The Apocalypse of Unfortunate Implications

Just saw a trailer for the Shannara TV series that’s soon to exist:

Very pretty. Don’t think I’m going to particularly go out of my way to see it, because at this point I’m a little tired of New Zealand landscapes, orcish hordes, and John Rhys-Davies. I like Tolkien, but I was never a fan of Tolkien clones in textual form, and the film medium doesn’t make them any more palatable. But those of you who are Shannara fans, yay! Enjoy.

I got distracted from the cool landscapes and glowing beads and so on, though, by the fact that once again this trailer depicts an apocalypse that makes no demographic or sociological sense. First off, why would a far-future magical America transform into anything remotely resembling medieval northern Europe, complete with British accents? But more importantly… This is specifically a far-future Pacific Northwest, or so the decrepit Space Needle would suggest, yet it appears to be populated entirely by white people and Manu Bennett. (Or at least I’m told Bennett is in the trailer. If so, he’s there so briefly that I didn’t see him despite viewing it twice.) Well, wait, some of the non-human characters appear to be played by actors of color; there’s one at 2:30 in the trailer for about half a second. Okay. So while it’s possible the show itself features more than this, the show is being advertised with an all white cast plus a token magical brown person, and literally dehumanized PoC. Well, alrighty then.

::sigh:: Let me note once again that choices like these are not neutral in any SFF. They are even less so in fantasies which — intentionally or unintentionally — evoke the real world and real historical erasures. Against the backdrop of systemic racism, every casting choice develops added meaning. This production doesn’t even have the excuse, weak as that one always is (summary and good discussion, for the un-Tumblr’d), that it’s set in some alterna-European country and therefore the exclusion of people of color is somehow justified. This is America, and one of the most diverse parts of Canada. These nations have never, except in the most fevered wish fulfillment fantasies of historical revisionists, been all white.

And that is precisely what we end up with, when this kind of fantastical exclusion gets layered onto the site of real historical exclusion: racist wish fulfillment fantasy. (Way to go, MTV.) Narratively, the exclusion suggests some Shit Went Down after the collapse or the plague or whatever it was that created this future world. What kind of shit? Genocide, apparently, on an epic scale. Eugenics, maybe, since apparently the orcish folks are some sort of mutant; that touches on the long, ugly history of medical experimentation in this country. So now I wonder why I should be particularly entranced by the stirring saga of a magical white supremacist utopia, or near enough to qualify. Don’t I have to deal with enough racist fantasy in real life?

(Note: I haven’t read the Shannara books, at least not past the first few chapters of the first one, so I have no idea if any of the characters are people of color. I’d be pleased — delighted — to know that this is only the doing of the TV show producers and not Brooks himself.)

But let me not single out Shannara; this isn’t the only recent post-apocalyptic story I’ve seen that suggested by the jangle of their appropriated trappings (or the ominous silence of their exclusions) genocides and internments and the Tuskeegee-ing of vast swaths of the human race. As I skim through future after future — some of which seem cool as hell at least on the surface — I begin to realize that most of them bear this creeping evidence of an entirely different apocalypse that happened before the cameras started to roll. And since it’s now 2015, and we have had these discussions again and again and again… now I’m starting to think it’s intentional. Now I’m wondering whether SFF creator after SFF creator is just so fucking horrified by the existence of people of color that they have to wipe us out again and again, without so much as a grave marker.

It probably isn’t intentional. Probably. But that’s the problem with tossing an unacknowledged race war into the background of your post-apocalypse, see. In these post-Charleston days, it’s become clear that plenty of people out there really do want a race war to happen — which means that fictional depictions of same become hard to wave off as simple carelessness. Especially not after the fifth, the tenth, the twenty-fifth, time.

Well. Maybe I’m just feeling especially salty about this because I’m writing my own post-apocalyptic fantasy right now.

cover of The Fifth Season, a novel by N. K. Jemisin, coming August 4th 2015

The Fifth Season isn’t set on Earth. That’s not a spoiler. I don’t intend to ever write that kind of “but it was our world all along!” gotcha into any of my novels, because at this point it’s a badly overused trope. And as I’ve just shown, it’s usually used badly, without sufficient care for the complexity of real-world social science. Readers, I promise you: if I ever write Earth it will be recognizable as such, and it will be plausible — a future to which you can draw a line of reasonable extrapolation from our currently 52% female and 80% PoC planet. And by every god who doesn’t mind the oath, if I put an apocalypse in something, you will know it. None of this inferred, unintentional shit.

(This isn’t what the trilogy is about, BTW. It’s about wars that have become background noise and secrets with geologically long histories and how people love when they cannot possibly protect the people they love. I’m just saying that the setting makes phenotypical, sociological, human sense as the characters go about their business. At some point someone’s going to throw a mountain at someone else, and there’s some talking-statue shenanigans, but there will be motherfucking black people in it. And Asian people, and multiracial people, and queer people, and women who are built like brick houses and Mack trucks, and so on. Because I refuse to ever write a fantasy in which magic is believable but human beings aren’t.)

So the moral of the story, or the point of this post, is: SFF creators, keep track of your apocalypses. If you don’t actually believe that the survivors of that plague or that meteor would divert energy from survival to systematically exterminating millions of people, then don’t “accidentally” write futures where that obviously happened. Or at least if you do it, have the courage to go whole hog with it. Some of our bestand worst — SFF has come out of thoroughly brutal explorations of what can happen when human beings let their bigot flag fly. If you’re going to go there, then go there — consciously, thoughtfully, and respectfully of the real Middle Passages and Trails of Tears and Holocausts you’re using as inspiration. Some material deserves better than an afterthought.

And if you’re not prepared to go that far, then just stop. Your worldbuilding needs work; you can’t handle the apocalypse yet. Talk to a variety of futurists. Read some actual history so you won’t reinforce any more unexamined white supremacy, or at least not by accident. Read outside your comfort zone for awhile. Then, once you’ve learned more about the actual world, you can play with its future — or its end.

Remember, kids: apocalypse responsibly. Your readers/viewers will thank you for it.

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44 Responses »

  1. I’m not really sure what you’re upset about here.

    I’m all for getting upset about discrimination issues but it should be about actual issues based on science and statistics — not gut feeling. Gut feeling should prompt to look for said statistics to form an opinion (or to bring up the very lack of statistics, such as police killings of suspects.)

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1051220/fullcredits lists a 77.7% “white”, 44% female cast for characters in all 10 episodes or 86.6% “white”, 40% female for all characters.
    And that’s making some large assumptions about character gender based on looks; not that any cast member’s gender (or identity or orientation or medical condition) is any of my business.
    Those numbers are fairly close to current demographics for Oregon and Seattle especially given the small sample size of 9 to 15 cast members.

    Sure, it’s not close to world demographics but very few places on Earth are. Global representation is a ridiculous demographic to use for comparison to a single location.
    Promoting global representation in media is, however, socially healthy to promote tolerance.

    Then you have a post-apocalyptic world set thousands of years in the future which would likely have vastly different language and potential genetic bottlenecks (because… apocalypse.)
    Language-wise, I’ve seen some research that says parts of the U.S. have actually diverged less in terms of accent from pre-colonial England than England has. For an example look up rhoticity and that’s only in a few hundred years.
    So, modern British accents are unlikely but not completely unreasonable.

