Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things on My Reading Wishlist
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This is my first time participating in it, but I’ve been following them for quite a while and definitely recommend checking them out. This week’s list is things I, as a reader, would like to see (or see more of). Authors take note.
TOP TEN THINGS ON MY READING WISHLIST
1. Genre-bending, or period pieces that aren’t so period piecy
Okay, so love, comedy, crime, drama, etc are not exactly new. Yet somehow period pieces are always stuck being period pieces. Fantasy is stuck being fantasy. Sci-fi is all about sci-fi. But why? History was made up of ordinary people doing ordinary things. For every Alanna and Aragorn there are a thousand people in Tortall or Middle Earth not saving the world. Our literature should start exploring that. Why can’t we have a buddy comedy set in the Roman Empire? Just a couple of dumb Roman teenagers on their gap year picking up Gaulish chicks (or failing to pick up Gaulish chicks) and getting into wacky hijinks along the way. Why not a Law & Order style crime drama in 9th century Iceland? I mean, Vikings were way into law and half their sagas are about outlaws anyway. Why not a straight family drama in a secondary world fantasy setting? Or an indie comedy in a Sci-Fi dystopia? A spy thriller set in, well, pick an empire, any empire. Spies aren’t exactly a new thing, no matter how entrenched they are in the Cold War in our psyche. Think outside the genre, guys. There’s a whole world of possibilities out there. And I really can’t express how much I want to make that buddy comedy.
2. More dystopias where people aren’t weirdly aware of how dystopian it is
While we like to look back on real world dictatorships or regrettable periods in our history and pretend everyone totally knew it was bad and they were all waiting for [insert figure reviled in his time but beloved by history] to make it right, that’s not always how history went down. While those directly oppressed or effected may be much more aware, people don’t tend to have such a clear-cut awareness of the various ways in which their society is problematic (or, if so, to what extent it is flawed). The dictators don’t always slather buildings in Nazi-style red banners or have sinister facial hair or kick puppies or any number of other tropes seen far too often in sci-fi/dystopian literature. I’m not saying everyone is programmed to think the world they live in is 100% awesome, but too many characters have an objective or black-and-white opinion more akin to someone looking at a society in retrospect or through outside comparison than from within it. This goes double for isolated societies. It’s harder to know what about your society is screwed up when it’s the only thing you’ve ever known. This is not to say that your characters can’t take issue with things or even vehemently oppose/resist them, but the world should feel “normal” to its characters, even if normal doesn’t mean they approve. They can complain and rail against it all they choose, but characters should not balk at concepts as foreign or shocking if they are standard practise in their society. For example, Pride and Prejudice shows frustrations with a patriarchal system and need for marriage that are authentic to the time and culture, Disney’s Aladdin less so.
3. The historically accurate chapter after every fantasy novel’s happy ending
Most revolutions fail. So, you’ve overthrown Baron Von Sinister, Overlord Mage of Evil Despotism. Great. Now there’s a power vacuum. And some serious reconcilaition and reconstruction to do. After studying the spectacular failure of most revolutions (particularly the futility of the French Revolution), I had the realization that nearly fantasy novel I’d ever read featured a similarly naive revolution that didn’t exactly leave a new, stable order in place of the old regime. Statistically, these revolutions can’t all end in a lifetime of stability and prosperity. So, while the story ends with the coronation or the victory or the one true king being placed on the throne, three months later, or even three years later, half of those fantasy worlds should be engulfed in war or political chaos again. Yes, some fantasy books or series such as George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire do address this and Legend of the Seeker began to explore it in season two before dropping that arc for the much less interesting zombies/Devil’s bid for power (I don’t know how it’s handled in the books and YES, I know I’m a heathen and I need to read them), but, statistically speaking, this should be the rule, not the exception. Most Chosen Ones should wind up dethroned by a dissenting faction, ripped limb from limb by angry peasants, killed by barbarian hordes, or (in true Napoleon style) turning into as much of a megalomaniac as they guy they overthrew (or even a way worse or way crazier one). In fact, I got so tired of not seeing this that I had to write it. Shameless plug, I know, but the Amazing Grace books told me to write what I wanted and wasn’t seeing.
4. More women written as people
Seriously. They’re not mystical unicorns. If you have trouble writing women, try talking to more women in a platonic, normal manner. You may find that they’re actually people under all that X-chromosome. Female characters should be relatable to most men the way male characters are to most women. Think of them first and foremost as people and as individuals.
