Tori Truslow on the use of “Exotic” in Science Fiction

Tori Truslow, who has been commended for her short story shortlisted for the James White Award on Sunday, has written a post on the problem of using the word “exotic” as it applies to non-Western cultures.

This is what the Award website has to say about the story (bolding mine):

Tori Truslow’s ‘Train in Vain’ is a compelling tale of exotic intrigue and intricate automata, told in breathlessly vivid and evocative prose. There is no let up in narrative pace in this highly believable blend of fantasy and adventure. There’s wit too, and a hint of darkness amid the exotic imagery. We were desperate to know how the story would be resolved and we’re convinced others will be as well.

Now, this puts me in a rather awkward position. As I said, I’m tremendously grateful to be recognised, but I’m also deeply uncomfortable at the language used here, and I can’t not say something. Whatever the merits/non-merits of this individual story are, it’s another white-filtered representation of a country and culture that only ever gets represented in SFF by white authors, and this is a problem in itself, but especially so when that writing gets valued in terms of its exoticness.

Am I part of the problem here? Of course. I may not have meant to, but I probably did play into exoticism in this story. I contribute – however inadvertently – to the exotification of Thailand, and instead of being criticised, I’m praised for it. And round we go.

Exoticism is by no means the only problem in Western SFF (meet its mutually-enabling twin, “authenticity”), but it is far too commonplace, and if we genuinely want the specfic field to be a diverse one we need to stop letting it go unchecked. Or all we’ll have is false diversity where self-fulfilling Western fantasies forever drown out other cultures’ own representations of themselves. – read the entire post, plus comments.

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