A few years back, I read a great anthology: So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Meehan. Having not really started studying historical analysis or the impact of colonialism back then, I wasn’t entirely clear on what “postcolonial” meant. “Colonial” I got, since as a longtime fan of SFF I’d read scenario after scenario of stories about people from one society establishing beachheads in another, whether as invaders or friendlier visitors. But what was the “post” part all about? Reading the definition didn’t really bring it home… but that anthology did. In its pages I found several of the basic premises of SF reconsidered and re-centered. Instead of Us vs “the Other” there were stories from the Other’s PoV, othering “the us”. These were stories of what-happens-next, picking up where the alien invasion tales of Hollywood usually end; there were stories of Us becoming Them, via assimilation; there were stories of Them influencing Us without really noticing or caring about the results of Their cultural invasion, and vice versa. It took me awhile to process what I read from that anth, and I’m still chewing on it, though it’s been years since I first read it. As you can probably guess, I’m highly recommending this one. (And to whichever of my friends I loaned it to, I want it back, doggone it. ::gimlet eye at the universe::)
I didn’t make a conscious choice to tackle the subject of colonialism in the Inheritance Trilogy. I just developed the worldbuilding in a way that made sense to me. But in the wake of stuff like that anthology, and the fact that I had begun to understand how “isms” operated in intersecting systems, and the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of history that some would call “revisionist” when in fact it’s the stuff I learned in school that was
pretty much made up out of whole cloth revised — well, let’s just say that what made sense to me after reading SLBD versus what had made sense before, was very, very different.
As an illustration, let me list some of the worldbuilding differences between the original version of the book that became The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and the version that I wrote 12-ish years later:
- (Old version) Most of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms were happily, inarguably Itempan; there was no examination of how most of them became Itempan. The Enefadeh — a term I used to refer only to the mortal worshippers of Enefa — were the only dissident sect. (New version) Most of the world is reluctantly Itempan, and people remember that their ancestors were forced or coerced into the faith. Most of these “converted” cultures have pockets of their old faiths, practiced in secret; the old faiths are varied, one for every god/godling, and sometimes different forms of worship for the same god. The gods themselves have tried to retain something of their old culture despite pressure to conform; in this version of the story, “the Enefadeh” refers to the gods who’ve chosen to remember the old ways and who refuse to submit to Itempas.
- (Old version) There was mention of other races, but most had been so assimilated/mixed that all of them except the Amn were “vaguely uniform brown”. The protagonist’s home culture had been fully assimilated in every way, but was just poorer. (New version) The protagonist’s home culture had been forcibly assimilated but managed to retain something of itself — their own language, their own customs kept in secret, their own phenotype — and was poorer as the direct result of policies implemented by the Amn and global bias against those cultures deemed “darkling” (those that had been forced to assimilate, versus voluntarily doing so).
- (Old version) The Enefadeh were treated as weapons, yet the Arameri still referred to them as “Lord” or “Lady”, because they’re still gods and deserving of basic respect. Viraine was the one to torture Nahadoth, but he did so without the other Arameri’s knowledge, and for his own purposes. (New version) The Arameri make a calculated and sustained effort to disrespect and dehumanize the captive gods — not just abusing them physically and sexually, but destroying their worshippers and maligning their contributions in doctrine and history, and even refusing to acknowledge that they are gods.
- (Old version) The protagonist was male, so I didn’t touch on the gendered aspects of colonialism much — I could’ve really explored what it means to be a man in Darr’s still-mostly-matriarchial culture, but I didn’t. (New version) With a female protag, I could explore the ways in which Darren sexual and reproductive customs have been altered to suit the tastes of the Arameri. Also, in this version I show that Kinneth’s sin wasn’t just marrying beneath her station; she could still have come back to the Arameri for awhile after doing that. It wasn’t until she let Dekarta know she was pregnant — that she had stooped so low as to interbreed with the Other — that Dekarta had her struck from the family rolls. (Note: I didn’t make this explicit in the text because the story is about Yeine’s effort to piece together the mystery of the past; no one knows what happened in the final conversation between Dekarta and Kinneth except them. But I could imply it via the timing, so I tried to do that.)
- (Old version) The gods are gods, period full stop. (New version) The gods are gods, but they’re also effectively another sentient species sharing the planet with mortalkind, and there are cultural and power-balance implications to that sort of thing that I decided to explore in this case. For example, mortals gain the power of magic by accident, thanks to interbreeding with gods — and the gods feel threatened by this, which eventually triggers the Gods’ War.
There’s more, but I think that’s enough of an example. Like I said, not all of this was consciously, deliberately constructed in the new version of the story/world. It’s just the kind of worldbuilding that makes sense to me now.
So, obviously I now have a taste for postcolonial SFF. I still don’t have a ton of free time, but when I do, recommendations for interesting worldbuilding would be welcome! Any suggestions?