Diversify Your Shelves--"Necessary, Powerful, and True: Diversity in Science Fiction"
Necessary, Powerful, and True: Diversity in Science Fiction--Karen Bao
Imagine this: a hundred years from now, New York and Shanghai are underwater. Climate change and sea level rise have utterly swamped them and other lowland cities. Governments across the world beg their brightest scientists to save humanity from the mistakes they and their ancestors made. But instead, the scientists pool their funding, decide that the rest of the world is beyond saving, and jet off to the Moon and form their own country.
Fastforward another hundred years: Lunar citizens live in fear of their government, which spies on them and restricts their freedoms – all in the name of “protecting” them from both Mother Nature and bitter Earth dwellers. One girl, Phaet, is an aspiring bioengineer with an introverted demeanor and awesome silverstreaked hair. But when her mother gets arrested, she has to uproot her whole life and join the Lunar Militia to keep her little brother and sister from starving.
With so much going on in Dove Arising’s plot and worldbuilding, it would’ve been so easy to skimp on other very, very important things, like including a variety of different people. But I never forgot that the people on the Moon had to reflect the diversity of those on Earth. After all, scientists from all over banded together to colonize the Moon, right? And brilliant minds are attached to people of all different colors, creeds, sexual orientations, abilities, and gender identities. They would have to be in my story for it to make sense.
However, including different identities wasn’t just a matter of consistency. To me, and to a vast majority of readers, it’s personal.
I drafted Dove Arising as a seventeenyearold waiting to hear back from colleges. “You Must Have a Tiger Mom” syndrome was afflicting young AsianAmericans across the country, and I was tired of being stereotyped. At least it was better than what I’d faced when I was younger: racist bullying and threats. I’d once worn Chinese silk clothes to elementary school and gotten pushed in the mud for my efforts. Reading helped me escape, and the books with people who looked like me filled me with a special kind of strength. (Shoutout to An Na here – Wait For Me was one of my favorites.)
When I wrote Phaet, my ChineseLunar protagonist, I gave her a full personality that pegs her as shy, brave, and brilliant first – and Asian second. But I also tied her to her roots. In the Lunar Bases, where the government erases people’s earthen cultural identities in the name of “national unity,” Phaet and her family fight to hold onto things like Chinese myth and stirfry. And they’re not alone: Phaet’s Militia friends also express their roots by having Sanskrit names or wearing curly hair in a natural style despite being told to “keep it neat.”
In a repressive world where difference is feared, diversity is not only beautiful – it is a rebellion on its own. And when readers see themselves in characters, they start believing that they can change their world. Here’s to the hero/ine in all of us.
*This post originally appeared at Diversity in YA, and has been
brought to you thanks to our partner, Cindy Pon!*