What’s universal? An informal survey.

ETA: Time’s up! Comments closed. Will post summary/moar thinkythoughts soon, though prob’ly not ’til I’ve escaped Deadline Hell on Dreamblood revisions.

This great post over at the Rejectionist on the African American fiction section in bookstores made the rounds on Twitter yesterday, so I’m signal-boosting it here. You might remember that this is a subject near and dear to my heart, as well as my career. In that post I mentioned that I would eventually get around to tackling the subject of universality. …But this is not that post.

Because I need some data, first. This is not an attempt to do a serious survey, of course; I have neither the money nor the time to do it right. But since it seems to me that things like the African American fiction section derive from a manifest belief that black writers* are producing something that no one but black readers could possibly want to see, and that in fact even being black makes our work less palatable to others (note the Rejectionist’s point about white authors who write black protagonists not getting shelved in the AA section)… then we need to figure some stuff out.**

Here’s what I want to know: what do you think of as universal themes, plot points, and characters? That’s a bit nebulous, so I’ll use myself as a guinea pig again, and target this question toward people who’ve read either The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, or both. And I’ll narrow down the question with some specifics:

  1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
  2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
  3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
  4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
  5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
  6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
  7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
  8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
  9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
  10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?

Some ground rules: Answer any or all of these, as you see fit. Please confine your comment to answering the questions, however; this is a survey, not a conversation. I’ll put up a followup post where we can talk about the results, in a few days. Please don’t comment on anyone else’s comments — I’ll delete anything like that that gets posted. To get honest answers, I’m going to encourage those of you who are so inclined to post anonymously or pseudonymously (just use a fake email addy) in the comments. I am not going to turn off IP checking/logging, however, because there are some folks I’ve already banned from commenting here and that’s the only way I can keep them off. I really don’t care who you are, I assure you — but if you have a problem with that, don’t comment.

WARNING: Obviously I’m temporarily waiving my no-tolerance policy on racism here. Since I’m asking people to admit some protentially faily stuff in public, it can’t be helped. But for those of you who really just don’t need another helping of ugliness as part of their daily allowance, I am encouraging you not to read the comments. I will put a rough summary in the followup post, so I’m the only one that has to read them all. Oh, and I’ll be closing the comments in three days (Friday evening), note. I might be willing to take one for the team, but I’m not a masochist.

I’m not going to say “African American,” because I’ve routinely seen Afro-Canadian, straight-up-African, and other non-AA authors shoved into this ghetto. But no white writers, even if they’re from some part of Africa.

I’m talking “black” and “non-black” here because I’m black. But please note that this problem hits other demographics too — there’s a women’s fiction section, a gay section, an Asian American section, and a Native American section at the bookstore I frequent. I’m also aware that some authors in these categories want to be there, and/or aren’t trying to write universally — they want to write something for their group, period full stop. I’ll discuss these things more when I get around to writing that universality post.

50 Responses »

  1. 1. White.
    2. Yes.
    3. Not beforehand, no.
    4. None. Honestly, I was more interested in what you’ve done with the book gender-wise, since I had read some conflicting (but interesting) comments on your heroine in THTK, so I wanted to see for myself.
    5. Not really. But then, I didn’t have any particular expectations going in, so it was hard to surprise me in that sense. I liked the descriptions of the races, though, because it forced me to stop and visualise them first, particularly the bits with curly and straight hair. OTOH, my own hair is also curly and unruly, so I could relate. :)
    6. Of course not.
    7. No. But it may be because I live in a country where issues of race are, for various reasons, much less important than issues of nationality. (Although I don’t personally know anyone who would openly admit they wouldn’t read something written by a person of the ‘wrong’ nationality, either. That, however, says more about my personal circle than it does about people here in general.)
    8. None, although there are, unfortunately, very few white writers who treat race in any serious way. Personally, I blame Tolkien. But then, I blame Tolkien for a lot of things.
    9. Again, none. THTK is a great book (I haven’t read TBK yet, so can’t speak about it.) for anyone with an interest in fantasy/SFF.
    0. Um, many. The world-building is great, and I particularly liked the way in which it was revealed to the readers; family relationships are also something that is, to my mind, insufficiently present in SFF, and THTK discusses them in an interesting and fresh manner; the issue of race and the creation of racial divide is something that is very relevant, and I found your treatment of it intriguing; adding to that is the balancing of the personal and the public, connected with questions not only of race and family but also gender and class, all of which made THTK a book which opens a number of questions I personally think are very relevant to all of us. So there.

  2. 1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
    -White

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
    – Yes, I saw you on a panel at Wiscon before the 100K was published & noted that I wanted to buy it when it came out.

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    -I read some reviews before reading the first book that mentioned the protagonists were POC. I was also aware of the book being set in a fantasy world and therefore that the societies portrayed would probably not map exactly to our own.

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
    – I assumed the book would focus to some degree on issues of racism and privilege, and also that it might draw on aspects of African or African-American mythology.

    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
    – The scale of the mythology was larger — encompassing creation and the history of the whole world and all its people — and less about a specific cultural or historical moment than I had expected.

    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    – I actually read 100K after reading a book by a white male author that I felt failed a lot at considering the perspective of anyone who wasn’t a white male, so I actively wanted to read something with protagonists of color.

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    – No.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
    – There are sexual and violent aspects to Yeine’s warrior culture that probably would have made me uncomfortable in the hands of a white writer, because it would have made me wonder if it was reinforcing stereotypes about Africa. However, if you changed the cultural details to make her a Celt or Viking analogue, or a space alien, it wouldn’t be notably different from other warrior cultures I’ve read about in other S/FF.

    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
    – There may well be elements of the book that black readers appreciated that I didn’t, but I didn’t feel there was anything I was aware of.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?
    – The nature of mythology, the power of religion to control people’s lives, the relation of the powered and the powerless in general, the personal journey of the protagonists, sex and desire in the lives of both protagonists. I’ve recommend the books for these reasons on several occasions, and race only came up in the conversation if it was something the other person asked about.

  3. 1. white
    2. yes
    3. no
    4. I figured there was a good chance you’d incorporate race issues into the world/story in some significant way. Not to make it a Race Book, but having race be part of one or more characters’ life experiences, in ways few white writers do.
    5. no
    6. no
    7. no
    8. none
    9. none
    10. any of them

  4. 1) White
    2) Yes, because your posting on Whatever about Broken Kingdoms was what made me aware of the books
    3) Only vaguely before the books
    4) That I would get something different than typical Epic Fantasy (although it’s hard to separate that out from the other information about the books I got; that impression wasn’t only predicated on race or gender of the author and protagonists)
    5) I think I was largely confused about Nahadoth’s and Itempas’ races (if that’s the appropriate way to refer to gods) until late in the first book.
    6) No, no hesitation here.
    7) No
    8) Maybe it’s my privilege showing, but I don’t see how the race of the author should limit them in what they write. Certainly if you’re writing something outside your direct experience you have some research to do to do it right, but that’s what being a writer is about, isn’t it?
    9) I don’t know about *should* but, I can imagine that a PoC would potentially prefer having a PoC as a protagonist. At the same time, I’m not sure I have a right to answer this question; certainly not authoritatively.
    0) I think that even in stories with gods and magic, what’s really important is the humanity of the characters: Yeine’s love for her mother and Nahadoth; Oree’s compassion and concern for her friends.

