Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.
Panellists: Kate Elliot and Ken Liu
Joined in progress …
KE: People who live in the tropics tend to have darker skin. Those in northern countries are pale. It’s a specific adaptation to their environment.
KL: My book is not an Asian epic fantasy. It’s a reinterpretation of the Han Dynasty. I defined what it means to be Chinese in my world and purposefully varied the appearance of my characters. What does it mean to be a Han Chinese? Ultimately culture is how they define themselves, not by appearance. That’s [definition by appearance] a western-centric notion.
KE: The Mali from my spiritwalker series has eight or nine ethnic groups. They identify by where they live. Ethnicity is fluid. As writers, we have to think about our choices.
KL: The shape of the eye is not a defining feature.
KE: In any culture, you’re going to have sub-cultures develop. A static culture is a dead culture. Every empire is made up of many ethnicities interacting with the dynamics of assimilation, resistance, centre/periphery. These are character and plot dynamics.
KL: Cultural change is good for building a plot. All cultures are not equal. People adapt differently to their circumstances. Build a richer world. Show the dominant culture being challenged by another.
KE: Writers bring their ideas of what cultural changes matter. The Silk Road wasn’t an actual road. It was a chain of stops on a trade route.
KL: Transformative ideas are themselves transformed in the process of their transmission from culture to culture. Christianity in South America is different than the European tradition. Buddhism is different in India, Tibet, China, Japan, and Korea. Religion interacts with political power.
KE: The way they infiltrate through social strata is also different. Ptolemaic Egypt was actually more influenced by Macedonia and Greece. The native Egyptians were marginalized and had their own traditions. One of the best ways to research a historical time period is through art history.
KL: “We have not changed” is a common cultural narrative. Why do they need to insist on that cultural story?
KE: The centre of an empire will have one narrative and peripheral societies will have other narratives unique to them. Look at the Aztecs. The conquerors write history. Find stories on the peripheries.
KL: When writing an epic fantasy based on an historical culture, respect the intellect of the people of the past. The Ancient Romans were as cynical as we are.
KE: People don’t believe the same things in the same ways.
KL: The western bias is that cultures that lacked science must have been stupid.
KE: The history of technology is fascinating. Look at the geographical impact. Where do they live? Whether the society was coastal or land-locked makes a difference in what might otherwise be common myths and legends, like flood stories.
KL: Consider you narrative space and language as a part of worldbuilding. There are two layers of understanding, the linguistic, and the folk/colloquial. Power and self-image are parts of contextual identity.
KE: Language sticks around like an artefact. European place names that were derived from the Celtic tribes remained even though the culture was marginalized.
And that was time.
Next week: We’ll delve into class and equality in fantasy and science fiction for my final WorldCon report of the year. I’ll continue them in January, after my next chapter update for December and my year-end wrap up. And of course, Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday will continue 🙂
Hope you’re enjoying time with your family and friends, whatever holiday you celebrate.