Saturday, October 3, 2015

Diversity in Space Cadets: North Korean Soo Kyung Kim

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag on twitter is a very important one. But I have to wonder, when people ask for diverse books, what are they really asking for? I've seen some folks simply be satisfied by having more characters of color, or more women in Sci Fi.

But that's not enough.

It's my honest belief that we all need the diverse viewpoints that people from other cultures, countries, political systems, histories, races, genders and ages can give us.

Why? Let me start with a story about why I went with a North Korean character in Soo-Kyung. It starts with China. I've spent a lot of time there, and I've taken my kids there. Back when I was plotting 'Space Cadets', my daughter came to me, frustrated.

She had been sharing her experience in China with some of her friends. How much she enjoyed the street food, the shopping, the overall atmosphere. They, being cliched, white republicans couldn't accept it. To them, China was Communist, and full of people wearing uniforms, carrying little red books and riding bicycles. When she showed them photographs, it wasn't enough. She must be mistaken. That can't be China. Because, to them, all their life, China was something else. And in the face of contradicting evidence, they still denied her experience.

The best books are those that have characters whose heads you can get into, who you will love, whether or not they are the type of person you can know in real life. And this is why we need diverse books -- for people like my daughter's friends, wouldn't it be great if they could fall in love with a character whose experience is so different from their own that they can learn from it, not make assumptions about a culture they don't know, and be better people for it?

And that brings me to North Korea. You can get on a plane today, go to China, and see and learn for yourself what it's like. You can't do that with North Korea. As such, with its 'hermit state' nature, it's easy for stories to flourish about what it's really like in that unusual country. It's easy for us to jump to assumptions about the average person on the street, because of what we've heard about the regime.

I spent a lot of time in South Korea, and visited the DMZ between the countries. What struck me most starkly about it was how people from there spoke about the North. It was very different from how we talk about it here in the USA. While we focus on the regime, they focussed on the people. Women in South Korea are exceptionally beautiful, yet the men there always spoke, in hushed tones, about the beauty of the women in the North being far superior. And while they didn't support the regime, their admiration for the people was palpable.

And while I didn't get to visit the North to see what the average person was like for myself, I got as close as I could. From this, the character of Soo-Kyung Kim was born. Someone who has been through the worst life has to offer, both in peace and in war. Someone who is exceptionally beautiful both inside and out. And someone who looks at the world outside, the way we look at her hermit kingdom inside -- with her own biases. In essence, someone who is real, and when we look at people closer to our society through her eyes, then maybe we can learn something about ourselves. And maybe we can learn something about how to look at her culture, and other cultures, that we may not understand.

I hope you love her as you read this book. She's very much a supporting character, but as the story grows and matures through the sequels, so will she. She has a wonderful story arc, so please, stay along for the ride, and look beyond the flag on her shoulder.

For more on Space Cadets, visit Also check out #SpaceCadets on Twitter!