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koryos
01-03-2013, 11:35 PM
Hi all. This is a bit of a difficult/uncomfortable post to make, so I'm going to try to plow through it with as much grace as I can muster.

In short, for NaNoWriMo I wrote a science fiction novel that was partially inspired by aspects of different South Asian cultures. I am not South Asian. Because it was NaNoWriMo, I didn't do a huge amount of research. You can already see where this is spiraling horribly downhill.

In short, my novel takes place on a sort of future earth where society is relatively technology-free. The main character is a handler of an elephant-like creature, so basically a mahout, though I don't use that word. The society is a caste system, though again I've made up my own words for castes. There's a practice that is based on phajaan, and a practice based on the devadasi. Female infanticide is mentioned. There was a point where I gave up making up names and referred to articles of clothing by "kameez" or "churidar."

So basically, I want to improve all this, and I'm not sure how. I think the story itself is solid enough for revision, but I don't want to seem as if I am lampshading, appropriating, or even bashing South Asian cultures. Again, this story is a science fiction novel that does not take place in a "real" setting. All the things I mentioned above (aside from the names for the clothing) end up being integral in one way or another to the plot. I'm not sure if that means the plot is basically unforgivable in and of itself... It would be nice if I could get someone to glance over the novel with their appropriation-lenses on, and tell me where they think the main issues lie, but of course I feel that I should be able to do that myself. I'm just not sure where to start.

Any advice?

Kim Fierce
01-05-2013, 06:23 AM
Sounds like you would definitely have to change some of your terminology if you're trying not to make the culture South Asian. You might have to add some other flavors to make the culture unique so someone couldn't pinpoint "she's basing the world on this or that." I'm not experienced in South Asian culture, but maybe getting some other readers could help, or post something in SYW?

Rachel Udin
01-06-2013, 12:11 AM
I tend to think if you are going to base something loosely on a set of cultures, you need to do more rather than less research so you know where things intersect and they don't. Either you have to research South Asian cultures until you feel like you're going blue, or you'll have to base is loosely on one culture or figure out the best way to file off the serial numbers. (Which usually means a different kind of research).

Fantasmac
01-06-2013, 01:09 AM
you have to research South Asian cultures until you feel like you're going blue

Even if you're planning to "file off the serial numbers", I think it's a very good idea to do as much research as you can stand, take a break, and then do some more research. It's very important that every reference in your book that is based on/inspired by a real culture be deliberate. Most of the offensive things I personally run into are more a product of ignorance than maliciousness. You need to be absolutely certain that you're not inadvertently feeding into negative stereotypes or demeaning already marginalized groups.

Sophia
01-06-2013, 02:16 AM
One way you might approach it is to go through the draft first and list all the things that you used, whether you made them up or not. Then look at each item in turn and try to identify what specifically about it draws you to it. To take your clothing example: You may have characters wearing "kameez", but the specific thing you might need is that your characters wear something that is easily put together, because in your story world clothing disintegrates due to the particular atmospheric conditions in this season. Or with your caste system, what you actually specifically want might be a reason for your MC to not be eligible to work a particular job. So brainstorm a couple of dozen reasons why someone might not be able to get a job. Perhaps he has a gene that means he's not resistant to something. Or perhaps your elephant handler is one of a group that does have a genetic resistance to something the elephants have on their skin, or that can be found in their native habitat and is required for the elephants to survive.

By pinpointing what it is exactly you need from each item, it frees you from being limited to using something like "the caste system" in its entirety, and makes your choices unique to your story.

xiaotien
01-06-2013, 05:27 AM
i honestly think you need to do your
research. there is no shorthand with this
and especially when you are writing from
without the culture you are using.

my own fantasy novel is "inspired" by ancient
china, and it is a mixture of chinese influenced
setting, food, clothing, architecture with some
traditions and monsters i've created on my own.

there really is nothing worse, however, than
using what you like and little you know from
another culture without doing the research. it's
likely to bite you in the rear in the future.

roseangel
01-06-2013, 04:37 PM
Yes, research research research.
My usual writing plan is to do a little research before I start the first draft, then truck loads once I finish, then as I revise, incorporate the research.
And repeat, and repeat . . . .