5. More women
Not every story has to feature women. For example, stories set in all boys’ boarding schools, various militaristic settings (depending on historical setting), or men’s prisons can and should be man-centric stories. However, I do want some evidence that women exist and are something approaching half the population (unless that’s the point of your womanless post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel, X: The Last Woman). Women make up roughly 17% of movie characters, when they’re more like 52% of the real world population. That’s just not representative of reality. This is crucial in a secondary world or futuristic setting as worldbuilding should include some reference to women, their lives, and their involvement. Unless this planet/kingdom/whatever is populated entirely by men who reproduce via budding, give me some evidence that women occupy or even help shape this world, community, or sphere of existence.
6. More interracial couples where it isn’t the point of the story
Again, this is somewhat contingent on time/setting, although interracial relations/relationships were often more common than we’re sometimes led to believe. However, in modern-day America, 1 in 6 relationships are interracial. I don’t know the statistics for other countries, but we live in an increasingly globalized and mobile world. Our fiction should reflect our reality, without it having to be the focus of the narrative or a big deal. Same goes for same-sex couples.
7. More interracial couples that pass the Terra Nova Test
Okay, to start, I love Terra Nova. It was a great show. I’m still sad it didn’t get a second season. And I LOVED that it had more interracial couples and mixed race characters than typically seen. However, as the series went on I realized that every interracial couple was white dude, non-white woman. Similarly, of the three Shannon children, the two girls look like their non-white mother, but the boy is blue-eyed with white skin. While many mixed race people have light skin or light eyes or appear caucasian, this casting choice reinforced the increasingly uncomfortable message that only a certain type of exogamy is acceptable and that male main characters still need to be white guys. This is not unique to Terra Nova. It’s everywhere. Men are allowed to marry out because exoticism, but when women do it still freaks people out because xenophobia. I’ve talked about this before as it bothers me. Sorry if I’m a broken record, but this needs to change, even if it takes a conscious effort to do so. Thus, I have coined the term Terra Nova Test as a shorthand for whether or not a movie/TV show/book/etc reinforces this problematic trend or not. Note: the racial make-up involved can be changed to fit other cultures/countries/time periods. Tensions around exogamy v. endogamy are hardly new or unique to my own society.
8. More mixed race characters
See #6. Mixed race is the fastest growing group on the US census. Our literature should reflect that in an authentic, nonexploitative way. It can sometimes be a challenge to get across that a character, particularly a minor character or a character in a short story constrained by time, is mixed race in a way that comes up naturally, as there are less shorthands for the reader to take cues from without explicitly stating a character’s ethnic background, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Once again, this is a pet peeve in speculative fiction. For example, if your post-apocalyptic or secondary world society has been cut off from the rest of the world for X number of generations, it should be pretty ethnically homogenous by now. Avoid the inexplicable one black family of the City of Ember movie (Is there some sort of Targaryen situation going on there?) or the weird tokenism of having one minority character per town seen in Legend of the Seeker (Where do they come from? Does someone distribute them?). And, while we’re on the subject, please, please, please don’t bring in another minority character for the sole purpose of being a romantic partner for the one existing minority character (see Legend of the Seeker and Young Justice).
9. More “modern” realities in fantasy/sci-fi or historical fiction
There are a lot of things we think of as modern that have existed pretty much since the dawn of humanity. This is why I LOVE A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. It has dwarfism, dyslexia, mental illness, illness, abortion (albeit less overtly stated), seizures (although those are supernatural in nature), national debt, and all manner of things that have always existed but are all too often erased from history or left out of historical/speculative fiction. And, while some people like to pretend that homosexuality appeared in the 1960s, many a historical figure begs to differ. Both Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey address this, but it really should be more common. Once again, LGBTQ people should exist in fiction and can exist without it being the focus. Yes, they may be closeted due to the culture/time period, but they still should exist. I would, however, just say to be careful projecting our terms, concepts, and assumptions onto the past or onto other cultures, as they may have different attitudes towards sexuality, sexual identity, or gender expression.
10. Anything with okapi
Okapi are awesome. Why are there no okapi in books? I mean really, they’re like giraffes with zebra print leggings. What more do you need? Google them. Are they not amazing? They’re also the patron animal of cryptozoology because Europeans believed they were mythological (and sometimes unicorns) until some crazy British guy dedicated his life to proving their existence. He died without ever finding a live one, but his name lives on in these magnificent, quirky beasts. Writers and illustrators, get on this.
Now excuse me as I ride my okapi into a well-written, multi-ethnic, genre-bending world of developed female characters, politically unstable fantasy kingdoms, and realistic dystopias.