A few years ago, Patricia Wrede talked a fair amount on rec.arts.sf.composition about a novel she was writing, "Thirteenth Child". It had megafauna and magic in pioneer America, and sounded very cool. Here's how she described it in one discussion
"The *plan* is for it to be a "settling the frontier" book, only without Indians (because I really hate both the older Indians-as-savages viewpoint that was common in that sort of book, *and* the modern Indians-as-gentle-ecologists viewpoint that seems to be so popular lately, and this seems the best way of eliminating the problem, plus it'll let me play with all sorts of cool megafauna)."
And not one of us said, because I think none of us realised or thought: You can't eliminate a problem by pretending that it doesn't exist. So we carried on talking about renaming Europe
(and, sporadically, about tomatoes) as if Native Americans didn't exist.
Cut to 2009. RaceFail happened and I read a whole lot of links. One was about how "Little House on the Prairie" glosses over the terrible way Native Americans were treated by settlers
like Laura's family. Another was about how Elizabeth Knox's "Dreamhunter", set in a recognisably New Zealand analogue, had no Mäori at all
A couple of weeks, a month? ago "Thirteenth Child" popped into my mind again. Maybe I was looking at her website. And I thought, "Oh, wait a minute. She erased all the Native Americans. That's... not so good...."
And a few days ago Jo Walton reviewed it on Tor.com
, and a bunch of other people said essentially, "She what?" Discussion has ensued there and on various LJs and other blogs
: Updated link]; I really recommend reading at least the Tor.com thread if you don't understand what the problem is, because there are people there who have explained it way better than I can.
So why am I writing this if I'm not going to talk about it?
1) Because... Well, I've known Pat Wrede online for years. Dear friends-list: I'm totally not bashing on her; she's a great person. I like her tremendously, respect her a huge amount, and owe her a mountain for all her writing advice. I know she didn't mean to hurt people; it was out of ignorance and thoughtlessness. But she still wrote what she wrote.
And it wasn't only her ignorance and thoughtlessness. It was mine too
: if I'd known or thought, I could have said something then when there was time to fix it. It was that of all of us on rasfc. I wonder if it was indirectly because even then rasfc wasn't really a comfortable place for people who might have been more clued up and likely to notice and speak out about the problem.
People are asking, in various LJs, "How could no-one in the writing and publishing process have noticed?" And... I don't know how to answer that. And I don't like having been a part of that not-noticing, of that failure. But I have to acknowledge that I was.
2) And because (though I haven't yet, I think, seen this being said in this context) sometimes I see people saying that people who notice this kind of thing are just being oversensitive, reading too much into it, imagining it, making it up, shifting the goalposts, etc. As if the complaints are completely arbitrary.
So I want to testify that they're not made up from whole cloth - otherwise it'd be really odd that I'd come up with the same objection to a book I was predisposed to think highly of independently to a bunch of other people who came up with the same objection. They're not arbitrary. It's even possible for white people to learn how to predict them. Now if white people could just learn how to predict them in time to not publish the mistake....
(Comments are screened due to me still not having time to create a comment policy. I'm going to be asleep, and then at work, but I'll unscreen stuff as I can.)ETA 12/5
: I'm not in future going to unscreen any comments that include a strawman. In particular, comments arguing against a position that no-one has in fact promoted. If you think that what you're arguing against isn't a strawman, then please include a cite for where you got it from. Thanks!