Polenth
01-06-2013, 06:23 PM
At the point you're at, this isn't the time for narrowly-focused research or beta readers. Forget about your story for a moment. Read about different South Asian cultures. Find bloggers and novelists from those cultures. Learn about general stereotypes, not just for South Asian groups, but for people who aren't white in general. Read anything and everything, because you don't know what it is you don't know.

Then go back to your story.

koryos
01-09-2013, 12:59 AM
Thanks for your responses, everyone. I'd agree that I definitely need to do more research. I think what I'm most afraid of is falling into stereotypes or using the western lens on a lot of the practices I mention. And while I took inspiration from some aspects of South Asian culture I really do want this to be a novel more focused on the human experience in general.

I guess it's unfortunate that a lot of the things I decided to include that are derivative of these cultures I cast in a negative light. I think it's fairly safe to say that it's ok to do that with something like phajaan because the elephants certainly can't consent to going through horribly traumatizing experiences and there are proven methods of training that do not involve beating them and forcibly separating them from their mothers... but for things that involve only humans, it's a lot trickier. I tried to be as evenhanded as I could when describing these things, especially when writing from the point of view of a character who's grown up in this culture. She wouldn't be distressed by things that are the cultural norm, so she doesn't blink when someone mentions female infanticide. But I don't want to presume to say that female infanticide is the cultural norm in say, India for example by saying that it's the norm in my story. Does that make sense? I've exaggerated a lot of these things because they make the story more interesting but I don't want that to be seen as a reflection of how I view these cultures. And there ARE good reasons for things to be the way the are in my story; the environment is very harsh for one and their technology is limited.

I would like to, as was said earlier, rub off the serial numbers here, but I wouldn't mind allowing some of the flavor of the culture to stay in in the way that many fantasies, even when set in an entirely fantastic and new world, still have a European edge to them. I would really like to find someone with a South Asian background to look over it because I know how hard it is to realize when something is offensive... I guess this post isn't that useful though because I suspect the answers are, as ever, 'more research.'

Kim Fierce
01-09-2013, 02:59 AM
Good luck . . . yeah when your character isn't fazed by something like that it can be tricky for the reader to know this doesn't mean you don't care. I had a free short story download on my publisher's site that was written from the POV of a racist. . . it was supposed to make fun of him and illuminate some of the actual racist shit I've heard white people say. But after finding out that some readers were confused and thought I was promoting racism myself, I hysterically asked my publisher to pull the story.

But sometimes you can make it work. Like Huckleberry Finn. To me, it's obvious that Mark Twain is writing about the world back then but not actually being racist. He wouldn't be able to write about Huck's confusion by not being a "christian" by helping Jim so ironically if he weren't doing it on purpose, at least IMO.

Keyan
01-09-2013, 03:36 PM
I'm South Asian. I think the tricky bit - and I face this too, sometimes when I use South Asia as a setting - is the temptation is to use the dark "exotic" elements. Female infanticide. Ill-treatment of elephants. Arranged marriages. The caste system. Poverty and slums.

So if you set a book in a sort-of South Asia setting, you're focusing on different things than a fantasy sort-of European setting, where you have elements like impressive castles, forests, horses with an almost pet-like relationship with the protags (and no mention of some of the nastier bits or whips). In fact, it often seems the point of Medieval Euro fantasy is to remove the inconvenient and boring nastinesses so it can focus on more exciting threats such as goblins or warlords.

Of course, you could have medieval South-Asia inspired fantasy. But it's trickier if you don't have any experience of it.

