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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

GUEST POST: The 2 Most Important Questions In Science Fiction & Fantasy by Dianna Sanchez


As a child, I never asked questions. Questions were a sign of weakness. If you had to ask, you didn’t already know, so you were at the very least ignorant. At worst, it would turn out to be a stupid question, and then you were mercilessly ridiculed. It was always safer just to pretend you knew what the hell was going on.

So when I was nine years old and the children’s librarian at the Ernie Pyle branch of the Albuquerque Public Library took me by the hand, led me into the adult SF section, and placed a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in my hand, it never occurred to me to ask who J.R.R. Tolkien was or which grand literary tradition he was drawing from. And when I began devouring the entire section in alphabetical order – Asimov, Beagle, Bradbury, Clarke – I never questioned the fact that all the names on those spines were Anglo names. I just assumed that science fiction and fantasy were Anglo territory, like so much else in my life.

It wasn’t until I went off to college at MIT that I learned the value, the utter necessity of asking questions. At about the same time I began, painfully, to speak up in calculus, I discovered black science fiction – Butler, Delany, Ellison. Someone pressed Love in the Time of Cholera into my hands, and I discovered that Hispanics write beautiful, mystical, mind-bending novels, but for some reason these were called magic realism rather than fantasy or science fiction.


I began to ask the obvious questions I should have been asking all along: "where are the Hispanic SF writers? Why are there no Hispanic characters in SF?" In the late 80s, I finally found Diane Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard with its Hispanic protagonist, Kit Rodriguez. His partner in magic, while not Hispanic, had a Hispanic name, Juanita. Delighted, I thought, Oh, good. Now we’ll start seeing more Hispanic representation in speculative fiction. Well, not so much. It wasn’t until Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer in 2008 for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao that other Hispanics began to establish a presence in genre fiction. Now Daniel José Older and Carmen Maria Machado and a small horde of other Latin@ writers are gaining recognition, along with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. I applaud and support their efforts.

The name on my driver’s license is Jenise Aminoff. It would be easy to just use that name. As some of my Clarion classmates have pointed out, it’s a great name for an SF author. It’s got “amino” in it, and it would get shelved right next to Asimov. But I’ve chosen to publish my first novel, A Witch’s Kitchen, using my middle name, Dianna, and my mother’s maiden name, Sanchez. Dianna Sanchez is as much me as Jenise Aminoff. Moreover, it’s a side of me that most people would never guess, unless they asked.

When I attended in Clarion in 1995, I really wanted to establish myself as a Hispanic SF writer. One of my admission stories was called “A Recipe for Martian Enchiladas” about Hispanic farmers on Mars. The story I have in the 2017 Young Explorers’ Adventure Guide, “Weeds,” can trace its convoluted ancestry to that admission story. In it, twelve-year-old Lupe, who was born on Mars, visits her family in New Mexico, where persistent drought destroyed all farming practice and where Lupe feels like an alien within her own family and culture. That was my own experience; Hispanic women aren’t supposed to study physics or write science fiction.

I have two daughters, and I want them to walk into the library and see Hispanic names on the shelves. I want them to find Hispanic characters in the books they read. I want that for all children, especially the ones who don’t ask questions, so that they’ll know that science fiction and fantasy is written by all kinds of people, anyone who dreams, anyone who asks those very important questions: “What if?” and “Why not?”


The 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide is an anthology of 24 science fiction short stories for middle grade readers. It’s currently on Kickstarter - you can back it here!  Find more information about Dianna’s debut novel, A Witch’s Kitchen at Dreaming Robot Press.


Official Author Website

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dianna Sanchez is the not-so-secret identity of Jenise Aminoff, whose superpower is cooking with small children. She is an MIT alumna, graduate of the 1995 Clarion Workshop and Odyssey Online, active member of SCBWI, and former editor at New Myths magazine. Aside from 18 years as a technical and science writer, she has taught science in Boston Public Schools, developed curricula for STEM education, and taught Preschool Chef, a cooking class for children ages 3-5. A Latina geek originally from New Mexico, she now lives in the Boston area with her husband and two daughters.

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