    Continuing with the skin tone issue; add in dietary changes, high latitudes, and potential atmosphere changes altering the amount of light and who knows what skin tone people of any given place would end up with.
    It could truly be anything regardless of the skin tone of their ancestors, even in only a few thousand years.

    In terms of sex, you actually have more male babies than female babies at birth but a variety of modern factors lead to more women than men (in industrialized countries) and it’s not necessarily historically representative. (Btw, your 52% female world population ratio number is incorrect.)
    A post-apocalypse without the magic of modern hospitals and epidurals would likely have severe impacts on female mortality.

    No social issues or wars or genocide or bigotry or whatever are needed for any of this.

    Sure, I doubt anything remotely scientific was involved with casting.
    I would not be surprised if the final cast listing is proportionally imbalanced.
    But, given the current list, your use of demographics as your reason for disliking what you saw isn’t really valid.

    And with regards to only writing books with high diversity: if your goal is to represent the actual real world then putting in diverse characters isn’t always representative of reality. Many places on our planet are not very diverse.

    However, what diverse characters ARE is interesting.
    No one wants to read the same white-male-hero coming of age story set in medieval Europe over and over.

    I’d like to finish with mentioning that skin tone shouldn’t matter and race as a concept is genetically iffy given that almost all genetic traits show up in every so-called “race”.
    While I really dislike racism, and it is a huge issue, I think a lot of what people call racism is actually a form of cultural prejudice, stereotyping, and intolerance.

    P.S. I don’t care what tone your skin is or what your gender is.
    I read your books because you’re a good writer who writes interesting characters in interesting worlds.

  2. Brian,

    Well, thanks for telling me what I should feel, and that you don’t care about something that informs every piece of fiction I write. I’m not sure you’re being intentionally condescending and dismissive here, but… yeah, that’s what you’re doing.

    But since you’re addressing the validity of my frustration (…), let me point out that I did say that a) I was reacting to the trailer and not the casting, and b) I’m reacting to an overall trend, not just Shannara. And while it’s certainly possible to nitpick my reasoning re any single depiction of an all-white post-apocalyptic world… I’m seeing such worlds frequently. Almost exclusively — even though the same reasoning you’re using could just as easily lead to an all Native American world (after all, playing “who knows what skin tone anyone could end up with!” re the Pacific Northwest doesn’t work because we do actually know what skin tone people ended up with after tens of thousands of years here). Yet we get white people as the sole survivors, again and again. There’s something other than logic dictating that.

  3. Amen NKJ.

  4. Irony: a post apocalyptic world that had some diversity: Save The Pearls.

    So the choice is apparently either no diversity or done really badly.

    Also, stats on casting mean little about what gets shown on screen, especially in fantasy.

  5. Jonathon,

    I’ve seen good post-apocalypses. They just don’t get TV shows or films. -_-

    A great one that I read relatively recently was Steven R. Boyett’s Elegy Beach. It was a near-future post-apocalypse rather than the distant postap depicted in Shannara, but it clearly wasn’t likely to lead to the establishment of whites-only English medievalism; the protagonist was a multiracial (looked black) kid with an Asian male lover, and the children who’d been born since the Change of that story were thoroughly modern in their thinking because no one had forgotten knowledge. Life was perilous — the protag’s mother had died of tetanus because her pre-Change vaccination had expired — but even without modern technology, everyone still knew that diseases were caused by germs and so on, and they could still read and write books to pass this knowledge on. Fascinating exploration, really, of how young people with modern ideologies would essentially apply them to magic; the end result was magic-resonance raves and “spellware” modeled on programming languages. Elegy Beach was a sequel to an 80s fantasy novel, Ariel, which was set in the same ‘verse which didn’t do as good a job of worldbuilding, but Boyett fixed a lot of the flaws in the followup. (Both are beautifully written too; I recommend them highly.)

    So there’s definitely a middle ground between shit diversity and white supremacist utopianism. It’s called good writing, and more SFF writers should do it IMO.

  6. The Elegy Beach/Ariel example are particularly good because (as you point out) Boyett learned and got better at his world building.

    Because the only options aren’t “whitewashing” or “done badly.” People can write diversely and do write diversely (often successfully!)

    And sorry if this is derailing but I am still trying to figure out what epidurals have to do with *safe* and survivable childbirth. I don’t have stats on this but am willing to bet that the majority of women on Earth today are giving birth without benefit of epidurals.

    Regardless, any experienced and knowledgeable midwife with a knowledge of germ theory (the need to disinfect and keep clean) will have a high rate of successful deliveries. So transmission of knowledge, as Nora rightly points out, is crucial. As always. Which circles right back to her point about who and what we see and what stories and knowledge “we” think of as worth making sure gets handed on to the next generation.

  7. That was pretty much my reaction. I hadn’t really thought much about Shannara since I read the books as a (much less socially conscious) teenager. Then I saw the trailer and thought “huh, I guess the reason the apocalypse spawned all those fantasy races (dwarves and trolls and such) was because it wiped out all but one of the actual human races.”

  8. “At some point someone’s going to throw a mountain at someone else, and there’s some talking-statue shenanigans, but there will be motherfucking black people in it. And Asian people, and multiracial people, and queer people, and women who are built like brick houses and Mack trucks, and so on. Because I refuse to ever write a fantasy in which magic is believable but human beings aren’t.”

    I feel like this should be framed and turned into some kind of creed which post-apocalyptic writers have to swear before taking up pen and keyboard. Like the Hippocratic Oath or something. At least in order to be officially licensed Post-Apocalyptic Writers.

    I read three Shannara books back in 7th grade. Then I abjured the rest of the series after realizing that two of them were not only clones of Tolkien (which I was fine with at the time) but also clones of each other. Life’s too short for repetitive story lines.

    Re: “Yet we get white people as the sole survivors, again and again.”
    Truth. I saw Divergent awhile back and was telling my friend how ridiculous it was, and she said, “Well if it’s set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, at least there are lots of PoC, right?” And I said: “uh…no…I don’t actually recall any. Well, maybe one or two.” And she was like, “IN CHICAGO?” Yeah. And I hadn’t even thought about it until she said something. Because that’s just how post-apoc stuff is. (I haven’t read the book, it might do a better job with that.)

  9. Nora,

    Sorry, that was meant to be a(n) (un)healthy dose of cynicism, not a pronouncement on How Things Are And Must Be. Just that it feels like ‘shit diversity’ and ‘no diversity’ seemed like all that had been offered. I was not aware of Elegy Beach… and, admittedly, I probably haven’t read a lot of postapocs. I don’t read so much as I did, these days.

    RE: epidurals, wouldn’t the majority of women who have given birth EVER have done so without them?

  10. Thank you for pointing out the biggest problem in both post-apocalypse and fantasy (and hell, let’s throw science fiction in there too). Oftentimes it feels like you’re playing “Where did all the non-white people go?” as you’re reading them. When they do mention them – like in Lucifer’s Hammer – they take on the post-apoc villain role (Really? All of the bandits are organized by black people, Niven? Really?). Fantasy is worse; trade routes alone dictate that in any center of European civilization you would have seen persons of colour at some point, but fantasy is largely white-washed (except, of course, when you need a convenient Exotic Villain). Too often genre fiction reinforces the legacy of colonialism, where the only people worthy of having their stories told are rich white men, and the stories told through the lens of race, class, and gender are relegated to the background, if at all.