In terms of filing off the serial numbers - changing the terminology would help as a start. Many stable societies are stratified; whether it's called class or caste is, de facto, a relatively minor variant. What it means is that someone of a lower class is supposed to know their place, respect their betters, and probably will not have the opportunities to become affluent or socially powerful, and will probably be limited to the occupations where their parents can provide them with the capital - equipment, knowhow, contacts, maybe even a clientele.

It's also tricky from another standpoint, which has been discussed upthread. If your characters are embedded in that world, they'll need a reason to challenge the ways they have grown up with - or you, as an author, have to understand. Even if you dislike the customs, you have to understand where they're coming from and why. And then, if they clash enough with the culture of your audience, you have to be careful not to appear to be supporting the custom...

Rachel Udin
01-09-2013, 11:33 PM
Thanks for your responses, everyone. I'd agree that I definitely need to do more research. I think what I'm most afraid of is falling into stereotypes or using the western lens on a lot of the practices I mention. And while I took inspiration from some aspects of South Asian culture I really do want this to be a novel more focused on the human experience in general.

I guess it's unfortunate that a lot of the things I decided to include that are derivative of these cultures I cast in a negative light. I think it's fairly safe to say that it's ok to do that with something like phajaan because the elephants certainly can't consent to going through horribly traumatizing experiences and there are proven methods of training that do not involve beating them and forcibly separating them from their mothers... but for things that involve only humans, it's a lot trickier. I tried to be as evenhanded as I could when describing these things, especially when writing from the point of view of a character who's grown up in this culture. She wouldn't be distressed by things that are the cultural norm, so she doesn't blink when someone mentions female infanticide. But I don't want to presume to say that female infanticide is the cultural norm in say, India for example by saying that it's the norm in my story. Does that make sense? I've exaggerated a lot of these things because they make the story more interesting but I don't want that to be seen as a reflection of how I view these cultures. And there ARE good reasons for things to be the way the are in my story; the environment is very harsh for one and their technology is limited.

I would like to, as was said earlier, rub off the serial numbers here, but I wouldn't mind allowing some of the flavor of the culture to stay in in the way that many fantasies, even when set in an entirely fantastic and new world, still have a European edge to them. I would really like to find someone with a South Asian background to look over it because I know how hard it is to realize when something is offensive... I guess this post isn't that useful though because I suspect the answers are, as ever, 'more research.'

If you want to file off the serial numbers on all human cultures and get more at human experience, I know it sounds repetitive, but you need more research. I would heavily suggest History, sociology and Anthropology (all sectors) as a good place to start. They have internal ethics and policies (as long as you go for the modern era) which will seriously help to guide you on what is and isn't appropriate. Somewhat taking biology (such as Melanin count, archaeology of food (for example the truth behind the hot pepper and spices) also will help a bit.

In another words, yet more research. It's really difficult though to file off combine cultures correctly without stepping into poo. So that just means you got to know your stuff inside and out.

koryos
01-10-2013, 12:31 AM
I'm South Asian. I think the tricky bit - and I face this too, sometimes when I use South Asia as a setting - is the temptation is to use the dark "exotic" elements. Female infanticide. Ill-treatment of elephants. Arranged marriages. The caste system. Poverty and slums.

You bring up a very good point. The problem is that I really do want to kind of have a conversation about some of these issues within the context of the story, because I think that they're interesting. I guess part of my initial goal was to take them out of a South Asian setting and put them somewhere that makes it less like I'm pointing fingers? But I don't suppose that's very possible considering that my source material is fairly obvious. But I don't think that these problems are just South Asian problems either; I think that there are certainly threads of them in every culture (poverty, for one; abuse of animals; sexism; classism).


In terms of filing off the serial numbers - changing the terminology would help as a start. Many stable societies are stratified; whether it's called class or caste is, de facto, a relatively minor variant. What it means is that someone of a lower class is supposed to know their place, respect their betters, and probably will not have the opportunities to become affluent or socially powerful, and will probably be limited to the occupations where their parents can provide them with the capital - equipment, knowhow, contacts, maybe even a clientele.

