Today, I'd like to introduce you to Marian Perera. I don't remember how Marian and I met, but I've been following her blog for quite a while.
Marian is an amazing person, especially once you get to know her and realize how hard she worked to get where she is today. I love reading her blog because she's so articulate and thorough--which I suppose is second nature for someone studying medical laboratory technology. :grin:
Please say hello to Marian, and do give her excerpt a read. I think you'll really enjoy it.
Slavery in fantasy
What does the word “slaves” make you think of right away?
For me, a movie and a book come to mind. The movie is Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and the book is Alex Haley’s Roots. Both portray slavery vividly (if not exactly accurately in the case of the Biblical epic). For a long time, they shaped my view of the “peculiar institution”, so when I started writing fantasy, the slaveholding society was evil and the land to which my slaveborn protagonist escaped was naturally good.
But eventually I started wanting to do something different.
Slavery can take different forms. Many of these variations – chattel slavery, debt slavery and so on – are mentioned in this essay, but in fantasy there can be many more. For instance, what about a world where humans have enslaved elves? That would be a twist on traditional fantasy. And if the slaves were the usual antagonists – orcs, trolls and so on – it could present some questions of ethics.
Especially if the human characters take this as the natural and just order of things. They may not see too many moral differences between enslaving the orcs and slaughtering them by the hundreds in battle.
It’s more common to see humans as slaves, but if that’s done, their masters shouldn’t be automatically ugly or evil. I have plans for a world where a war between intelligent wolves and human colonists ends with the surviving humans becoming slaves to the wolves, who benefit even more from the access to opposable thumbs.
There’s also a science fiction story where a blind alien uses a human as a seeing-eye dog. And Isaac Asimov had a scenario where plants were the ones in charge, using animals under their control to defend them and carry out pollination.
That’s a good reason to keep slaves, because they perform a function that their masters can’t accomplish either on their own or with existing technology. It would also be a reason to keep the slaves in good condition, rather than whipping and starving them 24/7.
And slavery doesn’t always have to be a degrading, lifelong condition – if people have reasonable expectations of being released once they are naturalized into a new land and no longer foreigners, they might see slavery as just another rite of passage.
A few more caveats :
1. Broad sweeps of the morality paintbrush
Slavery is almost as much of a hot-button topic in speculative fiction as in the real world, so it has to be handled carefully no matter which side the characters are on. But masters don’t have to be clones of Simon Legree. I don’t think dogs have the same legal rights as I do, but if I owned one I would take good care of it. Someone who owns slaves might feel the same about their property.
2. I am Spartacus
One of my pet peeves in fantasy is the slave population which is utterly downtrodden until the protagonist either rescues them or gives them the idea that they can be free. Or where slaves in the past have twentieth-century attitudes about liberté, egalité and fraternité. Slaves who prefer the idea of being in charge and having slaves themselves may be more realistic for those times.
3. Slave revolt = happy ending
The slave revolt in George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords led to some of the former slaves murdering their former owners. And the heroine, who freed the slaves, found herself responsible for a huge number of people in need of food and defense, people she couldn’t turn away even when her own resources were strained.
The vast majority of people would agree that freedom is a good thing. But the best things may have consequences and side-effects that are not welcome, and even freedom can come with a price. Let individual characters, rather than twentieth-century values, decide whether that’s worth it for them.
To my blog
To my book
To the first chapter of my book
Bio : Marian Perera studies medical laboratory technology (final year of college!) when she isn’t writing. Her first novel, a romantic fantasy called