In the modern world, race influences everything—whether we’re aware of (or want to admit it) it or not. While we might dream of a “post-racial” world, where skin color and cultural traits simply don’t matter, reality is a bit more, well, real. All you have to do is pay attention to the current political climate to get a good sense of how far we are from that ideal.
Science fiction and fantasy books have always offered visions of alternative worlds and possible futures—sometimes with our current problems amplified, and sometimes with correctives in place. A common theme is the utopian society where things like racism simply don’t exist. That doesn’t mean there’s no conflict, cruelty, or horror; even in “colorblind” universes, bad things happen. In fact, while the following six books are among some of the most “colorblind” SF/F universes out there, each still offers a plot packed with intrigue and incident. These are stories notable for the way they address race, sometimes by not explicitly addressing it at all.
The Well of Souls Series, by Jack L. Chalker
Any series in which just about every main character is wildly transformed into creatures both familiar and alien (some several times) quickly leaves behind any considerations of racial characteristics. Chalker posits that our universe is a massive simulation engineered by long-gone aliens, centered on the “Well World” where those aliens voluntarily transformed themselves into hundreds of diverse creatures in an attempt to “reboot” their intellectual and cultural development. (It seems being able to alter the universe at whim tends to destroy ambition). The series was ahead of its time in many ways (scientists are just now realizing we’re living in a simulation), and carries the unspoken message that it is, perhaps, our differences that drive us to better ourselves and strive toward a more harmonious society.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein was many things (there is so much to talk about),many of them highly controversial, but his classic sci-fi novel about Moon colonists who rebel against their Earthbound rulers is remarkable in its handling of race. While perhaps not, strictly speaking, “colorblind,” the Moon is portrayed as almost entirely without racial distinctions and almost perfectly integrated. While race does creep in once the action shifts to Earth (which is not nearly as integrated), the fact is, the Loonies represent one of the least-racially segregated societies in classic science fiction.
The Red Rising series, by Pierce Brown
On the one hand, Brown’s vision of a future where humanity has spread into the solar system, establishing a harsh civilization where people are divided into “color” castes, would seem to be anything but colorblind. After all, it’s literally a color-coded society, with each caste bred for specific roles (the Golds are the elite rulers; the Reds are physical laborers working in the Martian mines). But Brown’s clever premise not only dispenses with concerns over actual race, he also demonstrates very early on that with some surgical tinkering, a “Low Color” can easily pretend to be a “High Color,” and proves over and over again that the former are as intelligent, effective, and complex as the latter. The ultimate message is that caste and color don’t matter; it’s systems of oppression that divide us.
The Council Wars series, by John Ringo
Set in the 41st century, Ringo’s universe is definitively post-racial, partially because humanity has blended into one over the course of centuries, and partially because advances in science have given everyone the magic-like power of Change, allowing people to literally be whatever they want (many want to be mermaids, for example). The fact that this godlike power triggers a war among members of the Council, which partially controls the master computer Mother that administers the world, is grand irony. Humanity is plunged into chaos, with many perishing almost immediately, when the power goes out. Ringo’s mix of fantasy, sci-fi, and military tropes is masterful, and his post-racial society is a fascinating one.
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The Dragonriders of Pern series, by Anne McCaffrey
All you need to know about the racial politics of McCaffrey’s famous series is that her fans are still arguing over the question of races on Pern—and no one has a definitive answer. If you read all the novels and supplemental materials, it seems clear that the original human colonists on Pern were of mixed races, but by the time the action kicks off in the first book, racial distinctions appear to have become lost, save for the occasional genetic throwback. The Pern series is one of those SF/F stories that could be adapted into a film with a truly diverse cast without altering the characters one bit.
The Culture series, by Iain M. Banks
Banks’ classic series not only explicitly features a humanoid race that is fully racially integrated to begin with, it also gives its members near-total power over their bodies—sex, gender, and appearance—making every single physical attribute simply a matter of preference. This naturally renders any prejudice or distinctions based on those traits more or less meaningless, making the Culture perhaps the ultimate example of a colorblind civilization—at least when it comes to the humanoid characters. The artificial intelligences have their own prejudices to contend with.
What examples would you add to our list?