  5. 1. White
    2. Nope. I got the kindle edition, so I believe I found out when I found this blog, after reading 100K and before Broken.
    3. Did not know going into book one, and actually, after the first character description of Yeine, I thought she was (half) black; it was definately a way in before I realized that if she got the curly hair from her mother, and her father’s people all had straight hair, that she must be something closer to native american or latino. I’d read this blog by the time I read book 2, so I knew Oree was black. (Though it shames me to admit, I did not realize that Itempas was black in my reading of 100K; for whatever reason, I appear to assume that sun gods are middle eastern in appearance as default.)
    4. Honestly, based on the title and plot I’d gotten before picking up 100K, I had assumed the cast would be either white (because that’s what I’m used to in fantasy novels) or asian (because giant world-spanning empires make me think china.) I didn’t feel that race was much of an issue in book one, but knowing in advance that you were black, that Oree was black, and that she was lower class, I did expect racial issues to be present in book 2. I don’t know how much of that derived from which factors.
    5. I don’t know if it was a surprise, per se, but I very much liked the way Oree’s race, and her blindness, for lack of a better term, informed her character but didn’t define it. I’ve seen books make characters dark skinned without it having an impact on them before, and I’ve seen books address the issues of race and privledge before, but I’ve never seen a fantasy novel do so without being *about* those matters, to the exclusion of much else. I may just be reading the wrong books.
    6. I didn’t know ahead of time, but if I had, I don’t think I would have hesitated. I know I wouldn’t have because of the character’s race, and I would hope that I wouldn’t have because of yours, but in brutal honesty, it might have gotten the book (100K) moved further down the pile. I would, I think, have made some assumptions about the content of the book based on your race, and they would have been wrong. (Specifically, I would have assumed that the story would have been more intimate, and less sweeping than it was, and that the mythology would have been more african in tone. Both assumptions, I think, reflect the fact that I’ve just not read much by people of color, and am unreasonably generalizing from what I have.)
    7. I don’t know anyone who would hesitate or refuse to read them and say/know that it was because either the author or the characters were black. I do think several people of my acquaintance who read exclusively in fantasy enjoy picking up a book and expecting a certain kind of ability to relate to the world and characters, and would not have taken for granted their ability to be able to do so in a book written by a black person and having a black person as a main character.
    8. I don’t say “only a black writer could”, but I would have been stunned, after reading Broken Kingdoms, to find it was written by a white, heterosexual, cisgendered male with no disabilities. I don’t say such a person *couldn’t* have written it, since part of a writer’s business is to be able to imagine and write things beyond their own personal experience, but. I think Broken Kingdoms, in particular, is written with an awareness of marginalization that it would be unlikely for someone never marginalized to achieve.
    9. None.
    10. All. These books are some of the most excellent I’ve ever read.

  6. 1. Unknown mixed

    2. Yes. Though I’d read some short stories by you before knowing anything about you.

    3. Yes. I read your blog before the book.

    4. I was cautiously optimistic that it wouldn’t be full of stereotypes, though that was based on seeing the things you’d written rather than simply due to race. Experiencing racism often does make people more aware of the issues, but I have met people where it hasn’t, so I know you can’t assume.

    5. I wasn’t surprised by any of the race/racism themes. Surprised would be if it had been full of stereotypes.

    6. No.

    7. No.

    8. None.

    9. None.

    10. Any of the themes in the book could interest anyone. Which ones will depend on the reader’s tastes.

  7. 1. White, I guess–is Jewish a race? I don’t know. I consider it part of my identity. Count it or not as as you like. :)
    2. Yes, but only by assumption from noticing your picture on io9.
    3. Not before reading them, no.
    4. Nothing, really.
    5. Not really, no. I was more fascinated by the world-building than surprised, and consciously did my best to divorce my own perception of real-world racial issues from what I was reading.
    6. Nope, not at all.
    7. Nope. I did, however, recommend the book to my girlfriend who was not informed of your race–I will encourage her to respond to this survey as well. :)
    8. Not being a writer, I wouldn’t know–but I didn’t notice anything in the book that made me think that.
    9. Nothing, really–I don’t really consider any non-localized issue to only be an issue for one group of people.
    10. In no particular order: the characterization, the world-building, the writing, the Crowning Moments. :)

  8. 1. White
    2. No, not until I had started reading and saw your photo on the back cover.
    3. Yeine’s, no. I think I became aware of Oree’s race from reviews before I read the book.
    4. Having read 100K already, and knowing you were also black, I expected Oree to be a strong, positive character. I was quite glad there was another main female POC character. (I think she was a wonderful character, too!)
    5. Hm, I found the mythology of the books to be really awesome and quite different from most, but I don’t think I relate that with race in any way, mostly just awesome writing.
    6. No.
    7. No.
    8. I think the destruction of Oree’s people’s continent (I can’t remember the name) was something which caught my attention. For me, personally, if a white author had destroyed the loose equivalent of Africa, it could be an excuse to whitewash their fantasy world. ‘There’s no black people, their continent was destroyed by the gods.’ It would have made me very wary of the author’s handling of race. I would feel more comfortable with a black author doing it, who I think would have a different … intention? … with such an action.
    9. I don’t think the race of the reader would affect how they read the book.
    10. I think the important stuff is applicable to everyone – how religion shapes us, how religion can lie to us, uncovering the truth amidst all the lies, standing by the people who are important to you. Also, great writing and a lovely story should be enjoyed by everyone. Anyone who passes on these books because of racial issues, well, that’s their problem, and they are missing out on a great set of novels.

  9. 1. African American/Black

    2. Yes.

    3. No. I’ve been actively avoiding any spoilers for the books.

    4. I honestly tried not to go into the books with assumptions based on some of the posts and discussions I’ve read here. However, knowing what little I know of you, I did assume that the characters or mythology would hint at African or African American mythology or traditions.

    5. Honestly, no, but that was because I tried to go into the books with as little assumptions as possible. Though, now that I think about it, I was surprised by the unique sense of humanity/mortality that Nahadoth and Shieh possessed and displayed at times.

    6. No hesitation at all.

    7. No. My wife, who is Hungarian-Japanese, plans to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms when I’m done.

    8. As a fledgling black spec fic writer, this is a question I struggle with every day. There indeed are expectations of what is supposed to be between the cover of books by black spec fic writers. But the same can be said of women fantasy writers, or white men who only write cyberpunk.

    9. Honestly, I’m not sure how to answer this. I will say that I believe there are a lot of elements in THTK that women will care about and appreciate. This isn’t to say that men won’t; those same elements–Yeine’s culture and fierceness–I appreciated as well.

