Saturday, January 28, 2012

SF/F Stories with Asian Leads

This post only covers from central, East and Southeast Asia. I'm covering the Middle East and north Africa in a separate post.
Related Posts: SFF Stories with Native American Leads, SFF Stories with Black Leads, and SFF Stories with Middle Easter Leads.

The Aggregate Stats

  • Total number of works/series/authors on the list: 24/7/7
  • Author with most works on the list: Eileen Wilks, with 8 books in her Lupi series
  • Biggest overall surprise: No ninjas. Huh. With all the assassin stories out there, I would have assumed I had read something more explicitly ninja-esque.  I'm going to have to hunt one down.  Also, I was a little surprised at the diversity. After doing the list for Native Americans, I was expecting patterns to emerge, even among excellent writers.  But, they're a pretty diverse group of stories.
and now for...

My Favorites

World of the Lupi

This series by Eileen Wilks includes Tempting Danger, Mortal Danger, Blood Lines, Night Season, Mortal Sins, Blood Magic, Blood Challenge, and Death Magic.
  • Sub-genre: It starts out mostly contemporary urban fantasy with werewolves and a bit of police procedural, but later in the story it breaks into parallel universes, too
  • Why I love it: The way she writes about Lily's family feels a little like Amy Tan, which is my  touchstone for authenticity for writing about Chinese-American women.  Except, of course, that the tiger inside Lily's grandmother is not just a metaphor.  Plus, if I ever needed to work with a cop, I'd choose Lily for sheer believable competence.
  • Asian-ness: Lily is a Chinese American and part of a close and extended Chinese immigrant family in San Francisco. The magic is pretty diverse, but eventually in the series, you get a bit of Chinese magic.

Initiate Brother

This duology by Sean Russell includes The Initiate Brother and Gatherer of Clouds.
  • Sub-genre: Wuxia fantasy epic with palace intrigue
  • Why I love it: I love all the main characters, the romances are heartbreakingly sweet, and it's a fantastic epic that manages to be complete within two books.
  • Asian-ness: It's set in a world that is very clearly based on ancient China, complete with Shaolin temple politics and Mongolian-ish invasion issues, although I've read someone argue that the structure is also similar some of the great medieval Japanese civil war epics.  I haven't the expertise to argue back.  It's definitely all Asian, anyway.

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox

This short series by Barry Hughart can be found as a three-book omnibus The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, but it covers Bridge of Birds, The Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen.
  • Sub-genre: A Sherlock Holmes story set in a historical fantasy with Terry Pratchett humor.
  • Why I love it: It is, in the words of Master Li, "much like wandering blindfolded through a myth devised by a maniac".  It's clever and absurd and silly.  But it has moments of poignancy and depth all the more touching for the contrast.
  • Asian-ness: It's set entirely in mythical ancient China, with the only hints of western-ness being occasional comments from Master Li letting you know that he's aware of the developments in places like Europe.

Snow Crash

Snow Crash, by Neal Stevenson is is a stand-alone novel.

  • Sub-genre: Cyberpunk, one of the classics in the genre, or possibly a classic satire of the genre.  I'm not sure which
  • Why I love it:  It's all about the ideas.  For example, the hero is Hiro Protagonist, a half-African American/half Korean pizza delivery driver who, in his spare time is an awesomely powerful hacker samurai.  
  • Asian-ness:  Hiro himself is half-Korean, but also, like most cyberpunk novels, it assumes that corporations and organizations from Asia such as Hong Kong and Japan, have gained de facto world-wide cultural supremacy.

Magic Dreams

This novella by Ilona Andrews can be found in Hexed and is a side story their Kate Daniels series.  Apparently they're now under contract to write one or more spin off books focusing on the leads from this book, so hopefully we'll be able to add to the new books to the list as soon as they're written.

  • Sub-genre: The series in general is apocalyptic urban fantasy with absolutely every magical and mythological tradition mixed explosively
  • Why I like it: The series in general and this story in particular are among my all-time favorites.  Mostly, it's the two main characters that make me love it, but really, it excels at everything.  World-building, dialog, action, and anything else you can think of is great, and all fit into a novella-sized package.
  • Asian-ness: The lead is an Indonesian expert on the oriental magical traditions, and there are key plot points around an Asian black market, Japanese demons and culture, and Indonesian family life.

Empire Trilogy

This trilogy by Janny Wurtz and Raymond Feist includes Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire, and Mistress of the Empire . It's contemporaneous to Feist's more famous Riftwar Saga, but it can be read separately.  I actually like it better; I think the writing and characterization are more even and the ideas are more original.
  • Sub-genre: Epic fantasy with significant palace intrigue
  • Why I like it: It not only has a female protagonist, but it has one who is successful because of her cleverness and character, not because of any special abilities (indeed, she's is physically weaker than everyone under her, and she has no magic).  Plus, it's just wonderfully written.
  • Asian-ness: The setting seems mostly drawn from medieval Japan, although I've read reviews suggesting particular elements taken from Aztec and Egyptian cultures.  It's mostly inspired by Japan though.

Sun Sword

This series by Michelle West includes The Broken Crown, The Uncrowned King, The Shining Court, Sea of Sorrows, The Riven Shield, The Sun Sword.
  • Sub-genre: sprawling fantasy epic written before the current trend in gritty realism
  • Why I like it: it's complex and richly detailed, with multiple POVs set in multiple cultures whose stories don't meet up until the end.  And it's already finished, although she's most of the way through another series that overlaps this one and tells you what happens at the end of it.
  • Asian-ness: This connection is weaker, but Annagar, is a fusion of Asian cultures, probably India and Japan, although she made it original enough that it's not perfectly clear.

Honorable Mention

  • Iron Duke by Meljean Brook: I absolutely love this wildly imaginative steam punk book, and the lead is half-Mongolian, but her ethnicity only comes into play to make her reviled because she's associated with the hated enemy, so I reluctantly dropped from the list.
  • Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong: The series  has both a half-Japanese werewolf alpha protagonist in a couple of books and a half-Indian/half chaos demon protagonist in a couple other novellas and a book.  Their ethnicities don't make much of a difference in the overall series or world, but cheers for not just making white be the default.
  • Ender Series by Orson Scott Card: In this sci-fi series, two of the books (Xenocide and Children of the Mind) have POVs from people whose culture is evolved from Chinese culture.
  • Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey: I never read it, but I believe the main character in this gas lamp fantasy is from India.

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