The Subversive Notion of True Equality
Social issues and politics are nearly impossible for us to escape, even—or maybe especially—in entertainment. Even far-future singularity sci-fi and fantastical epic fantasy often contain overtones of commentary or condemnation on the state of modern society.
The science fiction writing community, like many professions, has struggled with issues of discrimination of late. The SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) has spent the last year embroiled in controversy surrounding accusations of sexism, complete with resignations, protests, and internet petitions. There’s probably even a meme or two for it.
Personally, I do not know nearly enough about the history or details to express an opinion on the matter, and you won’t be able to torture one out of me. As a woman writing in a male-dominated field, it would be so easy for me to climb up on a righteous soapbox of feminism or anti-feminism, of social justice or injustice. If I ever do so, someone please yank me down?
I read fiction for enjoyment. I don’t appreciate a book pausing the action to devolve into a political screed or to beat me over the head about an injustice of the author’s (or what in many cases feels like the Big 5 publisher’s) choice, and I have quit reading more than one book on account of it.
STARSHINE is not intended to be a political novel—far from it, in fact. I intended it to be a novel about space, adventure, romance, family, intrigue, conspiracy and more. Most of all I intended it to be a novel about people—at their most beautiful and magnificent and at their darkest and most despairing. But in doing so, it’s possible I inadvertently wrote the most political non-political book I could. Upon finishing the book, someone said to me,
“This may be the most subversive novel I have ever read—because it dares the reader to judge each character on their individual worth, irrespective of gender, race, sexuality, wealth, profession or any other category we love to place people in.”
I can’t say whether such a notion makes the book ‘subversive’ or even whether it makes it political, but I can say, yes, STARSHINE dares exactly that.
The traits which make Alex wonderful, as well as the ones which make her flawed, are unique to her as a person—her genetic makeup, experiences and upbringing, her singular existence in this universe—and can’t be correlated to the fact she’s female. She’s a heroine due to who she is, not in spite of nor because of the fact she’s a woman. Her gender never enters into the equation for her personally; hopefully it does not for the reader either.
In STARSHINE, you will find good women and bad women, tough women and weak women, each one tough or weak in their own particular way. You will find good men and bad men, tough men and weak men, each just as unique. There are military personnel who are honorable, and those who are corrupt; the same goes for the criminals, politicians and businesspeople. Many of the people you meet fall at neither extreme, but rather are a complex tangle of motivations and propensities, much like in real life.
One of the major POV characters is African-American—do you know which one? If you do, perhaps I haven’t done my job well enough. I know the skin color of this character because I created detailed profiles on every POV character before I wrote the first word. In the novel, characters’ physical appearances are described to a greater or lesser extent as fits the narrative. Because this person’s skin color never became relevant to the story, it never found its way onto the page. I honestly didn’t even realize it until my husband expressed mild surprise when he reviewed the character sheets while helping me edit. Another POV character is Asian; can you guess who? (Other than Mia, who Alex describes as having ‘vaguely Asian features.’)
Another of the major POV characters, Richard Navick, is homosexual. It’s far from his defining characteristic; he simply happens to be so. Readers hunting for subtext might suggest that in having Richard be gay I’m making a grand political statement that homosexuals can succeed in the military—or even the possibly more inflammatory statement that a gay man can be platonic best friends with another man (in this case, David Solovy). My purpose in making Richard homosexual was not to assert either of these things. Do I assert them? Sure, why not? I happen to believe them, but that’s neither here nor there nor the point.
My actual reason for having Richard be homosexual was far more practical and plot-driven. Early on in the writing process, I grew concerned that readers were likely to get distracted wondering about the true nature of Miriam Solovy and Richard’s relationship—whether it was sexual in nature, and if it wasn’t, whether it would become so. In focusing on that detail they might miss out on what I was hoping to convey as the most important aspect of their relationship: a deep and lasting friendship built on mutual respect and a lifetime of experiences together (including the loss of someone precious to them both).
Richard’s sexuality and other personal relationships hadn’t yet come into play, so it was easy enough to give him a husband instead of a wife. And that was the end of it. The change did not otherwise affect his character in any way—which I suppose may be another of those inadvertent political statements.
The truth is, it very well may be impossible to keep one’s personal beliefs and perspective on the world out of one’s writing.
Some of the people who inhabit the world of Aurora Rising likely carry around various prejudices and even bigotries; they may judge others based on the color of their skin, the price of their clothes, the nature of their genitals or who they enjoy them with—on what they are rather than who they are. Others likely believe they deserve special treatment, allowances and dispensation for the same reasons.
In telling their stories, however, I did not pre-judge them. I discovered them, knew them and lived them as the individuals they are, to whatever end. I suppose that means I’m daring the reader to do the same.
And maybe that is a little subversive.