I was actually thinking about removing the references I have to the caste system in the story. It is a plot point that people feel that they have no choice but to stay in the occupation they were born into- it is a particular plot point when a devadasi-type character has a daughter and is frightened by the fact that she will also be forced to be a devadasi. Though I'm not sure if this is how India's caste system works exactly; obviously I need to do more research. I know it's not exactly how becoming a devadasi usually works, though, and of course in my story there are no British colonialists who adversely affect the practice either. It's definitely something I need to think about carefully.


It's also tricky from another standpoint, which has been discussed upthread. If your characters are embedded in that world, they'll need a reason to challenge the ways they have grown up with - or you, as an author, have to understand. Even if you dislike the customs, you have to understand where they're coming from and why. And then, if they clash enough with the culture of your audience, you have to be careful not to appear to be supporting the custom...

For the most part, actually, my characters don't challenge the customs; I tried for the most part to just present them and let the reader draw their own conclusions. I particularly tried to present the people who abused the elephant-like creatures like actual people and not monsters. I also didn't want to fall into the they-just-don't-know-what-they're-doing-and-some-white-person-needs-to-teach-them trap. (shudder) The reason I find these issues so interesting to talk about is because the people involved in them really do have powerful reasons to continue the practices in the first place... like, in general I would like my writing to be less like "look at these ignorant assholes" and more like "look at this shitty situation these people have found themselves in." And I think a lot of authors really need to strive for that, honestly.

So yes... research. I will do it. Keyan, as someone from a South Asian background, I would love it if you might be able to skim over my draft if you have time- your insight would be invaluable. I completely understand if you don't have time, or even if you simply aren't interested, though.

perspicacious
01-10-2013, 05:15 AM
I think Keyan's point about the "dark elements" is spot on. You may want to examine these things as universals, but remember that people have been "examining" those things by setting stories in South Asian stories for years, resulting in sort of an exoticism set of stereotypes about these places and people.

A good example of a book that falls into this is The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo
Bacipalupi. He's a very good writer and clearly did his research, but his book was so mired in yucky western cliches about Thailand, China, and Japan that I couldn't finish it.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't write about those things, but be very thoughtful about it. Agreeing with the posters that you do your research, not only about the history of those places, but the history of representation of those people.

koryos
01-10-2013, 05:37 AM
Actually, that was another question I have- what's the best way to go about researching how people of different cultures have been represented? That's kind of the sticking point for me because I really have no idea how to go about it.

thothguard51
01-10-2013, 05:47 AM
South Asian is a large geographic area that encompasses different but similar cultures.

For research purposes, you might want to narrow your search down to a single culture that represents what you are looking for. Kurds? Pushtu? Hindu? Muslim, Mongols, etc, etc, etc and even with those cultures, there are differing subsets of what they believe and how they live...

Rachel Udin
01-10-2013, 07:30 PM
Actually, that was another question I have- what's the best way to go about researching how people of different cultures have been represented? That's kind of the sticking point for me because I really have no idea how to go about it.
If you're flying blind, I, too, have to say start with one country and expand outward and expand inward too. Which area are you going to go for?

For example, India itself is a really, really complex culture. I didn't know how complex until I started reading up and fishing for things. Then there are subcultures within the sub cultures. And then there are ranges within the sub culture of what people do and don't believe. I plan to be fair and represent what I can.

As for looking at representations... pretty much if you watched any movies with any characters from the US about those countries, you'll find the lowest common denominator of that representation. (British and Canadian TV tends to be better, so go for the US which has a vested interest in keeping such groups down since race is often tied to economics.). You can usually find such mentioned movies on racebending.com (Hey, The Last Airbender overwrote South Asian characters. Aang is Sanskrit) or find general lists of movies which have represented Asia as one country. (The movies from after WWII are a real "treat"--I'd also look at movies around the Vietnam war. Also read Sherlock Holmes and Victorian fiction about India--though that kind of intensive reading makes my brain go numb and want to detox.) You'll have a really good chance of it with anything that uses the word "Oriental" from that time period. Especially if the word "exotic" is used. Pirates of the Carribeans, movie II had some horrible representation (Also pretty horrid representation of Voudou, which was actually bokor in origin... and even there it was questionable --;; ). The King and I... I used to watch a ton of US movies because it was on TV.

