Certainly, science fiction has its own tropes, and a bad space opera is just as derivative as a bad dungeon crawl. But one thing science fiction seems to be better at than fantasy is gender inclusion and, to a lesser extent, racial diversity. I think this is because a lot of us base our fantasy worlds, consciously or not, on actual historical locations and cultures. To what extent should this limit us?
After reading Saladin’s piece, I took a look at my current project and realized that while the parts I have set in the modern day are fairly racially diverse, the parts I have set in Fantasyland (which I had imagined as roughly commensurate with Northern Ireland) were not. At all.
I had already been aware of trying to include a diverse range of women characters in the book, which is probably something I see missing from a lot of fantasy because I’m a woman. But now I’m taking another look at my assumptions about my setting. Just because I’ve decided to base the geography, or the style of dress, or certain phrases of borrowed language on an existing culture doesn’t mean that I’m locked into every aspect of that existing culture for my fantasy setting. Why shouldn’t there be a diversity of races in Northern Ireland Derivative? The more I play with the idea of race (wouldn’t you be more inclined to trust someone who resembled a trusted friend or a dead lover?), the more I think that I’ve been unconsciously limiting myself.
I don’t have to play in Tolkien’s sandbox, or Martin’s. Identifying and questioning my own assumptions is the best way to find a world that’s truly my own.