Tags: lists


Disabled Characters in Literature

Katharine Quarmby's top 10 disability stories

This is from the author of a new book, Scapegoat: Why We are Failing Disabled People.

That subtitle reads a little funny to me. Maybe it's the Us Versus Them of it.

Because of my bookfast, I can't read this book, or any of the books on the list (unless they happen to be in the house, which actually, several of them probably are).

I am puzzled as to why Gulliver's Travels is on there. The size difference is not related to a disability. Dwarfism and gigantism are not solely about size, there are often medical complications. And just.. yea.

"It's also interesting to note that there are fewer disabled characters in the canon nowadays, except in children's literature, where there has been a deliberate attempt to promote positive images of disabled children and adults, thanks to activists like Richard Rieser and Susie Burrows."

I'd say it's probably because it's gone beyond the careless use of disabled characters to 'I'd better not get it wrong and offend people, so I won't do it at all.' Except that I wonder what she's been reading? Because I can think of a ton of examples. And at least three of her examples are considered children's/teen books anyway.

Though I have to weed through my mental list to remove the children's books. (Odd. Why did I think Count Olaf had a hook? Was that one of his disguises?)

You can read most any of Bujold's books to find disabled main characters. Look at television and there's House front and center. And having just watched X-Men, there's Professor Xavier, and the whole extended mutant metaphor.

Blind characters make great superheroes and detectives, apparently. Deaf characters make great murder victims or witnesses. Characters on the autism spectrum (I know some have trouble with the label disabled on this one) are appearing more and more.

Then again, what's 'canon'? Maybe it's 'books everyone is supposed to read'.

Looking at my most recently read books, here's some:

Skyfall by Catherine Asaro - One of the main characters is epileptic
The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin - Main character is blind
The Colony by Jillian Weise - The book is pretty much about the main character's disability (a 'missing' leg + other stuff)
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1960s) - Main character has mental retardation brought on by untreated PKU.

Those are all adult books, and only two are recent releases. But this is just my reading for less than 2 months. And while I might specifically read a book for the presence of a disabled character, that was not the case with any of these. Two were for Triple Take. One was because it made the Tiptree list, and the other was because I knew it would be awesome. I wasn't even aware there were disabled characters except for in Flowers for Algernon.

Now, it so happens that two of those are about disability. And all of these are generally positive portrayals, I think.

So, yea.. what have you been reading, Quarmby?

Other notable books I've read from this past year that would also qualify:

Among Others by Jo Walton
A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane (perhaps iffy)
Babel-17 by Samuel Delany (also perhaps iffy)
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Mean Little deaf Queer by Terry Galloway (memoir)
Forest Mage by Robin Hobb (if obesity counts, which it does according to Quarmby's list)

The iffyness because there are autistic characters that have been in some way 'cured', and I'm not sure if it's been done well or not.

If I go too far back, I find books I barely remember, so whether they had disabled characters or not isn't something I can easily answer!

But you can tell most of those are sf/f, even if they are adult sf/f. So maybe those don't count as 'canon'.

Books I Reread

Over on SF Signal, they asked a bunch of writers Q: What science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror books do read and re-read again? (sic)

And why should they get to have all the fun?

I have started keeping track of everything I read from about the middle of 2002. And I did my best to mark those that were rereads with an (R). So this should be a fairly easy question to answer. I may not limit myself to sf/f books. I won't list everything I've reread. These are ones I will probably reread yet again.

-- Ender's Game | Orson Scott Card

Not necessarily the rest of the serieses, although the next time I reread it, I will probably follow it up with Ender's Shadow. This was my all time favorite book from the time I discovered it in junior high until I discovered OSC was a homophobic jerkwad. So now I still like it, but it's tainted.

-- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series | Douglas Adams

Probably my gateway to British television. Not necessarily to British science fiction novels.

-- The Seafort Saga | David Feintuch & The Still and The King | David Feintuch

I was really really bummed when I learned of his death. I had only recently discovered him and didn't even have a real chance to be eagerly awaiting each new book as it was published. For those who don't know, the Seafort Saga is like.. the Royal Navy, in space. Very male, but in an interesting way. The author seems to want the best out of men. And brotherhood, fatherhood, friendship, all of that is a very central theme. Gay characters are portrayed well. At least I think so. Wikipedia says he had announced another book was finished and at the publishers, but.. what happened to it? It's been 5 years now. :(

-- Harry Potter series | J. K. Rowling

As each new book came out, I felt compelled to reread. Though I probably didn't for book 6 and definitely didn't when we got to book 7. Book 5 loomed large as a lead weight in the middle. Nonetheless, I have reread a number of these. My favorite is book 3, though it was really book 4 that got me hooked on the series. I still play on a Harry Potter MUSH, although my Gryffindor backpack needs to be retired. It's falling apart.

-- The Last Herald-Mage trilogy | Mercedes Lackey

After I found this series, I went on a Lackey binge. But none of them were ever as good as this series. And the most recent one I read, just about a year ago, was absolute drek. So I'm kind of wary of rereading these, but the library has them as ebooks, so I probably will eventually.

