THE PSYCHOLOGY OF STEAMPUNK
Personality Types and Temperaments and Archetypes, oh my!
Speculative fiction in general – and Steampunk in particular – offers us something different: a sense that the world is larger and more filled with possibility than we might be able to imagine; a sense that increasing the opportunities of other people’s lives does not mean diminishing our own.
Steampunk is a reminder that our vision is bigger than our histories; that by looking back at yesterday and learning from it, a better tomorrow is still an option.
Most of us believe we discovered Steampunk at random. We loved the genre before it was called Steampunk and we kind of just stumbled into the Steampunk movement.
I beg to differ.
All actions follow a process – Perception à Thought à Impulse à Action – thus all actions are purposeful…and anything with a purpose, or direction, can be predicted.
How could we know we would gravitate toward Steampunk? That we would write it? Read it? Wear it?
By knowing and understanding our Personality Type.
The Influence of Personality on Reading Choice
People read fiction to enjoy a world that is not their own; to live tangentially and vicariously through someone else. People read fiction to be informed, to be entertained and to escape from everyday life.
Reading is an escapist hobby, but science fiction and fantasy reading are even more so, for readers of speculative fiction escape out of their own worlds into places and times that either no longer exist, do not exist just yet, or never will exist at all.
So, why do I read science fiction and fantasy? Why do I write Steampunk and Sword & Soul?
The answer may very well lie in my psychological makeup. Recent studies show that my temperament predisposes me to a love of science fiction.
Each of us has a temperament, that is, a part of our personality that may or may not be genetically based. A quick Myers-Briggs test has informed me that my Personality Type, as a whole is an Extroverted Intuitive Thinking Judge, or ENTJ. My Temperament is an NT – Intuitive Thinker – also known as a “Rational.”
According to the Keirsey Temperament website, “Rationals are very scarce, comprising as little as 5 to 7 percent of the population.” NTs are non-conformist critical thinkers. The NTs idolize the science fiction writer as the real architect of change. They can see the cleverness and competency in science fiction.
Rationals excel in any kind of logical investigation such as conceptualizing and theorizing – excellent tools for reading and writing Steampunk and other speculative fiction because Science fiction readers require a willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy the material, as well as the ability to conceive and extrapolate beyond what the writer has written.
Writers of Steampunk require the ability to conceive and extrapolate a retrofuturistic past and from it, create an entire world.
Speculative Fiction – often called the literature of ideas – is not just about fusion, automatons, dragon-slayers or airship pirates; it is rooted in the same ideas of love, anger and the human heart in conflict with itself that drive romance, drama, tragedies and contemporary fiction, but is presented more fantastically and thus, made new.
Even stories about humanoids battling non-humanoid alien races on a distant planet in the far future boil down to human feelings and human thoughts that we all can relate to.
Personality Type or Psychological Type are terms most commonly associated with the model of personality development created by Isabel Briggs Myers, the author of the world’s most widely used personality inventory – the MBTI or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, developed their model and inventory around the ideas and theories of psychologist Carl Jung, putting Jung’s concepts into a language that could be understood and used by the average person.
2 Kinds of Mental Processes
In her studies of people and extensive reading of Jung’s theories, Myers concluded there were four primary ways people differed from one another. She labeled these differences “preferences” – drawing a similarity to “hand preferences” to illustrate that although we all use both of our hands, most of us have a preference for one over the other and “it” takes the lead in many of the activities in which we use our hands.
The first set of mental preferences relates to how people Perceive or take in information. In the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI Personality Type Code, this is the second letter.
Those who prefer Sensing Perception favor clear, tangible data and information that fits in well with their direct here-and-now experience. In contrast, those who prefer Intuition Perception are drawn to information that is more abstract, conceptual, big-picture, and represents imaginative possibilities for the future.
The second set of mental preferences identifies how people form Judgments or make decisions. In the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI Personality Type Code, this is the third letter.
Those who prefer Thinking Judgment have a natural preference for making decisions in an objective, logical, and analytical manner with an emphasis on tasks and results to be accomplished. Those whose preference is for Feeling Judgment make their decisions in a somewhat global, visceral, harmony and value-oriented way, paying particular attention to the impact of decisions and actions on other people.
2 Kinds of Mental Orientations
There are two other mental preferences that are part of the MBTI Myers Briggs model: Energy Orientation – the dimension of personality known as Extraversion or Introversion – and Outer World Orientation – the style or orientation one uses in dealing with the external world: Judging or Perceiving.
Energy Orientation pertains to the two forms of Energy Consciousness each of us experiences on a daily basis. We occupy two mental worlds: one is inwardly turned, the other is outward. One of these worlds is our primary source of energy; the other secondary. In the Myers MBTI Personality Type Code, this is the first letter.
Those who prefer Introversion draw their primary energy from the inner world of information, thoughts, ideas, and other reflections. When circumstances require an excessive amount of attention spent in the “outside” world, those preferring Introversion find the need to retreat to a more private setting as if to recharge their drained batteries.
In contrast, those who prefer Extraversion are drawn to the outside world as their elemental source of energy. Rarely, if ever, do extraverted preference people feel their energy batteries are “drained” by excessive amounts of interaction with the outside world. They must engage the things, people, places and activities going on in the outside world for their life force.
Outer World Orientation relates to which mental preference one relies upon in dealing with – and relating to – the Outside World. When this leading function is one of the two Judging mental preferences, then this orientation is called Judging. When this leading function is one of the two Perceiving mental preferences, then this orientation is called Perceiving. In the Myers MBTI Personality Type Code, this is the fourth letter.
Those who prefer Judging rely upon either their Thinking or Feeling preference to manage their outer life. This typically leads to a style oriented towards closure, organization, planning, or in some fashion managing the things and or people found in the external environment. The drive is to order the outside world. While some people employ an assertive manner, others’ “ordering touch” – with respect to people – may be light.
Those who prefer Perceiving rely upon either their Sensate or iNtuitive preference to run their outer life. This typically results in an open, adaptable, flexible style of relating to the things and people found in the outside world. The drive is to experience the outside world rather than order it; in general lack of closure is easily tolerated.
From the Myers-Briggs Personality Types, you are then able to determine your temperament using the information below:
The roots of Keirsey Temperament Theory are based in many years of research and innovation by Dr. David Keirsey. At Pomona College and the Claremont Graduate School, Keirsey began his research and study of human behavior. As he researched historical literature in psychology, philosophy, and the sciences, he became intrigued by the patterns of four temperaments. These four distinct patterns of human behavior were woven throughout history, dating back to such figures as Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle, who learned these patterns from even older Egyptian knowledge from the Egyptian Mystery Schools.
In the 1950’s, Dr. Keirsey began putting his theory into practice as an Educational Psychologist, where he developed techniques in training and coaching. For more than two decades, he served as a consultant to both educators and psychologists, with continued research and innovations in his theory of the four temperaments.
In the early 1970’s Keirsey introduced his theory as an educational curriculum at California State University, Fullerton, where he served on the faculty, and eventually chair, in the department of counseling for ten years. The impact of Keirsey Temperament Theory has been lasting and substantial. In the early years, his theory was first put to use by psychologists, educators, and faith based organizations.
The Four Temperaments are:
SJ – “The Guardians”
The SJ group’s primary objective is “Security Seeking”. Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities, of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of; they are careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others. The SJ grouping includes the types:
ESTJ - “The Supervisors”
ISTJ - “The Inspectors”
ESFJ - “The Providers”
ISFJ - “The Protectors”
SP – “The Artisans”
The SP group’s primary objective is “Sensation Seeking”. Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on; they will do whatever works; whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules. The SP grouping includes the types:
ESTP - “The Promoters”
ISTP - “The Crafters”
ESFP - “The Performers”
ISFP - “The Composers”
NT – “The Rationals”
The NT group’s primary objective is “Knowledge Seeking”. Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision; always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be. The NT grouping includes the types:
ENTJ - “The Fieldmarshals”
INTJ - “The Masterminds”
ENTP - “The Inventors”
INTP - “The Architects”
NF – “The Idealists”
The NF group’s primary objective is “Identity Seeking”. Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people; they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics. The NF grouping includes the types:
ENFJ - “The Teachers”
INFJ - “The Counselors”
ENFP - “The Champions”
INFP - “The Healers”
Are there associations between professional writers’ personality types and the genres in which they write?
Surveys of professional writers have pointed to at least one significant association: Poets tend to identify with a perceiving style while fiction – and non-fiction – writers tend to identify with a judging style. Interviews support this notion, with an articulation that poets did seem to be set apart from other writers in some way.
Personality type may seem an abstract and unnecessary thing for writers to be concerned about. Yet, personality type is something writers should know, in order to construct novels that sell. How so?
1. You have a personality type whether you know it or not, and whether you care about it or not.
2. Your personality type is intrinsic to who you are and is expressed in your writing.
3. Your readers also have personality types. Their reading preferences are shaped by their personality types.
4. Your characters have personality types. Creating a personality type profile for your main characters can help you create characters that readers will love, hate and / or empathize with.
Readers, By Personality Type
Thinking: Thinking types enjoy logical, fact driven content; intellectual puzzles; and intellectual, mind-bending thrillers. Thinking types want pared down writing with no fluff.
Sensate: Sensates enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction about the real world, power, politics, action, sports. Sensates are your thriller, suspense and action market.
Feeling: The Feeling type is the women’s lit, chick lit and romance market.
Intuitive: Intuitives enjoy reading sacred texts, books about spiritual experience and spiritually-themed fiction, such as The Da Vinci Code. This is also your science fiction and fantasy market.
Steampunk Archetypes and related Personality Types
Air Pirate: One of the quintessential Steampunk characters. Air pirates are bad, bold, and armed to the teeth. ISTP / ESTJ
Adventurer/Explorer: Their reason for being is to boldly go where no one has gone before; to experience new things; and to discover new places. ESTP
Aviator: Whether military, or a rogue; whether they’re flying a bi-plane, a zeppelin, or a space ship; they are tough, brave, and even a bit gallant, especially in contrast to Air Pirates. ISTP
Dandy/Femme Fatale: They use their wiles and charms to get what they want, sometimes at the expense of others. ESTP
Hunter/Fighter: Monster hunters are all about firepower and skill in combat. They stay armed with stakes, silver bullets, and strange, arcane-looking weaponry. ISTP
Mad Scientist/Inventor: Another quintessential Steampunk character, they embody the steam in steampunk, discovering new things, solving problems, and occasionally blowing things up. ENTP / INTP
Mechanic/Tinkerer: A bit of a twist on the Scientist/Inventor. Where the Inventor is creating things from scratch, the tinkerer is improving on things, often on the fly, or perhaps just trying to get things to work; making do with what they have. ISTP
Philosopher/Scholar: They like old, rare books and wax poetic about the classics; they talk too much about things no one cares about or prefer books to people. INTJ
Socialite/Lady/Gentleman: Often based on Victorian aristocracy, they can often embody the refinement and social norms we associate with the upper class of that era. Many times they serve as patrons for the scholars, adventurers, and inventors. INFJ / ESFP
Street Sparrow/Scrappy Survivor: These are the street urchins, your pickpockets and beggars. Hungry and dirty, they do what they need to do to survive. ENFP / ESFP
Reformer: They could be suffragettes or seeking to get rid of child labor or protesting imperialism, they are working to make the world a better place, often loudly and not always peacefully and without scandal. ENFJ
The personality types for the Steampunk Archetypes are not set in stone. They are merely guidelines to help in your writing and / or cosplay.
