Back in 2004, the Syfy (back then “The SciFi Channel“) released a miniseries “adaptation” of Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Earthsea trilogy, titled Legend of Earthsea.
The main cast was entirely white, except for the character Ogion, who was played by Danny Glover (and apparently some spear-wielding primitives). The problem with that isn’t just that there is a gross lack of diversity in the series (which is a completely legit problem on its own, and one that plagues science fiction entertainment today).
The problem was that the series was based on books in which the majority of the characters were brown or black… (except for a people made up of brutish, war-hungry white men). The main character was described as “red-brown” and his best friend as just straight up “black”.
Somewhere this got conveniently “lost” in translation. Numerous readers (of every hue– I mean, the books freaking sold over a million copies!) were seriously miffed about many of the liberties taken in the series, and the lovely Ms. Le Guin stood up on the soap box herself and took SyFy to town in an article on Slate.
And boy did she lay down the law!
The first book of the EarthseatrilogyA Wizard of Earthsea was published on September 13th, 1968– 46 years ago today. So to commemorate this dope series, and her-geeky-outsiderness Ursula K. LeGuin, here are some of the gems from the magnificent shade she threw at the SciFi Channelsome 10 years ago:
“I had been cut out of the process. And just as quickly, race, which had been a crucial element, had been cut out of my stories. In the miniseries, Danny Glover is the only man of color among the main characters (although there are a few others among the spear-carriers). A far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned.”
“My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?”
“I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for “young adults”) might not identify straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees—hoping that the reader would get “into Ged’s skin” and only then discover it wasn’t a white one.”
“Gradually I got a little more clout, a little more say-so about covers. And very, very, very gradually publishers may be beginning to lose their blind fear of putting a nonwhite face on the cover of a book. “Hurts sales, hurts sales” is the mantra. Yeah, so? On my books, Ged with a white face is a lie, a betrayal—a betrayal of the book, and of the potential reader.”
“I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don’t notice, don’t care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being “colorblind.” Nobody else does.”
The best part of the article, though, and one of her best points, is that many readers of color wrote to her and let her know how important it was to them to feel included and see themselves represented as heroes in a genre that neglects them to an astonishing degree.
Race-bending characters in adaptations is really cool and can be really interesting. But in a genre (ahem… and an entire entertainment world) where characters of color are completely absent or never get to play hero, it’s something entirely different to take the color out of the picture…
The award is formally known as the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, awarded by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of Americafor ‘lifetime achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy.’ Samuel Delany was the 2013 winner, and he’s in good company, with former winners including Isaac Asimov,Ursula K. LeGuin, Connie Willis, and Harlan Ellison.
With two Hugo awards and four Nebula awards under his belt, there’s no doubt that Delany has well-earned recognition as a master of science fiction. Still, on winning the award, he humbly paid homage to the masters before him who deserve recognition:
“It recalls to me–with the awareness of mortality age ushers up–the extraordinary writers who did not live to receive it: Roger Zelazny, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Octavia E. Butler–as well, from the generation before me, Katherine MacLean, very much alive. I accept the award for them, too: they are the stellar practitioners without whom my own work, dim enough, would have been still dimmer.” (via. SFWA)
If you don’t already know Samuel Delany’s work (and you’re looking for some of the most mind-blowing science fiction out there), you best get started. Here’s where we recommend you start:
Dhalgren – One of his most difficult and most well-known works, Dhalgren follows the adventures of a young poet named Kid as he ventures into the heart of an American city run wild with poverty, criminality, violence, and insanity. As with many of his works, Dhalgren tackles issues of race, gender, class, and social inequality head on. It’s not the most accessible of his works, but the brain work is worth it, and worth the many rereads you’ll want to invest in.
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand– Two words. Space. Dragons. And if that doesn’t do it for you there’s a lot more awesome where that came from… This novel is a trip, like literally a trip… through a space crowded with the wildest of beings, and Delany gets into the grit and details of different cultures, traditions, and tongues, a universe full of peoples of different shapes, sizes, talons, and eating habits all struggling to survive and cope with the inconceivable massiveness and diversity of a universe consisting of thousands upon thousands of populated planets, peoples, and information. Forget world-building, this is universe-building. So if you’d rather wait on the tough stuff like Dhalgren, you can’t go wrong with Star in My Pocket.
Last week brought us lots of Geeky Outsidery awesome. So, we decided to consolidate it all into one giant post of awesome to get your geek on and week started off right. Happy Sunday!
Gotta headline with this week’s best news! Amandla Stenberg, that dope actress who played Rue in the Hunger Games, will be joining the cast of SleepyHollow! After a less-than-awesome (read, horribly racist) experience after her Hunger Games debut, it puts a huge smile on the geek gods faces to see this great tiny actress join a diverse cast on a fun show with an awesome dynamic Black female lead. Win.