    10. I think appreciation can be had widely by those reading THTK.

  10. 1. “white”
    2. yes
    3. as described in the book
    4. that the book would be interesting – not the same old formulae
    5. it was fun that the dark barbarians came from the far north
    6. no!
    7. happy to say no – but then I don’t know anyone else in RL who has read it
    8. I am skeptical about essentialist claims, but yeah, I hoped for/expected a different orientation toward the supposed givens of the genre and society in general. In particular I found this in your treatment of the notion of the domination & ownership of others. A lot of authors don’t deal with this issue, and many fail to deal with it thoughtfully – it’s a convention of conventional fantasy that there are slaves & that slavery is bad, but it’s a superficial treatment of the issue and the kind of thinking that goes along with it. Your treatment of the matter is much richer & deeper, and it’s one of the great strengths of your book.
    9. as above
    10. as above

  11. Answers apply to 100k, since I haven’t gotten ahold of book 2 yet.

    1. White
    2. Yes, I’d heard of you and read a bit of your blog beforehand
    3. Yes
    4. I wasn’t sure. I’d read a few sf/f books by black writers before (mostly Octavia Butler), so I figured the narrative would show things from a different perspective than I usually see in fiction and maybe mention some things I hadn’t considered much or didn’t know much about, but given the diversity of the other black sf/f authors’ writings, I couldn’t guess anything more specific. Mainly I knew from the blog and other sources that gods would be involved somehow, and figured they wouldn’t be from a thinly-disguised ripoff of Christianity or the Norse or Celtic pantheon (even if there were some influences).
    5. I was a bit surprised that although appearance was an issue, in that Yeine didn’t look like her Amn relatives and there was some indication that being darker with curlier hair wasn’t considered the height of beauty in Sky, in general the character’s prejudices weren’t tied closely to color as such. I’m so used to books that use racism as a theme using the American-style color-based system, and this felt more like how I’ve heard Europe considered things six or eight hundred years ago: they noticed the colors were different and maybe thought it was weird sometimes, but the bigger and more defining issues were culture and religion (and specifically, being the wrong brand of the same or a closely related religion, as in Muslims sometimes being considered a bit like super-heretical Christians and the Darre being suspected of still worshiping the “wrong” gods in the pantheon).
    6. No, actually it was an attraction. I like well-done European-inspired epic fantasy, but so much of it is just a badly done Ye Olde McEurope mess without all the interesting bits from real history, and even if it were all good, reading all Europe, all the time would get stale. So I look for books with different inspirations. Plus I figured that a black author who has participated in thoughtful discussions of race and representations in sf/f would be less likely to write something horribly shallow and/or offensive as a white dude who doesn’t realize what he doesn’t know. (Which isn’t to say that it can’t happen the other way around, but the odds aren’t as good there.)
    7. No. I don’t know many people who have read it, actually, and most of my offline acquaintances don’t read sf/f and probably wouldn’t read this either, but only because they aren’t interested in the genre generally.
    8. I hadn’t thought of any, but I think I agree with kate above that I’d be a little more wary of a white writer who had a culture of black warriors.
    9. I can’t think of any. If white readers are care about the politics and love lives of imaginary dragons, why wouldn’t issues with some connection to real people be interesting too? (I am totally imagining a Dragon Fiction section in the bookstore now, where humans can safely ignore “dragon interest” books.)
    10. All of them. Family secrets, dealing with unwanted legacies, culture clash, the relationships of powerful governments to subjugated nations which they claim are better off/more peaceful now that the “right” people are in charge, and doctrinal differences leading to conflict are things which do or could affect everyone. And if it doesn’t map perfectly to real-world situations or is from a less commonly used perspective… well, again, we’re reading fantasy, right? If we can be interested in imaginary dragons’ relations to humans and their religious conflicts or families etc., then we can be interested in humans too.

  12. 1.What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
    I’m Black.

    2.Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
    I read a review of THTK on A Dribble of Ink so I was aware that you looked more like me than most SFF writers. :-)

    3.Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    Not before I got into the story.

    4.What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
    I just expected a good story, it wouldn’t have surprised me if your characters were blue, green or purple.

    5.Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
    I was a little surprised by the description of Itempas at the end of THTK, but I didn’t really figure out he looked Maroneh and people from Maro looked Black until I was 1/3 of the way through TBK.

    6.If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    I only hesitate because the third book hasn’t been published yet. Waiting for sequels makes me anxious!

    7.Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    No

    8.What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
    The mixed heritage of Yeine is something I think a black SFF writer would have a deep perspective on because you might have a better understanding of having a connection to multiple cultures and being ‘othered’ by all of them.

    9.What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
    I loved how Oree’s perspective made race just a characteristic. Class was more important to the way she interacted with the world.

    10.What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?
    This is where I think you have true universality, the themes of power, atonement, right and wrong are relevant to everyone.

  13. 1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)

    White.

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?

    Yes, based on your online author photo.

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?

    No.

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?

    Before I read THTK, my wife told me that it’s, “high fantasy done in a really interesting way.”

    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?

    I was (pleasantly) surprised by the “epicness” (for lack of a better term) of the plot; it seemed to me that it could have been inspired by the heights to which Japanese anime stories can fly.

    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?

    No.

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?

    No.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
    and
    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?

    I have no idea. As an adult white American male, I frequently admit to being tone-deaf when it comes to reading or writing about race issues, so i feel supremely unqualified to answer these questions.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?

    I believe that you are extending the boundaries of the fantasy genre, and that’s something that any fantasy fiction reader should care about.

  14. First comment here. I really enjoyed One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, have not yet read Broken Kingdoms. I just love your blog! Anyway…

    1. White

    2. I was not aware of your race when I first look at your book (I read a few chapters in a bookstore before eventually buying it on kindle a few weeks later). I was aware of your race when I purchased your book.

    3. I made an assumption in regards to Yeine’s race – I assumed because you were black, that she would be black.

    4. I did not know about the character’s races before I read the first few chapters. Honestly, I decided to read the first few chapters because I liked the cover.

    5. I was quite surprised by the racial diversity overall. Since white fantasy novels tend to be one-race-only affairs, I had made an assumption that your novel would concern only POC. I was surprised when the Arameri were white. I enjoyed reading about Yeine grapple with her biracial identity.

    6. No.

    7. No.

    8. I don’t believe that there are specific elements that only a black SFF writer could portray in 100K; however, a black writer is uniquely qualified to write about an individual who has a marked body as Yeine does, being a brown girl in a white space.

    10. Any or all of them.

  15. I overlooked question 9: What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?

    9. None – while race and experiences related to race influence the degree to which one might understand an issue, I do not think race could or should stop someone from being invested in any particular element of your novels.

  16. 1. White.
    2. Yes. (I read your blog.)
    3. Yes. (I read the reviews.)
    4. That you had something to say I might never have come across before or needed to be reminded of.
    5. The races of the gods in HTK surprised me; Oree’s fate (that is, all of her losses) at the end of BK surprised me.
    6. No.
    7. No.

  17. 1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
    – Northern European / white

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
    – No, I didn’t find out until I stumbled upon a picture on this site, which I found after I did some searching once I had finished 100k. (So.. the answer is also kinda ‘yes’, regarding the second book.)

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    – No, I wasn’t.

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
    – When I picked up 100k, it had not even occurred to me to expect anything other than a white protagonist (as that was what I knew), calling it an assumption would be an understatement. I did assume that the protagonist of Broken would probably be non-white too, but I cannot say whether this was because of having found out about your race, the experience of reading 100k or a combination of the two factors.