-- Luna | Julie Anne Peters

I know I've mostly listed series so far, but Luna is just like.. awesome. I've read it twice and I want to read it again.

And finally two series that I have not really reread, but fully intend to at some point:

-- The Vorkosigan Saga | Lois McMaster Bujold

If only to remind myself of what happened up until this point so I can finally read the latest book. And Baen gave us all (but one) as ebooks, so I can totally do this.

-- The Smoke series | Tanya Huff

My favorite of Tanya Huff's series. And since the main character in this started off in the Blood series, I may have to reread that as well.


So what does this all tell us? Series are where it's at, man. And I guess female authors win. Would not have guessed that before I made this list. I figured more 50/50. Though with the exception of Luna, all of the main characters of these series are male. And if you know anything about Luna, you know there's a bit of an asterisk there.


Will add to this list if something else occurs to me.

ETA: Thinking it over while making food, I also realized that, while some of the main characters are gay or transgender, young and old, even disabled, they are all, so far as I know, white. With a tendency to also be British.

10 Contemporary Books That Challenged White, Male Literary Dominance?

ETA: If you were planning to read Never Let Me Go, then don't read the blurb they provide. It's spoilery. Similarly, if you click through to their original list of 10 and haven't read Ender's Game, also a complete spoiler! Since I haven't read most of the books, it's entirely possible there's other spoilers as well. So if you intend to read any of these books, safer to skip the blurb and move on.


Flavorwire has just posted 10 Contemporary Books That Challenged White, Male Literary Dominance. And I was like.. yes, awesome.

Until I read the list.

Now I am just puzzled.

"Last week, we published a list of 10 essential books of the past 25 years. It was one of our most popular posts of all time, as well as one of our most contentious, racking up over 100 comments. Much of the argument has focused on the list's lack of diversity: of the 10 books, eight were written by white men."

So.. this is a list of 10 awesome books by people who aren't white men? An otherwise rather random list of them? Because that's what it looks like.

While Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale (which I was surprised to see, because I guess my concept of 'contemporary' did not encompass 25 years ago) does 'challenge' white male dominance in the world, in an outside-the-book kind of way, the world itself in the book is very white male dominated!

But Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro struck me as more about class than anything to do with gender, race, or national origin. Perhaps I'm mis-remembering.

So if the texts don't have to challenge the white male dominance, then the books are challenging them.. simply by being written by women (white or otherwise) or men of color? Um, well.. did you really need to make a top 10 list to prove the majority of the population on the planet is capable of writing good books?! The list didn't even confine itself to books first published in English!

Which just makes you have to question why so many American, Canadian, and British authors made it into the list!

I was originally going to look at the list and complain if there was no sf/f on it. I have a little trouble doing that because whatever Atwood says, her book is sf. And wherever Ishiguro's is placed in libraries and bookstores, it's sf too.

I dunno.. I just.. seriously? There were several approaches you could take to 'challenging' the 'literary dominance' of white males and I don't think this list reflects any of them.

* Books that actually challenge that dominance by exploring worlds where white men aren't dominant, or by subverting that. You know.. feminist or anti-colonialist books, though not limited to those.

* Books written by women or men of color that dominated the bestseller lists. Rowling or Meyer, anyone?

* Books by women or men of color who won the Hugo or the Nebula? (Ah well, pipe dream this. Because sf/f isn't 'literary'.)

* Books by women or men of color that appear on school reading lists? I know that would include Octavia Butler.

* Books that are really big with book groups? With or without the Oprah Bump.

I'm annoyed that this list doesn't have LeGuin or Butler or anyone else in the sf/f world who is a major, major player and who challenged the status quo just by getting their voice heard.

Even while another part of me thinks that was too much to expect.

I should stop reading these top whatever lists just because Shelf Awareness points me to them. They're all rubbish. :P

ETA: I was also wondering about this summary of Handmaid's Tale. "As a result, some are virtuous Wives while others are Handmaids, like the novel's protagonist, Offred, named for their male masters and forced to bear their children so the Wives don't have to." Don't have to? I thought they couldn't! Am I misremembering here? No, wait, that was girly of me. I know they couldn't! That was the whole point! (But if you really want to satisfy the 2% of my brain that isn't sure, could you confirm it for me? Thnx.)

Top 10 Supernatural Families

Author Jennifer Lynn Barnes gave a list of her top 10 supernatural families to The Guardian.

Here's the List

Assuming all initial names are women (with the exception of CS Lewis), then there's only one male author on her list. The aforementioned CS Lewis.

Do men typically not write about families? Or just in the sf/f world?

Note: Of course of course, personal bias, this is a personal list, maybe she mostly reads women authors, etc. But I still think it's a useful question to ask.

Mindblowing SF by Women and POC

Here's the list that's been compiled of mindblowing SF by women and writers of color, up over on tor.com.

I've read some of the stories on there. About a dozen at a rough guess. A working definition for me is.. science fiction that's so unlike other science fiction I've read that it's stretched.. something.

Well, blah, I'm not terribly awake and thus not terribly with the thinking and articulating bit. Anyway, worth checking out the list. I'll check out some of the stories I haven't read at some point. Still working on reading my way through the Hugo short story winners.