    I’ve had these problems with post-apoc especially for a while; the stuff from the 1950s and 1960s is problematic but you can at the very least close your eyes and repeat “it was a different time”. Modern works have no excuse and yet so many of them fall into the same stereotypical traps.

  11. Just want to give a little info (since you mentioned you’ve not read the books and know little about Brook’s specific apocalypse and its reasons/fallout) that the place where everyone is saved is in a mountain valley in Washington State (The Cascades I believe), and there are a mere few hundred survivors (a magical being known as a Gypsy Morph [a human hybrid with raw magic at birth] sacrifices himself to push his magic out to protect that valley [and the Elvish city of Aborlon; which had been hidden like the bottled city of Kandor within a small stone] for 500 years while the world crumbles around them).

    Most human survivors are from Washington and parts of Oregon (and a few stragglers who make their way up there from California) Brooks lives in Seattle, which would be why he chose there to set his survival. Everyone else is wiped off the map or massively changed by demon-war and nuclear winter. The demographics for those two main places (current census info representative) are largely indicative of how the races in the books play out. There is no other truly safe place on the planet, either the fallout got them, or the demons infested them and changed them.

    The amount of time between when those that believe this is going to happen, and when it happens is measured in weeks. People from other farther-flung States are screwed, nevermind the world. Not to mention that a significant number of people simply don’t buy the warnings from the Knights of the Word (early wizards with divine information) about what’s coming and why they must go north for safety. So while the demons overrun things in most places, a soldier in a secret military base and driven mad uses the codes and launches all the nuclear missiles he can at multiple global targets. Boom. Anyone NOT in that Magic ValleyTM is not lasting long if they survive the nuclear hits and the demons.

    So, as a comparison for it, if a human-saving magic existed in say…Japan and a world-killing apocalypse were on its way fast, the majority of the saved would be Japanese (with a very small percentage of foreigners). It’s not the most unique idea for a post-apocalyptic world or at all diverse…but in that specific apocalypse, that’s how the demographics would fall.

    Please note, this is not a defense or anything or a rebuttal of your post. It’s just some insider baseball from someone who’s read all the books and wanted to let you know the ins and outs of how and why in Shannara according to the sources. Source books: “Armageddon’s Children”, “The Elves of Cintra”, and “The Gypsy Morph”

  12. OK, I’m just befuddled that the Shannara books, of which I read only the first, somehow if you keep up with them are a postapocalyptic whatsis. That doesn’t make any sense at all. I mean, given enough time–hundreds of thousands of years, maybe–I guess anything can happen, but for all the reasons already pointed out here it’s simply ridiculously unlikely that the modern world turns into Tolkienland.

    On the other hand, I want to thank all the writers who get nitpicky about their postapocalyptic futures, and consistent in their worldbuilding. I don’t much enjoy stories in the (however far) future unless I can see and believe how we got there from here, and if the there works on its own merits. I’m still mad at a fantasy writer who, in the midst of an otherwise really fantastic adventure on a thought-provoking world, had crops that in our world require completely different ecosystems growing next to each other.

  13. I don’t care what anyone says, I loved Pixar’s “Home.”

    (I…er… am not sure if that quite counts as an apocalypse. But I saw the people of actual world gathered in Australia at the end, there.)

  14. DREAMWORKS. DREAMWORKS, DANGIT. Whoops.

  15. Firstly, VERY few humans survived the actual apocalypse. It had almost complete devastation. With such a small survivor pool, I imagine there would be some race levelling…although I would expect them to end up darker than they do.
    Secondly, no human experimentation went on. The orcs-things were not genetically created. They are demons that were locked out of our world long before the modern world was created and now they are breaking back in. They are actually far older than humanity.
    Thirdly, the reason that the future society is now a magical one is because it is reverting to the original ways from before technology. He explains it in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, I believe. The elves are the oldest race from a time when magic was prominent. Then the elves and their magic was locked away and man took over, building their world on science and technology. The apocalypse wiped out their progress and, because elves made up a good portion of the survivors, magic was the tool they needed to rebuild their world.
    Lastly, I do agree with you that they need more PoC and I really dislike that this genre is so whitewashed. I always imagined Eretria as a PoC actually so I was disappointed that she looked so much like Amberle. I thought the casting of both Eretria and Amberle was not very well done. They look way too much a like and they’re supposed to be opposites.

  16. Folks,

    Since these kinds of comments keep coming in, let me clarify — I don’t want to know what actually happened with the apocalypse.

    I understand that Seattle is one of the whitest cities in this country. That’s not in dispute. But I just did some basic number-crunching. If Brooks’ disaster happened today, that would mean 47,000+ black people would survive it. 93,000+ Asians. 34,000 Latinos. That’s almost 200,000 people and I haven’t even begun talking about Vancouver (if that’s included in the area of the books; just the Asian pop of Vancouver adds another 425,000), or the Native American populations of the region, or the suburbs and exurbs. Just metro Seattle.

    Those people should not be gone. Their descendants should not be gone, unless the post-disaster culture immediately stops noticing race, starts speaking the same language, forgets culture, and starts fucking away their racial distinctiveness immediately. Even then, that many PoC — a third of the population, roughly — should show in the descendants in some way. We should see them, or their traits, everywhere in the current folk of the country. And the resultant culture should incorporate more elements than British. If those people are gone without a trace, it means hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the aftermath of the near-extermination of the human race. That sounds… unwise. An expensive waste of resources, including human resources, in the wake of a disaster. Also some Nazi-level shit. But that’s what it means.

    And I don’t need to hear explanations for why or how it happened. There’s a very simple reason that the world of Shannara is the way it is: Brooks wanted it that way. See, I’m an epic fantasy writer, too, and I know that writers make choices. Brooks decided that he wanted to set a medieval European society in the far-future Pacific Northwest, and he made the choices necessary to create this. That does not mean he had no other choices. It means he chose to do what he did for reasons of his own. I don’t need to know his reasons in order to question the result.

    Now, the question I did tacitly ask, and which no one has yet answered for me, is whether there were any people of color in the Shannara books. I’m hearing a lot of “well, I hoped such-and-such-a-character would be,” and excuses for why there aren’t any (which I suppose answers my question right there…), but no direct yes/no answer. Bottom line: does Brooks describe, or name, any of his human characters’ races? If so, are any of them described or named to indicate that they are PoC?

  17. Let me answer your question then.

    Yes, there are.

    Angel Perez – Hispanic (Main Character)
    O’olish Amaneh – Native American (features in about 6 books, IIRC)
    Panther (nickname) – African American (Main Character, second in command of the Ghosts after Hawk)
    Squirrel (nickname) – African American (Main Character)
    Tessa – African American (Main Character and protag’s SO, one of the survivors in the Valley)
    Juan Gonzalez – Hispanic (secondary character, mentor to Angel)
    Eretria – Hispanic (Main Character, one of the three in the TV show, and they cast the Catalan actress from “Pan’s Labyrinth” in the role) Basically, the Rover’s (the group of people that she comes from) are Iberian peninsular-ish Gypsy allegories and are probably the most prevalent non-white, non-elvish, non-other creature race in the Four Lands.