    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
    – The fact that Yeine was not white and that Oree was blind caught me off guard a little bit.

    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    – I didn’t know before 100k, so the only time I have ever known and assumed that respectively the author and protagonist of a book were not white, was when I got Broken, and the fact that I did not hesitate that time could be explained away by me having been blown away by 100k. Still I doubt any knowledge regarding race of author or protagonist would be cause for any hesitation.

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    – No. I don’t know many people personally that enjoy SF/F as much as I do, but all the ones that do, own a copy of both 100k and Broken now.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
    – Regarding ‘would’: While black writers might have extra incentive to write about certain things, that doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) stop others from writing about them.
    – Regarding could: There’s something to be said for experience, perhaps, but I’d be the last person to tell someone they can’t possibly do something.
    – Regarding ‘should’: In my opinion, any writer should write about what they feel they should write about.

    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
    – Leaning towards ‘nothing’ here.

    0. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?
    – Having trouble answering this. The books sucked me in completely, but I haven’t been able to figure out what aspects caused this exactly. Also, I really don’t feel in my right to say what “anyone would/could/should care about”.

  18. 1. White
    2. No.
    3. No.
    4. I knew it was a fantasy novel and that was pretty much it. (I assumed it would have specific fantasy elements in it– castles, swords, probably magic, but I don’t remember assuming anything specifically about the characters– though I probably did start out thinking they were all going to be white.)
    5. That they weren’t all white (happily surprised), how it seemed to have more influences in non-Western mythology than not (also happily surprised).
    6. (I didn’t know.)
    7. No.
    8. –
    9. –
    10. All of them! Which isn’t a very helpful answer, but I’m still saying it.

  19. 1. White.
    2. No. I found out your race from your photo, which I didn’t look at until I’d already bought the book.
    3. Oree’s, yes. I didn’t realize Yeine was Native South American equivalent until you said so on the blog; I assumed she was some fantasy variation on African, or a race entirely made-up (although I got that she was half white, or your equivalent of white).
    4. I had no race-related assumptions about the book that I was aware of. I did somehow know that you were female before I picked it up (although how I knew this and not your race I can’t remember; I think I’d read about the book somewhere), and that was actually a factor in my purchase, since I have been making a conscious effort to read more SFF by female writers. I did note that the protagonist was female and assumed, due to your gender, that she would be a strong character.
    5. I hadn’t read a lot of books that approached race the way yours did, although it’s hard to articulate what was different. I think it struck me as very modern – it was informed by our world in which race disparities are long known and (somewhat) acknowledged, but this hasn’t necessarily changed a lot of things. I was struck by how much Yeine was resigned to being looked down upon, without exactly being defeated by it. Books I’d read before that dealt with race were set in the real world (The Bluest Eye, Black Boy, a bunch of others I read in high school) and tended to treat the subject more heavily, so this felt a lot different to me.
    6. No.
    7. No.
    8. Again, Yeine’s attitude toward her race and the way she was treated felt genuine to me. It felt like a small glimpse into what being non-white in the modern world is like(as opposed to the Jim Crow era, when the disparities were more blatant). Being white, of course, I can only assume what’s “genuine” or not, but it definitely left an impression on me. I wouldn’t say only a black SFF writer should or would write a character like that, but I got a sense of real experience that I may or may not have felt with a white writer doing the same character. But then, by the time I noticed this I already knew you were black, and I might have been making assumptions based on this.
    I haven’t mentioned Oree because her race didn’t feel as focal to her story. Like Yeine, she was set apart from other characters, but it seemed more due to her blindness/magical ability than her race.
    9. Nothing comes to mind, and I don’t personally know any avid black SFF readers to base this on. There wasn’t anything in either book that felt like it wasn’t “for” me.
    0. Pretty much everyone relates to outsider characters, so Yeine and Oree’s respective senses of isolation felt pretty universal to me, regardless of the reasons for that isolation. The other themes too: conflict between individual desires and the expectations/demands of family, community and tradition; the vulnerability and danger that comes with loving someone; the unfairness of power in the hands of a select elite; the need for humility (in Itempas’ case, mostly); sex with gods is awesome and you should be jealous. Maybe not the last one.

  20. 1. White.
    2. Yes.
    3. I was aware they were POC. I thought of Yeine as “black” (i.e. the equivalent of African ancestry on your world) until I read your blog post when you said she’s closer to an Inca-analog.
    4. I figured the world wouldn’t be the standard medieval pseudo-European setting.
    5. In terms of racial issues, not really.
    6. No, it probably interested me more than I otherwise would have been.
    7. No.
    8. I don’t think “would/should/could” is ever universally true across the board, though certainly there are topics that most authors SHOULD approach with caution and stay away from unless they’re awfully damn sure of themselves.
    9. I can’t really think of anything that ONLY people of a particular race “should/would” care about.
    10. Seems like the same question as #9, in reverse.

  21. Quick amendment to #4: I did have the race-based assumption that Yeine was black/African/fantasy equivalent when I was reading, after finding out that you were black. What I meant here was I had no assumptions before I actually bought the book.

  22. 1. What’s your race? Asian
    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? Yes from the blog
    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race? Yes
    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions? That race would be handled with care instead of generalization or stereotype.
    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what? I loved that everyone thought Oree was beautiful even though she was not Am. Maybe it’s a small thing, but it made me feel that the definition of ‘beauty’ was more inclusive than what I normally see in fantasy.
    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white? No. It made me want to read the book more, actually.
    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white? No.
    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about? I don’t think any writer should be limited like that.
    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about? None.
    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about? The characters, their relationships, the fantastical word, the story. Pretty much everything :)

  23. 1.Whitish
    2.I think so, but possibly in a “The way her bio is writen it seems like…” kind of way. I don’t recall it being explicit until after I read the book and started reading your blog.
    3. No
    4. I didn’t have any assumptions about the books based on that, just based on who had reccommended it to me (none of whom are Black, though at least one qualifies as “of color” though which we’re not sure ;)
    5. I don’t know that anything about how you wrote them surprised me, per se. I definately got the themes of a racial minority pitted against the dominant culture, but, probably due to my innate biases, I didn’t paint Yeine as a “black” character…
    6.Nope. Didn’t know.
    7.Don’t know anyone who’s hesitated or refused to read the book, to my knowledge.
    8.None, though there are some elements of the struggle against a dominant culture that only someone who’s experienced being in the non-majority or an oppressed culture is likely to write effectively.
    9.Can’t think of any. Of course, as one whose oppressed parts of my cultural background have rarely come into active effect on my life, I may well have missed some subtext that would fall into this category.
    10. That it’s a damn fine first novel and presents themes and a take on epic fantasy tropes that I haven’t seen before.

  24. 1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
    white.

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?

    yep. i had seen your picture, i think on the amazon.com author page when i was planning on buying the book.

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?

    not before reading the books.

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?

    i’m not sure if i had any — i was mostly excited to read the books because i’d seen them on so many best-of lists recently. i do think there was an extent to which i assumed that race might be a topic addressed in the books, because of your race. but in general, SFF tends to span such large spaces (many continents, many worlds, etc) that in general i assume there is going to be more than one race involved, regardless of the race of the author.