You can take your Myers-Briggs Test (or take it for your main characters) here: http://www.mypersonality.info/personality-types/.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering…I am an ENTJ!
WHEN I WAS A CHILD, SPECULATIVE FICTION TAUGHT ME WHAT “WRITING” IS…
My wife wants to write fiction books for children.
For nearly a decade, she has had these brilliant ideas that she has wants to bless our youth with. Yet, she has not written one word.
Because the tales she wants to write are speculative fiction – high fantasy to be exact – and she has no clue where to begin.
For two reasons:
One, because she – like so many other people of African descent – did not read speculative fiction growing up.
Because she – like so many other people of African descent – did not see herself in works of Black Speculative Fiction, thus had no desire to read such books. To this day, my wife will read volume upon volume of non-fiction – especially if it deals with African history, sociology, or spirituality – but, she has yet to get past chapter one of any work of fiction, let alone even picking up a work of speculative fiction.
And two, because she grew up in a time when, in the school system, conformity to rules and regulations is more important than creativity.
This wounds me deeply. I hurt for my wife – and the millions of people like her – because she is a gifted writer. The little that she has written (poetry and a page or two of fiction) is well organized, has a solid structure, and she even has a strong, unique and engaging voice in her writing. But she is so stuck on whether or not her writing meets the standards taught to her in school – standards that she is also quick to point out to my son when he does not meet them – that her writing never goes anywhere.
You see, my wife – and, indeed all of her fellow Generation Y-ers – were educated in a system that didn’t care about originality, they only wanted to see that students conformed.
She was supposed to follow the rules.
Sadly, things have grown worse. The present generation thinks that good writing means writing that follows a formula. No wonder there is so little originality, or even creativity, in what is written today.
Creativity cannot be conceived without Mother Speculation – the powerful “what if” that brings into being new worlds and extraordinary inhabitants within it; Creativity cannot be birthed from the hard and rigid womb of “standardization”.
In order for our youth to get a proper literary education – and indeed in order for them to carry forward a brighter future – they must read science fiction and fantasy. For more on this, please read http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/why-black-children-need-to-read-write-science-fiction/ and http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/what-we-can-learn-from-the-chinese/.
Our youth must also be involved in discussions about books, and they have to practice their writing craft.
The Craft of Writing
And just what is this thing we call “writing”?
If we’re going to learn how to do something, it makes sense, doesn’t it, to understand exactly what that activity is?
But it is not so simple to come up with a comprehensive definition of writing. Is it the kind of writing we learned how to do in school – academic writing? Is it poetry? Is it prose? Is it the writing we have to do at work – reports, memos, and so on? Is it keeping a journal?
Writing can include all of these things. However, learning how to write a short story does not teach you how to write a poem; writing a poem does not teach you to write an essay. How, then, can we find a comprehensive definition of writing for our youth?
I believe to discover the definition lies in changing the way we think about writing.
Instead of thinking about writing as a product, we should think about it as a certain kind of doing; as an activity; as a particular kind of work. Specifically, the work of communication; the work of transferring what is in our minds to the minds of our readers, through the medium of the written word.
This work of communication can be done in different ways, depending on the kind of writing we are doing. In a persuasive essay, for instance, we use ideas and information to make an argument that we hope will convince our readers. However, in a work of fiction, we use a character, setting and plotting to tell a story we hope will entertain and inspire our readers.
In all writing, though, the basic goal is the same – to communicate what we have to say to others in a way in which we are understood and can effect change. However, we will not bring about any change without first asking if a change is necessary. Asking “what if” is the stuff of speculative fiction. So, once again, our youth must read it.
For the past few weeks, I have been teaching my young writing students to write speculative fiction and encouraging them to read more of it. They – and several other schools – have been creating speculative fiction presentations for the upcoming State of Black Science Fiction Youth Symposium, which takes place in Atlanta, GA on May 5, 2012.
This exciting symposium brings together a group of Black authors of speculative fiction – in conjunction with the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History – who will host the day-long event, which spotlights science fiction and fantasy as a signature intersection of science, history, technology, and humanistic studies. This symposium will serve as the blueprint for a national conference.
The symposium will feature scholarly panel discussions involving authors and artists of African descent who will showcase their involvement in their respective genres and subgenres of fantasy and science fiction across various media, as it relates to issues of cultural, scientific and technical development.
The symposium will also feature a writers’ workshop, a presentation by young writers from African-Centered schools throughout Atlanta Metro and readings by authors L.M. Davis, Milton Davis, Alan Jones, Alicia McCalla, Wendy Raven McNair, Balogun Ojetade and moderator Ed Hall.
The schedule is as follows:
11:00 am – 1:00 pm: Youth Speculative Fiction Writers’ Workshop
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm: Youth Presentation
2:30 pm – 3:00 pm: Lunch
3:00 pm – 4:30 pm: State of Black Science Fiction 2012 Presentation
4:30 pm – 5:30 pm: Artist and Author Meet-and-Greet and Book Signing
This symposium is Step One in raising the awareness of Black speculative fiction among our youth and in inspiring them to grow into the bright future of Black Science Fiction and Fantasy – and indeed the world – they are destined to become.
This event is free and open to the community. For further information, please join us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/172270232890661/.
All the authors involved in the youth symposium are writing blogs related to youth, speculative fiction and the youth symposium. Please check them out. They are:
Ed Hall - Alabama escapee Ed Hall writes journalism, poetry, and fiction. He serves as host of Eyedrum’s monthly literary forum, Writers Exchange, and as an organizer of Eyedrum’s annual Experimental Writers Asylum (which is part of the Decatur Book Festival). His work has appeared in Newsweek, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Code Z: Black Visual Culture Now, and the Dictionary of Literary Biography. He plans to have his first novel, a sf-pionage story for young adults, come out soon.
L.M. Davis - L. M. Davis, Author–began her love affair with fantasy in the second grade. Her first novel, Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, was released in 2010, and the follow-up Posers: A Shifters Novel will be released this spring. For more information visit her blog http://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/ or her website www.shiftersnovelseries.com.
Alan Jones - Alan Jones, a native Atlantan, former columnist for the Atlanta Tribune and Wall Street Consultant, writes a brand of science fiction suitable for both adults and young adults. His brand of science fiction blends fanciful characters and scenarios with generous doses of philosophy and social commentary. His book, To Wrestle with Darkness, is available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and most major retailers. Visit Alan at http://wrestlewithdarkness.ning.com/profile/Alan.
Alicia McCalla - Alicia McCalla is a native of Detroit, Michigan who currently resides in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. She writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy, romance and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free is available in print and for immediate download on Amazon and other booksellers. The Breaking Free theme song, Keep Moving, created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on itunes and Amazon. Visit her at: www.aliciamccalla.com
Balogun Ojetade - Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steampunk) and “Redeemer” (science fiction); and screenwriter, director and producer of the feature film, “A Single Link” (martial arts drama). Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/.
Milton Davis – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. He is also co-editor of Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology. Visit him: http://www.mvmediaatl.com and www.wagadu.ning.com.
Wendy Raven McNair – is a wife, mother, artist and author of the Young Adult novels, Asleep and Awake. Visit her at http://wendyravenmcnair.com/page19.php.
EVERYBODY WAS STEAM-FU FIGHTING!
Steampunk Martial Arts!!
Steampunk and martial arts sites are abuzz with news of the upcoming release of Tai Chi 0 – the latest martial arts feature film from the Huayi brothers, producers of the mega-hit Kung Fu Hustle. Tai Chi 0, Directed by Stephen Fung and choreographed by mastermind Sammo Hung, is the first Steampunk martial arts film ever and will be shot completely in China. The Chinese are now the world’s largest consumers of Science Fiction and they love Steampunk. Here is a link to a blog on the subject: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/what-we-can-learn-from-the-chinese/
Here is the synopsis of Tai Chi 0:
A gifted child with a fleshy growth on his forehead travels far to learn Tai Chi and eventually becomes a master. He then faces an army of Steampunk invaders and must protect the villagers.
“Fleshy growth?” “Steampunk invaders”? I swear I did not make this up!
The release date is tentatively set for 2013. The trailer is already out and I have posted it below. It looks pretty good and I am definitely going to be at the U.S. premiere with bucket of buttery popcorn in lap.
Now, as a martial artist with a lifetime of experience and as a Steampunk and author, this film got me thinking about the state of martial arts in the Steampunk community.
Of course, nearly everyone on the planet – mainly due to films and television (and some hard working martial arts instructors in the ‘60s and ‘70s) – are familiar with the Asian martial arts. Most people have heard of – and millions have studied – some form of Kung-Fu, Karate, Judo, Jujitsu or Ninjitsu. Quite a few are also familiar with the arts of Southeast Asia, such as Muay Thai, Kali and Silat.
Steampunks, seeking to add martial arts to their literature or to their stylistic aesthetic, often incorporate methods of self-defense that were used by Europeans and North Americans during the Victorian and Edwardian Eras.
These martial arts include:
A stylish system of lightweight stick fighting based on sabre drills. It became compulsory training with the French military in 1853 and its value in dispersing street mobs has seen the French use La Canne for over 100 years.
The canes used were made from wood or sugarcane and measured between 25mm-40mm in diameter and around 80-100cm (32-39 inches) long. The shaft was then bound in cotton webbing, and encased in leather. This guaranteed a strong pliable weapon that would take some effort to break, even if used with two hands.
The promotion of the civilian cane in London began during the 1880′s and continued through to the 1930′s. This was part of a package presenting Savate (French Kickboxing), Combat Baton and La Canne.
French Master-At-Arms, Pierre Vigny settled in London in 1900 and promoted Savate and La Canne with the support of Edward William Barton-Wright, founder of Bartitsu (see below) and Vigny’s student.
In addition to single cane there is double cane play requiring a cane in each hand.
In combat, hits are generally directed to the head, limbs, joints and vital targets. Speed, rather than power, is emphasized and posture and footwork play an important role in taking advantage of openings left by your opponent.
Seeking to develop a system of self defense that could be used by discerning gentlemen on the mean streets of Edwardian London, Edward William Barton-Wright combined elements of boxing, jujitsu, cane fighting, and french kick boxing. He dubbed this new, mixed martial art Bartitsu. Bartitsu grew to such popularity that even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes use Bartitsu in the master detective’s adventures (misspelled by Doyle as “Baritsu”).
