Saturday, December 5, 2015

Swashbucklin' Social Comment



Marion Zimmer Bradley, despite her serious flaws as a person and a writer, played a very important part in the evolution of fantasy and science fiction in America and the English-speaking world. In the 1960s and 1970s, when other writers were writing mostly for entertainment in the genre fields, Bradley introduced serious social comment into the tales of humans and magic and swordplay set on her world of the red sun, Darkover. She was especially aware of social and class roles, sexism, and the prejudice and oppression suffered by gay people and gender-non-conforming women. Many gay fans felt that finally their story was being told in the context of the fantasy fiction that they loved. Nowadays it is common to see these fundamental issues being themed in fantasy and science fiction but even now there is resistance among conservative fans (who caused a major disruption in the community last year) to the inclusion of writers and stories about people of different races, sexual orientation, gender identification, and class. The conservatives would rather have their fiction only as swashbuckling entertainment rather than something with a social conscience. That battle is ongoing.

Lew Alton, the character depicted here, was not gay but played a part in a Bradley book, "The Heritage of Hastur," where the main character was gay and the plot centered around his awareness of his orientation and difference.

Darkover fan art. Black ink on illustration board, 3" x 6", summer 1983. The model reference for this was a "character dancer" in a ballet.

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