    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?

    ok this is totally silly, and i wouldn’t say i was surprised, but i found myself *noticing* that the people from the north were dark skinned — i’m so used to the fantasy cliche that the northerners are light-skinned, nordic-style barbarian types. but it only garnered about 5 seconds of thought…

    anyways, i don’t think i was actually surprised about anything. i honestly tend to have a bit of trouble keeping track of which group of people had which type of hair or skin color or whatever, because i tend to get more engrossed in the story telling and the feeling and the events than the actual visual of the world. which probably means i miss out on certain things.

    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?

    there was no hesitation to read the book, for any reason.

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?

    nope.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?

    i don’t really have an answer to this question. i mean there were aspects of the book that i think were influenced by your race, but i think everyone is influenced by their race and upbringing and how people perceive them based on how they look. so i think that we can talk about drawing on personal experience, but that is universal to writers, intentional or not.

    i DO think that writers are more likely to write about characters who have certain similarities to themselves. so men tend to write men, and black people tend to write black people, and jews tend to write jews, or whatever. and maybe i’m wrong about that, i haven’t seen any statistics, its just based on my empirical evidence of reading lots of books. so maybe a black SFF writer would be more likely to write about a dark skinned protagonist?

    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?

    no idea.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?

    um, the whole thing! i really enjoyed reading both books and have recommended them to lots of people since finishing them. i think most people love a story with a strong protagonist who fights against crap odds.

  25. 1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
    White.

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
    No. I found out when I read the “About the Author” at the end of the book (Hundred Thousand Kingdoms).

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    Only through reading your blog after; I was aware Yeine was different from the Amn, but didn’t necessarily attribute the difference to race – more culturally different. Oree, I knew was a WOC when I started reading.

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
    Many friends had read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and recommended them, but all the recommendations related to either the political intrigue or the gods plotline.

    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
    The theme of Enefa as the clinical, scientific god. The Darren initiation ritual into womanhood. Both were pleasant surprises. I was also pleasantly surprised both by Yeine and Oree’s frank sexuality.

    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    I didn’t know ahead of time.

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    No.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about? Ideally, no writer would be limited by race or gender or class, but I do think that writers of colour have a greater ability to write about race without it becoming either tokenism or After School Special-y (or both!) I also feel that white authors writing books about race can detract from books about race written by POC, just as male authors writing about sexism detracts from the efforts of female authors.

    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about? None, that I can think of, though Oree and Yeine’s experiences of difference and home and culture might resonate differently for a black reader than it did for me.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about? I feel like both books have a lot to offer everyone willing to read them, but I felt they were particularly elegant in lampshading common fantasy tropes without being heavy-handed.

  26. 1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
    White.
    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
    Yes.
    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    I don’t know. Vaguely? I knew it wasn’t going to be white as default, so my assumption would have been non-white protagonists if I thought about it, but I’m not sure I cared.
    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
    What I was hoping for was epic fantasy that didn’t ignore race in creating the political tensions.
    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
    I think the way Yeine found the red haired guy attractively exotic. It made sense, but red hair tends to get so…I don’t want to say normalized because it’s such a marker of power in most fantasy. It tends to be a marker of specialness rather than of race, and having it written as a racial thing caught me by surprise.
    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    Nope.
    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    No? But then the relatives who I estimate might do that don’t really read books by women anyway so I didn’t exactly point them in your direction.
    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
    I’d’ve been more uncomfortable with Yeine’s culture being considered uncivilized and black people being almost extinct if you hadn’t been black.
    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
    None?
    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?
    Whatever elements are the type that intrigue them, from which they should be able to pick all the possible elements. These are undoubtedly correlated to race more than they should be, but I’m hesitant to say that there are elements that everyone should care about when people’s tastes in what they read vary widely. For example, maybe 1% of the books I read that include a romance manage to make me care about the romance, because I’m just not interested unless it’s really extraordinary well done and manages to hit a dynamic that intrigues me. For many people, the romance is one of the key features of your books. I’m much more interested in the mythology, personally. I’m not sure this is a really remotely meaningful answer, I admit.

  27. 1. white
    2. Yes
    3. I don’t remember being.
    4. Nothing very distinct. Maybe, ‘I wonder if this will have a different feel.’
    5. No
    6. No
    7, No (but to be honest if the novel had been presented to me as if being ‘AA fiction’ was the only important or interesting thing about it then I might have hesitated.)
    8. Wasn’t aware of any.
    9. Wasn’t aware of any.
    10. good story telling with strong naritive flow. Unusual and driven charators that were still understandable. A protaganist with goals you could root for.

  28. 1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)

    South Asian.

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?

    Yes.

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?

    I can’t remember, actually (this in regard to Yeine; I haven’t yet had a chance to read book two).

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?

    That it would be smartly written (but to be fair, I’d followed your blog prior to the book).

    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?

    No.

    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?

    Hell, no; I was thrilled!

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?

    No. Just the opposite, in fact.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?

    I am trying to encourage people to include characters from all backgrounds in their works, so I would hesitate to say anything is off-limits to any writer. However, that doesn’t mean topics the author may not have first-hand experience with shouldn’t be treated with respect and caution (and a possible examination of his or her privilege and assumptions).

    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?

    Nothing.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?

    The relationships, the political struggles, the societal dynamics, the quality of the storytelling. Basically, everything that made it worth reading.

  29. 1. Black.
    2. Yes. I was a fan of your short stories.
    3. No.
    4. I expected protagonists of color and a non-European setting and culture, and I trusted in the novel’s potential quality due to my opinion of the aforementioned stories.
    5. I guess I was surprised that the setting and culture(s) were so non-descript; the story wasn’t really about humans, so human nuances took a backseat. The second book came closer to my initial expectations and offered more human and cultural details.
    6. No. In fact, that was much of my motivation for reading.
    7. No.
    8. Nothing. I hope black authors try to step out of the all-white, all-the-time box that makes up most of SFF, but then I hope for the same from white authors as well.
    9. Nothing. I feel all readers of SFF should want to see what’s typical and traditional in the world to be challenged in fiction, not rigorously followed, but beyond that, eh.
    10. The balance between the tangibility and divinity of the godly characters, the subversion of traditional gender roles, the complexity and intrigue of the interpersonal relationships, the way religion influences human behavior (and vice versa), etc.

  30. (I’ve only read the first book. And I hope this HTML comes out okay.)

    1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)

    I identify as “white,” but I am half-white, half-Iranian.

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?

    Yes. I saw an author pic.

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?

    Yes. Reviews mentioned Yeine as a “woman of color.”

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?

    I was curious if there would be any exploration of racial issues. I also assumed that, if the book focused on racial issues, I would have to work a little harder to identify with the heroine, because I expected her life experiences to be drastically different from mine.

    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?

    I was surprised at how easily I identified with Yeine. I didn’t feel like her experiences were something I had to put serious effort into internalizing and understanding–the identification came naturally.

    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?

    No. If anything, your race (more than the heroine’s race) made me more interested in reading.

    To be honest, I came to the book wanting to love it. I wanted to champion it as a fantasy novel written by a black woman, because I think we need much more color and gender diversity in SFF. I do feel a bit guilty that I mentally politicized it, rather than viewing the book in isolation and judging it purely on its own merits.