Edward William Barton-Wright was a former English railroad engineer, whose work took him to Japan for three years. It was there that he was introduced to Jujitsu. Barton-Wright studied the Jujitsu at the school of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. When he returned to England, he quit his career in engineering and opened up a martial arts school.
In 1899, Barton-Wright wrote an article in the London based publication, Pearson’s Magazine, entitled “A New Art of Self Defense.” In it, he laid out his system of self defense, which he called “Bartitsu,” a melding of his name and Jujitsu. While Bartitsu was based mainly on Jujitsu, Barton-Wright explained in his article that the system included boxing, kickboxing, and stick fighting.
Barton-Wright brought in some of the best martial arts teachers from around the world to teach at his new school. Among them were Japanese instructors K. Tani, S. Yamamoto, and Yukio Tani, as well as Pierre Vigny and Armand Cherpillod.
La Savate (pronounced sah-VAHT) is a French kickboxing system developed from street fighting sailors in the port of Marseilles during the 19th century. Savate takes its name from the French word for “old shoe”, in reference to the footwear that is worn during fights. A male practitioner of savate is called a savateur while a female is called a savateuse.
Savate consists of kicks, punches, foot sweeps, throws and takedowns.
There are six basic kinds of kicks, and four kinds of punches:
- Fouetté (literally “whip”): A roundhouse kick that uses the toes as the weapon. Targets are high (figure), medium (median) or low (bas).
- Chassé : A side or front thrust kick that uses the heel as the weapon. Targets are high (figure), medium (median) or low (bas)
- Chassé Italien: A kick aimed at the opponent’s inner thigh, with the toe pointed at the opponent’s groin.
- Revers: A hooking kick that uses the sole of the foot as the weapon. Targets are high (figure), medium (median), or low (bas)
- Coup de pied bas: a front or sweep kick to the shin that uses the inner edge of the foot as the weapon. Performed with a characteristic backwards lean. Low targets only; designed to break the shin bone.
- Coup de pied bas de frappe: A coup de pied bas that is used to strike the opponent’s lead leg.
- Direct bras avant: jab, lead hand.
- Direct bras arrière: cross, rear hand.
- Crochet: hook, bent arm with either hand.
- Uppercut: either hand.
Beyond Western martial arts, Steampunks – particularly those writing about characters – or cosplaying characters – in, or from, an indigenous African setting should look into the African martial arts.
The African Concept of Wrestling
Every tribe, or nation, in Africa has its own complex and complete martial arts systems. In whatever language they speak, Africans, traditionally, refer to their martial arts simply as “wrestling”. The African concept of wrestling, however, is quite different from the Asian or Western concept of wrestling.
In the African martial arts, to “wrestle” means to put your opponent on his back, belly, or side in order to render him more vulnerable to a finishing technique. This goal can be achieved by any means: strikes, throws, sweeps, joint-locks, or weapon attacks. Thus, if you hit your opponent in the head with a club and he falls from the force of the blow, you have – by African standards – wrestled him.
How did it come to pass that the martial arts throughout the continent of Africa would adopt this concept? For the answer, let’s look at a story about the Yoruba prophet and master wrestler, Orunmila: Orunmila, who, among other things, was an undefeatable wrestler, traveled the continent of Africa, teaching and studying spiritual, sociological and martial traditions. Everywhere Orunmila went, he wrestled with – and defeated – the greatest fighters on the continent. Orunmila would pick up a throwing technique in one village; a weapon disarm in another. Orunmila’s opponents would ask him to teach them the techniques he defeated them with and he would teach them, which is in accord with African customs. Eventually, the martial arts of Africa began to possess a similar rhythm and to follow the same underlying wrestling strategy.
Another story, which teaches the tenets of African wrestling, is as follows:
There was a boy named Omobe (“rascal”, “troublesome child”) that had great physical ability and was trained to be a wrestler. As he grew older his wrestling abilities grew stronger and before long he was considered the greatest wrestler in the world. At his birth the local priest/diviner warned his parents to not allow Omobe to climb palm trees. But one day while his parents were away he decided to climb a palm tree any way. From high up he could peer into the spirit world and he noticed that several divinities had gathered for a fantastic wrestling match! Omobe immediately climbed down and made his way to the spirit world to test his own luck amongst a variety of spirits. He beat every opponent: Egungun (ancestors), Orisa (Forces of Nature) and all others lost at his hands. Finally he prepared to wrestle Olokun. While he summoned all of his physical strength, Olokun drew on her spiritual powers.
During the match Omobe attempted to throw Olokun to the ground, but instead Olokun ended up firmly attached to Omobe’s head. All attempts at removing Olokun from his head failed and Olokun declared Omobe’s head her permanent abode as a sign of Omobe’s arrogance and disrespect towards the other spirits. When Omobe returned home the local priest/diviner advised him to appease Olokun or die. So for seven days Omobe made sacrifice. On the last day Omobe was initiated as the first Olokun priest. After Omobe’s initiation into the priesthood, Olokun loosened her grip on Omobe’s life.
Amongst African traditionalists, the palm tree represents the ancestors and the elders. Omobe climbed a palm tree even though he was not supposed to, which means he learned the higher levels of wrestling technique – and gained the ase (power) of the wrestler – through crafty means and then abandoned his teachers (he climbed down from the tree) and used what he had learned to fight those who taught him. This act of arrogance and disrespect led him to fight against the Forces of Nature, themselves.
Finally, Olokun, the spirit of unfathomable wisdom and matron spirit of the descendants of Africans who were taken captive during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, defeated Omobe. This means, though Omobe had mastered the physical aspect of wrestling, his disrespect of – and disconnection from – the community and its spiritual support prevented him from learning the deeper wisdom found within the study and training of the martial arts.
It was not until Omobe devoted himself to the attaining of deep wisdom and respect for the African traditions as an Olokun priest, that he was able to save himself from an early death.
This story teaches us that in order to learn the depths of wisdom found in the African martial arts, reverence of one’s ancestors, respect for one’s elders and adherence to tradition is paramount.
Furthermore, the “deep wisdom” Omobe had to learn in order to redeem himself and to save his life, was the wisdom rooted in respect for, and understanding of, the “Aje”, which is the primal power of the female principle.
It was Olokun, a female Force of Nature, who defeated Omobe and threatened to take his life until Omobe became her priest. Omobe was socialized by Olokun, which is in accord with Aje’s function as a biological, physical and spiritual force of creativity and social and political enforcement.
War, defense and anything associated with Ogun, the Warrior Spirit of the Yoruba, is also associated with Aje.
It is recognition of – and respect for – the power of the female that gives the African warrior the authority to defend and to take life. An illustration of this is the application of martial arts technique. In the African martial arts, we say “Footwork drives the technique”. Footwork, or the Element of Air in African martial arts, is female. It is the power of the female, manifested in footwork, which allows us to effectively apply our martial arts techniques.
The Five Principles
The martial arts of Africa follow Five Basic Principles, which are also the principles that govern all aspects of traditional African life:
The Four Elements
In African societies, there are four elements, which are considered the vital materials found in every living creature on Earth. These four elements are:
Earth – The element of Earth represents the stances in the African martial arts. Within the Earth Element are Three Foundations:
- Wood – High, narrow stances. Wood stances are extremely mobile and are used for fast, upright fighting and self-defense.
- Stone – Low, wide stances. Stone stances are extremely stable and are used for grappling and for fighting with a weapon.
- Metal – Low, narrow stances. Metal stances are extremely malleable and are used for grappling and ground-fighting.
Air – The element of Air represents the footwork and movements in the African martial arts. A practitioner of the African martial arts can move like a gentle breeze, a gale wind, or a whirlwind.
Fire – The element of Fire represents the masculine energy and techniques in the African martial arts. Fire techniques are forceful, penetrating and explosive.
Water – The element of Water represents the feminine energy and techniques in the African martial arts. Water techniques are yielding, encircling and deceptively powerful.
Like the African drum, the techniques in the African martial arts are polyrhythmic; meaning a practitioner of the African martial arts seeks to touch his opponent in two or more places at once. An offense and a defense are usually applied simultaneously, or the offense is the defense.
The Unbroken Circle
The principle of The Unbroken Circle is also referred to as “Call and Response”. A practitioner of the African martial arts seeks to blend with, and adapt to, the actions and rhythms of his partner or opponent, creating a never ending circle. A practitioner of the African martial arts does not meet force with force, but rather takes his opponent’s force and uses it against him.
The Wind Has One Name
The African martial arts simplify self-defense by dealing not with a specific attack, but with the angle of the attack. The African martial arts recognize that there are only fifteen angles an opponent can attack from, so instead of being concerned with the infinite variations of attacks, the African martial arts deal with finite angles. The African martial arts further simplify combat by teaching that every block is a strike and every strike is a block. Thus, when an African martial artist learns an offensive technique, he has, in effect learned a defensive technique.
Waste No Part of the Animal
The African martial arts stress economy of motion. The idea is: “If it’s there, use it.” Thus, if you strike an assailant in the chin with an uppercut, you should continue that upward motion and hit him in the throat with an upward elbow, because after the punch, your elbow is in perfect position to strike your opponent.
Some Traditional African Martial Arts
Every African nation (“tribe”) has its own system of martial arts. While the principles are pretty much the same, weapons and tactics may differ. A few martial arts from Africa and the Diaspora include:
A spectacular and bloody martial art – practiced exclusively by the Maguzawa Hausa of Northern Nigeria – in which gallantly arrayed warriors go into battle armed with two razor sharp iron bracelets and arm-shields.
Sharo (also known as shadi) – a Fulani man-hood contest involving mutual
flogging with a long pliant stick or a short inflexible one. Those who cry out
in pain are disgraced and are not considered worthy of marriage;
The martial art practiced by the Yan Tauri – or “tough-skins” – who, due to their use of
traditional medicines, are said to be impervious to being cut by metals. The Yan Tauri shout praises to their ancestors and taunt their opponent’s while demonstrating their invulnerability by drawing swords or knives across various parts of their body, including their tongue.
Moringue (Reunion) / Morengy (Madagascar) / Mrengé (Comores)
A form of traditional boxing practiced by Creoles – Malagasy and Comorians alike. This fighting system, of mainland African origin, is a spectacular form of fighting that utilizes bare-knuckle boxing techniques, kicking and head butting.
A spectacular form of acrobatic fighting, derived from the Angolan martial art of Sanga – used to great effect by famed Warrior-King, Nzingha (often incorrectly called “Queen” Nzingha; she was a female King).
Capoeira resembles a battle between two fighting cocks and, in practice, is accompanied by music and songs. A martial art similar to Capoeira – and sharing Sanga as their roots – is Congo, which is practiced in Panama. Congo is always trained between a male and female partner, representing the power of opposites prevalent in African society.
Practitioners of both arts try to anticipate the movements of their adversary and then break his or her rhythm. Cunning and treacherous deception (“malicia”) play an important role in the development of fighting skill and techniques include high and low kicks, foot sweeps, head-butts, elbowstrikes and knee strikes. Practitioners of both arts also employ the use of the straight razor as a weapon.