Speaking of winning, Marvel gave us the gift of a new badass superhero. The teenage shapeshifter from Jersey will be debuting in her own title series as the new Ms. Marvel in February 2014! Real name Kamala Khan, this young new superhero grew up in Jersey but has Pakistani roots and joins the ranks of the few Muslim superheroes in mainstream comics! Written by G. Willow Wilson, Khan made her first appearance in last week’s Captain Marvel #17(yep. Go get it!). (via CBR)
Awesome freelance artists (and video game industry professionals!) Audran Guerard and Daniel Roy had the beautiful idea to put together a graphic novel adaptation of the life of Frederick Douglass. Based on his two biographies The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Novelwill be published as two 50-page volumes featuring some beautiful watercolor art. Support ’em (and dibs a copy!) on Kickstarter.
Marvel is bringing Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones to the small screen! Specifically, they signed a deal with Netflix for four separate new live-action TV series, one for each of the characters. And here’s the dope – these four shows will lead to a team-up in a miniseries for TheDefenders! (via IGN)
Awesome writer and fan Imogen Binnie got us all geektastic when she pointed out this genius match-up. And it’s basically undeniable. Not only does Mr. Heist, Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan’s subversive revolution-inciting novelist, bear an uncanny resemblance to the legendary Sam Delany, but also…
Both Mr. Heist and our (cyclops-deprived) universe’s own Sam Delany are masters of ideas, using the “low brow” genres to examines big ideas about social justice. And…
Okay, so, maybe besides the awesome beard, the resemblances stop there (as far as we know, Mr. Delany has never had an alcohol problem or threw up on babies)… but, bad first impressions aside, if Mr. Heist is in anyway inspired by the one and only Sam Delany, the Saga-verse just got that much doper. And just when you thought it was impossible to fan-crush on Saga any harder. Oh yeah, did we mention issue #15 is out this week?
Acclaimed author, rabid reader, and library lover, Ray Bradbury passed away on June 5th last year. Bradbury’s books were life-changing for many reader’s but it was his infectious joy for life that made admirers of many.
“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.
So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.”
Graphic India, a an India-based entertainment company dedicated to bringing comics and stories to Indian youth, launched its YouTube channel last week with a motion comic by veteran comics writer Grant Morrison and artists JeevanJ.Kang. Based on the Eastern epic The Mahabaharata,Morrison’s18 Days is a moderned telling of the 18 days of battle described in the classic story.
Episode 1 launched last week in English, Hindi, and Tamil. Now up to episode 4, each episode is approximately 5 minutes long and beautifully beautifully dabs the famous text with a science fiction flavor. Jeevan Kang’s art perfectly captures this blend of modern fantasy and historical mysticism.
Don’t be too put off my the android-like monotone of the narrator in Episode 1, you get a relief from it in the following episodes when the history lesson is over and the real action begins with a host of protagonists and baddies.
Graphic India has a host of other comics and stories, featuring big names in comics and introducing heroes that bring the Indian experience to this dynamic medium. For Free Comic Book Day this year, Graphic India partnered with comics superstar Stan Lee to produce the comic Chakra, The Invinciblethe story of a young boy from Mumbai with the technical supergenius to create a suit that activates the Chakras of the body to unleash superpowers. Through other partnerships, the company has produced comics like Ramayan 3392AD, the epic story of Rama set 2000 years in the future and featuring art by Powers’ creator Michael Oeming; and Devi, a modern take on the ancient myth of the warrior goddess Devi.
This weekend geeks have double the cause to celebrate! Not only is Geek Pride Day May 25th, but we also have Memorial Day to celebrate this Monday. What does geekery have to do with Memorial Day you ask? Well…
Memorial Day is about honoring the men and women who have risked and sacrificed their lives to defend ours throughout history and today. Whether you’re a comics fan, a gamer, or an avid science fiction geek, you’re familiar with the idea.
Military heroes are everywhere in geek culture. They’re the heroes we play in shooters; they’re the nameless enemies we kill in tabletop battles; they’re who we root for in science fiction shows like Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and Stargate. Many of our beloved superheroes were non-powered heroic military men and women first – Captain America, Nick Fury, Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart, and Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel), to name a few. Others represent military values — honor, duty, service, loyalty, courage, sacrifice.
The armed forces motif in games, comics and and sci-fi is wide-spread and variously contentious, ignored, and/or celebrated in different geek mediums. Video games are usually criticized for inculcating violent behaviors in youth, science fiction is alternately praised and damned for its tendency to create either laudatory or critical allegories of our own real wars, and in many popular comics where soldiers become superheroes and superheroes become soldiers we idolize the military hero model.