I'd also counter it with fiction from that country, preferably from the time (periods) that you are looking into. There are subs, there are people who are of that ethnicity. You can find a fair bit. Besides, watching fiction from other countries is a good excuse to procrastinate on actually writing anything, until you run out of movies you like. *cough*

SpiderGal
01-11-2013, 02:09 PM
I'm Indian. So if you've got specific questions about the culture, I'd love to be able to help!

perspicacious
01-12-2013, 07:00 AM
A lot of that kind of stuff you'll find out as you do your research. It's pretty typical for people who are writing about specific cultures to want to dispel common stereotypes and myths about them.

After you've done that research, and you have a starting place, I'd go out and talk to people! See, you already have someone volunteering. :) If you're gracious and willing to listen, most people will be happy to help.

Polenth
01-13-2013, 07:44 AM
Actually, that was another question I have- what's the best way to go about researching how people of different cultures have been represented? That's kind of the sticking point for me because I really have no idea how to go about it.

Start on Google. The first search terms could be things you know you don't know, like caste systems and the details of elephant care (don't focus only on abusive owners... look at it more widely). If you see a comment on something else you don't know, note it down. Search for that next.

Google books and films set in your chosen culture, with the search terms "cultural appropriation" or "racism". These terms also work well with culture and country names.

Google south asian stereotypes.

Google "poverty porn" (make sure to use the quotes so you get the right porn) with a country name.

Google the British Empire, because you need to understand how Britain invading parts of Asia changed things. What were things like before? Keep searching until you can answer that.

Find modern newspapers and magazines from your chosen culture. A number will have content online.

By now, you should be starting to get together a list of South Asian bloggers, because they'll keep coming up in the searches. Subscribe to their blogs. Also note down any books and films they mention in a positive light (both non-fiction and fiction).

Keep following any leads that come up, about anything you don't know. Do read everything, not just the bad stuff.

Keyan
01-13-2013, 04:35 PM
You bring up a very good point. The problem is that I really do want to kind of have a conversation about some of these issues within the context of the story, because I think that they're interesting. I guess part of my initial goal was to take them out of a South Asian setting and put them somewhere that makes it less like I'm pointing fingers? But I don't suppose that's very possible considering that my source material is fairly obvious. But I don't think that these problems are just South Asian problems either; I think that there are certainly threads of them in every culture (poverty, for one; abuse of animals; sexism; classism).



I was actually thinking about removing the references I have to the caste system in the story. It is a plot point that people feel that they have no choice but to stay in the occupation they were born into- it is a particular plot point when a devadasi-type character has a daughter and is frightened by the fact that she will also be forced to be a devadasi. Though I'm not sure if this is how India's caste system works exactly; obviously I need to do more research. I know it's not exactly how becoming a devadasi usually works, though, and of course in my story there are no British colonialists who adversely affect the practice either. It's definitely something I need to think about carefully.



For the most part, actually, my characters don't challenge the customs; I tried for the most part to just present them and let the reader draw their own conclusions. I particularly tried to present the people who abused the elephant-like creatures like actual people and not monsters. I also didn't want to fall into the they-just-don't-know-what-they're-doing-and-some-white-person-needs-to-teach-them trap. (shudder) The reason I find these issues so interesting to talk about is because the people involved in them really do have powerful reasons to continue the practices in the first place... like, in general I would like my writing to be less like "look at these ignorant assholes" and more like "look at this shitty situation these people have found themselves in." And I think a lot of authors really need to strive for that, honestly.

