Normally, we talk about diverse books in terms of the ethnicity and cultures of characters, authors, and story traditions. What speaks to me about the two articles linked above is the call to increase the diversity of the genres I read. The call to “read outside [my] own taste and interest” (from Bookriot), to read things I dislike or that scare me to try (as per the RA for All post).
We need diverse books to be sure, but those must be part of a literature that reflects our reality, books in which little black boys push one another on the swings, in which little black girls daydream about working in the zoo, in which kids of every color do what kids of every color do every day: tromp through the woods, obsess about trucks, love their parents, refuse to eat dinner. We need more books in which our kids are simply themselves, and in which that is enough.
This is definitely the book my siblings and I read as kids. As fragmentary as my memories of it are, I was shocked at how familiar it felt to read through it again as an adult. I found that I remembered almost every page as it was revealed to me. And I was delighted to discover that the copy I received via ILL came from a public library in my home state. Seems appropriate.
The Trigan Empire was a comic that ran from 1965 to 1982, published in Britain by Fleetway, with Butterworth and Lawrence as the primary writer and artist. It ran as a serial installment in an educational magazine focused on science. The hardbound novel-length book my siblings and I read was an omnibus collection of the earliest stories from the comic, published in the United States in 1978 by Chartwell.
This review was first published by Booklist in August, 2016.
Shawl’s first novel offers a steampunk-influenced alternate history of the Belgian Congo from 1889 to 1919. It envisions what would have happened if Fabian Socialists from Europe and African American missionaries had purchased land in the Congo from King Leopold and established a free state made up of native Africans, freed slaves, European settlers, and even Chinese laborers. Told from the perspectives of several different characters, it touches on themes of colonialism, sovereignty, religion, prejudice, sexuality, and identity. It is structured episodically, with each chapter offering a snapshot from the lives of the characters and the history of Everfair; some chapters could almost stand on their own as short stories. Taken together, these snapshots weave an engrossing tapestry of the history and humanity of what might have been for the Congo. The work is elegant, rendered with masterful craft in simple, compelling language—a tour de force of Shawl’s tremendous ability to create deeply nuanced characters. This is a beautifully told, important entry in the movement for greater diversity in sf.
[Author’s Note: I regret not giving this book a starred review. It deserved one—it was one of the most interesting and compelling SF novels of the year and I think it will take its place as in important work in the history of the genre. Sometimes the true value of a book takes time to realize.]