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06 March 2014 @ 05:05 pm
First SFF?  

My friend Kari Sperring (who is one of those writers whose prose just makes me want to weep with envy) has been putting up terrific questions and commentary over on Twitter. Today’s question (which can be followed at the tag #1stSFFReads) is “What was the 1st sff book you read? The 1st by a woman? By a writer of colour?”

As it happens, the first SFF novel I read was *by* a woman: THE CITY UNDER GROUND, by Suzanne Martel. It was published when I was two; I read it when I was six. It made, obviously, a tremendous impression, although I found and re-read it in college and wow there was a lot of religious stuff in it I’d totally forgotten/had totally gone over my head, but aside from that it wasn’t a bad little book. It had an interesting girl character as one of the leads, which was one of the things I remembered from reading it as a child (well, more specifically I remembered that the people in the city under ground were all bald and the girl, who was from above, had red hair :)).

To the best of my knowledge/awareness, the first SFF novel by a person of colour I read was GORGON CHILD, by Steven Barnes, when I was about fourteen. I doubt that I knew the author was black (honestly, I don’t even think I assumed it until he wrote LION’S BLOOD, becauses I have a vague recollection of going hey, I bet this guy is black!), just that the protagonist was, but it’s still the first SFF novel by a person of colour that I’m sure of.

I do know that as a 14(ish) year old white girl in small-town Alaska where almost without exception the people of colour were Native Alaskans (and in Kenai, a great majority of the Natives are kinda gold skinned, blonde haired and blue eyed thanks to so much Russian influence, which makes them not *terribly* visible in a predominantly white community), I bought GORGON CHILD because it had a black person on the cover, rather than shying away from it as apparently book publishers still fear white readers will do.

I’m pretty sure that my thought process was something along the lines of, “Wow, they write fantasy novels with black people in them?!” because the ethnicity of the characters in the books I read had, I suspect, never really crossed my mind. They defaulted to white unless it was something like ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY or ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS (both of which I read before GORGON CHILD but neither of which are SFF), where the protagonist’s ethnicity is put onto the page as not-white. Which is really not how I want to say that, because it really shouldn’t be white by default/exclusionary in that manner, but argh, for huge swaths of fiction it is.

Anyway, this all made me think about what the *last* SFF novels by women and PsOC I’d read were, too. I’m in the middle of reading Michelle Sagara‘s SILENCE, and she’s both, but breaking it out–well, frankly, I’m fine on the reading SFF women front, (the most recent reads were Carrie Harris‘s SALLY SLICK & THE STEEL SYNDICATE and Beth Cato‘s THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (both of which I need to write up commentary on), but the last SFF by a person of color that I finished reading (does it count if you bounce off something?) were Michelle’s CAST IN SORROW and Tobias Buckell‘s magnificent ARCTIC RISING last year. So I could do better on that front.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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Mary Anne: pixelpers1stence on March 6th, 2014 12:30 pm (UTC)
My first sf book was also by a woman - A Wrinkle in Time, at around 7 or 8, given to me by a family friend who is (now) a retired Park Service Ranger. I still have that copy. I think my next several encounters with sff were all male for a long while (CS Lewis, Tolkein, Burroughs). I think the next female genre author was probably Anne McCaffrey. I absolutely could not tell you when I first read any kind of sff by or about persons of color (do Red Martians count as persons of color? and if so, the sexualization of Dejah Thoris seems problematic in retrospect. but I still love those books). I suspect at least some of the characters I read were of color, based on description, but that weren't actually characterized as that shaping their experiences to any substantive degree. and since I don't visualize much, I would be hard pressed to tell you physical details about most any character unless it is shown as having some influence on their perspective.

I need to get around to updating the last couple months of my reading list in Excel (as opposed to the handwritten list I keep in between updates). And then I want to take a look, just for curiosity's sake, at the balance in my reading. I'm pretty sure that my gender-ratios are fairly close for authors, but doubt that the racial-ratio is anything like equal although I've been adding more. as a data nerd, though, I'm curious what it actually looks like.
Alix (Tersa): Autumn Angel (tersa)tersa on March 6th, 2014 12:31 pm (UTC)
Is Narnia counted as SFF? Because that's the first I think I can recall.

About the author of color question though...tbh, I don't pay attention to author ethnicity. For the most part, they're names on paper.

It's an interesting question that it's being posed at all, because it rests on the supposition that readers pay attention to that sort of thing. I think that's expecting more out of readers than actually exists, maybe something the publishing industry doesn't realize because they know the authors intimately. The unwashed masses do not. /hmm
Ellen Million: dragon hoardellenmillion on March 6th, 2014 12:58 pm (UTC)
My first SFF was The Hobbit - I was 5, I think.