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?

    Thankfully, no.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?

    I don’t think anyone “should” be the only one to write about any topic; we’re all human, so none of us has a monopoly on human experience. But as for would/could, I think black SFF writers have a tremendous opportunity to frame race issues in a new way that flushes people out of their mental ruts. A discussion of race issues framed in fantasy terms can be more startling, because readers generally don’t expect to find real-world problems in fantasyland.

    On the flip side, black SF writers can show the future consequences of current attitudes and behaviors regarding race–whether the result is utopian or dystopian.

    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?

    I didn’t notice anything of that sort. To me, the book touched on universal human themes in a universally accessible way.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?

    Well, as above in #9: everything.

  31. 1. White

    2. I was not aware of your race- I found out sometime after finishing the book.

    3. Only when I figured out from their descriptions in the book that they were people of color. (Yeine being from the “wild North” actually threw me- I think of that description as more commonly used for Vikings, though it has connotations of barbarism/less-than-human either way.)

    4. I think I assumed that you were white and female and they were white.

    5. I was surprised by how much feminist and female centered Yeine’s culture was. I was mildly surprised to realize that Yeine was black, but it took me a little to figure it out, given that fantasy descriptions of “tall, fair, slenderly built” races like the Amn are usually told from the perspectives of a narrator who is also white.

    6. N/A

    7. No. I have known some people to become interested in this book only after I mentioned your and the characters’ race.

    8. None in particular.

    9. None in particular

    10. Um… sexism, racism, power, personal responsibility, being a pawn in a larger system and using that/failing to use that for good/evil/survival, religious conflict, strong women and the cultures that foster or oppose them, sex, choices, dying for good reasons, dying for stupid reasons, making your life about revenge or redemption, how to deal with unexpected power responsibly, systems of oppression, court intrigue (EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW HOW TO POLITELY INSULT A PERSON OF HIGHER RANK AND GET IT PAST THE RADAR), male rape, inheritance, how your family shapes/damages you, and living up to expectations.

  32. 1. Caucasian
    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? No.

    If not, at what point did you find out?

    When I looked up your web site.

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    No.

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?

    I guess I assumed that in this post-apocalyptic setting race as we today understand it had no relevance.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?

    I believe that the themes are universal and symbolic. They transcend contemporary racial categories, and that makes them interesting to me.

  33. 1. Transparent. Okay, basically white. In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to a man who identifies as black (bi-racial) and I myself just wish I had a bit more Native American blood than I actually do.
    2. Nope, figured that out just now.
    3. Have only read 100K Kingdoms right now & Yes, I had pictured Yeine as being dark-skinned, although I didn’t really think about it in my fore-brain until you asked.
    4. Honestly, no expectations concerning previous. I was more concerned w/ whether the story would hold up to the praise I’d heard.
    5. Nothing that would relate to this survey surprised me. I didn’t even make a correlation between real-world races vs race in the book. (My brain doesn’t automatically leap from dark-skinned book character straight to “that means this character/author must be black!” I don’t know if this should make me happy or if I should feel stupid…)
    6. No, I wasn’t aware. If I had been, I may have been MORE eager to read the book, diversity being something I try to keep in my reading list. (I would not have decided to read the book based SOLELY on this, however.)
    7. Nope. The people I know have either a) read & loved it b) intend to read it soon or c) have never heard of it.
    8/9. I don’t think plot elements should be restricted from being written or read about based on whether someone has a better tan than I do.
    10. Makes me think too hard. Bottom line: If it’s a GOOD STORY (this one is) then people should care about it.

  34. 1. My race: white
    2. Aware of race before purchase? Yes (found book in normal SF section)
    3. Aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race? Yes, after purchase and reading.
    4. My assumptions: I assumed a black female would write something different from what I usually read. I assumed more than typical attention to race and skin color
    5. Any surprises? No. I was expecting (hoping for) something new and refreshing. That’s what I got.
    6. Did I hesitate purchasing? No. The opposite – I was attracted to this book because of the author’s race
    7. Know anyone who hesitated? No. A yes here would actually seems outrageous to me
    8. My black SFF writer assumptions: Focus on skin color and attention to hair. First SFF book I recall with references to slavery
    9. My black SFF reader assumptions: no idea
    10. I especially enjoyed the focus on character emotions and how they were expressed and played out. I enjoyed hearing about different people from different races. The world seems so much bigger and interesting when reminded of all the variety out there. I found the portrayal of the gods to be very interesting and believable.

    BTW – absolutely love the two books.

    Also, apologies for any offense. Writing about race is quite uncomfortable.

  35. 1.White. Even though I have native south American blood in me, it just doesn’t show.
    2.I was not. After reading THTK which I LOVED, I wanted to know more about you, hence found out then.
    3.No. Although I was aware of your skin color (sorry, I don’t like to use the word “race” cause I believe in only one race, the human race) when I read TBK, I did not picture the characters in terms of the different colors and features people have on earth because your world was such a different world from ours.
    4.The only thought I had before reading TBK was that I hoped it would be as good as THTK (and fell in love the same way with the characters).
    5.No.
    6.Absolutely not.
    7.No. But I’m reading your books in English, from overseas, and my friends cannot read in English so I could not make any survey. (I do have an opinion on racism in this country though, but that‘s not your issue here).
    8.None. But I am not an American, my culture is totally different so I doubt I could detect those if they were present.
    9.Same as above.
    10.Your whole stories. I think love, hate, and everything that‘s in between are what shape our lives, as individuals and as a whole. Your books appeal to me because your focus is so narrow and so wide at the same time (sorry, I am not a writer, can’t you tell ;-)!). You are a very good writer because you make people FEEL for your characters and BELIEVE in the world you created therefore you could be a giant panda writing books, I would buy and read them the same way!

  36. 1. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
    White

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
    Not directly; I was recommended the books by a friend of mine who also gave me a link to your blog. I started reading your blog before I had a chance to buy the books, so I was aware before I actually purchased the books.

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    Yes, the friend who recommended the books to me mentioned it.

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
    I assumed that the books would differ from most of the Tolkien-esq fantasy I read growing up. I thought the world would likely be different from the standard pseudo-medieval European setting of stereotypical “high fantasy.”

    5. Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
    I was surprised that they were written in first person, that’s an unusual choice for epic fantasy. I was surprised by the way the gods’ relationships were constructed and I was somewhat surprised throughout the first book by the way the reader learned about Yeine’s culture–for example, the scene where she relates her duel for the ennu position caught me offguard in how casually Yeine seemed to reference the brutality of the fight, and how she won it.

    6. If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    No.

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    No, but the only other person I know personally who has read them is the person who recommended them to me, so I haven’t had much chance to compare.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
    I don’t really think there are any elements of the book that ONLY a black author would/could/should write about, but I do think that the complex, multi-racial world building is something that’s more likely to be found in a book authored by a black person, because most white SFF readers and writers are used to seeing SFF books that privilege white people to the extreme (like Tolkien) and, because it’s us being represented, we’re less likely to question that representation and privilege or notice the diversity that’s missing.

