A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for some good urban fantasy written by a person of color or an indigenous person.
Luckily, Daniel José Older has it covered. I’m grateful that he has started an ongoing list of writers of color in the urban fantasy genre. In the immediate, it helped me with one of the tasks for the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read the first book in a series by a person of color.
I decided early on that I’m adapting this challenge to read only books written by authors of color. For some of the tasks, that’s been easy. For some others, not so much (“Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness”).
But that’s part of what I’ve been challenging myself to do with the books I’m reading. I feel like I’ve become a lazy reader. Even as I type that, I feel my younger self look at me with scorn and I hang my head in shame. As a child, teenager and young adult, I devoured all kinds of reading material.
When I was in graduate school, one of my best friends got me into reading romance novels as a way to give my brain some relief from reading academic texts related to my area of study. It was a good tip; romance had never been a genre that I read a lot of. Now, I have read so much romance, I could probably produce a romance review blog.
These past few months/years have been crunk. So I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels. It’s not the only thing I’ve been reading, and even if it was the only genre, that would be OK.
But considering that this is my #YearOfYes, I’m trying to break out of the boxes that I often impose upon myself. And let’s get real: Mount To-Be-Read was getting mighty high. Like all bibliophiles, I see nothing wrong with buying books and having no “sit down and read this” date in sight.
Now I’m finally at a point where I want to carve out the time to immerse myself in new worlds like I used to. I want to discover new writers.
And the list by Daniel José Older has given me so many new writers to explore. For my challenge, I ended up going with Greg Van Eekhout‘s California Bones, a book which John Scalzi summarizes as a “cannibal magic Ponzi scheme:”
As an adult reader, when I think of urban fantasy books, I think of Guilty Pleasures, the inaugural book in the Anita Blake series written by Laurell K. Hamilton. I’ll have to write another post at another time to talk about what I think happened to that series over time and why I stopped reading it a long time ago, but suffice it to say, California Bones gave me a very different landscape than Guilty Pleasures did. And I’m so appreciative.
I’d like to think that people of color and indigenous people bring something different to urban fantasy novels, which, despite being fantasy, often reproduce the same busted ass racial, gender and sexual politics that we deal with in the “real world.”
This is not to say that just because a black or a brown person picks up a pen – or turns on the computer, as it were – and writes a story, that it automatically becomes a treatise on social justice. Or that it needs to be. However, it’s great to see fantasy and speculative fiction stories told through the lenses of different lived experiences. It’s great AND necessary.
Where would I have been as a teenager if I hadn’t picked up Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind and fallen in love with Butler and with the story of Mary, “a young ghetto telepath?” I don’t know if anyone ever labeled Mind of My Mind as urban fantasy, but I tend to think of it that way. It was urban fantasy before we had a name and a genre and genre conventions to go along with it. We need the Tananarive Dues, the L.A. Banks and the Daniel José Olders. We also need the people whose names aren’t on any list anywhere, writing stories that, like California Bones, take a theme like a heist, and flip it on its head. We need them – us – in order to trouble the genres and sometimes disrupt them altogether.
So I’ll be reading the rest of Greg Van Eekhout’s Daniel Blackland trilogy. And I’ll be reading, per the Read Harder challenge, a nonfiction book about science and a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years. And a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel.
All written by people color. Because, reasons.
I’ll let you know how it goes.