First by a woman... er, The Dark is Rising series, or possibly A Wrinkle in Time, not much later.

First by a person of color, I have no idea. I honestly don't know the ethnicity of most of the writers I read, even today.

Heck, I thought Marion Zimmer Bradley was a guy for a while, and was sure CS Lewis was a girl.
Laura Anne Gilmansuricattus on March 6th, 2014 01:06 pm (UTC)
I had to actually THINK about who the last non-white author I read was, because my brain defaults to "Toby" or "Saladin" or "Brenda," etc once I actually KNOW them. But then, it would be Brenda (Clough).

In the days before author photos were common on paperbacks, it was a difficult thing to guess at. I suspect many readers defaulted to the assumption that everyone was white. :-(

I have no idea who the first in any of Kari's question were, although I suspect the first sff was either PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH or something by Lloyd Alexander, because they're old friends I think of as always having BEEN there, with no memory of how we met.

Edited at 2014-03-06 05:08 pm (UTC)
dejladejla on March 6th, 2014 02:27 pm (UTC)
My first sff book was either Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or Andre Norton's Quest Crosstime. I hadn't been reading sff because it seemed to be all about boys, and in my middle school and junior high years I was refusing to voluntarily read anything which had boys but no girls. That was about the same time that I read Ayn Rand, which is, I figure, fantasy. I liked Ursula K. LeGuin much more.

Person of color -- I hate to say this. I have no real idea now unless I read a review or see a picture of the author if they're African-American or not. I have read several things of Samuel Delany's, and of Virginia Hamilton's. If it's a name which seems to be Asian, then I assume, probably out of privilege, that it's an Asian author.

I don't specifically look for books by POCs, but there are certain blogs I check to see what they're reviewing and suggesting to be read, then try to collect those books and read them.
Deborah Blakedeborahblakehps on March 6th, 2014 02:59 pm (UTC)
I think Wrinkle in Time might have been my first too, followed by lots of Andre Norton.

I can't really answer the color question either. Um, Octavia Butler?
khrister on March 6th, 2014 05:26 pm (UTC)
First SFF....either Foundation by Asimov or possibly something by the Swedish author Olof Möller.

First SFF book by a female author...uhmm...ah! It must be either Barbara Hamley, or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. About a fourth of the authors I have books by are female.

First SFF book by a coloured author? I have absolutely no idea, and there's no meme on LibraryThing for listing those authors either.The first "non-white" I can be certain of is Hayao Miyazaki, if Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds counts.
Fighting Crime with a Giant Dandelion Since 2013: Libellula juliapameladean on March 6th, 2014 05:33 pm (UTC)
I was reading F all along, as it were, but the first one that made me kind of sit up and think of it as a genre was Barbara Sleigh's The Kingdom of Carbonel. That's not the first in the series, but it's the first one I read. The first book that made me sit up and think of SF as a genre was an Andre Norton. I am pretty sure it was Star Man's Son, which I got at random from the library, after which I went and checked out All the Andre Norton. So there's my first SF book by a woman as well. The first book by an author of color I read knowingly was Delany'sBabel-17.

Oddly, "last" is much harder to recall. For fantasy, and by a woman, it's the third Fairyland book by Cat Valente. For science fiction, um, gosh, I think that must have been Up Against It, which is also by a woman. I can remember who wrote it but not the pseudonym used. (I checked: it's M.J. Locke.) For author of color, probably Nnedi Okorafor's Zahrah the Windseeker. I read that and a bunch of Nisi Shawl's work at the same time, but I think Zahrah is the more recent for me.

Even more oddly, I actually enjoyed the "last" books as much as the first. The sense of discovery was not quite as great, because I'm not eight or ten any more; but it was pretty spectacular, really. I feel that, in terms of the actual work being written, the genre is in a very good place right now.

P.
khrister on March 7th, 2014 06:00 am (UTC)
Huh. Delany could be the first one for me too, then, even if it's not knowingly. The first confirmed one, at least.
Kate Kirbykirbyk on March 7th, 2014 09:00 am (UTC)
First SFF: The Hobbit, when I was 7. I was told I was too young to read it, so of course devoured it instantly.

First woman: Hmm. Possible Andre Norton (though I had no idea she was a woman at the time.) Oh, Anne McCaffrey was definitely at least early!

First PoC: A surprisingly hard question. I never read Dumas (SFF or historical?) or Delaney, and didn't read Barnes or Butler until I was an adult. It's probably either someone I was totally unaware about, or comics. Let's go with Priest, who did a memorable run on Black Panther in the 90s, and the original Quantum and Woody. (And a lot of Asian folk shortly after that when I discovered manga.)