    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
    Again, I don’t think there’s anything that ONLY a black reader would/could/should (particularly should) care about, but I do think the fact that the world is multi-racial and the fact that Itempas is black, plus the fact that the main protagonists are dark-skinned, is more likely to be important to a black reader than a white reader, for the same reasons I mentioned in the previous question.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?
    I think anyone (particularly anyone who’s a SFF fan) would care about the attention to detail of the setting, the world and its history, within the books–it’s awesome world building, and it shows. I also think the way the books play with typical fantasy stereotypes and often turn them on their heads is something that would appeal to a lot of readers.

  37. 1. What’s your race?
    White

    2. Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)?
    Yes- I heard about the book via a blog post about new SF/F books by people of color.

    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    Yes- to the extent that you described them in-text. Then read about details on your blog.

    4. What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
    That issues of race/class and power would be addressed. Probably to the level of more than just deliberately describing at least some of your other major characters as non-white (which sometimes seems like a political statement in and of itself in fantasy).

    5. Did anything about the book(s) surprise you?
    Not really- my take was that, as you’re mixing gods and demons into human society, race-based divisions seemed less central.

    6. Did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    No, though my expectation was that race might be a more central part of the plot than it was, which is not necessarily a theme I’m drawn to.

    7. Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    Nope.

    8. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
    I’ll echo some other commenters and mention that a white author should probably be careful in creating non-white warrior races with a reputation for violence. That’s not to say that a black author should get a ‘pass’ to draw on real-world racial stereotypes either… I guess the point is that, whatever the author’s race, one should be aware of the possibilities of drawing on such stereotypes- this goes for religious and gender/sexual stereotypes as well.

    9. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
    None- at least I didn’t pick up on any.

    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?
    Power struggles, magic, individual growth (or at least perseverance), religious/racial tolerance, sex.

  38. 1. black as a berry
    2. Yes
    3.No
    4. I thought it might be a book about a Black person because it was written by a Black person. I was also certain it would feature people from more races than just Black or White because I thought that it would be important as a Black writer to appeal to more than just Black or White people
    5. I was surprised that there were only two “Kingdoms” really emphasized. Since the title is 100 Thousand Kingdoms I thought the book would be more about someone traveling. I didn’t expect the setting to be as stationary as it was.
    6. I knew ahead of time and I didn’t care one way or the other. I read an excerpt and it was good so I picked up the book.
    7. No
    8. I don’t think any writer should limit themselves to writing only about certain things regardless of race or gender.
    9. As an avid fantasy reader, I think that a Black Sf/F writer should care about whether or not they have a good story to tell.
    10. I think Yeine struggles to find her place in the world as she is torn between two peoples. While that exact situation may be unique to a selcet few I think anyone can identify with trying to understand who they are and working to define their purpose in life.

  39. 1. white

    2. yes

    3. not before I read the book; as I read the book, I became aware that there were different races, but because it was a fantasy world, I didn’t try to match up the races in your book with the races in our world.

    4. I am tired of so much fantasy being set in a medieval-like or Renaissance-like social system and geography. I assumed that your book might be something new and fresh. (And it was.)

    5. the rich portrayal of living gods—it was a bigger portion of the book than I expected and you kept surprising me with how you handled them; the existence of male subordination in your matriarchal society—my inclination would have been to write a more egalitarian society to confound male readers who believe that one sex has to be dominant over another, so I found the way you structured Yeine’s society fascinating as both a reader and as a writer

    6. no; the opposite, in fact. I hoped that because you were black, you might bring a different perspective or different assumptions to your fantasy. Also, because of the bookstore segregation problem, I make a point of reading books by black authors that my black friends recommend so that they get a wider audience. (I buy books primarily online and shop mainly in person at B&N, so I rarely know what race an author is when I buy a book unless someone has told me.)

    7. no

    8. I read the book when it first came out, so the details are somewhat hazy, but I can’t think of anything. It seemed to me the prejudice against Yeine’s people was based primarily on cultural differences, not physical differences.

    9. nothing

    10. the portrayal of a matriarchal society that doesn’t fit all the tired old stereotypes about women warriors and women as leaders; how humans everywhere equate difference with badness; the conflict within a person between loyalty to one’s native customs and fitting in (this one resonated strongly with me because I was a Midwesterner who did her undergraduate work at an Ivy League university and was made fun of and criticized frequently for the way I dressed, the way I talked, my ignorance about the East Coast and its food and customs; my supposed stupidity (based on my accent and ignorance of East Coast things))

  40. 1. White
    2. No…I read a review after purchasing the book that mentioned it. I didn’t even know you were a woman until that point either.
    3. No
    4. That it was excellent based on my obsessive reading of speculative fiction blogs.
    5. No
    6. N/A…but once I knew I moved it to the top of my “to-read” pile.
    7. No, once I told my wife she is keenly interested now as well.

    8 & 9. Honestly, I have trouble answering the remaining questions. More than anything I read speculative fiction for the escapism. I develop a blank slate mentality. I purposefully do not bring my baggage into a books world. I no more thought of Oree or Yeine as black than I think of Klingons as black in Star Trek.

    I bought your book initially because it was so highly recommended. When I found out you were not only a woman but black as well, I really wanted to read the book. Why? Simply because I have never read a speculative fantasy book written by a black woman. I have no idea of what exactly I was expecting. I was curious if there would be a “difference”. In that I was disappointed because all I found was first rate speculative fiction. Honestly the only ‘racial’ thing I could say about your book is that it read like it was written by an American and probably a female American.

    0. Honestly, I love the sexual interplay among the gods and Yeine. I thought the way you handled the bi-sexualism was artful. The maturity in how that was handled was something new to read. But, that interplay did a lot to help frame the gods as being unhuman.

  41. 1. White
    2. Was aware of author’s race before reading
    3. I don’t remember being aware of Yeine’s race before reading. I think I’d assumed Oree’s before reading, based on the first book.
    4. I assumed (hoped for) something non-Eurocentric and not the usual White Boy Saves The World.
    5. I have to admit the widespread nonwhiteness of the characters/setting surprised me; i.e. that it was not black characters in a majority white setting, but black characters in a majority black setting.
    6. No.
    7. Not that I’m aware of.
    8. I think a majority-black setting is something that, at this time, I’d have more faith in a black SFF writer writing about. I’m reluctant to say “only a black SFF writer *should*” create that setting, but I would be more apprehensive of a white writer doing it.
    9. I honestly can’t think of anything; nothing struck me as “oh, I don’t care about this”
    10. How stories — with all their bias — ossify into what we call history. The fact that everyone has their side of a particular story.

  42. 1. White, British-Welsh.
    2. Yes.
    3. No.
    4. About the content of the books, I don’t remember having any other than hoping it would be something a bit different in some way. About the books themselves, I wondered about how much trouble you might’ve had publishing them and having them marketed fairly and so on.
    5. I was surprised (in a good way) by the relationship between Nahadoth and Itempas, and the casual references to polyamory.
    6. No.
    7. I don’t think so. I don’t think they would have told me if that was the cause of their hesitation, though.
    8. I can’t think of any. The exploration of race is perhaps more than I would expect in a book by a white author, but not more than I would hope for. I am hesitant to really believe in a white author’s treatment of race, though, honestly: I know how non-Welsh authors screw up Welsh/Celtic culture even though it is so often drawn upon for fantasy, so I can imagine that white authors would get plenty wrong when it comes to something further from their experience.
    9. I cared about all of it, personally; I can see white readers caring less about the racial issues, yes, but I don’t think it’s beyond a white reader to care.
    0. I think I sort of answered that already: I think everyone can care about all the elements of your books.

