Author Topic: African names in SF and believability (was: EP538: The Starsmith)  (Read 3147 times)


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There wasn't enough world-building in evidence to make me truly believe in that version of the future, meaning that the total dominance of African names felt more like a politically-correct over-reaction to the "20th Century Americans in Space" model of original Star Trek et. al. than anything justified. But it was probably the author's own version of failure-to-look-wider-than-his-front-porch given the bio.

First of all, the author didn't give a bio. You heard the Narrator's bio and made your assumptions. Judging by the author's name (last name German for Jewel, ironic I know) this isn't a failure to see wider than....

Second of all who really cares what the names are set in some far future post apocalyptic version of something that has never been and will never be??  Would New-new-new-new Johannesberg been more to your liking?

Is FTLtravel believable?
Is is fake gravity on spaceships believable?
Is, beam me up Scottie, believable?
Are ghosts and zombies even close to biologically believable?

What evidence, then, do you demand from zombie fiction? Some virus magically makes a being sans ciculatory/musculoskeletal system move again. Because that works on a cellular level, wait, no it doesn't.

Yet these things are rarely explained in SciFi.

So what do you really have against a couple African names 1,000,000 years in the future?

If you would have told someone living in the Roman empire that Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Chicago Illinois would be names of places, would they find that 'believable,'

Anyways, a mod should probably split this comment somewhere else as it is not really related to the story.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2016, 10:28:57 AM by eytanz »


  • Lochage
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Re: EP538: The Starsmith
« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2016, 07:47:53 AM »
African names felt more like a politically-correct over-reaction
In written forums, our words are how others see us.  There's no body language, no vocal tone, it's just the words themselves. 

Words have power.

Words are the face you put forward in a community, the way people see you.  You might be the kindest person face to face, someone whom nobody would ever assume is an angry Sad Puppy or confused white teenager who can't feel anything but attacked when asked to consider some of the advantages they were born into, but we don't have access to those.  We just have the words.

When you read your post, imagine they're the only exposure you'll ever have to others and try to imagine how you look.  Is the above message the face you intend to present?  Is the angry white teenager implied by unironic use of 'politically-correct over-reaction' the face you've chosen, or is it an accident?


  • Palmer
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Re: EP538: The Starsmith
« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2016, 06:06:21 AM »
confused white teenager who can't feel anything but attacked
I wasn't the one feeling attacked... until now. Re-read the whole sentence, damnit. I have no problem with diversity in a story but here we only saw one culture in evidence - and no background for why. Just because it's NOT YOUR culture doesn't make it any more diverse than if it were.

And believe it or not, my misremembering of the bio was actually meant to excuse this.


Right, before this leads to any more conflict and misunderstanding, let me try to clarify what I mean.

I'm not a fan of "positive discrimination". It's not a solution, and it's horribly patronising. It's a case of the privileged saying to the downtrodden, "we know that you're inferior so we'll make it easy for you."

When a European author writes about European characters, whether set now or in the far future, it's because that's what is familiar to her. When a Chinese author writes a Chinese story, it's what comes naturally. When an African writes about Africa... actually they usually include quite a few non-African types, because that's the environment a large part of Africa exhibits.

If a European/American author writes about Africans, and only Africans, in an evironment that is not Africa, it seems to me that this invites a range of reactions. Some people here reacted with "oh good, this American author is being inclusive and positively discriminating towards Africans". I don't. I start to wonder why. If it is a case of "redressing the balance" then, to me, it has all the paternalistic, dismissive overtones I mentioned above. Now, if the story is localised in scope, fair enough. If not, but it also has hints of something that justifies the total lack of the author's own culture (or the Chinese culture or any other) then I'll probably be happy - intrigued, even. But if it just feels like a European writing about Africans because it's "the right thing to do", then to my mind it's the wrong thing to do. Don't write their story - they can do that much better themselves.

I thought I had remembered that the narrator has African heritage but the author had also lived in Africa, in which case I'd happily accept he was "writing what he knew", and I'd merely have to apologise for the phrase about porches (which I concede holds more negative connotations than were appropriate). Apparently I'd completely misremembered all of that, though.

And I do, unreservedly, apologise to Frank for any hint that other people's misunderstanding of my position could in any way reflect on him. However, now that I have read the author's website, I find that I still dislike his style of appropriating other people's cultures and words (including Mr. Gaiman's) because, as I said, I'm not sure it's "treating people with respect" to behave as if they need you to tell their story for them. (Obvious exceptions for those who clearly do because, for example, they're already dead!)
« Last Edit: August 31, 2016, 07:25:59 AM by TheArchivist »