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.