Ag’ya or Ladjia (also known as Danmyé and Wonpwen)
A martial art of African origin that took root in the soil of the Caribbean island of Martinique. Ag’ya is practiced to rhythms produced by the tambour (drum), ti-bois (sticks) and choral response singing.
Agile fighters deliver blows with the hands, feet, elbows, knees and head similar to Capoeira. Unlike Capoeira, however, practitioners of Ag’ya also employ grappling techniques to defeat their opponent.
Nguni children learn their martial art through stick-fighting from an early age with relatively harmless light reeds. Sparring is used to teach and train a comrade, rather than to defeat him.
After learning the basic rudiments of the art, the boys then begin to employ harder sticks and/or war clubs that are very lethal. Boys typically engage in stick-fighting with other herd boys while grazing their cattle or sheep. More serious competitions typically take place at weddings and/or other ritual events such as puberty celebrations. Girls continue their training in private.
Through stick-fighting, the youth learn to use the more lethal combat weapons.
Shaka is credited with introducing a new variant of the traditional weapon, discarding the long, spindly throwing spear and instituting a heavy-bladed, short-shafted stabbing spear. He is also said to have introduced a larger, heavier cowhide shield (isihlangu), and trained his forces to thus close with the enemy in more effective hand-to-hand combat. The throwing spear was not discarded, but standardized, like the stabbing implement and carried as a missile weapon, typically discharged at the foe, before close contact.
These weapons changes integrated with and facilitated an aggressive mobility and tactical organization.
As weapons, the Zulu warrior carried the iklwa stabbing spear (losing one could result in execution) and a club or cudgel fashioned from dense hardwood – known, in Zulu, as the iwisa, (usually called the knobkerrie in English) – for beating an enemy in the manner of a mace and Zulu officers often carried the Zulu Axe.
The iklwa (so named because of the sucking sound it made when withdrawn from a human body) with its long – 25cm (9.4 in.) – broad blade, was an invention of Shaka that superseded the older thrown ipapa (so named because of the “pa-pa” sound it made as it flew through the air).
All warriors carried a shield made of oxhide, which retained the hair, with a central stiffening shaft of wood. These shields, called mgobo, were the property of the king; they were stored in specialized structures, raised off the ground for protection from vermin, when not issued to the relevant regiment.
The large isihlangu shield of Shaka’s day was about five feet in length and was later partially replaced by the smaller umbumbuluzo, a shield of identical manufacture but around three and a half feet in length. Close combat relied on coordinated use of the iklwa and shield. The warrior sought to get the left edge of his shield behind the right edge of his enemy’s, so that he could pull the enemy’s shield to the side thus opening him to a thrust with the iklwa deep into the abdomen or chest.
As early as Shaka’s reign small numbers of firearms, often obsolete muskets and rifles, were obtained by the Zulu from Europeans by trade. In the aftermath of the defeat of the British at the Battle of Isandlwana many Martini-Henry rifles were captured by the Zulu, together with considerable amounts of ammunition. The possession of firearms did little to change Zulu tactics, which continued to rely on a swift approach to the enemy in order to bring him into close combat.
For more information – and for detailed illustrations of traditional African martial arts techniques, check out my book – Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within, available at: www.bossupbu.com.
LOOKIN’ FOR THE PERFECT BEAT THROUGH BRASS GOGGLES?
The Marriage of Steampunk and Hip Hop!
George Clinton…Bootsy Collins…Flavor Flav.
Do these men evoke images of an age of invention, adventure and experimentation for you as they do for me?
These men inspire my Steampunk writings. Their style; their music; their live performances – to me – are the root of Steamfunk, the interpretation of Steampunk by writers and musicians of African descent (i.e. “Black folks”).
Now, before you blow a cog, let me remind you that, as Joshua Pfeiffer, founder of the Steampunk band Vernian Process, and co-founder of the Steampunk-centric record label/collective Gilded Age Records, says – “There is no defining element to Steampunk music. Steampunk music is different to every individual’s interpretation of it.”
Right on, Josh!
Mr. Pfeiffer goes on to say – “The only true definition (of Steampunk) could be – ‘Music created by Steampunk fans, or music that Steampunk fans find invokes the atmosphere they expect from a Steampunk setting or aesthetic’. Steampunk music, as I see it, more often than not consists of a mixture of genres; usually a mixture of genres from various periods in music history; be it Ragtime with Punk Rock, Industrial and Neo-Classical, Chamber music and Electronica, Swing and Hip-Hop, or any other variety of combinations. The only constant element that must be present is some form of vintage – 19th or early 20th Century – musical influence.”
Well said and the very same definition could be used to describe Hip Hop music (other than the constant element of 19th or early 20th Century music, of course). Why? Because Hip Hop and Steampunk are cut from the same cloth.
Don’t believe me? Disagree? Read on.
WHAT IS HIP HOP?
Hip Hop is an art form that includes deejaying (mixing, cutting and scratching records); emceeing/rapping; breakdancing; and graffiti art. Hip Hop originated in the South Bronx section of New York City around the mid 1970s.
From a sociological perspective, Hip Hop has been one of the main contributing factors to the curtailing of gang violence, as many adults found Hip Hop effective for channeling their anger and aggression.
Hip Hop caught on because it offered young urban youth a chance to freely express themselves. More importantly, it was an art form accessible to anyone. A member of the Hip Hop community did not need a lot of money or expensive resources to express any of the four elements of Hip Hop. A member of the movement did not have to invest in lessons or anything like that.
Hip Hop also became popular because it offered diverse and unlimited challenges. There were no real set rules, except to be original. Anything was possible. The ultimate goal was to be perceived as being “def” (“good”) by one’s peers.
Finally, Hip Hop, because of its inclusive aspects, allowed its members to accurately and efficiently inject their personality.
No two people expressed Hip Hop the same, even when mixing the same record, reciting the same rhyme or dancing to the same beat.
The Hip Hop movement continues to be popular among today’s youth for the same reasons urban youth were drawn to it in the early days – it is an accessible form of self expression capable of eliciting positive affirmation from one’s peers.
Throughout history, music, art, dance and literature originating from America’s Black communities has always had an accompanying subculture reflective of the political, social and economic conditions of the time. Hip Hop is no different.
Hip hop is a lifestyle with its own language, style of dress, music and mindset that is continuously evolving.
Defining Characteristics of Hip Hop
Defining characteristics of Hip Hop include:
- Most members of the movement take on a nom de plume and many even assume an alter-ego.
- Most members of the movement wear fashions readily identifiable with Hip Hop.
- Resistance to hierarchical, oppressive society.
- Resistance to mainstream, “industry” representations of the culture.
- A literary (rap; spoken word), visual art (graffiti; fashion), musical (deejaying) and dance (breakdancing; krumping) component.
- Blends future and past (cave drawings with drawing on walls and trains; ancient African martial arts with modern dance moves; ancient African rhythms with contemporary music).
- Uses creativity and innovation to solve problems and to challenge limits. A do-it-yourself attitude.
Defining Characteristics of Steampunk
Now, let’s compare the defining characteristics of Hip Hop with those of Steampunk:
- Most members of the movement take on a nom de plume and many even assume an alter ego.
- Nearly all members of the movement wear fashions readily identifiable with Steampunk.
- Resistance to hierarchical society; often attempts to resist oppressive, imperialistic society by ignoring its existence or by rewriting and redefining history.
- Resistance to mainstream, “industry” representations of the culture.
- A literary, visual art and musical component.
- Blends future and past (anachronism; retrofuturism).
- Uses creativity and innovation to solve problems and to challenge limits. A do-it-yourself attitude.
Hip Hop and Steampunk bear strong resemblances to one another and both have their origins in resistance to an establishment that begs for escape or rebellion.
For many “Hip Hop Heads” (aka “B-Boys” or “B-Girls”) – what those heavily immersed in the Hip Hop culture are often called – Steampunk provides an attractive aesthetic due to its similarities in attitudes and its differences in style. The gadgets are especially attractive and new to Hip Hop Heads and sightings of Steampunked turntables and headphones are bound to happen soon.
The members of the Hip Hop culture, always seeking to bring something old to the movement and make it new and cutting edge (remember the marriage of Rock and Hip Hop?), are fiercely anachronistic and cannot help but find a kinship with their fellow rebels in Steampunk.
Thus, the rise of Chap Hop in the UK, the emergence of Steampunk MCs (rappers) in the U.S. and mainstream Hip Hop megastars going Steampunk.
HIP HOP & STEAMPUNK
In the mainstream, T-Pain has obviously been strongly influenced by Steampunk. And his dress style, in particular is influenced by the band, Ansley Park, as evidenced by his wardrobe (and even his microphone) for his latest album, Revolver, which, without doubt, is a copy of the band’s dress style. The rapper / R&B star has even named his recent concert tour Steampunk.
Nikki Minaj and David Guetta have gone Steampunk in their video for Turn Me On. The director of the video does a good job in capturing a Steampunk feel. Nikki Minaj often dresses Steampunk – she is very fond of corsets, apparently – so her doing a Steampunk-themed video does not come as a big surprise.
In the UK, Chap Hop has become popular. Chap hop was inspired, fittingly, by the English gentleman’s magazine The Chap, which – like the music it inspires – specializes in over-the-top grandiloquence and an idolization of the 19th century gentleman ideal.
Chap Hop imagines rap to be a pastime of the landed gentry and idle aristocracy of a bygone age.
Spearheaded by Professor Elemental and Mr. B, The Gentleman Rhymer (who currently have “beef” with each other and even engaged in the first Chap Hop “battle”), Chap Hop mixes Hip Hop’s element of rapping with a gentleman’s sensibilities. Like Hip Hop, each performer has his own spin on the genre. Less known than the aforementioned Professor Elemental and Mr. B, but equally talented, is Poplock Holmes.
From the “unofficial capitol” of Steampunk – Seattle, Washington – comes the seven-piece Hip Hop band, Theoretics. This band lights the fuse of alternative Hip Hop and explodes with retrofuturistic appeal.
The song Jekyll and Hyde, off of their self titled debut album, is accompanied by a music video that is very much the blending of Hip Hop and Steampunk.
The Harlem James Gang – opening act for John Legend – combines Hip Hop, Steampunk, Jazz, and magic to create a vaudevillian spectacle that is absolutely amazing.
With the coming Steamfunk anthology – which I am proud to announce I am now Co-Editor of – perhaps you will see more quality work in the twin realms of Hip Hop and Steampunk. I hope so; so come on Hip Hop Heads…we’re looking for that Mothership Connection – Swing down, Sweet Chariot; Stop and let me ride.
Here are the Submission Guidelines for the Steamfunk Anthology:
Steamfunk! Anthology Writers Submission Guidelines
Story Length: 1,500 to 15,000 words
Deadline: July 31, 2012
Story Description: Stories must contain a main characters or characters of African descent and elements of steam technology. The story can take place in the past, present future or alternate reality as long as steam technology dominates the scenario. The final selection will be based on the quality of the story submitted as deemed by the editors. Authors will retain all rights to their stories.