    Those are the ones I can list off my head. There are likely more, but I can’t think of them, and it’s been a while since I’ve read the main line of Shannara books, especially the latter ones.

    Speaking of casting, Allanon (which you deemed the “token magical brown person”, a tad unfairly I feel) in the books is an old, skinny, white Gandalfy druid with black hair. So the fact that they cast Manu Bennet in a traditionally white role is is nice bit of diversity, plus Bennet is a splendid actor.

    Lastly, Brooks would have set the books as beginning where they do because it’s where he lives. He’s writing what he knows. And beyond that he purposely put POC in lead roles in the novels that bridge our Earth (Word & Void) to the Fantasy world (Shannara), including a union between Hawk & Tessa (Who I think are the progenitors of at least one of the major familial dynasties in the Four Lands).

    Anyways, like I said, not the most diverse, but the latter books (the post-apoc ones) in the series, the bridging books, show the difference between an author in the late 1970’s writing fantasy, and the same one in the early 2000’s writing fantasy. The cast of his first book is universally white (I think), and the cast of a book written around the turn of the millennium is much more diverse with at least half the lead human characters being POC.

    My two cents.

  18. Jack,

    Excellent; that’s good to hear. Troubling to hear that it didn’t occur to Brooks to diversify until the early 2000s. Not like other fantasy writers weren’t writing diverse epics at the time and earlier; “it was the 70s” doesn’t really work as an excuse for me. But at least he realized the problem, however late he fixed it. Thanks for letting me know.

    That only partially explains why the trailer was so white, though. (Note: the “token magical brown person” was a reference to the trailer. I’ve watched it three times now and still don’t see Bennett. There’s a “swarthy guy in the shadows” at 1:01, but he doesn’t look like Bennett in the face. Is that him, tho?) Other productions (e.g. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings) that are being adapted from older novels have made an effort to correct flaws of exclusion from the originals, not always well but the effort is usually visible. No reason this show couldn’t have tried the same thing. It may well be that they’re going to — but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve chosen to advertise this show with a trailer featuring nothing but white humans (and somewhere, Manu Bennett). It means something that they chose to do that.

    Since I mentioned Jackson’s LotR… Most of the trailers for the first film made sure to showcase Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, or Liv Tyler as Arwen — the latter usually in the scene where she saves Frodo and confronts the Ringwraiths. Some of the trailers were actually centered around that scene, making Arwen seem as important to the film as Aragorn. IMO, this was because otherwise the trailers tended to be a complete sausage-fest, much like Tolkien’s novels. Jackson actually altered Arwen’s role to give her more agency and make the movie less sexist than the books. And I notice that he downplayed the creepy racism of the books too, showing the “Easterlings” and “Southrons” only briefly — and not in the ads. All of that meant something: that the producers of the film wanted it to appeal to women as well as men, and even if they couldn’t add a PoC character (they could’ve, but that’s a different argument), at least they didn’t want it to offend people of color.

    So what you’ve told me makes it clear that the real issue with this TV show is its producers: either they haven’t thought about the problems inherent in the text, or they have — but they don’t want to signal to audiences that they’re trying to correct for those problems. And on top of the racial exclusion, the choice to showcase British actors juxtaposed with the ruins of Seattle signals “screw your logic, screw good storytelling, we’re just trying to follow the Jackson formula and make some money”. Except Jackson did a better job.

    Still… I’m glad to know that Brooks only contributed partially to the problem, and that he got better. Hopefully the producers of this show will follow his example. Quickly.

  19. Actually Manu Bennet is in the trailer more than a few times. He’s the one with the shaved head on the side, the one you seen on horseback quite a bit (Allanon does a lot of Gandalf-ing off on his own), the one who has the tattoos on the back of his head, I THINK it’s him holding the Sword of Shanana as it expands.

    Eretria is in there as well, Ivana Baquero, the shorter of the two female leads, is as I noted a Spanish actress from Barcelona. The second female lead (Amberle) is an elf who are nordic-ly white in the Four Lands.

    I think I’m willing to give Millar and Gough the benefit of the doubt at this early juncture for how diverse the rest of the show plays out when all ten eps air next year. Only time will tell if they shoot for changing up the status quo with the secondary characters and who they cast.

    And yeah I think Brooks grew as a writer over the intervening years, and I’m happy to focus on that growth.

    As for me, I’ve NEVER been a stickler for accuracy of accents myself. As long as the actor playing the role does the dialogue justice and chews up the scenery, I could care less what accent they possess, and in some situations I’m bothered by making an actor change their accent when they’re native tongue allows them far more range than constraining themselves by hampering their own delivery. The cast here is a mix of nationalities, so I fully expect Manu to keep his Kiwi accent, Poppy to keep her British one, Ivana to keep her Spanish lilt, Rhys Davies to sound his typical Welsh, and Austin Butler to keep his American California one. Hopefully that’s the case. The mix of accents will negate any favoritism and focus on story.

  20. Jack,

    Huh. That guy really does not look like Bennett, but I’ll take your word for it. And glad they’re letting Bennett look “exotic” rather than downplaying his race, if he’s got tats on his head. Not sure why you’re mentioning Baquero; a Spaniard is not necessarily a person of color. (Could be, since Spain’s been colonized by and had contact with African cultures for centuries and Spain has certain ethnic minorities that are discriminated against like the Basques… but generally Spaniard = white European.) I assume she’s the woman with the “exotic” braids along the sides of her head? Interesting choices they’re making in the makeup department there.

    And you’re very kind and patient. :) I don’t give anyone the benefit of that doubt anymore. It’s 2015; there’s no reason anyone should be repeating these kinds of exclusions by accident. It should simply be standard practice by now to have women and PoC in nearly everything. Excluding purposefully, because they only want to appeal to a certain audience? Sure, if reprehensible. But thoughtlessly? No. I expect creators to be good at creating. I expect SFF writing to be plausible. That doesn’t seem such a high standard to hold people to.

    So if the characters that each of these actors are playing are all from different parts of the Four Lands, then cool. If they all grew up in the same town and they sound like United Colors of Bennetton… yeah, ok, no.

  21. I am Terry’s webmaster and long-time Shannara officanado.

    I will bullet-point my thoughts, since I’m still recovering from post Comic-Con and barely have energy and time to address the points here:

    – Ms. Jemisin brings up more than valid points about Hollywood and whitewashing. We have seen it done repeatedly and talking about it is the only way to spread awareness.

    – But three minutes of teaser trailer does not accurately portray the diversity that exists or does not exist in the TV series. Or the books, for that matter. To use the trailer to making sweeping generalizations is unfortunate.

    – In the novels, Allanon is mentioned has having “dark skin,” Jack. Terry is on record as saying he would have loved Elba to play the role. But Manu is the person who is filling the Druid’s shoes now and he does an excellent job.

    – There was a casting duel for the role of Eretria between Ivana and another UK actress of African descent. Eventually Ivana won the role after testing stronger with Austin Butler.

    – The other cast members are Elessedils and part of the same family and hence of similar ethnicity.

