Cool little article in the Boston Globe, linked to from Bookninja.
The June release of "Acacia," the first of a planned trilogy of fantasy books by black historical-fiction writer David Anthony Durham, brought attention to the small number of black writers toiling in what is sometimes called speculative fiction, and the people who read their work. The media took note of Durham as one of only a handful of black authors in the genre. That small group includes veteran Samuel R. Delany and the late Octavia Butler, as well as younger voices such as Nalo Hopkinson, Steven Barnes, and Tananarive Due, and respected writers who have also dabbled in speculative fiction such as Walter Mosley and the late W.E.B. Du Bois...
But some in the speculative-fiction community complain that a number of their white contemporaries no longer tackle these subjects. Durham, a former Shutesbury resident, was inspired to move into fantasy writing because he saw potential there that others failed to tap into... "In epic fantasy," says Durham, 38, whose novel is populated by a diverse crowd that includes blond warriors and olive-skinned beauties, "there is a lot of racism and sexism I don't think the good people who are writing it are aware of."
Durham raises an interesting point. Makes you wonder why, in epic fantasy, you get this effect. (Let's put the misogyny of "buxom wenches" to one side for now.) There's a good deal many white people in fantasy fiction. Is this a fair reflection of our world? I don't think so. The most obvious reason that springs to mind as to why this may be the case is that most fantasy settings are pseudo-medieval, and the weather is non-too-good.
..."Acacia" had been in the back of Durham's mind since the late 1990s. What spurred him to embark on the project was "The Lord of the Rings" films. Durham watched the three movies multiple times, and became increasingly irritated by the almost mono-racial cast of characters... "I did not love it," Durham says, "that the only people of color who didn't have speaking lines were the minions imported for the dark lords."
Then here we have the "good/light vs bad/dark" explanation, which is not necessarily racist, but raises certain issues with perception. Whenever you do get good non-whites, it perhaps tends to be a focal point, rather like in Othello. Sure, many authors sweep this aside—Steven Erikson, for one, never makes this an issue, and race is a concept made redundant when you have numerous species and gods stretching back to the beginning of time, and a bit further back before that.
For a genre to claim it shines a light on our world today, this subject of race remains a little in the shade.
— Mark N