Each author will receive a free copy of the anthology with the opportunity to purchase additional copies at distributor’s pricing.
Submissions should be in Word Document 97- 2003 format, rich text or .doc. Documents should be double-spaced. Please include author’s name, story title and page number on each page.
Send all submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go for it, have fun and make it funky!
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE
For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of what is now called Steampunk – a mash-up of fantasy and science fiction that embraces a fantastical past while incorporating a spirit of progress, exploration and do-it-yourself ingenuity.
Always a voracious reader, I devoured Jules Verne’s novels – From the Earth to the Moon; 20,000 Leagues under the Sea; and Around the World in 80 Days. One of my childhood rituals was to sit at the feet of my mother and, together, we would watch Wild, Wild West. My mother, a huge fan of westerns (she has probably seen every western ever made in English…yes, really) and comedic spy stories (Get Smart and I Spy are her favorites) was in heaven.
In my preteens, I was the first of my friends to break away from Dungeons and Dragons in search of a game that allowed me to create a world more like that of Wild, Wild West, in which espionage, steam power, trains and amazing gadgets were some of the tropes. I could not find such a game, so I included these elements in the TSR game Boot Hill (also created by Gary Gygax, the creator of D&D) and it quickly became a hit with my friends.
As an adult, when I decided to write my first novel I knew three things – I wanted the hero to be Harriet Tubman; I wanted Harriet to be an ass-kicking monster-hunter and freedom fighter; and I wanted the story to include amazing gadgets and over-the-top villains a la Wild, Wild West. Thus, the beginnings of Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman took form in my mind. Years later, I sent the first book in the series to independent publisher, Mocha Memoirs Press. The Editor-In-Chief of the company, Nicole Kurtz, wrote me saying they loved the story and were looking for more Steampunk stories like mine. “Steampunk?” I immediately hopped online and began my search and found a wealth of information on the movement.
My next search was Black authors of Steampunk, which did not yield much, however it did take me to an article written by an incredible writer by the name of Jha – who I later discovered is one of the leading authorities on Steampunk, Jaymee Goh – whose informative and inspiring work helped me to find other Steampunk People of Color. You should read her article – The Intersection of Race and Steampunk: Colonialism’s After-Effects & Other Stories, from a Steampunk of Colour’s Perspective [Essay] – at http://www.racialicious.com/2009/06/24/the-intersection-of-race-and-steampunk-colonialisms-after-effects-other-stories-from-a-steampunk-of-colours-perspective-essay/.
Shortly after finding the article by Jah, I joined Black Science Fiction Society. On http://www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com/, I found other writers of African descent who write Steampunk. I was so happy I was not alone and that I could read works of Steampunk that included heroes who look like me.
Since that time, I have developed friendships and working relationships with most of the Black authors who write Steampunk and – through the genius and diligence of author Milton Davis, we will all contribute to the soon-to-be released anthology, Steamfunk.
A few Black authors of Steampunk have been gracious enough to provide me with interviews, which I would like to share with you. I am sure they will inspire you as they have inspired me. Each one, teach one.
Maurice Broaddus is a scientist and a writer. He has been published in dozens of markets, including the anthologies Dark Dreams II and Dark Dreams III; Apex Science Fiction Magazine; Horror Digest; Horror Literature Quarterly; and Weird Tales and is the editor of the acclaimed Dark Faith and Dark Faith II anthologies (Nebula, Bram Stoker, and Black Quill nominated). Maurice is also senior writer for HollywoodJesus.com.
Contact the author at www.mauricebroaddus.com.
What do you like about Steampunk?
I was never much of a fan of history when I was in high school, you know, when you’re forced to sit through boring lessons by disinterested teachers. When I was getting into writing more seriously, I realized I enjoyed writing historical pieces and all the research that it entailed. With steampunk, I not only get to study various aspects of history, but also get to imagine huge “what if” scenarios.
What was your inspiration for writing a Steampunk tale?
Um, this is a little bit embarrassing to admit, but my inspiration was Twitter. I didn’t know much about steampunk other than to make this joke on Twitter: “I’m going to write a steampunk story with an all-black cast and call it ‘Pimp My Airship’.” When five editors wrote me to send them the story when I was done, I knew that I had to write one. (It was later published in Apex Magazine.)
Besides your own, what are your favorite Steampunk stories?
When I was sitting down to write “Pimp My Airship,” I picked up the anthologies Extraordinary Engines (edited by Nick Gevers) and Steampunk (Ann and Jeff Vandermeer). Those not only gave me an excellent overview of steampunk, but also have some of the best steampunk stories in them. “The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider” by Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Chabon’s “The Martian Agent”, and Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James P. Blaylock were some of my favorites.
What Steampunk stories have you written? Where can we read them?
The only steampunk story of mine available at the moment is “Pimp My Airship”, collected in the Descended from Darkness volume 2 (Apex Books) though it’s also available online (http://apex-magazine.com/2009/08/03/pimp-my-airship/).
What Steampunk works are you planning to release in the near future?
In the works are the novelization of “Pimp My Airship” as well as another short story, which is growing into a novelette, entitled “Steppin’ Razor”, a Jamaican steampunk story.
Milton Davis is a chemist by day and a writer/publisher by night and on the weekends. He writes and publishes uplifting science fiction and fantasy stories from an African American perspective because he feels that there is a lack of positive black characters in the speculative fiction market.
Milton is the author of five novels: Meji Book One, Meji Book Two, Changa’s Safari Vol. 1, Changa’s Safari Vol. 2 and Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, for which he is a contributing editor, along with sword and sorcery living legend – and founder of the fantasy subgenre, Sword and Soul – Charles R. Saunders.
All of Milton’s works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC: http://www.mvmediaatl.com/.
What do you like about Steampunk?
I like the alternate history aspect of the genre. I see it as an opportunity to explore “what if” scenarios as they refer to the experiences of the African Diaspora.
What was your inspiration for writing a Steampunk tale?
The technology intrigues me, but again, the alternate history aspect really interests me.
Besides your own, what are your favorite Steampunk stories?
Actually, I’m actually inspired by movies that contain steampunk more than the stories. I think the genre lends itself much better to visual interpretation rather than written. I grew up on Wild, Wild West, and although I wasn’t a big fan of Will Smith’s reinterpretation I did like the gadgets. I also liked The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the movie). A couple of anime movies handled steampunk well; Steamboy and the series Last Exile. I liked them both. Then there’s Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman. It’s a fun story that I plan to write a review about.
What Steampunk stories have you written? Where can we read them?
What Steampunk works are you planning to release in the near future?
I’m working on a novel, titled ‘Unrequited’, a steampunk action romance that takes place in an alternate America. ‘The Delivery’ is based on this scenario.
Valjeanne Jeffers is a poet and SF writer, and the author of Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend, Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds, and The Switch: Clockwork, as well as two short works of fiction, Probe and Grandmere’s Secret.
What do you like about steampunk?
One of the things I love about steampunk is that it stirs my imagination. Working with this genre gives me such outrageous clothes (knickers, corsets, top hats etc.) and such extraordinary machines—airships, motorcars and steam powered computers to work with. Steampunk invites me, as a writer, to stretch my imagination, to experiment and to mix genres of horror and SF. My fabulous cover artist, Quinton Veal, helps to stir my steamfunk imagination with the images he creates.
What was your inspiration for writing a steampunk tale?
Steampunk clothing reminds me of the clothing hippies wore during the 1960s. There is a freedom of expression within this style of dress that speaks to me. So I’d have to say that my first inspiration for a steampunk tale was the clothing, which is vaguely reminiscent of the Civil Rights, Make Love Not War, flower power eras of the 1960s and 1970s.
Besides your own, what are your favorite steampunk stories?
Moses: The Chronicles of Harriett Tubman (Book 1: Kings) (by author Balogun Ojetade) is definitely among my favorites— Harriett Tubman and steampunk? What’s not to love! My second favorite is The Delivery by Milton Davis, featuring George Washington Carver, no less, as a character.
What steampunk tales have you written? Where can we read them?
My first adventure into steampunk began with The Switch, a story about a futuristic society that operates on two levels: an ultra rich “upper city,” and a dirt poor, steampunk, underground populated mostly by folks of color. The story has elements of erotica, espionage and even a little time travel. At the time, I thought I’d leave it there, but at the insistence of my oldest son Toussaint, I developed it further.
The Switch II: Clockwork, includes book I (The Switch) and book II (Clockwork). The Switch II: Clockwork is available at Barnes &Noble nook and Amazon in print and kindle. Readers can also contact me for discounts on purchases at email@example.com
My other steampunk novel is the conclusion of my Immortal saga: Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds. In Immortal IV, the characters are punished for violating the prophecy of their planet, Tundra. And they’re thrown into a steam powered, alternate universe where their enemy, the sorcerer, “Tehotep” rules. Immortal IV also has elements of erotic and horror.
I must add too, that although I intended this to be the last novel of the Immortal series, my readers have insisted that I not end it here! This, I feel is one the highest compliment a writer can receive—and I love these characters. So, book four won’t be the last one in the Immortal saga.
Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds is also available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Readers can also contact me for discounted sales at firstname.lastname@example.org
What steampunk works are you planning to release in the near future?
Right now, I’m working on a story based on the travels of one of my characters, from Immortal III, “Annabelle.” The setting will be in a New Orleans type of setting, peopled by vampires. This story is a prequel leading to Annabelle’s journeys in Immortal III.
More Afro Steampunk Blacknificence!
Some other cool Black Steampunks who are spreading the movement and inspiring other Black people to become a part of it are:
The H.M.S. Chronabelle is an all-female airship crew based out of the San Francisco Bay Area. Lady March is the first and only woman of African descent to join this august group.
Originally a Goth, Mr. Powell – who converted to Steampunk in 2008 – says: “I turn Steampunk on its ear. I don’t go for the generic guns/goggles/gadgets that permeate Steampunk; I feel that if we are going to recreate (and perfect) the Victorian culture, all of it must be represented, including the Dandy. I am a Dandy, a proud one. I wear very fancy outfits, feathers, accessories, pins, brooches. THOSE are my gadgets.”
For those wondering just what a “Dandy” is, Mr. Powell defines Dandyism as “the art and practice of a fine gentleman who desires to dress in elegance and style, along with carrying himself in said elegance and style, at all appropriate venues. It is the practice for said gentleman to conduct himself in a manner of worthiness of being seen, even in a crowded room, and to find no shame in accessorizing.”
The famed, Ohio-based Steampunk crew, Airship Archon, is helmed by Captain Anthony LaGrange, nom de plume for Tony Ballard-Smoot, a maker, model and ambassador and activist for the Steampunk Community as a whole. Captain LaGrange founded Airship Archon in 2008 and is a popular panelist at Steampunk conventions.