For example, in The Avengers, war hero Captain America and his crew of super-powered patriots answer the government’s call to defend America from threats alien, mutant, and otherwise. There are, of course, many comics that criticize war and the military, like AlanMoore‘s TheWatchmen which takes a critical look at the Vietnam War in particular and calls to attention the relationship between superheroes and war in comic books. Truth: Red, White, and Blackby Robert Morales and Kyle Baker looks at another troubling aspect of war, re-examing the story of CaptainAmerica‘s origin and through the lens of the real-life medical experimentation on American heroes at Tuskegee.
There are plenty of comics, games, and sci-fi shows that steer clear of battlefields and infantries, nonetheless it’d be difficult to deny that war and armed forces are pervasive in geek entertainments. War and soldiers have been a part of American comic books since their inception in the early 1930’s. The war effort itself used comic books to boost support and recruitment. So what is that about? What’s the deal with geeks and soldiers? Geekery and war?
Gerard Jones’s in his 2004 book Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Bookoffers an interesting answer. Jones takes a look at the inventors of the comic book medium, the majority of whom were young Jewish men, the children of Jewish immigrants, whose adult lives were sandwiched between two major wars. Two of these young men Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegelcreated the ultimate outsider, the alien do-gooder Kal-El, who would go on to become one of America’s most iconic superheroes Superman. Shuster and Siegel and cultural outsiders like them claimed a place for themselves in American culture with ink and paper, creating heroes that would come to be definitively American — an American mythos born out of a need to belong.
Given comics and comics fans’ dedication to legacy and continuity, it’s no wonder that war and military heroes remain a strong motif in comics and comics-inspired stories in film and tv today.
Both the outsider foundations of superheroes and the context of war and military heroes as icons in geek narratives is something we must keep in mind when we discuss/rage/ponder the lacking or mis- representation of women and minorities geek culture. These contexts show us the power of these mediums to influence inclusiveness and represent the values and people that we consider American, and particularly who we consider heroes. Women, people of color and people of various faiths who have served in our real-world wars have been marginalized and often forgotten by history. And this has been reflected in comics, sci-fi, and games. With heroes like Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel,comics in particular reflected the woman heroes who joined the war effort in the 40s and made sweeping social gains, but despite their service in American armed forces throughout history, heroes of color remained and remain largely absent from comics until much later.
Science fiction, however, was telling stories of war long before comic books hit the scene, presenting science based fantasies as early as the 17th century, and finding it’s real footing in the early 19th century with books like Mary Shelley‘s Frankensteinand Edwin AbbotAbbot‘s Flatland. And war settled itself into the genre’s mold in the beginnings as well with the likes of H.G. Wells‘s War of the Worldsin 1898 depicting, almost prophetically, a new, more ruthless face of war through the story of an alien invasion of Great Britain, the dominate military power of the time. Many science fiction stories then and today deal with topics like class, space exploration, technology, often, though not always, in the context of war or apocalypse. Though science fiction inspired the creators of comics like Shuster and Siegel, today the two mediums both inform and inspire stories between them and in video games. Science fiction engages in much more analysis and commentary regarding war, but, like the innovators of comics, science fiction’s heroes are often outsiders who find a place for themselves through battle. This outsider turned patriot and hero theme clearly speaks to the geeky outcast ranks. Sci-fi isn’t all about war and military heroes, but there is much to be said about the vast world of sci-fi by much smarter people than me.
cover of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Superman: War of the Worlds #1 (1999) by Michael Lark
Taking much of their inspiration from science fiction and superhero mythologies, from Space Invaders to Mass Effect, video games are the geeky art form most entwined with military themes. Shooters, MMOs, RPGs… So many of the popular games are about being the heroic leader and going out there and bravely killing thousands of the other side’s foot soldiers. And this engrossing medium takes the outsider attraction to such heroism to a whole new level by putting the player in control, thereby deepening the connection of the player to the hero. It’s a world where death is temporary and ammo is endless. Understandably games that offer the action, adventure, heroism, really cool weapons, and clear goal of war, minus the traumatic consequences of real-life war, would be appealing to anyone bored by the social strictures or outcast by social norms and tensions.
Whether criticizing, evaluating, honoring, or romanticizing militarism, geek history is very much entwined with wars (real and imagined), the men and women who fight them, and the youth who grew up in wartime. At a time when we are fighting wars in the Middle East, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, we’re living in an increasingly diverse country, and fear is rampant, the escapism, fantasy, and heroism offered by geeky art forms has obvious appeal much as it has in the past. The question is what is the role of this legacy in geek culture today?