Friday, March 7, 2014

Synthetic Illusions by Mary Fan: Guest Post


The Challenges of a Diverse Universe
by Mary Fan

I set the “Jane Colt” novels, Artificial Absolutes and Synthetic Illusions, in a distant future in which Earth is so long lost, it’s almost a myth, and humans have colonized hundreds of worlds. It certainly isn’t the first universe of its kind. I’ll openly admit that it shares some similarities with the setting of the TV show “Firefly,” in that it’s about a post-Earth future in space. But here’s what always bothered me about “Firefly”: the Alliance is made up of the United States and China, right? Which is why we have Chinese food, Chinese décor, and Chinese cursing? So… where are the Chinese people?


I knew from the start that I wanted to make the “Jane Colt” universe a colorful one—in every sense of the word. I wanted varied locations, from the height of civilization to the fringes of society. I wanted an array of characters, from hackers to military commanders. And I wanted racial diversity.


Since the Jane Colt novels are set so far in the future, contemporary cultural markers of race, such as food and music and holidays, aren’t relevant. Neither are terms like “Asian American” or “of African descent” or anything like that. After all, those terms are tied to earthbound locations, which don’t exist anymore. Even last names wouldn’t help. Nowadays, if a person’s last name is “Singh,” chances are, they’re of Indian heritage. Or take my last name, “Fan.” As far as I know, it’s still an indicator of Chinese descent. But hundreds of years in the future, that might not be the case.


As a result, the diversity in the Jane Colt novels is very subtle, hinted at only by the vaguest of physical traits. I did go with the last name indicator once or twice (such as Sharda for the South Asian hacker Fedora), but for the most part, left it at a handful of descriptors. For instance, most people are surprised when I tell them that Jane Colt and her brother Devin are biracial—white father, East Asian mother. Which doesn’t surprise me, since their dark eyes and hair and their mother’s maiden name, Lin, are the only hints.


It’s always a challenge describing a character’s physical traits, when they’re not white, without offending someone. For instance, the hacker Corsair is East Asian, but would people be upset if I referred to his eyes as “slanted”? Or would they come after me for giving Adesina, an interstellar government agent, black dreadlocks to indicate her African descent? (Well, she actually just appeared in my head with dreadlocks for some reason.)


Ah well, the hints are there, if you look closely. And if not, well, it doesn’t matter too much, since these characters are people first, and their appearances are secondary to that.
Jane’s new career as a composer is a dream come true, but her blossoming relationship with Adam is marred by his terrifying nightmares. When Jane receives a warning that a shadowy agency is targeting Adam’s seminary school, she rescues him in the nick of time, but the only way she can protect him from such a powerful enemy is to run.

In a shocking betrayal, her brother wasn’t the one who warned her about the attack on Adam. Instead, Devin was leading it. As Jane struggles to keep one step ahead of Devin, Adam’s exhaustion gives way to horror: His nightmares have begun to touch the real world.

Jane can’t abandon Adam to a fate worse than death, and far more than Adam’s life hangs in the balance. As Jane pushes further into the dark unknown, she must challenge everything she once believed in, and she faces the most wrenching decision of her life: choosing between the two people she loves most

Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books—a habit she began as soon as she could pick up a pencil. And what stories she has! Currently, she has three series in progress: her well-received Jane Colt sci-fi novels (Red Adept Publishing, released 2013), her upcoming Flynn Nightsider YA dystopian fantasies (Glass House Press, 2015), and her recently contracted YA fairytales, Fated Stars (Glass House Press, 2015). Mary would like to think that there are many other novels in her bag, and hopes to prove that to the world as well. And though she's well on her way, she can't help dreaming of more.

Mary lives in New Jersey and has a B.A. from Princeton University. When she’s not scheming to create new worlds, she enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and blogging about everything having to do with books.

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