So yes... research. I will do it. Keyan, as someone from a South Asian background, I would love it if you might be able to skim over my draft if you have time- your insight would be invaluable. I completely understand if you don't have time, or even if you simply aren't interested, though.

I can't undertake it right now (swamped!), but maybe later as your draft progresses?

I think you have given yourself a tricky problem: You want to criticize the customs of a different culture, in fictional form. (If I'm hearing you correctly.) This is tough to do - and I'm not for a moment suggesting they don't need to be criticized. But. By just laying it out for a Western audience, it almost by definition means that it will be examined through a different cultural lens.

I personally don't have a major problem with that when the lens is part of the story. For instance the indie movie "Sita Sings the Blues" is an examination of the Ramayana from the viewpoint of an American woman who follows her (American) boyfriend to India and is dumped. I think it's entirely legit, since it reflects her personal engagement with the Ramayana, and it's a great movie.

However, there are people who do mind, a lot, and consider it the worst kind of cultural appropriation because there are millions of people for whom the Ramayana is not just an epic, it's considered the religious truth - as there are people who believe in the Bible the same way in the US. (And those believers would probably be infuriated if an Indian woman came to Los Angeles and made a movie about the role of Mary or Mary Magdalene.)

What becomes more problematic is if it's laying out the culture with the sub-text of "See? Any right-thinking person would find this awful."

In that case, if the culture is identifiable, it's going to open you up to criticism that you don't understand. Filing off the serial numbers becomes more important.

If you've seen Le Miserables - consider the fate of Cosette had Valjean not rescued her. She'd have been raised as a servant girl, and probably forced into prostitution in her teens. Not because of a caste system, but because of lack of social mobility. How much does it differ from a devdasi's daughter?

koryos
01-16-2013, 12:38 AM
I think you have given yourself a tricky problem: You want to criticize the customs of a different culture, in fictional form. (If I'm hearing you correctly.) This is tough to do - and I'm not for a moment suggesting they don't need to be criticized. But. By just laying it out for a Western audience, it almost by definition means that it will be examined through a different cultural lens.

Absolutely. And I don't want to say that I have any authority to criticize any of the actual cultures myself- how could I? Even if I do all the research in the world, I'll never know what it's like to be born a part of one. Which is why I would rather take the issues and transplant them into a culture of my own making that I can define myself, and then say, "well, this is how this issue works out on the society of my own design, not necessarily in real life." But it's fairly obvious where my source material is coming from, and I think it might even be presumptuous of me to try and erase that entirely.


I personally don't have a major problem with that when the lens is part of the story. For instance the indie movie "Sita Sings the Blues" is an examination of the Ramayana from the viewpoint of an American woman who follows her (American) boyfriend to India and is dumped. I think it's entirely legit, since it reflects her personal engagement with the Ramayana, and it's a great movie.

However, there are people who do mind, a lot, and consider it the worst kind of cultural appropriation because there are millions of people for whom the Ramayana is not just an epic, it's considered the religious truth - as there are people who believe in the Bible the same way in the US. (And those believers would probably be infuriated if an Indian woman came to Los Angeles and made a movie about the role of Mary or Mary Magdalene.)?

I love Sita Sings the Blues! Fantastic animation. And it's funny you should bring it up, since I was actually thinking about it recently. Even though I like the movie and I think it brings up an interesting discussion about the Ramayana, I agree that it is a decidedly western and one-sided interpretation... and I wonder at the presumption of the creator aligning her own breakup experience with Sita's in such a way. (I also thought it weakened the narrative, personally, because Sita's heartbreak and the creator's heartbreak were from entirely different causes.) It is nice that she consulted with Actual Indian People for the myth retelling, though!

(I would love to see an Indian interpretation of any of the western myths, omg, but that is probably because I am not a particularly pious person myself.)

