By definition, science fiction and fantasy are unique among literary genres because of the presence of a wide range of diverse characters and people groups. Certainly, many are fictional (as far as we know)—Vulcans, Calormenes, sentient droids. Certainly, many portrayals, such as that of female characters and Native Americans, have been fetishized and over-troped. But, like much of the world, science fiction and fantasy are growing up, growing wiser, and embracing the stories of traditionally marginalized people groups. Some might say SFF is ahead of the curve.
The ever-widening tent of modern science fiction and fantasy was shown at last week’s Hugo Awards where female writers and artists swept the prize in all major categories. N.K. Jemisin, the African-American author of the Broken Earth series, who made history in 2016 by becoming the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, made history again by becoming the first person ever to take the top prize three years in a row. Many of the other winners were also reflective of the growing diversity in SFF publishing. Rebecca Roanhorse won Best Short Story for Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience; Suzanne Palmer’s Secret Life of Bots won Best Novelette; Martha Wells won Best Novella for All Systems Red. The late Ursula K. Le Guin won Best Related Work for her book of essays, No Time to Spare. We could go on.
This trend—although I hope it’s more than a trend—makes sense, especially since, in my opinion (and in the opinion of V.E. Schwab), the best speculative stories grow from trees planted with seeds from the real world.
It’s often uncomfortable talking about the marginalization experienced by women and various races and ethnic groups. There still is (and probably always will be) a small but loud strain of individuals who don’t like black actresses playing traditionally white comic book characters on TV, or the growing recognition that women writers and people of color are receiving in SFF publishing, or minority characters being introduced to Star Wars.
But the embrace of diversity in speculative genres ought to remind us that, one day, people of every nation, ethnicity, and language will live, work, and love together in the New Heaven and New Earth. John, the apostle and end times seer, wrote, “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
The arc of the universe bends toward diversity. It bends toward a re-imagined Eden where the things that have divided for so long—the differences of race, gender, ethnicity, culture, and economic standing—become the elements God uses to paint a new mosaic. In this mosaic, the beauty comes not just from unity despite our differences, but unity made more glorious because it embraces our differences. To paraphrase from Helen Lee’s recent article, God is the ultimate diversity activist.
Jesus’s example shows us that we should cheer the growing diversity in SFF genres. Although He came to bring the Good News of the Kingdom to the Jews first, He often went out of His way to minister to those who were marginalized. He took time out to hear from Greeks who were seen as outsiders (John 12:20-22). He ministered to the hated, half-breed Samaritans (John 4:1-42), and, in one of His most famous stories, He made a Samaritan the main character and the hero.
Jesus grabbed people who stood on the margins of His society—tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, the lepers, the African—and thrust them into the main narrative of the Great Story of God’s Love. You belong here, He told them. There is room for you.
And then, He told us, His disciples, to do the same. The glorious climax of every people, every nation, every tongue gathered around the throne at the end of time only comes about because the plot can be summed up in the Great Commission where Jesus commands us to “make disciples of all nations.”
We have a hand in the making of God’s diverse kingdom—in Heaven and here on Earth. And we should rejoice when any arena, like modern science fiction and fantasy publishing, moves closer to that divine ideal.