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Back before I went on vacation, I got involved in another one of those mystifying discussions on File 770 where I wonder how I’ve wandered into the Twilight Zone. This one was about who’s to blame for the legacy of slavery in the US. As a result, I’d like to compare a couple of the 2016 Hugo finalists. These are N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. Both these authors have African heritage: Jemisin is African American and Okorafor is first generation Nigerian-American.

In Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, the orogenes are group of highly talented people who can shake the foundations of the world. They are enslaved by the guardians who can nullify their powers. Orogenes are feared by normal people who ostracize and kill any children they can identify. Slavers torture the children they capture to make them submissive. As a result, the orogenes grow up without any hope of improving their existence. They are all victims, bitter and filled with hate, at the mercy of an intolerable system that goes on and on, producing people who would rather kill their own children than let them live within it. On top of that, one of them breaks the world, ensuring almost certain death for everyone.

In Okorafor’s Binti, the protagonist Binti is of the Himba people who live in Angola. She works in her father’s business of producing astrolabes and in doing this has learned to be a harmonizer. She is highly talented in mathematics and is accepted to a school in another part of the galaxy. Her family disapproves, but Binti slips away from home and takes passage on a starship. The ship is captured by aliens whose artifacts have been stolen, and she uses her harmonizing talents to mend relations between humans and the aliens, and to get their property back for them. She then takes her place as a respected member of the school’s society.

Of course, authors interpret things based on their own heritage and their personal experiences, but also from their cultural and political points of view. The differing viewpoints are one of the strong points of diversity, where ideas and insights are often stimulated by bumping into something unfamiliar. I admit to my own personal viewpoints, of course, based on the region of the country where I grew up and on my own education and experience of the world. These things always inform a particular author’s message.

Note: Mike Glyer has asked me to state that discussions in the comments section of File 770 do not represent his personal views.

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