Les Mis is another good example because I was thinking about how glad I was that they kept the heavy religious undertones of the book in the movie and didn't sanitize them as today's big-budget movies are wont to do... I only wish they'd done the same with the anti-church undertones in The Golden Compass or given it a decent movie in the first place- ANYWAY! This is entirely off-topic.

The point about Cosette is a good one, though. Someone above mentioned the effects of British colonialism, too, which is something I definitely need to look into. So I've got lots and lots of things to think about.

Susan Lanigan
01-16-2013, 04:30 AM
I haven't written about South Asian cultures or researched them so don't know anything about that.

But I do find a refreshing antidote is to find a piece about your own background or culture written from someone outside it who hasn't a clue and reflect on how teeth grindingly annoying it is. I'm Irish and some of the Celtic Fantasy stuff out there is, well, I'll be polite and say nothing. ("The Yeasts of Eire", cough cough)

If I can see what they're doing wrong, then I can relate to it better and try and avoid doing the same thing myself. Hopefully.

Rachel Udin
01-17-2013, 11:26 PM
I also read the Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan (When researching India). That covers the Mughal empire, the politics, etc. But that's fairly well written about in India and about India in general. Previous time periods weren't. I kinda needed something about those times to see what the popular notions of India are from an Indian POV and since I wasn't writing about that time, what had persisted from the earlier time I could actually use. Mughal Empire had a ton of Arabic and South Western Asia influence.

I should note that sedentary agricultural societies, in general, are not very fair to women. I wouldn't pin it on one culture. Usually it's the product of the type of subsistence. Earlier, before the two books and the transition to agriculture it's thought that women had larger and fairer roles in the society. (I wouldn't use evolution). Sanskrit and Prakrit are also written to have been divided among the sexes and may have been one language. Prakrit was used by women and Sanskrit by men. Which means effectively you needed to know both.

Draupadi's deal was that she was always painted as evil, which seems a bit unfair to Divakaruni. That's why the Palace of Illusions was written. It gives her a sympathetic, but fair voice. (Her faults aren't all erased.)

Evasan
05-18-2013, 12:06 PM
As far as I know, Prakrit wasn't confined to the women folks only. As far as the sedentary lifestyles being unfair women is concerned, it is a fact that the some of the some of the learned women in the ancient Aryan civilizations in the subcontinent like Gargi and Kathi were only the product of such social systems.

But having said that I am not sure if anybody should take umbrage of any kind if a particular culture or traditions is depicted in a science fiction story.

Purple Rose
05-18-2013, 01:07 PM
As "South Asian" seems to be an American term and every Indian I know identifies himself/herself as Indian, I'll just use the word "Indian' especially in this context where, in any case, you don't seem to mention Sri Lanka, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

I agree with what all the other posters have said, which essentially boils down to understanding the culture. I think one of the concerns would be stereo-typing which, I personally think, is often blown out of proportion anyway. In my personal experience, non-Indians (usually those in the West) seem to object more to stereo-typing than the Indians I know. However, if idiocy or a mean spirit is involved, than be prepared for a backlash. I am sure this will not be the case here. :)

With a good understanding of the culture, I think you could pull off a story like this to great effect.


I tend to think if you are going to base something loosely on a set of cultures, you need to do more rather than less research so you know where things intersect and they don't. Either you have to research South Asian cultures until you feel like you're going blue, or you'll have to base is loosely on one culture or figure out the best way to file off the serial numbers. (Which usually means a different kind of research).

As an Indian, I agree with this 100%. This would apply to any other culture on which you're basing your story.


Yes, research research research.
My usual writing plan is to do a little research before I start the first draft, then truck loads once I finish, then as I revise, incorporate the research.
And repeat, and repeat . . . .

And repeat ... Research :-) Yes.


At the point you're at, this isn't the time for narrowly-focused research or beta readers. Forget about your story for a moment. Read about different South Asian cultures. Find bloggers and novelists from those cultures. Learn about general stereotypes, not just for South Asian groups, but for people who aren't white in general. Read anything and everything, because you don't know what it is you don't know.

