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I really appreciate that I've been blogging about Race and SF enough… - Zer Netmouse
July 29th, 2009
06:39 pm

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I really appreciate that I've been blogging about Race and SF enough that two different friends sent me links to posts related to the whitewashed cover of Liar, by Justine Larbalestier, including Justine's own post detailing how she fought against the US cover, which shows a white girl's face with long straight hair despite the fact that the young protagonist, as described in the book and by the author apart from the book, is an african american tomboy.

The publisher is Bloomsbury Children's books, and, as reported by Publisher's Weekly, defended the cover choice despite readers' protests. “The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar,” said Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers, who worked on Liar. “Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?” - which is all very well, except the author has indicated the character is not lying about her race, and general opinion seems to be that the author would know.

So I find the commentary on this topic to be fairly interesting, although I might be happier if people were responding to booksellers and not just on the internet. I myself am pondering distributing a note that says something like this,

Dear (bookseller),
I have been enjoying exploring science fiction and fantasy writing that has people of color in major roles this year. I was chagrined to realize, however, that I had overlooked Liar, by Justine Larbalestier, because it has this white girl on the cover. I understand from the author's blog that this is a misrepresentation of the protagonist. I would have purchased this book already had it shown the protagonist accurately as a black teenager, and I would buy it now for my nieces because I understand it is a wonderful book except I am torn about the cover - I may have to order the australian edition instead. I hope you will express to Bloomsbury that their decision to misrepresent this character has cost you sales, and I also hope to express to you my encouragement and fervent wish that you will purchase more books featuring people of color on the covers in this genre. Thanks for listening, Anne.



So that was an interesting discussion topic in the last week, but perhaps more interesting (and less well publicized) was an exchange that happened involving K. Tempest Bradford, Realms of Fantasy editors Warren Lapine and Douglas Cohen, and Harlan Ellison, who came into it later. Apparently criticism by Tempest of the general trend in Realms of Fantasy cover art was translated into an illustration (not by Tempest) that was insulting to Ellison in passing (in a humorous way in which he was the brunt of a joke), and when Tempest linked to that picture somehow word of this was inaccurately passed to Elison, causing a rant by him, and then a second, worse one, in which he said, well, here:

She has dummied-up a truly insulting mock-cover of REALMS that is intended to be offensive to anyone who values my sixty years' work. Now: watch your step. She is apparently a Woman of Color (which REALLY makes me want to bee-atch-slap her, being the guy who discovered and encouraged one of the finest writers and Women of Color who ever lived, my friend, the recently-deceased Octavia Estelle Butler). And she plays that card endlessly, which is supposed to exorcise anyone suggesting she is a badmouth ignoramus, or even a NWA. Ooooh, did I say that?


NWA = Nigger With Attitude



But why read my summary of events? you should really go check out this awesome puppet theater version by vito_excalibur instead. Links to the relevant text from Harlan, Tempest's admirably restrained response, Warren's weak attempt to defend Ellison, and a note from the Carl Brandon Society pointing out that it's really not appropriate to call someone a nigger in this sort of discourse, are all below the awesome illustrations.

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[User Picture]
From:jojomojo
Date:July 30th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
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From what I've heard about Ellison, I'm sadly unsurprised.
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From:matt_arnold
Date:July 30th, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)
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Wow, I would like to enact that on YouTube with actual puppets.

Is it possible for Harlan Ellison to have any worse a reputation than he already does?
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From:netmouse
Date:July 30th, 2009 02:31 am (UTC)
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Wow, I would like to enact that on YouTube with actual puppets.

Isn't it awesome? btw, have you seen the wonderful puppetry on maryrobinette's LJ?

Is it possible for Harlan Ellison to have any worse a reputation than he already does?

Well, you know, theoretically...
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From:matt_arnold
Date:July 30th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
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No, I hadn't seen that! It's great! Very inspiring.
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From:popelizbet
Date:July 30th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
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I was so irritated when I heard about Larbalestier. I have a friend in Aus who's going to get me the Australian release, but still. *grumble* At least the girl on the cover of How to Ditch Your Fairy isn't pasty white.
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From:boywhocantsayno
Date:August 1st, 2009 05:32 am (UTC)
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At least the girl on the cover of How to Ditch Your Fairy isn't pasty white.

Are you sure about that?

(That may not be the Australian cover, though I got it from an Australian source.)
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From:popelizbet
Date:August 1st, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
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The character is Hispanic, I don't see the disconnect. Sure, she COULD be white, but she isn't PASTY white.
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From:boywhocantsayno
Date:August 1st, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
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Ah, okay. I haven't actually read the book (my "to read" list is long enough at the moment... I just happened to have a copy of the image because I'm putting together the International Awards Spotlight slideshow for Anticipation, and the book was nominated for a Ditmar Award this year).
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From:popelizbet
Date:August 2nd, 2009 10:43 am (UTC)
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Hooray! It deserves every award ever because it rocks.

They surely could have made that cover less ambiguous, but it's better than the one they came up with for Liar, ffs.
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From:fledgist
Date:July 30th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
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Harlan Ellison is a jackass, and needs to be called on his racism. No doubt about it. He had no right to use racist language. It was correct to call him on it. And equally correct to call him on his half-assed non-apology.

Little has been said, though, about the original ageist insult directed at Ellison.
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From:netmouse
Date:July 30th, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC)
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Hmm. I did see someone comment on it, and I thought it was Tempest, in the form of being apologetic on that point, but I'm having trouble backtracking to wherever it was.

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From:fledgist
Date:July 31st, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
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I think she was apologetic on the subject. I also think that the whole issue of ageism got buried in the anti-racist pile-on and the eagerness to call Ellison for being such an asshole. But it's still there, and it does need to be dealt with.

Edited at 2009-07-31 12:30 am (UTC)
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