    – Ms. Jemisin is right: How the apocalypse unfolded doesn’t matter in regards to what the TV series portrays. But I would be remiss not to mention that Allanon has been in the series since 1977. Therefore, Terry was writing an ethnically diverse character right from the start. I know I always saw him as a black man and hated the interior illustrations of him. Terry has also written numerous characters with disabilities, minorities (as Jack mentioned above), and even an LGBT mentoring couple. To say Terry has white-washed books until 2000 is an unfortunate accusation that smacks of having not read his work. The character of Two Bears would have some serious problems with that. Ha.

    – The casting directors pulled their cast members from countries all over the world. And will continue to do so as the series progresses, from what I understand.

    – Right from the first minutes of the first episode of THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES, ethnic diversity is present:

    Photo: https://scontent.fsnc1-1.fna.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpt1/v/t1.0-9/11178201_10153069333086733_1882297533086451477_n.jpg?oh=bfb3689927d94b80c94a6c071ffd865e&oe=561104FB

    I sincerely hope many of you will tune into the first episode and base it on its merits, not the merits of a teaser trailer that certainly does not reflect what I’ve seen. Then at that time, have this discussion in full because it is an important one to have.

    Cheers.

  22. I realized afterwards this came out pretty long, so apologies and thanks for being patient in advance:

    One of the things you may have noticed about Jack’s list of the characters of color in the series is that they’re almost all from the Pre-Shannara books. In the “Word & Void” and “Genesis” series, race and ethnicity is more explicit because they take place in our time.

    Once you move into the regular Shannara books though, ala the books that take place in the four lands, there’s a much bigger problem. It’s almost impossible to identify characters of color, both with the books that were written before W&V/Genesis and the ones after. The reason for this is because Brooks uses “brown” to describe characters with tan skin, with phrases like “brown with sun” and others. If you try to take a character who is just described as “brown” you will run into defenses citing ambiguity, citing that the character could be tan, etc. Race/ethnicity is not explicit in the four lands. With a character like Allanon, for example, he is described over and over again as having a “dark face” when that description is no longer necessary and isn’t being used in an emotional sense. Thankfully, casting went with a Maori actor instead of a darker skinned white person and Brooks was happy with the result. There is also Commander Tilton, who is a minor/secondary black woman who was made for the show and not in the book. But that is not the case with almost every other character in the show and the cast is still overwhelmingly white. Bandon and Catania, two new characters, are both white. Major characters Ander and Arion are white. Crispin, Slanter, Mallenroh, Morag, and I’m sure at least most of the other secondary characters will be white as well.

    Eretria for example is a messy situation, as some of the other comments have mentioned. The Rovers are these heavy handed Roma stereotypes that are prominent in Elfstones and are one of the most blatant examples of characters of color. They wander around in caravans, are described with passages of silk, murder and steal from everyone else in the four lands, believe that women are subservient to men, etc., and trade women amongst different groups of caravans. Eretria is one of the woman who was traded to the Rover group that Wil and Amberle, the leads of Elfstones, run into over the course of the book. She is Cephelo’s adopted Rover daughter, who is the leader of the caravan group. Cephelo and Eretria are described with Romani traits and cultural connotations (“dark face”, thick black hair, items of clothing, Eretria is sexually objectified, etc.) over and over again, making it clear that they’re a stereotypical example of what darker-skinned Roma people look and act like. They are pretty much supposed to be non-white and dark-skinned, visibly and noticeably so to the reader and to Wil Ohmsford, who shares his perspective for most of the book. There isn’t anything distinctly “Hispanic” about them, the definition of which includes White Spaniards anyway.

    The problem is that because race/ethnicity is not explicit in the four lands, the books that are not Pre-Shannara, there’s some sliver room of deniability, even though they are contrasted as “ambiguously brown” with the white characters. Cephelo and Eretria are both Greek names for example, it would be easy for someone to assume they’re still white while ignoring all the people of color in Europe and the Roma people who lived there for hundreds of years. Casting went with James Remar as Cephelo and Ivana Baquero as Eretria though.

    Based on this and the Rover camps that are depicted in the trailer, it looks like the show is attempting to depoliticize the hotbed of stereotypes and issues that is the Rovers by casting most of them as white. This doesn’t really make things better, since it sounds like the writing will still be the same, and the show runners used the G-word to refer to Eretria: https://youtu.be/5EjXdfNTS1Q?t=5m28s As you noted, Eretria has the hair braids and will likely still be coded differently based on her outfits and makeup. Eretria is supposed to look different from Amberle but they both look pretty similar. The other side of this is that Eretria has a daughter named Brin who is illustrated this way in The World of Shannara guide book: http://www.crescentblues.com/4_5issue/other_pics/Brin125.jpg Brin is described as looking exactly as Eretria did 20 years ago, so this represents what Eretria would look like. But because this is an artist’s interpretation of her and “not Terry’s” no one really cares about trying to stay accurate to it. This casting decision isn’t a coincidence, since now both Brin and Jair will have to be white, and the next book, Wishsong, is even whiter than Elfstones because there are no Rovers, which would leave just Allanon and a token secondary character(s) again.

    For some perspective, Brooks said this at the Comic Con panel: “I never went into this with a specific idea of who the characters should be or even that much what they should look like…There wasn’t anybody in this cast that I felt was wrong. I think that must be fairly astonishing, but not once did I feel like there was a misstep with the choices.” Allanon was allowed to be different from how Terry pictured him, but Allanon was always described as having dark skin anyway… outside of Eretria the rest of the cast we know of is totally white as they were in the books, aside from Tilton, a new minor character. I don’t think Brooks has any bad intentions, he seems really focused on the capability of the actors and excited about the show, but he also wasn’t really willing to try and substantially change the almost univerally white cast of Elfstones in this adaptation as an executive producer, outside of one existing character and one new one, and his intentions don’t really change the result anyway.

    TLDR;, the casting for Eretria and Cephelo aren’t really accurate, and even if there were other characters of color in the show, there wouldn’t be very many left, and they would only be in secondary positions to the white characters. I wrote another long post on the matter if you are interested in reading about the issue in detail http://thefourlands.tumblr.com/post/112197828623/following-recent-comments-concerning-eretrias Of course, my commentary is my opinion and not necessarily perfect.

  23. Shawn,

    Whew. I’ll leave it to you to debate interpretation of the books and characters with Jack; that sounds like a discussion for fans, and I’m not one. But I’ll address one thing that’s relevant to me:

    It’s not “unfortunate” to question the way a new TV show is being advertised. I’ve said, both in the OP and my replies to comments, that it’s certainly possible the TV show will be better than its ads make it look re diversity. But as I said in my reply to Jack, ads aren’t meaningless. There’s a message inherent in who an ad is trying to appeal to that should be scrutinized, because it has implications for how the show is going to unfold. What I’m getting from the Shannara trailer is that they want young people to watch it, since most of the characters featured in the trailer are young and presumably attractive. They particularly want young men to watch it, since there are several shots of young male protagonist doing “powerful” things, while the women in the trailer are mostly shown in peril — or just standing around looking pretty. They particularly want young white men to watch it, or there would be more visible PoC in the ad. They also want whoever liked LotR to watch it, thus the sweeping New Zealand vistas, and they’re hoping to capture the dystopian/post-apocalyptic YA audience a la the Hunger Games and Divergent, thus the lingering apocalypse porn shots on the Space Needle, etc. Note that dystopian YA has a huge problem with depicting futuristic diversity, too; c.f. Divergent’s near-total whitewashing of Chicago.

