At Best A Visitor, At Worst An Interloper

This month’s theme is (obviously) kicking my butt. To say I’m not prepared is a grievous understatement. Every time I see the blog’s homepage, it’s like I’m a vampire and this is my anathema and it has me hissing and scuttling frantically backwards till my rolly-chair tips over.

This lack of preparedness does not, however, keep me from searching for that theme in the books I’m currently reading i.e. books I can’t help but take my time with. Reading themes into books doesn’t always fit, but it leads to some connections that I haven’t made before. Two, in this case.

First, as Farah Mendlesohn pointed out in her talk at UBC, most fantasies with secondary worlds are, by their narrative structure, othering. Typically, these stories follow straight white heroes *cough-white-saviours-cough* who fulfill some kind of strange colonial dream of “discovering” a new world and sorting out its problems for it. I wonder if there are any books where these protagonists go to a different world and are treated the way immigrants of colour are treated in real places. I’m not saying that they cannot be welcomed without being asked/forced to assimilate, but that’s a bit rare, isn’t it? Plus, maybe it’s a one time move. Most immigrants IRL want to move permanently, but in this hypothetical book what if the portal just closed off and the character had no choice but to stay in the fantasy world? What if the character wants to stay in the fantasy world forever, but is treated as a visitor at best and an interloper at worst? I have no idea how these storylines would work without annoying me and making me quit the book, but I am curious …

I may regret it …

and yet …


Honestly, I think I’m mostly curious because I was reading Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown and came to realization number two. If you a person a colour in a country that is perceived to be predominantly white, even if you aren’t an immigrant, even if you are part of the second or third generation of people who have settled in your country of birth, it is possible you may still be seen as an outsider, a guest who may/may not be welcome, depending on the day. In the case of Zacharias, one of the protagonists of Sorcerer to the Crown, who is a black man adopted by a white upperclass family, he was (I think–still only halfway through the book) born and raised in England. He refers to himself as an English gentleman. And yet, most people see him as the reason why the English sorcerers are having a supply problem, because Zacharias is trying to take over using his African sorcery. Obviously. *ahem* It just seems that at some point, no matter what sacrifices you’ve made (or your parents have made), no matter what mannerisms or sayings you learn (or unlearn), something about you will remain undeniably other. Anyway, I am very interested to see how his story progresses, assuming it does progress. (Pleasedon’tdiepleasedon’tdiepleasepleasepleaseplease.) I’ll probably write about it next month, since the book does have a fairyland and–I hope–fairies.

And that’s all my rambling for this week. Sorry for the lack of recommendations this month. Maybe I’ll do a round-up post next week, of books I should have read this month and probably will read at some point?


*sigh* Hope everyone’s doing well.

EDIT: I misspelt Z’s name. Oops. :/

7 responses to “At Best A Visitor, At Worst An Interloper

  1. I’d recommend checking out some of the sci-fi about Mars (and sometimes other planets) being written in the 1940s – a lot of it dealt with the problems inherent to colonialism and the dehumanization of indigenous peoples. Chester Whitehorn’s “The Coming of the Gods” deals with the arrival of the “white” earthmen on Mars from the perspective of an indigenous Martian and the trouble they cause the Martian people despite their benevolent intentions. In “Mists of Mars” by George Whittington, colonists from earth have literally stripped Martians of their humanity (Martians turn out to be descendants of earlier human settlers on Mars; there are no “alien” Martians) so that they can employ them as slave labor; while an ‘outsider’ does come in and save the day, he does so by convincing the Leader of the Martian resistance movement that she would better serve her cause by petitioning the government of Earth with proof that the colonists had lied about the nature of the Martians than she would by having her followers kill the Earth workers and provoke a retaliatory strike by Earth. Also, Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark stories from the late 40s-early 50s are about the adventures of a black swordsman on places like Mars and Venus.

    • Oh, that does sound interesting! If I’m ever in the SF kinda mood–it has been known to happen!–I will def. pick these up. :)

      • The Leigh Brackett stories are free and in the public domain and can be found on The others may be a bit more challenging.

        The last few days I’ve been toying with the idea of putting together a fully illustrated “Adventures for Young Boys and Girls” edition of the Stark stories; I’ve been finding that the Pulps are filled with exciting and diverse heroes & heroines and things that would be considered “progressive” today, like action heroines, non-white protagonists, and even interracial couples, that were pretty common place and often not even remarked upon within the stories as being exceptional… because they were everywhere in the 40s!

  2. I would like to see the immigrant experience explored more in fantasy too. Like Cirsova, I encounter it more in SF. I recommend Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘Four Ways to Forgiveness’, which has two fantastic novellas about an exile and a historian on another planet. Immersion by Aliette de Bodard is a sublime short story which explores assimilation:

    I have a copy of The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, which I haven’t read yet but it explores a society whose home planet is destroyed. They try to live with a distantly related humanoid society and cultural clashes ensue. I also haven’t read Dawn by Octavia E. Butler yet but it explores the last surviving humans who try to assimilate with aliens in order to survive.

    As for fantasy that touches upon assimilation, I just finished reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s set in post-apocalyptic Sudan and Onyesonwu is an Ewu which is basically a term for the despised children of two different races. She tries to fit into another tribe’s customs but constantly faces prejudice – even from her friends at times and she calls them out on it. Onyesonwu discovers what it is like to assimilate in other tribes too. It’s also a really great book that subverts the trope of the chosen one. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin explores assimilation in the context of slavery and earth-related powers.

    In the Sea is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia, ‘The Chamber of Souls’ by ZM Quynh, explores assimilation in a floating sky-world from the perspective of a Vietnamese refugee. Olivia Ho’s ‘Working Woman’ follows characters who have been forced to migrate in Singapore.

    • Okay, I love all these recs. I am gonna start with Aliette de Bodard’s work first, maybe? I’ve been wanting to read her stuff for so long! Thank you for taking the time to type all this out! <3

      • I really like Aliette de Bodard’s stuff. The House of Shattered Wings would also fit the them too, now that I think about it. Looking forward to thoughts on Sorcerer to the Crown – I enjoyed it but Zacharais’ situation is definitely an isolating one.

  3. I’m gonna be completely honest: I clicked on this because of A+++ gif usage. I kept reading for the perspective on Fantasy. I don’t read it often enough and when I manage to pick something up I feel a bit like I’ll be arrested for trespassing. I imagine part of the difficulty of writing fantasy is introducing your world to people outside of your head.

    Anyway, I have to switch up my TBR a bit. Right now it’s buried in Agatha Christie and nonfiction.

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