R.R. Tolkien to such bestselling authors as George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan — a casual observer might assume that big, continent-spanning sagas with magic in them are always set in some imaginary variation on Medieval Britain. There may be swords and talismans of power and wizards and the occasional dragon, but there often aren’t any black- or brown-skinned people, and those who do appear are decidedly peripheral; in “The Lord of the Rings,” they all seem to work for the bad guys.
Our hypothetical casual observer might therefore also conclude that epic fantasy — one of today’s most popular genres — would hold little interest for African-American readers and even less for African-American writers. But that observer would be dead wrong. One of the most celebrated new voices in epic fantasy is N.K. Jemisin, whose debut novel, “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms,” won the Locus Award for best first novel and nominations for seemingly every other speculative fiction prize under the sun. Another is David Anthony Durham, whose Acacia Trilogy has landed on countless best-of lists. Both authors recently published the concluding books in their trilogies.
Although they came to the genre from different paths, both Jemisin and Durham have used it to wrench historical and cultural themes out of their familiar settings and hold them up in a different light. “I never felt that fantasy needed to be an escape from reality,” Durham told me. “I wanted it to be a different sort of engagement with reality, and one that benefits from having magic and mayhem in it as well.”
In Durham’s trilogy, four royal siblings are deposed and then fight their way back to the throne in an empire presided over by the island city of Acacia. Their dynasty’s power resides in a Faustian bargain made with a league of maritime merchants: the League supplies a rabble-soothing drug in exchange for a quota of the empire’s children, who are sent off across the sea to meet an unknown fate. As promised, “Acacia” is a sweeping yarn filled with adventure, intrigue, sorcery and battles.
Jemisin’s series, too, is set in the capital of an empire that has been run by an aristocratic clan for generations. The power of the Arameri family, however, resides in the gods — specifically a pantheon of deities whom they have imprisoned and enslaved. The narrator of “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is the daughter of a renegade member of the clan who ran off with a foreigner. Raised in a remote kingdom with its own fiercely independent customs, she returns to the capital seeking information about her mother and, once there, becomes embroiled in vicious palace intrigues.
She made the main character a woman and, in an even more marked departure from the norm, she decided to have that character narrate the book in the first person. “I knew that what I was writing was inherently defiant of the tropes of epic fantasy,” Jemisin said, “and I wasn’t sure it would be accepted.”
When Durham decided to write an epic fantasy, he set out to recapture the enchantment he felt as a 12-year-old, discovering Tolkien at his father’s house in Trinidad, while “brushfires and buzzards” ranged over the neighboring hills. Jemisin, on the other hand, based her trilogy on “the old-school epics: not Tolkien, but Gilgamesh.” The gods in her imaginary world evoke the squabbling divine families of the world’s great myths: “The ancient tales of mortals putting up with gods and trying to outsmart gods, of trickster gods outsmarting other gods: That’s the basis of my work.”
“The genre can go many, many more places than it has gone,” said Jemisin. “Fantasy’s job is kind of to look back, just as science fiction’s job is to look forward. But fantasy doesn’t always just have to look back to one spot, or to one time. There’s so much rich, fascinating, interesting, really cool history that we haven’t touched in the genre: countries whose mythology is elaborate and fascinating, cultures whose stories we just haven’t even tried to retell.”
Reblogging for the books tag! (I’ve read both these series myself and they are quite good.)
Adding to my reading list (ever growing sob)
New Study Shows Brain Benefits Of Bilingualism -
Being bilingual opens up new worlds to speakers. It also appears to delay the onset of dementia…
In the Hyderabad region, a language called Telugu is spoken by the majority Hindu group, and another called Dakkhini by the minority Muslim population. Hindi and English are also commonly spoken in formal contexts, including at school. Most people who grow up in the region, then, are bilingual, and routinely exposed to at least three languages.
The patients who contributed data to the study, then, are surrounded by multiple languages in everyday life, not primarily as a result of moving from one location to another. This turns out to be an important factor, as the authors explain:
In contrast to previous studies, the bilingual group was drawn from the same environment as the monolingual one and the results were therefore free from the confounding effects of immigration. The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors, such as education, sex, occupation, cardiovascular risk factors, and urban vs rural dwelling, of subjects with dementia.
In other words, thanks in large part to the study’s cultural context, these researchers made great progress zeroing in on bilingualism as the specific reason for the delay in dementia symptoms.
What exactly is it about the ability to speak in two languages that seems to provide this protective effect? Alladi and co-authors explain:
The constant need in a bilingual person to selectively activate one language and suppress the other is thought to lead to a better development of executive functions and attentional tasks with cognitive advantages being best documented in attentional control, inhibition, and conflict resolution.
Read the study in Neurology (behind a paywall). Or check out these open source links:
- Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease, Neurology 2010.
- Language Control in Different Contexts: The Behavioral Ecology of Bilingual Speakers, Frontiers in Psychology.