    The people who put the Shannara ad together have almost surely chosen this collection of images intentionally, with an eye towards the exact targeted marketing I just mentioned. Makes sense; 18-34 year-old white people are most of MTV’s audience. (They spent awhile trying to appeal to the “urban” demographic back in the Nineties, after completely alienating them in the Eighties, but it looks like they’ve given that up, and seem uninterested in simply “a diverse audience”.) Most likely they’ve got a bunch of buyers who are interested in that market lined up for the commercial slots. The show will fail if it appeals to too many other people — those commercial slot buyers will be unhappy — so the ad is designed not to appeal to those other groups. This kind of thing, popularity but with the wrong audience, has killed other shows.

    So what this ad means is that the show’s producers do not want anyone except young white people, preferably men, watching it. And in order to make this work, they are making the Four Lands seem all white, except for Manu Bennett and some literally dehumanized characters. But that fits, too; white millennials like a little diversity. Just not too much.

    Pointing these things out, and noting the unintentional effects this kind of targeted marketing has for everyone who’s not a young white male, and noting the implications this kind of marketing is going to have for what viewers think of Shannara’s world… is Media Criticism 101. It is not “unfortunate.”

    I’ll check out the show when it comes on, despite this ad that’s very obviously suggesting the show is literally not for me. Hopefully it’s better than the ad re diversity. But I don’t think it can be too much better, because otherwise it won’t last.

  24. I agree very much with your response,

    I think the other thing too is that the characters being advertised here are almost all of the lead characters. The only lead character missing is Ander Elessedil, who’s a white male as well, same with his brother Arion, and same with most of the other secondary and supporting characters that we know of. It’s not going to improve in future ads unless they really pump out Allanon and Tilton for more than they’re actually worth in comparison.

    There’s nothing unfortunate about realizing that, there’s also nothing wrong with pointing this out in generalizations either because that’s the way it actually is. One other supporting character, a couple at most and some glorified extras/tertiary characters doesn’t actually help the problem that’s been pointed out.

  25. “It’s not “unfortunate” to question the way a new TV show is being advertised.”

    I see nothing wrong with questioning how a show is being promoted or advertised. Certainly, that is your prerogative because the teaser trailer does exist and you’ve watched it. Go forth and criticize every frame if you wish.

    Rather, I find it unfortunate that, by extension of your argument and opinions of the teaser trailer, you are inadvertently — or maybe purposefully, I don’t know — tainting an entire show as ethnically not diverse. When that is not the case. In fact, when the show airs, can you even fathom the amount of readers who are going to be angry when some of the Elves are — shhhh, wait for it — black? Or Asian? Elves can’t be black! Elves can’t be Asian! This TV show is a disgrace! How dare MTV ruin my white Elves!?

    Maybe your blog reaction to the trailer CAN BE firmly placed on the people who cut the trailer. They are ultimately responsible for what you saw, yes? That I can agree with as well.

    But then you have TheFourLands’s assertions. TheFourLands has been upset for months that more primary characters aren’t ethnically more diverse. But it wasn’t for lack of trying during casting — as I’ve illustrated above — and it becomes even more difficult when four of the main characters are part of the same family and, by extension, must be similar looking to be believable.

    In short, not everyone will be happy. Who is right? Who is wrong? That’s up to all of you to decide. I’m here to say there is a history behind the show that you all aren’t privy to that rebuts some of the points being made.

    Good evening. Hope you all will tune in.

    Big fan of your writing, by the way.

  26. Shawn,

    Thanks.

    Like I said, usually the ads for a show are an indicator for what audience it’s seeking. If you think that an ad which blatantly seeks to appeal only to young white men “taints” the show… yeah. It does. That is exactly my point. It’s a bad sign. I don’t think the showrunners intended it to be, probably because they don’t think making PoC viewers feel excluded/tokenized/fetishized/stereotyped is bad… but it is.

    And while I’m delighted to hear that there will be elves of color, please also note my OP point about the nasty tendency of fantasy to relegate people of color to “magical” or non-human roles. What I want is to know that actors of color have the same opportunity to play characters in the lead roles and the background, characters with agency, characters who are “just people”, as white actors. That’s painfully rare on TV, period, but there’s a certain kind of fantasy in which it’s treated as impossible — as more unbelievable than dragons or magic. The ad is making the show seem like that kind of fantasy.

    So sure; I’ll check out the show’s first episode or two. That should be enough time to get a feel for the showrunners’ goals. I’m aware that Brooks probably doesn’t have a lot of control over the show. Authors rarely do — which is why I’ve been asking to what degree the books can be held accountable for the lack of diversity in the ad vs the show’s production team. (What I’m understanding, after sifting through the very esoteric discussion between you and Jack and TheFourLands, is that the early books contain some anti-Ziganist sterotypes and lots of ambiguity that feeds into the white default, but that this gets better in the later “prequel” books. Is that correct? Which suggests if the show is true to the books, that trailer is spot-on.) And I’m aware that the show might manage to transcend its target marketing. That happens sometimes.

    But I’ll be watching those first eps not with excitement, but with skepticism, and the show’s going to have to be phenomenal to overcome the bad taste that the trailer has left in my mouth. I like your word, “tainted”. That’s exactly what this ad has done for me, as a potential viewer for whom this was my first real impression of the Shannara series. I suspect I’m not the only fantasy lover who’s having this reaction to the trailer. But I am not the one “tainting” the show. The people who created that trailer are. And IMO you should be asking why the people marketing a series you so obviously love are making choices that alienate some of its potential audience.

  27. @Shawn. Apologies, you are correct about Allanon. I guess teenage-me wasn’t paying enough attention to the narrative and paid more attention to the book cover visuals. Which shows a fault in my own character in assuming the cover art was a good representation of the insides. It’s also been a while since I read the main series so my memory of the various characters is foggy. I know you know your stuff when it comes to this, so I’ll defer to your knowledge.

    I think I’ve said my piece otherwise. N.K. please excuse some of my less than accurate information that Shawn has now corrected.

    As a person of mixed Asian heritage, I’m glad to hear that some of the elves will be Asian!

  28. I’m only defending Brooks here and not the show, but why wouldn’t a white guy have his main characters white? Wouldn’t most characters in a book mirror people the author interacts with in real life? If I wrote a fantasy novel, most of my characters would probably be white as most of my friends are white as I live in a mostly white community in the mostly white northeast suburbs. It just is what it is. Couldn’t it be as innocent as that? Especially if you’re a new author? Especially since Shannara was written 30+ years ago? Is it a coincidence that the main character of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is black and the author is black as well?

    Personally, just being completely honest, I could give a fuck about the diversity of a SFF book, movie, or TV show. I’m reading or watching SFF to escape my often boring or monotonous life. I just want to read or see a good story. If the characters are black or white or asian or whatever, I could give a fuck, I just want to see some characters with depth. Am I supposed to dislike Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon because all the characters are Chinese or Star Wars because they are all white? I’m happy to fight for and vote for and encourage diversity in politics, at work, and in my community, but can’t I just enjoy myself sometimes? Geez…Chill out…its elves, orcs, and goblins, swords and sorcery…

    BTW, just finished Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Looking forward to reading the rest of your works and excited that I’ve found a new good author. I read a lot and it has been hard to find good authors lately. There’s so much trash out there.

