(Artwork by Michael Whelan)
I’ve been reading Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance since I finished Daniel Swensen’s Orison last night. It’s interesting so far, but I am not pleased with the raw deal Jasnah Kholin got in Part 1. I won’t spoil it for anybody, though.
Here’s the deal. Jasnah was one of my favorite characters in The Way of Kings. She was an intelligent woman, a scientist, and one of the few sympathetically portrayed agnostic atheists I’ve seen in fantasy that I didn’t write. I liked that she had a beef with the Vorin church because they whitewashed history in a manner that made her research unnecessarily difficult.
And what does Sanderson do? Take a guess.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to be one of those drama queen readers who stops reading because a character I liked got a raw deal from the author. I read George R. R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, for the love of Arioch.
Still, I think it’s rare to see atheist characters in fantasy. Hell, I think it’s rare to see a character clearly identified as an atheist in science fiction. Hemant Mehta even wrote about this for the Friendly Atheist and asked “Where are the Atheist Fiction Books?” back in 2012.
I’ll admit it: one of the reasons I started writing fantasy was that I want to create characters who believed in themselves and each other instead of believing in gods. I just don’t get supernaturalism. I don’t believe that it’s possible for anything to occur in our world which is supernatural, and therefore forever beyond the reach of human inquiry.
When you categorically reject the supernatural, you run the risk of writing science fiction instead of fantasy. Your work might not be hard SF, but it might not be fantasy, either.
Damn it. Here I am talking atheism when I promised myself I’d stop talking about that because it doesn’t change anybody’s minds and just alienates potential readers. Suffice to say, I’m a bit disappointed with Mr. Sanderson. I’m sure he had his reasons, and they’re probably good ones.
Regardless, Jasnah Kholin deserved better.