Mr. Ballard-Smoot believes that Steampunk is unique among other cultural movements. He says “Steampunk is doing something fantastic that a lot of other movements have not done – create a community. You have a lot of scenes out there: the goth scene, punk scene, hipster scene but none of them have evolved into an actual community or family.”
Born Pablo Miguel Alberto Vazquez III, Mr. Saturday – founder and con-chair of Aetherfest, Texas’ first Steampunk convention – is a strong voice in the movement. With his partner, Sixpence, Mr. Saturday leads the San Antonio Neo Victorian Association, a large group of Texas Steampunks who have taken it upon themselves to spread Steampunk throughout Texas and beyond.
Shamus Tinplate, aka Tony Hicks of Tinplate Studios
Mr. Hicks is an ingenious artist of immense skill and creativity. He is a comic book and natural science illustrator, sculptor and bodger (woodworker). His influences range from Charles Darwin to H.P. Lovecraft to Clement Ader.
Like many others (this author included), Mr. Hicks was a lover of Steampunk before the term was ever coined. He says: “As a small child, I watched 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and fell head first into the waters of Steampunk, from which I have yet to resurface.” Mr. Hicks’ work consists of Steampunk ray guns, respirators, odd gadgets, and masks as well as disturbing cryptozoological anomalies under glass and ocular oddities.
You can find Mr. Hicks at all manner of Steampunk and art conventions, fairs, festivals, shows, and other special events.
As Shamus Tinplate, he is proprietor of Tinplate Studios, which sells Mr. Hicks’ incredible work.
Miss Aetherly works tirelessly to spread Steampunk throughout the Portland, Oregon area. She is fast gaining renown as a Blacknificent Steampunk model and as an intelligent and enthusiastic member of the movement.
Special thanks to Jaymee Goh for introducing me to these fellow Steampunks of African descent. Jaymee is a veteran Steampunk, writer, fan and reader of speculative fiction. She has written for Racialicious, Tor.com, and Beyond Victoriana. She holds a B.A. in English (Hons) and an M.A. in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory; her MRP is on postcolonialism and – of course – Steampunk.
THE FEAR OF “MAINSTREAMING” STEAMPUNK
Put On Your Fighting Trousers!
One of the most powerful forces in the Universe is Inertia. Whether we are speaking of the momentum of a falling body or that of an internal thought, things tend to continue doing what they have been doing.
We continue the momentum of thoughts we have had in the past, and thus a feeling of powerlessness governs our lives. “If I change,’ this kind of thinking says, “I may find myself in a reality that is worse than the one I am living. Best to keep doing what I have been doing” While this is true from a certain perspective, if we do not change, we will never evolve beyond what we are right now. And isn’t that what Steampunk is all about: The adventure…the altering of history…taking that ultimate risk we call Change?
Life changes no matter what we do. We continue to change and grow and much of that change occurs as a result of powerful, often painful prodding from our life experiences, driving us away from what we do not want; or, as a result of envisioning what we do want and pursuing it. The latter kind of change is what leads us to the most desirable outcomes, and to the life that we feel most joyous in living.
We fear change, not because we love what we have, but because we dread altering the patterns that seem to keep us afloat. These patterns – or rituals if you will – help us to create a sense of normalcy and make us feel safe. This can be of great comfort in times of real danger; however, comfort for the sake of comfort always comes at a great cost.
When subcultures start to creep into the mainstream – or when the mainstream starts to creep into the subculture – that comfortable inertia is broken and the members of that subculture feel threatened.
After twenty years on the fringe, Steampunk has not crept; it has exploded into the mainstream through four pathways – fashion, music, art, and literature.
The steampunk look reflects the Victorian and early Edwardian eras (roughly 1801-1910). Corsets, frock coats and top hats are common fare, complemented with goggles, ancillary wings, compasses and do-it-yourself accessories.
One of the most well known Steampunks, Kit Stolen, is credited with starting the fashion phenomenon in Steampunk on August 20, 2003, when he made images of his Steampunk clothing and hair fall designs available to the public on an internet Steampunk group. He had already been wearing this clothing on a daily basis since 2001. His images, in which he modeled his designs, went viral and demonstrated that Steampunk is as creative, cool, appealing and fun in fashion as it is in literature.
In a 2011 issue of Town and Country magazine, Mariel Hemingway is shown on the cover in an early 19th century styled coat. Also on the cover is Mariel’s daughter sporting a bodice and a bustle skirt. Inside the same issue is an article on equestrian dressage fashion – also popular in Steampunk fashion.
On leading retail site, Etsy.com, Steampunk is currently one of its top 10 most-searched terms, with nearly 7,000 items posted and trendy clothing retailer Forever 21 has incorporated clockwork earrings and military-cut coats into its repertoire for the past few seasons.
Justin Bieber’s odd attempt at a steampunk music video for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, many saw the imminent death of Steampunk and since then, there has been a lot of talk about the mainstream taking over Steampunk and eventually destroying the subgenre.
The problem with Bieber’s video is that the Steampunk images of his mechanical arm and the Clockwork Ladies did not mesh well with the song and seemed somewhat out of place.
More successful have been the rock bands Primus and Rush, who have helped to raise awareness of the genre and how cool it is.
Platinum-selling, Grammy award winning Hip-Hop and R&B artist, T-Pain’s latest tour is entitled Steampunk. In a recent interview, when asked what the theme of his new album, Revolver is, the mega-star answered: “Steampunk. It’s a movement that’s been happening for a long time, and it’s got a following that’s been crazy. A lot of people don’t know about it. It’s like the modern world meets the 1800s.” T-Pain even hired steampunk artist, Thin Gypsy Thief Studios, to make him a Steampunk microphone.
The Harlem James Gang, which tours with John Legend, fuses Steampunk with Hip-Hop, magic and theatrical performance for a Blacknificent show.
From England comes “Chap-Hop”, the fusion of rap with the lifestyle of the Victorian upper classes. Professor Elemental, a self-styled “Steampunk Mad Professor” and leading chap-hop MC, is one of its top exponents. Clad in Victorian-explorer garb, complete with pith helmet, he is eager to talk about taking the U.S. by storm. “I’m going to break America, and ride it like a pony,” Professor Elemental – whose real name is Paul Alborough – explains while sipping English Breakfast Tea. “Global domination, then a nice sit down and a cup of tea.”
Elemental’s rival is an hour’s train ride away in London: Jim Burke – Mr. B, The Gentleman Rhymer – who credits Public Enemy’s Chuck D as a major influence on his brand of Chap-Hop.
Lady Gaga and Nikki Minaj (with David Guetta) have even “gone Steampunk” with their songs Alejandro and Turn Me On, respectively. Well, Lady Gaga fell short, but Minaj and Guetta were, for the most part, successful in presenting the Steampunk tropes.
Renowned artist and lighting designer, Art Donovan, is credited with being a major force in bringing mainstream attention to Steampunk. The thirty year veteran of the arts discovered Steampunk during an online search for new design styles, and he was immediately hooked. As Donovan delved into the world of Steampunk and began showing his one-of-a-kind (and mostly functional) pieces to the world online, he became one of the genre’s most admired designers and one of its greatest ambassadors.
In 2008, Donovan curated a Steampunk exhibition at Hamptons Antique Galleries in Bridgehampton, England and that eventually led him to curate the world’s first Steampunk museum exhibition at Oxford University’s Museum of the History of Science in October 2009. “It ended up being the most popular exhibit they ever had,” Donovan said of the show, which ran through February 2010. “There were lines around the block.”
Although K.W. Jeter coined the term in the late 1980s, the concept is much older: Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, and other 19th-century authors are primary influences. Taking these influences and adding their own creative spin, a new generation of authors founded the Steampunk movement as a literary subgenre – a brilliant blend of science fiction, historical fiction, alternate history and fantasy.
Today, people of all classes, genders, races and nationalities enjoy reading and writing these incredible stories of adventure and derring-do.
More and more authors and screenwriters are producing works in the subgenre. Particularly in film, Steampunk has taken a huge step toward the mainstream – Wild, Wild West (heaven help us all); League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; The Prestige; both Sherlock Holmes films; The Golden Compass; the recent Three Musketeers movie; and most recently, Hugo, which one five Academy Awards (“Oscars”).
Who Strikes the Loudest?
We Steampunks have been cast out of our comfort zones and feel threatened and very vulnerable right now. Many of us are claiming that, with the mainstreaming of the culture, Steampunk is dead.
A wise Steampunk said – “If Steampunk can survive Will Smith’s Wild, Wild West, it can survive Justin Bieber.”
Come on y’all…less whining; more grinding! Being more visible will be more of a help than a hindrance as long as we maintain the integrity of Steampunk, nurture it and work hard to see it stay on its proper path.
Put on your fighting trousers and let’s show the mainstream who strikes the loudest!
What We Can Learn From The Chinese
Author Neil Gaiman shared a fascinating fact. While appearing as a Guest of Honor at China’s largest state approved Science Fiction convention, Neil decided to enquire why Science Fiction, once frowned upon by the Chinese government, was now not only approved of, but encouraged, with China now the world’s largest market for Science Fiction, with the highest circulation of Science Fiction magazines and the largest Science Fiction conventions.
The answer Neil was given is very interesting.
China is the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. But it doesn’t invent or design most of the things it manufactures. China wants to capture the creativity and imagination of the culture that has produced companies like Google and Apple. So Chinese researchers talked to people involved with those and other companies to see what factors they had in common. The answer?
They all read Science Fiction.
The Chinese acted upon this research and today, throughout China, Science Fiction is a thriving and respected genre, read widely; which is very different from the early eighties, when Science Fiction was declared to be “spiritual pollution” and banned by the government. Back then, Science Fiction in China all but disappeared. But it has come back stronger than ever, appealing to a new generation of Chinese who see themselves as part of a world-wide cultural phenomenon, which includes Hip Hop, Fashion, Movies and Science Fiction.
In the past decade, Science Fiction has overtaken fantasy as the popular literary form, even though fantastic fiction is an integral part of the history of Chinese literature.
Science Fiction studies continue at Beijing Normal University, the largest research and editing center of science-fiction theory and criticism in the world. Western authors and scholars visit there often and in the future, this center is expected to be the center of international Science Fiction research.
Science Fiction is an essential influence in the development of top level creative thinkers, especially those dealing with technology. We live in an age of unparalleled technological development, which is creating change throughout society of an unprecedented magnitude. Science Fiction, in all its forms, is a valuable tool for helping train people to creatively work with that change.
Science Fiction does not just show us possible futures, it trains us to anticipate new technology, model how it will impact our lives and exploit that insight.
Black Speculative Fiction
Aside from Nnedi Okorafor’s Zahrah the Windseeker and the Shadow Speaker; Wendy Raven McNair’s novels, Asleep and Awake; Alicia McCalla’s Breaking Free and Jason McCammon’s Ancient Lands: Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter, it is difficult to find Speculative fiction (Science Fiction and Fantasy) with Black protagonists or secondary characters written for young adults by Black authors. Middle Grade novels are even harder to find, with L.M. Davis’ Interlopers at the fore.