Then go back to your story.

Totally agree. Research by any other name.


I'm South Asian. I think the tricky bit - and I face this too, sometimes when I use South Asia as a setting - is the temptation is to use the dark "exotic" elements. Female infanticide. Ill-treatment of elephants. Arranged marriages. The caste system. Poverty and slums.

As an Indian who has visited India often, I think they make great stories, whether in the hands of Western (a few) or Indian (many) writers.

Rachel Udin
05-19-2013, 06:52 AM
As far as I know, Prakrit wasn't confined to the women folks only. As far as the sedentary lifestyles being unfair women is concerned, it is a fact that the some of the some of the learned women in the ancient Aryan civilizations in the subcontinent like Gargi and Kathi were only the product of such social systems.

But having said that I am not sure if anybody should take umbrage of any kind if a particular culture or traditions is depicted in a science fiction story.
On point 1. I said used to be. As in a long, long time ago, Sanskrit and Prakrit were most likely registers of the same language. They separated much, much later. I read a long and detailed linguistic paper on it. Where it showed that Prakrit was most likely a female form of speech...

On Point 2. Being learned has nothing to do with oppression of women. Also heavy agriculture is more likely to produce the effects I talked about. Early transitions from say, forager or horticulture won't. This takes a while. You need enough surplus, etc. Oppression of women has nothing really to do with education. There are so many more factors. (Basic Women's studies...) For example, Al-Andalus had women encouraged to learn as well, even math. Sparta encouraged women to exercise and keep healthy. However, opportunities to power and position were severely different to those of men.

On Point 3. I think that's quite unfair.
If you have read Victoria Foyt... uhh... how is that not racist?

Also, if you have enslavement on a colony with references to "fluffy white" material to make clothes. And call it by a smeerp name and then write it so that the series says that the "slaves have to get over it" I don't think that would float very well just because it's fantasy.

Just because it's spec fic, doesn't mean that it won't or can't be racist. The spec label doesn't exempt it. The thing is, you're marketing to an audience. If it quacks like a duck, looks like a duck and moves like a duck (barring all other language names for it), it's likely a duck.

Also, in order to build a culture properly, you still have to know what you're doing. Stepping in it isn't pleasant. And if you're caught on bad facts is one thing. If you're caught putting down a group of people just because you've set it on another world, then you're just asking for a crap storm.

Kim Fierce
05-21-2013, 04:14 AM
It's sort of like . . . I had a definite creep factor going on with Harry Potter at first with Dobby the house elf. I was glad later when this whole "it's okay to enslave him because he's an elf" thing turned out to be portrayed as wrong, and Dobby was set free and the friends try to promote other elf rights. . . or at least Hermione did.

I think with any similar situation, people are probably going to be uncomfortable with stories about similar topics where the people/creatures are supposed to accept oppression. It's one thing if a group of people in the book tells them to accept it, but if the underlying message from the author seems to be so as well, then things may get icky.

And here is another reason I came here today: any thoughts on Li Bingbing being cast in Transformers 4? Also this article talks about more films being shot in China and a Paramount partnership with two Chinese movie companies. (This may not be the right thread for this, but it was where the action was today!)

http://movies.yahoo.com/news/chinese-actress-li-bingbing-joins-transformers-4-162917583.html

theaceofspades
05-24-2013, 08:47 PM
regarding problematic representations and stuff, there are probably at least a few south asian bloggers who write about that kind of thing. the only blogs that come to mind right now are blogs that are against whitewashing adn cultural appropriation...but i'm sure you could find ones who talk about stereotyped representation (though, these topics do tend to overlap)...

also, anti-fetishization blogs might also be a good resource for you, even though they generally focus in on certain aspects of representation. and just any kind of media representation-centered blog might be good (obviously i'd look for one run or co-run by poc, preferably south asian poc since that's what you're looking for, and i'd probably stay away from a feminism-based one because they don't generally consider race at all [and this is at best]).