- A Longitudinal Study of Memory Advantages in Bilinguals, PLOS ONE.
Links via Nicodin Bogdan on Science in Google+.
I can’t explain how wide my eyes got when I saw the conclusion of this gif.
Holy kickstarter Batman!
Have another one.
Office Fortress (Saxxy 2013 Finalist) -
My nominated/finalist entry for the Saxxy Awards 2013. 5 years after a truce, all RED and BLU mercs are relocated to an office job. TIMELAPSE: http://www.you…
This part killed me (I got better).
These are from Ogre Battle!
someone asked for this rebloggable!
[carryalaser asks: Was wondering (sorry if it’s been dealt with before) if you had favourite/recommended works of fantasy/historical fiction in regards to positive PoC representation? And thank you a lot for the effort put into this blog, one of the finest. My mother wishes it was around when she was homeschooling my sisters and I.]
OMG, Thank you!!! And your mom sounds awesome.
I’m a pretty hardcore Fantasy/Sci Fi fan and have been since childhood. The unrelenting whiteness of the genre (especially the late 70’s early 80’s stuff I was practically weaned on) really did a number on me, especially as a teen. That’s a lot of why this blog exists, in fact.
- The Crown of Stars Series by Kate Elliott
A must for medieval fans! I love the series for the awesome character development, realistic worldbuilding, and instead of “medieval England” going on and on through the entire map, you end up in versions of Hungary, Eurasia, Mesoamerica, Ethiopia and Egypt. Not only that, here’s your protagonist:
For those who are more into Steampunk and Historical Fiction (not me, in other words), I actually DO recommend another Elliott series:
- The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, Cold Steel)
I’m still making my way through this series, but I’m actually really impressed so far. The worldbuilding is really impressive. Also, you won’t read a better summary than the one here.
- The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods)
OMG. YOU NEED THIS.
Seriously if you pick one, pick THIS one. Characters you never knew you couldn’t live without include Oree Shoth, Sieh, Yeine, Nahadoth, and many, many more. Description:
Gods and mortals. Power and love. Death and revenge. In the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, gods dwell among mortals and one powerful, corrupt family rules the earth. Three extraordinary people may be the key to humanity’s salvation.
- Dreamblood (The Killing Moon, The Shadowed Sun) by N. K. Jemisin
YOUR MIND WILL BE BLOWN OKAY.
Magic system is really unique, and the characters will feel like your new, weird, difficult best friends who have hero complexes and martyr complexes and so much political intrigue and so much EVERYTHING.
- Acacia Trilogy by David Anthony Durham (Acacia, Other Lands, The Sacred Band)
This is a person with a background in Historical Fiction, so to MY taste, it starts a little dry but is meaty and totally worth it. The plot and the politics and the geography are really going to appeal to Historical Fiction buffs. The whole plots hinges around moral quandaries involving power, colonization, slavery, and drugs.
Also, the characters are pretty good. More plot driven than character driven.
- The Elemental Logic Series (Fire Logic, Earth Logic, Water Logic, forthcoming Air Logic) by Laurie J. Marks
AMAZING High Fantasy fare. These books read like a good meal. I don’t even have words for it, just….you’ll feel what the characters feel when they’re tested to the breaking point and beyond. You’ll love who they love, and need what they need. GLORIOUS DESTINIES tempered by incredible grittiness, and villains you will hate so much it’ll feel like a toothache. One of my very favorites. (NOTE: The cover of Fire Logic is whitewashed. Zanja is a woman of COLOR. I will post the cover of Earth Logic instead.)
Well, that’s what I’ve got for now!
Best way to make me late to work: ask me about books in the morning!
A lovely follower reminded me of a glaring, terrible error I made:
EVERY BOOK BY URSULA K. LEGUIN
ESPECIALLY THE EARTHSEA SERIES
THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS.
THE ANNALS OF THE WESTERN SHORE
And for more Fantasy and Sci Fi written by Women of Color (original list source deactivated):
- Dawn by Octavia Butler
- Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
- Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell
- Mindscape by Andrea Hairston
- Racing the Dark by Alaya Dawn Johnson
- Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara
- The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
- Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
- Half World by Hiromi Goto
- Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
- Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
- The Iron King by Julie Kawaga
- Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
- Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski
- Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe
- Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
- Dualed by Elsie Chapman
- The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
- What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
- Filter House (short stories) by Nisi Shawl
- Huntress by Malinda Lo
- Legend by Marie Lu
- Signal Red by Rimi B. Chatterjee
- The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
- The Island of Eternal Love by Daína Chaviano
- My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
- Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara
And, adding one of my personal favorites:
Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor:
[Begin post you won’t care about a crappy doodle I made during class of an unknown character from an underrated webcomic you don’t read]
Be still my heart.
Would you believe, after three years, my wishes for the character actually became true? I mean, he’s been King since a few pages now but that’s the first glimpse we have of him looking positively regal.
Someone pinch me.