Clarion Write-a-Thon 2012: Day 14, or It’s Time to Stop and Think

I read this post dissecting world-building and cultural appropriation and holy shit.

You know, it’s kind of hilarious in a not very funny way that I’m probably running awaaaay from cultural appropriation only to run straight into cultural appropriation. If the mysteeerious land of Ravka is offensive to Russians due to its appropriation of Russian culture (or some stereotypes thereof) and then not bothering to figure out properly gendered names and other wrong notes, what makes Yunva any better?

Well, at least I researched naming traditions in Inuit cultures through a source other than Wikipedia (in particular, Names and Nunavut). At least I studied Inuktitut through sources other than Wikipedia (in particular,

But other than that? NOTHING. I have done nothing good.

I think the motive infects the approach. It feels like, from Next Friday’s review of Shadow and Bone, that if you’re using world-building to get away from hard research, you’re tainting your world from the start. I mentioned this possibility briefly a day ago:

Of course, I understand that I can run into a lotta fail even if I take the “everything from scratch” approach. Cultural stereotypes live in the subconscious, and if there’s anything that writing is really good at, it’s diving down and grabbing the little swimmy things that live there… and bringing back whatever it finds.

It’s not always pretty.

The problem is not just with Leigh Bardugo’s fantastical alternate-Russia Ravka; it’s also the future world of Singapore Three by one of my favorite authors, Liz Williams.

I do not want to follow in their footsteps. I do not want to make screw-ups that would embarrass or erase the real-life people of that culture. I already demonstrated to myself, numerous times, that I’m weak when it comes to distinctions like this. And there are writers that, because they do the research or because they worked a world from motives that weren’t copypasta, do not screw up. Catherynne M. Valente is a notable one; comparing her Deathless to Shadow and Bone is an exercise I’m tempted to do. But she already proved herself to me with The Grass-Cutting Sword; for reasons due to research done earlier in my life, I’m more sensitive to Japanese legends getting butchered than I might otherwise be. And then there’s Alma Alexander, who writes about her successful experience writing the other.

So: continuing with the hard research, it is. I was already planning on doing that anyways so that Yunva wouldn’t be idiotic, but it turns out to be idiotic anyways.

Now to go change stuff back. Another day lost; but I think it’s for the better.