In their 2003 study of middle school genre fiction, Agosto, Hughes-Hassell, and Gilmore-Clough found that of 976 reviews of youth fantasy novels, only 6 percent featured protagonists or secondary characters of color, and that of the 387 reviews of youth science fiction, only 5 percent featured protagonists or secondary characters of color. Yet, as more Black authors of adult science fiction/fantasy – like L.A. Banks, Stephen Barnes, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, Charles Saunders, Walter Mosley, Ronald Jones, Valjeanne Jeffers, Milton Davis and Balogun (smile) – grow in popularity and fill a much needed void, more Black writers are getting the opportunity to fill that void in youth literature as well.
As the Chinese have come to realize, filling that void is important for several reasons and is a must for people of color, particularly those of African descent.
Studies have shown that, in the general population, Science Fiction and Fantasy has an impact on the teaching of values and critical literacy to young adults. Science Fiction challenges readers to first imagine and then to realize the future of not only the novel they are reading but, also the future of the world in which they live.
Looking at the most visible popular examples of epic fantasy – J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and bestselling authors J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan – a casual observer might assume that big, continent-spanning sagas with magic in them are always set in some imaginary variation on Medieval – and, sometimes, even modern – Britain. The stories include the common tropes – swords, talismans of power, wizards and the occasional dragon, all in a world where Black people rarely exist; and those who do appear are decidedly peripheral and usually work for the bad guys.
That same casual observer might therefore conclude that epic fantasy – one of today’s most popular genres of fiction – would hold little interest for Black readers and even less for Black writers. But that casual observer would be wrong.
Young adults of African descent can – and do – relate to the experiences in science fiction and fantasy. Indeed, they crave these experiences and read speculative fiction just as voraciously as young adults of other races. But the lack of self-images in this literature can have a negative effect on the psyche of young readers and can, indeed, contribute to negative behavior. We derive our perceptions of self by what we hear, see, and read and our perception directly affects our actions.
The Process of Action works as follows:
- Perception (precedes Thought)
- Thought (precedes Impulse)
- Impulse (precedes Action)
If the Perception of ourselves is a person who lacks courage, integrity and goodness – because we do not see ourselves possessing heroic qualities in most books – the Thought creeps into our minds that we lack those heroic qualities, so we are – by default – villains. The Thought grows into a strong Impulse to be the villain; and finally, the Action of villainy takes place.
However, if – through fantasy and science fiction written with Black characters as the heroes – our youth begin to perceive themselves as heroic…as hard working…as good…they will begin to act in accord with how they perceive themselves.
The aforementioned authors have published books of Science Fiction and Fantasy featuring Black youth as protagonists. An analysis of these books reveals plots that are fun and adventurous; black protagonists who are gifted, insightful youth surrounded by functional, supportive family units; and themes common to the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, like courage, integrity, and good versus evil. While race and ethnicity are not ignored in these books, the race or ethnicity of a character does not drive the plot.
Our youth need stories that do not deny race or the historical implications of race, while remaining unhindered by the racism that may be present.
The State of Black Science Fiction 2012 Youth Symposium
On May 5, 2012, in Atlanta, a group of Black authors of speculative fiction – in conjunction with the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History – are coming together to host The State of Black Science Fiction 2012 Youth Symposium, a day-long symposium spotlighting science fiction and fantasy as a signature intersection of science, history, technology, and humanistic studies. This symposium will serve as the blueprint for a national conference.
The symposium will feature scholarly panel discussions involving authors and artists of African descent who will showcase their involvement in their respective genres and subgenres of fantasy and science fiction across various media, as it relates to issues of cultural, scientific and technical development. The symposium will also feature a writers’ workshop, a presentation by young writers from African-Centered schools throughout Atlanta Metro and readings by authors L.M. Davis, Milton Davis, Alan Jones, Alicia McCalla, Wendy Raven McNair, Balogun Ojetade and moderator Ed Hall.
The schedule will be as follows:
11:00 am‐1:00 pm: Youth Speculative Fiction Writers’ Workshop
1:00 pm‐2:30 pm: Youth Presentation
2:30 pm‐ 4:30 pm: State of Black Science Fiction 2012 Presentation
4:30 pm – 5:30 pm: Artist and Author Meet-and-Greet and Book Signing
This symposium is Step One in raising the awareness of Black speculative fiction among our youth and in inspiring them to grow into the bright future of Black Science Fiction and Fantasy they are destined to become.
This event is free and open to the community. For further information, please join us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/172270232890661/.
What NOT to learn from the Chinese:
Just kidding! :)
Why Black Children Need to Read & Write Science Fiction
A few months ago, I had the pleasure – hmm, no, pleasure is not a fitting description – A few months ago, I had the experience (yes, that’s it) of having my son, Oluade (“Ade”, for short – pronounced “aah-DAY”), who is nine years old, as one of my writing students. No matter what assignment I gave the class – an essay; a newspaper article; a short story; a poem – Oluade would find a way to write himself into it – in an epic battle with a horde of zombies or cyborgs with “zombified” (his word) flesh…oh, yeah, and a skateboard with cool insignia painted on it.
I realized that no matter how much I complained about it, Ade was always going to turn his writing into Science Fiction.
Luckily for him, he has a father who is an author – and fan – of Science Fiction (although turning a newspaper article about a young man suing his parents for emancipation into a zombie yarn was, of course unacceptable).
I realized that Oluade is like most Black children – he is driven by a search for the interesting; a desire to twist the mundane and flip it on its head in order to see the ordinary from a different perspective; to explore the boundaries of creativity; and, indeed, to discover or create new boundaries. What these children seek is found within the realms of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Oluade’s teachers in the public school he once attended did not agree. They felt he was being rebellious and a bit…strange.
That is a shame.
And, for many misunderstood – and thus, mislabeled – children, this is a crisis that has devastating, lifelong consequences.
When children use Science Fiction and Fantasy writing techniques and tropes they are often using their writing to explore themselves and their world, without any need for guidance and literal knowledge.
On the surface they are writing about zombies, spaceships and vampires, but do not be fooled –they are using these devices in the same way as Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, Tananarive Due and Walter Mosley – to cloak methods of exploring and explaining – and finding explanations for – their worlds – both internal and external – in a way that straightforward ‘literal’ fiction cannot.
Realism has become a trap for black children and they realize it. According to my young students, who range in age from nine to fifteen, they tire of reading and writing stories that are about “problems” and crave fantastic tales of derring-do with cool, young, Black heroes and heroines.
Science fiction and fantasy offers black children an alternative way of dealing with legacy, tradition, and memory.
Parents and Teachers, our children have a big problem…us
In conversing with other English teachers, I often ask if they teach creative writing in their classes. Most do not. One teacher told me that she tried “that creative writing stuff” with her students, but quickly gave up on it and returned to a more “practical syllabus”. Upon further investigation, I discovered that she believed creative writing – particularly Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy – to be something outside – and, indeed, beneath – the instruction of English.
Most educators of English / Language Arts focus on the mechanics of the subject – how to read and write, rules of grammar, use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and nouns and sentence comprehension – without the context of why and how those mechanics are used by students to express themselves.
Yes, we need to teach the mechanics – how to hold a pen; how to read; how words work – but we should not confuse use of a thing with understanding of it. Training in the mechanics of writing produces writing technicians However, it does not make you a writer. So, you know how to spell; you can answer questions on grammar; you can repeat someone else’s literary criticism of a text – you are a technician. You can fix my text as a garage mechanic can fix my car. The garage mechanic can’t design a car. They can’t improve a car. They can’t build one from scratch. They can only ever work on someone else’s car.
This is why we – and our children – need to read and to write Science Fiction and Fantasy – so that our children do not only work on other people’s texts, they create and build their own. So they are not limited to just reading a story written by someone else and providing a report on it – they are out there in the field, experimenting with new stories and questioning old ones…if only for the reason that they can.
We need to teach our children to go out into the world to add to the pantheon of human creation and endeavor, not to dissect the words of long dead men.
In a 1999 New York Times essay about Science Fiction, author Walter Mosley wrote, “The genre speaks most clearly to those who are dissatisfied with the way things are: adolescents, post-adolescents, escapists, dreamers, and those who have been made to feel powerless. And this may explain the appeal that science fiction holds for a great many African-Americans….Science Fiction promises a future full of possibility, alternative lives, and even regret.”
Horror author Tananarive Due revealed that when she started writing, all of her characters were white. “I had to force myself to see myself,” Due said. “It’s not that I don’t write about white characters, because I do, but my protagonists are extensions of my own humanity. I was raised by civil rights activists and I have a keen awareness of racial history—lessons I think Americans of all colors should know—so I would consider it artistic dishonesty to write primarily from an experience that was not black. Does that limit my readership? I’m sure it does. But hopefully, it does less and less all the time.”
7 Science Fiction Writing Projects for Children
To get your children, students and even yourself writing, try tapping into their enjoyment of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Children gravitate towards writing based on magic, space ships, aliens, and peril-filled quests. Ask them to incorporate these themes into their own writing and you will find a fun way to help them sharpen their writing skills at home.
To encourage kids that this isn’t homework, but is, instead, a fun at-home creative activity like painting or doing other crafts, do not spend a lot of time correcting your child’s grammar or spelling; just let the creative juices flow. Writing more is a key to writing better, and knowing they can write without being scrutinized is a key to getting your children to enjoy writing, thus, write more.
A common thing children like to do is to use colorful markers, pens or paper for their writing projects. Let them. This helps signify that what they’re doing is something special, creative and fun. For science fiction-theme writing projects, you might try glow in the dark ink, or stationary from movies like Harry Potter or Star Trek, or whatever your child likes.
Below are seven Science Fiction and Fantasy writing projects that will help you get your child started on his or her Science Fiction or Fantasy writing adventure. I chose seven projects in honor of Oluade, the Zombifying Language Arts Rebel, who is my seventh child (of eight) and my only son.
Writing Project 1: The Time Traveling Machine
Ask your child to pretend he or she has gone into a time-travel machine and ended up in the distant past or far future. What do they see? Who do they meet? This is a good project for encouraging children to compare and contrast in a creative way. Older children can be encouraged further to create a story based in the future or the past.
Writing Project 2: Build-An-Alien!
Ask your child to consider what an alien might look like. Is it tall or short? Friend or foe? Ask your child to consider the sounds and smells associated with the alien, too. They may also want to consider how it walks, communicates and eats; where it comes from; and what it wants.
Writing Project 3: Your New Super Power
Some of the greatest Science Fiction and fantasy stories of all time involve superheroes gaining and using some super power. Ask your child to pick a super-power, be it speed, invisibility, super-human strength, or whatever. If they like, they can choose more than one power, or give other powers to sidekicks like their little brother or a friend. They may also write about the type of costume they wear – if any – and if they fight crime, or just use their powers in everyday situations?