    Cheers,

    Middle-aged-white-guy

  29. Middle-Aged White Guy,

    I’m only defending Brooks here and not the show, but why wouldn’t a white guy have his main characters white?

    Because most authors care more about being good writers, and thus establishing plausibility in a given milieu, than just writing characters who look like them regardless of how plausible that might be. As I’ve said upthread in the comments here, roughly 1/3rd of people in Seattle are people of color. To depict that percentage as nonexistent is… implausible. And poor worldbuilding/writing, IMO — unless Brooks means to suggest that a racial holocaust occurred sometime before the novels began. It sounds like he did not intend to suggest that, and tried to do better about his racial representation over time.

    Wouldn’t most characters in a book mirror people the author interacts with in real life?

    Yes… if that author is writing a realistic modern story in that specific setting. Brooks isn’t; he’s instead writing far-future Seattle. But like I said, 30-something percent of the people in Seattle are not white, and unless something happened to those people off-stage, there’s no logical reason for their descendants to be all white.

    If I wrote a fantasy novel, most of my characters would probably be white as most of my friends are white as I live in a mostly white community in the mostly white northeast suburbs. It just is what it is.

    It isn’t what it is; it’s a choice you’ve made. Lots of fantasy writers make different choices. You’re not stuck writing what you know — or do you know a lot of dragons?

    Couldn’t it be as innocent as that?

    That’s not innocent. That’s a choice you’ve made, to exclude people who aren’t like you, and it has a real-world impact on readers which can be painful. Do you think telling strangers “you don’t belong here” and “I fantasize about your extermination” is innocent? Because that’s what these kinds of exclusions mean, to some of us.

    Especially if you’re a new author?

    It certainly might be something an inexperienced writer would do. Which is why I generally recommend that inexperienced writers practice lots, read a lot about the world, join a writing group for different perspectives, etc., so they won’t make such a garden-variety mistake. I was certainly taught to do these things in order to become a good writer myself, by writers of Brooks’ generation.

    Especially since Shannara was written 30+ years ago?


    Is it a coincidence that the main character of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is black and the author is black as well?

    Yeine isn’t black. The Darre’s closest real-world equivalent would be the Incas of what is now Peru. (I am not Incan. Or half white, for that matter.) There are no black human characters in 100K.

    Personally, just being completely honest, I could give a fuck about the diversity of a SFF book, movie, or TV show.

    That doesn’t seem to actually be the case, given that you’ve written a rather long comment “defending” Brooks. Or do you normally do that re topics you don’t give a fuck about?

    I’m reading or watching SFF to escape my often boring or monotonous life.

    And yet, apparently, you would write a fantasy with mostly white characters just like those of your mostly white existence in your mostly white northeast suburbs? Can’t be that boring, if that’s all you ever want to write about.

    I just want to read or see a good story. If the characters are black or white or asian or whatever, I could give a fuck, I just want to see some characters with depth. Am I supposed to dislike Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon because all the characters are Chinese or Star Wars because they are all white?

    The characters in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon aren’t all Chinese, or at least aren’t what qualified as Chinese at the time. That’s where some of the story’s drama comes from — Zhang Ziyi’s character is Manchu, the ruling ethnicity of the time, and she falls in love with (if I recall) a Mongol bandit with no prospects. The story is literally about love between people of different cultures and walks of life who cannot be together because of their differences.

    And the characters in the Star Wars saga aren’t all white. Or do you mean only the first film? Lucas regretted the first film’s whiteness and then spent the rest of the series trying to repair the damage he did with that (to varying degrees of success). Are you saying that an inexperienced director’s admitted mistake is something to emulate?

    I’m happy to fight for and vote for and encourage diversity in politics, at work, and in my community, but can’t I just enjoy myself sometimes?

    Do only white guys get to just enjoy themselves? What are the rest of us supposed to do while you’re enjoying yourself? And why does your enjoyment require you to consume entertainment populated entirely by people like yourself? Does it really harsh your squee so much to see someone who isn’t like you on the screen for awhile?

    Geez…Chill out…its elves, orcs, and goblins, swords and sorcery…

    No, it’s people. We’re talking about human characters — in this case descended from the people of Seattle. And we’re talking about the human beings who’ve written this story and made this TV show, and the possible human beings who might watch it. None of those are mythical.

    BTW, just finished Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Looking forward to reading the rest of your works and excited that I’ve found a new good author. I read a lot and it has been hard to find good authors lately. There’s so much trash out there.

    Thank you. But I would urge you to read 100K again if you came away from it and thought anybody except Itempas was black. You missed something.

  30. ROFL, that Psych meme is awesome.

  31. Most likely they’ve got a bunch of buyers who are interested in that market [18-34 year-old white men] lined up for the commercial slots. The show will fail if it appeals to too many other people — those commercial slot buyers will be unhappy — so the ad is designed not to appeal to those other groups. This kind of thing, popularity but with the wrong audience, has killed other shows.

    QFT. Marketers will say, “but we’re targeting our ads on this other show to young women, and on this other channel to viewers of color, and in this other timeslot to older viewers, etc., etc.” And so they won’t want viewers from those other groups to watch a show pitched to young white men–or at least not so many of the “other” viewers that the show gets known for it, and the young white men start staying away* because of it.

    *Actually, young white men might not stop watching just because other groups watch, but the common media wisdom is that they will; common media wisdom is almost never based on actual research, so it’s hard to say if it’s true or not.

  32. As a long time fan of science fiction and fantasy during my teenage years; thank you for highlighting something that has bugged me for years. Your observations remind me of the infamous Richard Pryor skit about the lack of black people in Logan’s Run. He correctly surmised that it feels like there are plans for us not to be around in the future. There’s a wealth of information online on the representation or lack thereof of black people in futuristic science fiction and fantasy.

  33. Can I just say that (as a lover of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and to a less smitten degree of specfic in general) I appreciate your articulate thoughts, am glad you brought this up, and am in awe of your patient and thoughtful responses?

    Thank you.

  34. I am just wondering why in all this discussion two major points haven’t been brought up.

    First, Elfstones main character, Wil Ohmsford, is a mixed race character (something that today is seriously looked down upon in many “pure” race cultures. I, as a person with over half a dozen racial bloodlines love Terry Brooks for his regular dealings with people who are treated far lesser, than those who face racial issues. I am disappointed to hear that the elves, a race that unlike Trolls, Gnomes, Dwarves, and various others that evolved from holocaust mutations, and were their own race, will become humancentric because of “equality”.

    Secondly, the unmutated, magically protected humans, that were saved from the apocalyptic devastation of the great wars, numbered a few hundred, barely a thousand. These humans would have had to give up on “racial” purity just to survive as a species. This would have meant a heavy mixing of bloodlines to insure a healthy population rebuilding base. In 2000 years, that mixing of blood would have levelled out skin tones and racial features to be pretty similar across the board. A generic, mutt human racial hybrid with a tanned skin tone, and pretty average brown hair (science-fact). While occasional throwbacks with lighter or darker skin might appear, or various rare hair colors, this look would be the norm. Not white, not PoC, but mutts, Heinz57’s, multimixed races.

    Diversity amongst the other non-human/elf races would be almost required, as they were the majority that survived without magic protection from the radiation.

