Thursday, July 09, 2015

Supernatural Creatures Out of the Coffin

I've just finished rereading SUNSHINE, a fantastically good vampire novel by Robin McKinley. Like Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series and Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, SUNSHINE depicts an alternate version of our world in which vampires, werewolves, and other nonhuman beings are "out," their existence publicly known. It's interesting to see how differently various authors handle this premise. In Hamilton's and Harris's fiction, vampires and other creatures enjoy varying degrees of acceptance, more so in Harris's than Hamilton's, because of the availability of artificial blood in the world of Sookie Stackhouse. McKinley's version is much darker. SUNSHINE takes place in a North America ravaged by the Voodoo Wars, still in the process of rebuilding. Magically tainted "bad spots" and ruined cities seem far more common than safe havens. Supernatural beings, collectively called the Others, incite suspicion or, more typically, horror. Vampires are worst of all. Even human magic-users are regarded with wariness and have to register their existence. A government agency called the Special Other Forces—SOF—monitors the Others and strives to protect ordinary citizens from them.

Since this novel was published after 9-11, I'm certain the analogy between SOF and Homeland Security isn't accidental. All Others are feared and shunned, even though not all of them are dangerous, just as not all members of certain religions and ethnic groups are terrorists. TVTropes labels fear and loathing of imaginary scapegoated groups in fantasy and SF "fantastic racism":

Fantastic Racism

We're all familiar with STAR TREK's IDIC ideal of rejoicing in diversity. The original STAR TREK portrayed an Earth civilization that had moved beyond racial and national prejudice, with a black woman on the bridge and Chekov, a representative of the Cold War enemy of that era, shown as a valued member of the crew. In the first season, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy befriended a nonhumanoid "monster" with silicon-based biology, who looked like an ambulatory rock. Throughout the various series and movies, we saw characters of many different planets and species working together for the greater good.

Does contemplation of fantastic racism have any impact on actual racism? Does appreciation of STAR TREK and other works that undercut prejudice against aliens or supernatural creatures transfer over to real life? Does a fan of such literature and films necessarily hold more generous attitudes toward mundane "Others"? Are SF fans typically more open to ethnic and cultural diversity in their everyday lives than the general population?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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