I probably have to start this blog post with an arbitrary statement of privilege. I’m a white, (mostly) cisgender, homosexual male, and this blog post will be talking about the importance of world fiction – with a special focus on speculative fiction. However, I’ve been reading and consuming world fiction (and other things like world music) for most of my teenage life.
So, what is world fiction? Basically, it’s any work of fiction that is published by non-Western authors. In this case, we could very realistically call works of fiction by Indigenous Australians world fiction, but the new sci-fi series by George R. R. Martin is very plainly Western fiction. So why is world fiction so important? In my opinion, it’s important for two reasons. The first is that it acts as a bridge between cultures so that one culture can experience in some limited way another. The second is because it’s a matter of representation. In a literary world dominated by white cis-het people, good representation of different cultures, races, genders and sexualities is so integral to reshaping ideas of the world, and world fiction is just one aspect of this.
Starting with the first point, I think the best story to illustrate this is Paper Menageries by Ken Liu. It’s a really quick read if you do want to read it and better understand where I’m coming from, but this is one of the most beautifully written short stories I’ve ever read. It speaks of cultural assimilation and the rebellious nature of children, and I’m sure a lot of people in the same situation have had a similar experience. Honestly, even I’ve had a similar experience and I didn’t have a mother that was experiencing culture shock, which I think speaks to the power of the story. Another piece of world fiction I would recommend that illuminates a bridge between cultures is A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. It’s about as crazy as it sounds, and it combines Japanese history with strange, dream-like storytelling that gets less and less believable the more you read. That’s why it’s good, though. The story takes itself out of every preconceived Western idea of Japan and puts itself in something far more authentic and believable. Both of these stories are very different in their approach to the world, but they’re also able to speak to readers worldwide about issues that transcend humanly things like borders and race.
And now for the matter of representation. I have a series of books I’ve been meaning to thrash on here for a while, but I never wanted to give it a whole review post. Whilst not specifically world fiction, C. S. Pacat’s Captive Prince trilogy are some of the most horrifically bad books I’ve ever read for multiple reasons. One is that she can’t lock down a perspective to save her life, but the far more important one is how she bolsters stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community. While doing some absolutely disgusting things like making gay characters openly pedophilic or sadistic, she also makes stupid mistakes about some of the most basic things regarding sexual behaviour. Like lubricant. Apparently, every asshole in this universe is so loose anything can just slip right in. If this straight white girl talked to literally any of her gay friends (assuming she has any, to begin with), she’d know this basic necessity and somehow work it into the story. Hearing that this was one of the biggest LGBTQ+ novels in Australia and that it was published due to a heavy online demand made me hate this even more. I know it’s supposed to be a romance and that everything is romanticised, but there are some core aspects of life you can’t and shouldn’t romanticise. If you’re looking for a good LGBTQ+ romance story, look at Courtship in the Country of Machine Gods by Benjamin Sriduangkaew. The writing is equally confusing but at least the confusion has meaning behind it, and the romanticisations aren’t harmful to the community. I could write a whole post about the problems with white women writing gay fiction, but I’m not going to give them the power or the time of day. That’s the issue with representation, and is another reason why reading and promoting world fiction is so important – without it, we’ll keep getting stereotypical, romanticised and downright incorrect representations of minorities, and that’s the last thing any of us need.
In all, please read world fiction. It’s usually amazing because unlike Western authors who can publish trash and get away with it, non-Western authors have to be at the top of their game in order to get translated and published in English. It also helps right the stereotypes set in place by the Western world and is all-in-all usually just a load of fun to read.