    I will enjoy the TV series for what it is, I doubt it, or it’s characters will match at all what I created in my own imagination reading the books.

    I am working on a SF series, race will be an issue, but not humans, as a series titled “Humanity’s End”, won’t require many “human” racial roles (there will actually only be one human, female).

    I do get what you’re complaints are regarding the add, I wish you would have judged the books and author themselves by reading their works before criticizing them. That’s like going to a movie, leaving ten minutes in, and then giving a review of what you thought of the entire movie… as a writer, you fail to bring an informed discussion in certain areas.

    I am glad someone did finally answer your “are there any PoC characters in the books?” question.

    As to Brooks earlier works, I felt he wrote the charactersore so you could “select” how they looked, or their race based on how you yourself interpreted their description. It felt more like he was trying to avoid “racializing” any characters other than the “races” (elves, dwarves, trolls). I hope you approach future readings with more of an open mind.

    On the other hand… Sword was a total Tolkien ripoff, but I know people who can read Terry’s version (which I consider everypersons Tolkien), and couldn’t read a page of LotR (academics Tolkien). So I think his contributions to the average fantasy lover, may be more beneficial than Tolkiens…

  35. Shattered,

    I think you’ve missed the window for other people seeing and reacting to this article; commentary is actually about to close for it. (Only stays active 45 days, I think. Can’t remember the limit I set.) So I’ll simply point out that most of your points were actually brought up by other Brooks fans, and I addressed most of them in the comments thus far, so take a look at that.

    I will add one thing, though. As I pointed out upthread, if a third of the population of Seattle is black, Asian, or non-white Hispanic, and the 1000 people who survived the apocalypse were a random selection of people and not just, say, from the segregated white neighborhood or something… then there’s no way the people of the Shannara series should look like what I saw in that ad. Blond hair and blue eyes are recessive traits; the ad should’ve been full of dark-haired light-brown-skinned people, quite a lot of them with kinky or naturally curly hair, and quite a lot of them with double-lidded eyes.

    (I will also point out that with a population of only 1000 people, they would have had to adopt radically non-nuclear family configurations to avoid inbreeding. So if people in this society are still practicing monogamy and other medieval European customs, especially among the women — each should be having children with multiple partners for maximum diversity — then this society is probably already riddled with genetic disease and doomed in the long term. Frankly they should be matrilineal, too, since that makes the most sense for tracking bloodlines. But that’s nitpicking.)

  36. The two points I brought up were two that weren’t really mentioned.

    But let me just put it this way. As a writer, my biggest worry regarding my books, is the same as most others that the reader will judge the book by its cover, or the sensationalist blurb on the back cover, both of which rarely have anything to do with the story content, and the “blurb” is usually not in the writers control, but the publishers.

    A TV series uses a trailer as their version of a book cover.

    You just judged a book by its cover, for a reader, this is expected, for a writer…

    As to the saved people, they came from all over, not just Seattle, they were those who heeded the warnings. The Great War was a nuclear apocalypse. There is no definitive racial breakdown of those that did survive (though it was later revealed that Angel Perez, like a few others lived with the elves and began their first racial crossovers.

    Curly hair is a recessive gene btw. Brown would be the common hair color, with black being almost as rare as blonde. This is assuming of course that all the survivors did mix, and didn’t stay racially segregated.

    Also you might want to do some research on mixed bloods, we are genetically, the strongest, healthiest, and most disease resilient humans. While a small breeding pool of people might produce genetic defects, 2000 years later, they’d fade.

    I am a purist when it comes to book/TV conversions, which unlike movies can’t make a remotely reasonable excuse for why they need to cut or drastically alter a storyline beyond stretching it out with added filler. I bit my tongue when I found out they were using PoC for the Elves, not because I think they shouldn’t, but because at no point in the story did it seem that way. In rereading the books to my girlfriend, I’ve found that some descriptions of the elves (sun-browned), made it completely possible for a TV show to write in human racial issues. I don’t like it, I disagree with it, but I’ll still watch it.

    When the internet exploded with racism over the young female character whom Katniss befriends, (name escapes me in the moment), who in the movie was portrayed correctly to the description racially. I fought against such blind racism. When Warner Brothers releases the Dragonriders movie, I’ll be extremely pissed if racial diversity and sexual diversity aren’t strong parts of the show, as they are major aspects to the story. Just like I get pissed when someone alters the sex, sexuality, or race of characters to make the stories more PC.

    Books and writers have gotten better, Brooks started well, and has grown much in the PC department. My comments are simply a reminder, how would you feel if a book of all dark skinned people, was turned into movie/series, and your favorite character was cast white to make the story more PC?

    Book of Eli is probably my second favorite post apocalyptic story next to Mad Max, I would be just as pissed to see them replace Eli with a white person as I would be to see Mad Max rewritten to be a PoC.

    Frankly, unless the story is about “race” issues, it shouldn’t matter what skin color people are. That you’re fighting for change is awesome, but sometimes the reasoning just comes off as petty. I am glad more definitive PoC characters are being written into stories, but this should not affect existing, finished works.

    Just my opinion, but as someone who faces the ultimately worst racism, these books are far from racist, or lacking in PoC characters…

  37. Shattered,

    No, most of your points actually were addressed. Maybe not to your satisfaction, given that your ideas about what constitutes good writing are… let’s just say I disagree. But the subjects were addressed.

    But it’s clear that you have a lot of other, uh, interesting ideas about race and writing that don’t seem to be rooted in science or logic or history, so I’ll end this exchange here.

  38. Well, how about this.

    I’ve seen repeated complaints that several main characters should be female, LGBT, mixed PoC representative, sooo am entirely new story? The moment a new show based on old works gets created it must immediately be changed or it’s wrong. As a writer, that ideal should disturb you, because it takes away your right to say how your world should be. That’s what I’m trying to get you to see about my point. What does any if that have to do with the story? Does every show you ever watch require PoC’s, or are you open-minded enough to look beyond race and enjoy the story. If anything it inspires PoC writers to create fantasy worlds that better represent themselves, and they’d be more honest to the ideal.

    The average blended human, is described as brown eyed, light browned skin, wavy straight hair. Also, on top of genetic mixing you’d have the lack of environmental factors that create requirements to feed a need for darker skin or altered features to compensate. These are based on scientific medical journals that covered the “what if” all races blended over time with current populations what would the final generic human look like. And this was only over 1000 years of evolution.

    Frankly, there should be no white people left, according to science and medicine… unless the dominant survivors were heavy in any one race type.

    I will say this in closing, regarding the trailer, your absolutely right. But when was the last time you judged the books you read by their covers?

  39. Shattered,

    Looks like the last time I judged a book by its cover here on this blog was… hmm… in 2009. On social media I’ve done it a bit more recently — whenever there’s a case of whitewashing, actually — but don’t feel like looking it up.

    And at this point I’m putting you in moderation. I think I’ve made it clear that I’m not interested in discussing your terrible writing advice (seriously? criticism of worldbuilding takes away my right to do terrible worldbuilding?), pseudoscientific/ahistorical claptrap, or in being told how publishing works (as if I haven’t published 6 novels myself). I don’t have time for this, but since you keep posting, let me repeat: I’ll end this here.

The Broken Earth Book Two:

The Obelisk Gate

Thumbnail of The Obelisk Gate cover

Read Sample Chapter 1


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