Diverse Books Shouldn’t All Be Contemporary

Diverse Books (1)

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 Bestwhich 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. 

Do you have thoughts on this subject? How about recommendations about diverse SFF? Talk to me about this in the comments!

11 thoughts on “Diverse Books Shouldn’t All Be Contemporary

  1. THIS So Much this!!! It’s why I love seeing book like Reign of the Fallen being written. Rep in fantasy and sci-fi and all other genres matters and it doesn’t have to be the main focus of the story. I am starting to figure out that I am demi-sexual which is something I can’t really seem to find in books, but reading books with all kinds of fab rep like The Belles, Mask of Shadows, Starfish, and Ramona Blue is amazing!

    • REIGN OF THE FALLEN and MASK OF SHADOWS are honestly some of my favorite books ever. Like, just because they’re fantasy doesn’t mean they can’t deal with intense topics–they just make those topics easier to deal with, in my opinion 🙂 Thanks!!

  2. I read a lot of contemporary, but I agree. Fantasy books seem to sell really well, so why aren’t we seeing more diversity in them? I’d also love to see more diverse historical fiction. That’s one of my favorite genres. I want to read historical fiction that isn’t focused on the US or Europe.

    • I think I’ve read two historical fictions with diverse characters. One of them is Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which was kinda obvious, and a book called The Burnable Book–there’s a trans character in it, but I read it when I didn’t know I was trans myself, and can’t say much on the rep because I can’t remember it. So, yes–I’d definitely love to see some more diverse historical fiction!!

    • Some historical fiction with diverse rep in it: anything by Sarah Waters (f/f), The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin (f/f), Things a Bright Girl Can do by Sally Nichols (lesbian character in a relationship w/ a potentially trans masculine character). There are other but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head but I can’t think of any that aren’t based in the US or Europe at the moment!

      • I honestly have never heard of any of these, which is obviously a problem :/ do people just not like historical at all, and so don’t talk about them??

        If you can think of any more, please let me know!!

  3. I completely agree with all of this! I wish there were more diverse characters just out and about living their lives in all the other genres (it makes me think of the beginning of the ‘LGBT+ revolution’ in contemporary that seemed like it was just confined to contemporary). It’s made into this big thing where if you have a diverse character in a contemporary, you’re praised (and that’s great, but I feel like we’ve moved past this). I strongly believe that in order to be in a really good place, we need to stop having to have to think about putting diverse characters in books and just having them there because that’s life. It’s like have characters with different personalities, you know?

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

  4. I definitely agree and am pleased to say that most of the diverse books I’ve been reading lately that I’ve loved have all been sci-fi and fantasy! Similarly to you, I love to have good diverse rep in my books but I don’t always want it to be in a RL environment as its too similar to the harsh realities of a life I’m already living, but SFF settings in particular transport me away to another world and give rep a whole new dimension to it that I love.

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy River of Teeth though, I really liked the non-binary rep in it but obviously, we all like different things and that’s okay! Other books with good diverse rep in that I’ve loved recently has been the Tensorate series by J.Y Yang (non-binary author with non-binary characters), Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sonderby (female autistic MC), the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers (all the diverse rep yay), and The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard 🙂

    • I’ve been meaning to read the Tensorate series!! I’ve had the first two sitting on my shelves for the longest time, and I even read half of Black Tides, but I just wasn’t feeling it and didn’t want to ruin the book by forcing myself through it. I also loved Failure to Communicate! I loved the Wayfarers when I first read it, but after a while I was a little iffy with some of the rep 🙁

      Thanks so much Avery!! 😀