Often, when it comes to diverse books, people think of putting these characters into modern plots, stories, etc. These characters deal with bigotism and struggle to accept themselves.
But haven’t you ever wanted a stereotypical, non-contemporary story that doesn’t center on being marginalized, but the protagonist just happens to be?
I’ll be honest: I’m not much of a contemporary reader. I rarely find it in myself to pick up a contemporary book, a book based in modern times, because this world is already horrible enough in my experience. Why would I want to read more stories about horrible, modern times? Some people want to see themselves represented in the real world, and see their experiences recognized and talked about.
Some people, like me, don’t.
I don’t want to read about characters, who are like me, suffering through experiences that I’ve already suffered through. It would be like reliving the experience, and that’s painful. So instead I bury myself in fantasy novels, science fiction, even historical. It’s so much easier to read stories that aren’t in this world because these stories are easier to handle. Even better is when these characters are just living their lives, just like my favorite, Mask of Shadows. In MoS, Sallot Leon is a genderfluid pickpocket and thief, and even though they do deal with bigotry, that’s not the main conflict. In MoS, Sal just happens to be genderfluid, in a fantasy world. I found it easier to deal with the bigotry Sal faced because it wasn’t exactly what I’d faced–it was in a fantasy world with magic and made-up countries.
The reason I’m writing this post, though, is that I find it nearly impossible to find science fiction or fantasy books with marginalized, specifically queer, characters. Most often, I find books that have problematic representation. I rarely find books with good representation that are SFF, mainly because authors think they can get away with minimal effort because of the SFF setting. Books like River of Teeth and All Systems Red are just two of the books that come to mind when I think of “well-developed worlds with badly developed non-binary characters”. I’m not saying that all SFF books with queer characters are badly developed and badly written–no, I’m just saying that the majority I’ve found have been. Others, ones that I have read and enjoyed or haven’t yet read, come few and far between.
Like I mentioned earlier, I love Mask of Shadows for it’s representation. I also really enjoyed The Tiger’s Watch, The Seafarer’s Kiss, Peter Darling, and Dreadnought. I came up with those books after going through three years of my reading history. Yea, that’s right. Three years of reading ~50-90 books per year. Most of the other books I’ve read with non-binary representation (which is what I was looking for above with those linked books) have contemporary settings.
Although I feel like I’ve said all I needed to say for this post, I do want to say that I do appreciate those contemporary books that focus on the difficult sides of life. I’m actually greatly looking forward to Mason Deaver’s I Wish You All the Best, which is about a non-binary teen who is kicked out of their home. This post isn’t trashing those books; this book is saying that sometimes, people just need an escape, but still want to read books with people like them in it.