  43. 1. White
    2. Yes
    3. No.
    4. I assumed that Yeine was black until I read otherwise.
    5. I wouldn’t say surprise. When my assumptions were proved wrong I just shrugged and moved on.
    6. Nope.
    7. Do not.
    8. Didn’t spot anything in particular.
    9. Not seeing any.
    10. Struggle Against Overwhelming Odds, (Which is beloved by more or less all readers, especially fantasy, and applies just as much to the heroine struggling against racism or classism as to the heroes’ journey) Life and death struggle, (I mean, come on. Everyone loves a good life or death struggle) Alienation, (Anyone who says that they cannot relate to this in some way or form is lying through their teeth) Love, (Being generous here and applying it to all relationships. Pretty sure everyone wanted to give Sieh a hug.) ho boy, this is hard. All of it, I think? Yeah. Let’s just go with all of it.

  44. 1. Mixed-race (Franco-Vietnamese)
    2. Yes.
    3. Yes.
    4. No particular assumptions.
    5. Pleasantly surprised by the tackling of matters of race and the handling of powerplays. Not fully convinced by Yeine as a mixed-race, though–she was too well integrated in her father’s society.
    6. No. But do note I don’t live in the US, which I suspect affects the way I think about such themes (in particular, the first time someone explained to me about African American bookshelves, I looked at them as if they were crazy. Everything is shelved together in France, whether they’re written by White people or not).
    7. No.
    8. Nothing in particular. I did notice the focus on women in circles of power, which tends to be a female preoccupation rather than a male one, but I think it relates more to your gender than your race.
    9. Can’t think of anything in particular.
    10. The whole plot? I didn’t see anything that was race-specific, though I did find a number of what I refer to as American markers (but I find those a lot in epic fantasy), notably the “chosen one” structure, the Big Bad and what I think of as the fireworks at the end. (this isn’t a criticism, merely a comment on something that struck me at the time).

  45. 1. Caucasian
    2. No, I found out after finishing the book through an interview I think. Hang on I just found out I did. I just looked up Non-Zero Probabilities on Clarkesworld Magazine, to check whether that was the short I read before I read the book and your pic is next to it. So I must have known, but it doesn’t seem to have actually registered until I read the interview. For the record, I have only read THTK, TBK is on my to read pile.
    3. No
    4. I was just looking forward to a really cool story. I’d read your short story Non-Zero Probability and very much enjoyed that, so I had that and the great reviews I’d read in mind.
    5. I was more surprised by the gender roles in the different cultures than by any race aspects. And the gods blew me out of the water, the juxtaposition of might and imprisonment/powerlessness.
    6. Not applicable, but it wouldn’t have.
    7. Not that I’m aware of.
    8. None
    9. I don’t know.
    10. What shouldn’t they care about? They should care about gender issues, power struggles, finding your own identity, the force of love (both for the good and the bad). And I apologise for probably leaving out a bunch of stuff in THTK, but it’s been a year since I read it and I was seven months pregnant at the time and I’ve found I haven’t retained much of what I read those last months (pregnancy dementia is a very strange thing!).

  46. 1. White by appearance, Métis by heritage.
    2. No. Followed on Twitter, found website, read “about” section and saw picture. Beforehand, had no clue.
    3. Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race? — Before reading? No. Only by physical description in the text. I’ve only read 100K. Haven’t gotten to BK… yet. :)
    4. None. Was unaware, just looking for a good story.
    5. Surprised less by skin colour and more about the application of outsiders’ opinion of barbarianism to a matriarchal society, and what that implied.
    6. N/A. Had no clue, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
    7. No. Also, I’m usually the go-to person for new reads, so I’m also the first of my friends to have read/recommended something. I don’t recall an authors’ heritage having anything to do with whether we enjoy a book.
    8. I don’t think it’s any of my business to make that call–who am I to say who/what *anyone* should write about? I think if a writer is interested in a question/topic, and explores that, then their writing will be important. If something isn’t interesting to the writer, the subject/narrative will fall flat, regardless of cultural background. You can’t fake heart, and a good story always has heart.
    9. Again, same as above. The intensity of interest/emotion/thought put into *any* subject will make or break a story, regardless of the author’s cultural background.
    10. What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about? — I’m interested in rereading 100K at a later date and looking into the roles of the women/their power/message. Also: intentions, control, questions of what makes people human, and unintended consequences.

    An aside: when I saw the Tweet re: this survey, I automatically assumed would have to do with feminism in SFF, not race. Looking forward to reading your informal findings. And thanks for the great books! Cheers!

  47. 1. White

    2. Yes

    3. With Yeine, I was not. With Oree, I was.

    4. I assumed that there would be a focus on nonwhite characters. I also assumed, as I do with any book written by someone who differs from the dominant paradigm (in terms of race, gender, age, etc.), that the book might differ from the dominant paradigm.

    5. The writing itself surprised me; I expected something more straightforward from fantasy. And there were plenty of plot-related surprises.

    6. No

    7. No

    8. In terms of could or should, none. In terms of would, other people have documented the reluctance of white writers to write about race, gender, and other identity issues.

    9. None

    10. All

  48. 1.What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
    Black male.

    2.Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
    Yes, very much so.

    3.Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
    No. I only relied on the descriptions in the book and since it was fantasy, I made no assumptions about race from a contemporary.

    4.What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
    None whatsoever.

    5.Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
    Nothing was surprising. It was a good story and fit well into the fantasy genre. I do think it was an overall Eurocentric aesthetic–the skin color stratification, the monarchy, the play on gods and spirits.

    6.If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    No.

    7.Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
    No.

    8.What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about? I’ve read fantasy by white authors who write about the darker “tribe” overcoming. Again, still within a European, heirarchical context.

    9.What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
    None.

    10.What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?
    All the themes of mythology, heirarchy, etc., are what everyone should care about. Again, it was a good story and that’s all that matters.

  49. What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)

    White

    Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?

    I don’t know if I was aware. I knew for sure when I came to your website. But knowing my past reading preferences, it wouldn’t have mattered to me. As long as the book description seemed interesting and the sample sucked me in, I would have wanted to go on the journey.

    Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?

    I was aware that Yeine was half one race and half another race, and I knew that was important to all of the characters.

    What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?

    I came to your book because I was looking for fantasy that wasn’t about dragons and endless battles. I read a good review and downloaded a sample from Amazon, and then I was flying through the story. My assumptions were only that I was going to read a good book.

    Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?

    I loved the way Yeine viewed freckles.

    What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?

    I didn’t see anything that only black SFF writers would write about. For me the story was a power struggle. We all deal with power struggles.

    What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?

    I don’t think there are any things that are SPECIFIC to a black SFF writer. I think we are all a product of our experiences, and so when we write, that’s what flows out of us. And I like to read all the different kinds of stories that can come from different experiences.

    What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?

    All of it.