Hi my dears, I wanted to collect up all the extras for Root of the Spark in one place for future readers so I’m reposting articles from my blog tour on here. This one was originally hosted by Queer Sci Fi and can be found here: https://queerscifi.com/guest-post-root-of-the-spark-by-michele-fogal/. Thanks so much Scott, and the gang at Queer Sci Fi, for hosting me on my tour!
Diversity in SF
I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy, and both were entry points into diversity for me. Historically, SF has always been pushing the envelope of what’s politically and socially appropriate and acceptable. It allows and encourages us to explore the “other,” while making this experience feel fun, safe and ultimately inconsequential. It’s only a story, after all. There are so many examples I could give here, but I’d like to focus on one of my favourites, the work of Lois McMaster Bujold.
My Obsession with Miles!
For me, her Miles Vorkosigan series is a deceptively mainstream, subversive cracking open of our labels, prejudice and identity as humans. She takes Miles, a cis, het, white, male, born not only to wealth, but also to high political and military status (that’s the mainstream part), and she makes him disabled in a way that is highly visible and is widely condemned by his world. In so many ways, he is the super hero of old: half MacGyver, half James Bond. And yet while walking around in his elevator shoes, so that we can feel just that tiny bit less stunted, while still being hopelessly too short, we get to see his world from the underbelly. We see who is getting oppressed and how. We see the lines of power, the injustices, and the cracks in the deeply flawed systems.
I believe that is the gift of diversity that is at the heart of SF. The cultures we are born into create filters in how we see the world, like contact lenses we wear all the time without realizing it. These stories invite us to briefly remove these lenses, and see the world from another perspective. In her commentary, Bujold talks about this series as being (in some ways) an insider look into the world of the bad guys. I blinked a few times, realizing, huh, yes, in her world, I was rooting for people who were within the non-democratic, authoritarian patriarchy. Wow. She shows us a broken cultural machine, and then she shows us the manic, outsider, change-makers who are willing to game the system from the inside, for the good of the many. It’s gorgeous!
Agency and Empowerment
Bujold also explores a yin and yang contrast between the worlds of Beta Colony and Barrayar, and this dichotomy stuck deep in my subconscious and has come out in its own way in my work. I used to fantasize about living on Beta Colony, where everyone was so open minded, egalitarian and gentle, but oddly enough, it makes sense that her stories aren’t set there. Bujold talks about science fiction, at its heart, being an exploration of agency. SF characters are struggling to be empowered enough to do the work of their world. We need more of that! I think she also takes this a step further and focuses not only on independent empowerment, but also on relationships blossoming, and inter-dependence being key to solving problems.
Bel Thorne, I Adore You!
I have an undying love for Miles (of course), but one of Bujold’s LGBT characters in particular stole another a piece of my heart. Bujold adds an irresistible H to the LGBTQQIP2SAA rainbow, with Bel Thorne, a genetic hermaphrodite. This character thrilled me right down to my toes, because they challenged so many assumptions just by living and breathing. Bel stuck with me, and there’s definitely a little Bel pixie dust that has gone into the main character of my latest book, Root of the Spark, Dell (and yes, the name similarity is an intentional homage). Dell is a very different person in a different world, but is also a hermaphrodite, ie both fully male and fully female.
Getting Challenged by my Characters
One amazing thing about writing Dell’s story is that over and over again, readers would slip up and call Dell he or she. It didn’t offend me; I found it fascinating! Each reader would subconsciously make some kind of judgement about Dell’s gender, and it would bubble to the surface as they spoke. I found this happening for me as well, and again and again, Dell would reassert their unique identity as non-binary: as both, and neither, and all genders. Every character teaches me things, but Dell has been a humbling mentor. Stepping inside the skin of another is such a unique, heart-opening experience. Inside stories, we’re able to think and feel in ways that we can’t within our own lives. I think queer characters have so much to show and teach the world, and I think speculative fiction is a vast and delicious dreamscape on which to let diverse stories unfold.
Thanks for all the Fish (and Inspiration!)
I’d like to thank Bujold, and all the brilliant SF writers, reviewers, and readers around the world, for facilitating the opening of hearts and minds. This work and the diversity it represents are more important than ever in our current climate of marginalization and fear.
With love and hope,