Writing Project 4: A Whole New World
Ask your child to pretend he or she has landed a spacecraft on a new planet or has found a door to an alternate earth. Let us learn about this world from their description of what is seen, heard, smelled, and tasted there. Who, and / or what, resides there? Does it seem like a nice place for you or others to live? Let your child be a space – or dimension – explorer and create a whole new world.
Writing Project 5: The Secret Formula
Ask your child to pretend he or she has been given a drink (or sandwich or cookie, etc.) from a mad or silly scientist or shaman. What’s in that drink? What does it look like, taste and smell like? And if you eat or drink the scientist’s crazy concoction, what will happen to you? Older children can be encouraged to create a story based on what happens after they consume the secret formula.
Writing Project 6: The Griots Academy
What would happen if your child went to school to become the next “Harry Potter”? Ask your child to describe the teachers at the school and to describe what they teach and their personalities. Which teacher is your child’s favorite at the school and why? What is the curriculum? Where is the school located? Children can come up with a large faculty and rich history for their own school of magic.
Writing Project 7: The Shaman’s Assistant
Ask your child to write about working for a renowned wizard or shaman. What is the wizard / shaman’s appearance and personality? What does he or she ask your child to do to assist him or her? Older children may be encouraged to create a whole adventure for the “assistant” and his / her boss.
Science fiction and fantasy theme projects can really help your child’s imagination take flight. Use these fun and creativity-inspiring ideas to help your children enjoy the writing process and realize writing isn’t just for school or homework; it can take them anywhere in the universe – and beyond – that they desire to explore.
Please, join us for the State of Black Science Fiction 2012 Youth Symposium in which authors will teach young students how to write Science Fiction and Fantasy; students will perform original works of Science Fiction and Fantasy; and authors and editors of African descent who write Science Fiction and Fantasy will engage participants in a lively and highly informative panel discussion on the State of Black Science Fiction and Fantasy. After the panel discussion, the authors will meet and greet participants and have their Blacknificent novels, films and artwork on hand.
Until next time…happy writing!
WHAT IS STEAMFUNK?
Exposing the Big Steampunk Lie!
Steamfunk is narrowly defined as “a person, style of dress or subgenre of fiction that seeks to bring together elements of blaxploitation films and merge it with that of Steampunk fiction”. A broader definition is A philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction.
For those who do not yet know what Steampunk is, you can read my blog – Why I Love Steampunk – here: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/state-of-black-sci-fi-2012-why-i-love-steampunk/.
Steampunk has the power to rip open the 19th Century’s belly and examine its clockwork guts – and to rearrange those guts in new ways – but most Steampunk authors – and indeed most Steampunks – choose to avoid the issues of racism, sexism, classism, colonialism and imperialism.
Steamfunk authors – thankfully – choose to address these very same issues, for we know that to avoid them – especially since there is such a wealth of Steampunk tales to be told from a Black perspective – is to perpetuate the Big Steampunk Lie.
Yes…lie; a lie by omission; also known as the ‘suppression of evidence’.
This type of lie is more subtle. It has the advantage that you can’t get caught in a lie, because everything that you say is true. You just fail to mention all of those bothersome little facts that do not support your point of view. Should someone point out one of those annoying – and unmentioned – facts, you can feign innocent ignorance, or claim that the fact is really just an unimportant, trivial detail, not worth mentioning.
Thus the Victorian Era / Wild West are represented in most Steampunk as merely an age of exploration and invention. A renaissance, if you will. A very interesting – and deceptive – way of describing an era in which the “explorers” who at best unintentionally – and at worst, and far more often, very intentionally – brought with them the forces of colonialism and imperialism throughout the world.
The “Wild West” of North America systematically robbed the indigenous people of their lands and murdered them wholesale while also oppressing and vilifying Asians. In the South and East of North America, people of African descent suffered horrors under the yoke of chattel slavery and things did not get much better after the Civil War. To romanticize such an era; to paint such a dystopian reality as a rose-colored (well, various shades of brown in Steampunk) utopia is the ‘Big Steampunk Lie’ of which I speak.
Now, I am not saying all Steampunk stories should be dark and foreboding. However, we should tackle issues of race, sex and class in our stories to some degree. So many incredible and thought-provoking stories are waiting to be told…if we care to tell them.
With the upcoming Steamfunk Anthology and with such already released novels as Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, by Yours Truly and The Switch, by Valjeanne Jeffers – along with a number of awesome short stories from Milton Davis, Maurice Broaddus, NK Jemisin, Malon Edwards and Balogun (me) – these stories, which must be told, will be shouted from our Funkadelic Airships.
Full steam ahead!
WHAT’S IN A NAME? Novel and Story Titles That Sell!
You decided that you didn’t want anyone to take away from the power…the glory…the inimitable creative power within your writing, so you wisely self-published your masterpiece. You marketed on every social network, interviewed on internet and college radio stations and even purchased an ad in your local newspapers. There was nothing left to do but sit back and wait for your adoring fans to run to Amazon.com, BN.com and even your website to purchase it.
A year later, you had sold eleven books…to your mom; dad; three siblings; your cousin Lee-Lee; four of your friends and your co-worker, Bob.
I would be willing to bet the answer lies in your title.
Choosing the right fiction title
- Less is More. Try to keep down the number of words in your title to a precise and evocative few.
- More can also be More. If it is impossible to be brief, try a deliberately long title, like Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Steampunk but Were Afraid to Ask.
- Don’t rely on the subtitle to explain what the book is really about. It is the title itself that people see first when they scan a catalog, do a Google search, or peruse the bookstore shelves. On the flip-side, if your title is highly evocative or provocative – yet related to the subject of your book, use it and elaborate in the subtitle.
- Research the title on Amazon or Google. You can’t copyright a title, therefore you’ll often notice there is more than one book with the same one. Avoid taking a title that’s been used too many times or already belongs to a famous book.
- Try out your title on a variety of people, including people with different tastes; people related to you and unrelated; people who are knowledgeable about your subject and people who are ignorant about it – be curious and open to the market.
- Welcome controversy. Imaro, the Conan Slayer is sure to drum up a lot of interest (of course, if your target audience are the millions of fans of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, this might not be the wisest choice of title).
Choosing the right nonfiction book title
Choosing the right title for your book involves answering four simple questions. Your answers will take you a long way towards choosing a title that helps your book sell. You can also use these same questions in choosing titles for films, articles, blog posts, presentations and speeches.
Question 1: What is the change your market desires?
Change is at the root of nonfiction book success. Unlike fiction books, which are purchased for the readers’ pleasure, readers purchase nonfiction books because they want to experience change.
This change may be either solving a problem or achieving a goal. In either case, there is a purpose, or a change, that readers want to experience.
Question 2: How and when will change take place?
One of the best ways to sell a book is to choose a title that emphasizes how quickly your readers will be able to experience the desired change.
Lose 90 Pounds in 90 Days is a stronger title than Lose a Lot of Weight Fast because the former title is specific about the results (losing ninety pounds) and the time period (ninety days).
As an alternative to result or time period, you can stress the number of steps needed to solve a problem or achieve a goal. For example, Write a Winning Plot in 5 Easy Steps is a good alternative to Writing Winning Plots in 4 Hours or Less.
Question 3: How does this book differ from other books?
Your book’s uniqueness must be immediately obvious. The typical Barnes & Noble superstore contains well over 100,000 different titles. Amazon.com lists hundreds of thousands more.
There’s hardly any topic that hasn’t already been exhaustively written about in one form or another, so how will your book be different? What will make your novel stand out from the other books already on the market? Find your niche within the niche you are writing in and your book will stand out.
There are many martial arts books on the market. A few years ago, I decided to write a martial arts book. Fortunately for me, I happen to be proficient in indigenous African martial arts and there are only a handful of books on the subject on the market. Unlike the other authors, who are primarily academics, I am a lifelong practitioner of the African martial arts and immersed in traditional African culture, so I wrote from the standpoint of an insider, not as a casual (or not so casual) observer. This paid off, as my book, Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within is quite popular.
Question 4: How can I make my book’s title easy to remember?
Engage the reader’s curiosity or help them relate the title to an idea they relate to. If a prospective reader at your mall book signing forgets your book’s title between the time they first encounter it, and they take their restless child to the restroom, you will lose that important sale.
One of the best ways to make your book’s title memorable is to arouse the reader’s curiosity. This is the technique used by Richard Bolles’ mega bestseller, What Color Is Your Parachute?. At first glance, a parachute has little, or nothing, to do with finding work.
However, in this economy, wherein we can easily fall into abject poverty and homelessness, a parachute is precisely what we need! Every year, hundreds of thousands of readers purchase this book. How many copies do you think the same book would have sold if its title was, “How to Find A Job?”
Now, your masterpiece has that catchy title you need…or so it seems. Before you go publishing that little slice of heaven, there are a few steps you should take to ensure that you have the best title for your book.
1. Brainstorm 100 appropriate titles
When you brainstorm titles, it is okay to make minor variations of the same title. For example, your novel is about a seafaring African prince and his motley crew of fellow adventurers. You come up with the name Changa for the character and you want his name in the title, as he will become an iconic figure in literature and you know it. You brainstorm some possible titles – Changa’s Big Score; Changa on the High Seas; Changa Sails the Sendibada; Changa’s Safari; and so on. Each one of these titles will likely have different search results under Google and other search engines on the internet. Save them all for the next step.
Try to avoid inappropriate titles. If your book is an erotic steampunk tale of young goats in love and you title it “Steam-Cooking for Kids,” you will have a lot of pissed off parents.
2. Check Google’s keyword tool to see which titles have the most searches per month
On Google’s search engine, type “Google Keyword Tool.” The website you want will be the first one listed in the search results; or, you can go directly there via this link: https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer?__c=1000000000&__u=1000000000&ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS.
On the website, cut and paste your list of titles into the top text box (marked “Find Keywords”). Confirm that you are a human and not a spambot and then click the submit button. The results will appear. Scroll down and examine the Global Monthly Searches column. A good title should read anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 searches. Anything less than 10,000 searches may be too few.
Anything more than 100,000 searches will probably have too much competition.
What you want are phrases that have between 10,000 to 100,000 global searches. Make a note of those. You’ll use them for the next step: checking Google’s and Amazon’s search engines.
3. Check Google’s and Amazon’s search engines to see which of the top titles have the least competition
Go to Google and type the first title from your list of titles in the search bar. Be sure to type the title in quotes. When the list of search results come up, count how many websites use that full title. If there are fewer than ten websites with your full title, that’s a good title. Now do the same with the rest of your potential titles.
Once you’re done with that, go to Amazon and in quotes type in your titles. Count how many books have the same title. Again, if there are fewer than ten, that’s a good title.
Now, out of all your potential titles, the one with the most global monthly searches, with a low amount of competition is your winner. Simple.
Try these all, some, or none of these methods and, please, share the knowledge with others if it helps you. Each one, teach one.
Until next time…Happy writing!