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MIND MELD: How to Write Science Fiction on a Post-Colonial World?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

In recent years, the ascension of several former Third World countries to a better economical and geopolitical standing (the best example of which are the like the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) has been slowly but steadily bringing a change of paradigms in the way science fiction sees the world. Could it be that novels like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-Up Girl, Ian McDonald’s Brasyl and The Dervish House, to name just a few, are some of the harbingers of this change? Or, as their authors are Western in origin and haven’t lived in the countries they portrayed, would they still be focusing on the so-called exotic aspect of foreign countries and therefore failing to see the core of these cultures?

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: How do you Write Science Fiction on a Post-Colonial World? Do you think belonging to a Non-Western culture is essential to write a really good, convincing story about it? Is being an outsider to the culture you want to write about, an enriching or impoverishing experience (or doesn’t it matter in the end)?

Here’s what they said…

Joyce Chng
Born in Singapore but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction (SFF) and YA fiction. She likes steampunk and tales of transformation/transfiguration. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, Semaphore Magazine, Bards and Sages Quarterly and Everyday Fiction. Her urban fantasy novels Wolf At The Door and Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye (written as J. Damask) are published by Lyrical Press. Her short story “The Sound Of Breaking Glass” is side by side with luminaries in The Apex Book of World SFF vol II. Her blog is found at A Wolf’s Tale. She wrangles kids and promises she is still normal.

I have to disagree, though a writer from a non-Western culture might understand the nuances of being a post-colonial writer better.

A Western writer who wants to write a convincing story has so many opportunities at his or her fingertips. Thanks to globalization, we have access to the Internet, the chance to talk to people living in non-western countries via a plethora of tools and gosh, libraries. Accessing information now is so easy, so simple – many do not even have to step out of their rooms. At the same time, you can ask a friend who is from the said culture(s) you are writing about to vet it. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Research. Let it be an enriching experience. Worldbuilding does not emerge out of the ether nor do you pluck it out of thin air.

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