Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chicanonautica: Timewarping Chicano Spec Fic

It was crazy for a Chicano to want to be a writer back in the Seventies, let alone a writer of science fiction, speculative fiction, or whatever label you want to put on it. I didn’t let it stop me. People have always told me that what I wanted to do was crazy or impossible -- and I just go out and do it anyway.

Nobody encouraged me to become a writer. Science fiction was considered trash. None of the support systems for wannabe writers existed yet.

It wasn’t easy. I prefer it that way, a quixotic battle, me against a hostile world. It took longer than I thought, but when I finally did it, hijo, did it feel good.

Things were different back then. Sci-fi/spec fic boasted about preaching tolerance -- and that meant that creatures from other planets could be considered as people. Stories with characters that weren’t white, or at least didn’t act it, were rare. And the tolerance for aliens went away when it came to real “aliens” who live in your town.

Because I’ve always been used to being some kind of oddball, I didn’t really notice I was one of the few non-whites in the sci-fi world back then. There were occasional Asians, and blacks, and even Latinos, but the subject of our being different was usually avoided. At conventions, I was usually the only brown person in the room.

People often mistook me for black because of my hair texture, making me the only “black” person in the room.

Back in the 20th century, science, technology -- even the future -- were seen as intellectual property of white folks. An early version of the digital divide was assumed to keep everybody else out. And it was often said that the “minorities” weren’t interested in such things.

Well into the Nineties, I would not identify a character as being “Hispanic” until well into the story. I didn’t mention that the hero of Cortez on Jupiter was a Chicano until after I sold it. Book covers often whitewashed characters back then, or showed the back of their heads.

This was because, even until the end of the Millennium, the audience for books was considered white, middle class, middle American -- and in the case of science fiction -- nerds. Getting too much of other races and cultures would alienate them. They liked to read about aliens, but not too alien.

This was the age of Corporate Science Fiction. Star Trek popularized sci-fi as a franchised alternate universe that cold be accessed at a chain bookstore. Star Wars got rid of the idea that you had to be smart to understand shoot-outs in space. The reader would simply look for the logos and icons, and buy. It was like the genre was given a lobotomy.

I was told by marketing “experts” that Americans just liked to buy books with white people on the cover.

It was not considered racism -- just commercialism, and good business.

Of course, in the 21st century, things began to change. Chain bookstores and the traditional publishing establishment that supported them are leaving Corporate Science Fiction without  a home. It turns out that nerds come in all colors, come from all over the planet, and don’t always identify with the culture of the English-speaking zone of North America.

Interesting rumblings are happening: decolonialization, Afrofuturism, American Indian science fiction and fantasy in Spanish and other languages, anthologies and other publications that thrive on diversity, writers who aren’t the usual white males publishing and being nominated for awards.

The old models are crumbling along with the world that made them. Self-publishing, ebooks, and new, non-traditional publishers are providing all kinds of writers to get all kinds of wild fiction out there. The new media are helping spread the world.

There are more ways for more people to become writers these days. But it’s not going to be easy. I’m hanging onto my quixotic warrior spirit -- I think it’s going to come in handy.

Ernest Hogan’s High Aztech will soon be available as an ebook. Meanwhile, you can buy Smoking Mirror Blues and Cortez on Jupiter on Amazon and Smashwords.


Daniel Olivas said...

Excellent essay! I just Tweeted this baby.

Anonymous said...

I think it's time for Raza to Rise in the spec world. We got the alien cultura, lengua and gente to share with those less lingual.
Good post, "Nesto.

Frank S Lechuga said...

The Father of Chicano Science Fiction speaketh!