Do Black People Really Read This Stuff? II: Science Fiction, Steamfunk & More!
“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling
In our first installment of the Do Black People Really Read This Stuff Series, we explored Fantasy Fiction. This time, we examine Science Fiction and the Black contributors to it.
And yes, there are many Black readers – and writers – of great Science Fiction.
And just why do we read this oeuvre of weird and wonderous?
We read Science Fiction to enjoy a world that is not our own; to live someone’s life tangentially and vicariously. We read Science Fiction to be informed, to be entertained and to escape, for indeed, reading is an escapist hobby, but Science Fiction reading even more so – we escape out of our own worlds into places and times that do not exist, existed in a different way, or never will exist at all.
Reading Science Fiction is the ultimate interactive experience because when you read it, your brain begins to build a world from the ground up.
Science Fiction stories are set in worlds that are unknown and disparate to us, and we automatically reorder them. Readers of science fiction have the luxury of extrapolating a positive future or predicting – and hopefully avoiding – negative ones.
Science Fiction is called “the literature of ideas”, and it really is, but those ideas aren’t about fusion or nanotubules; they are the same ideas of racism, love, anger and the human heart in conflict with itself that drive all other stories, but foregrounded and made new.
Many of us read Science Fiction because it’s a genre full of ideas and optimism and inspiration.
Many Black people read Science Fiction.
Sub-Genres of Science Fiction
Other-worldly creatures from outer space or other planets. Possibly the first novel about aliens visiting Earth was “Micromegas”, by Voltaire (1750), in which two giants from other worlds come to Earth to humble our primitive mental capacities. However, it was in 1898, when H.G Wells published the wildly popular “War of the Worlds” that this sub-genre seriously came into its own.
The alien invasion is a common theme in science fiction stories and film, in which a technologically-superior extraterrestrial society invades Earth with the intent to replace human life, or to enslave it under a colonial system, or in some cases, to use humans as food.
Stories about a self-contained, separate reality that coexists with our own. This separate reality can range in size from a small geographic region to an entire new universe, or several universes forming a multiverse.
Under Alternate Reality, also falls Alternate History, which has grown into a sub-genre of its own, particularly in Fantasy.
Alternate History – or alternative history –is set in a world in which history has diverged from history as it is generally known. Most works in this genre are set in real historical contexts, yet feature social, geopolitical or industrial circumstances that developed differently or at a different pace from our own.
Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic
Apocalyptic Science Fiction is concerned with the end of civilization, through nuclear war, plague, or some other general disaster.
Post-apocalyptic Science Fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten or mythologized. Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in a future world in which technology has fallen to low-tech, or a world where only scattered elements of technology remain.
The creation of a nightmare world, designed to make the reader ask the bleak question “Is life worth living if this is where humanity is going?”. Many of these stories have an emphasis on brainwashing, censorship and destruction of the family unit, or of a future gone mad.
Hard Science Fiction
Characterized by an interest in scientific detail or accuracy, many hard SF stories focus on the natural sciences and technological developments. Hard Science Fiction must contain the inclusion of at least one of the “hard sciences”, such as Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry – sciences ruled by mathematics and stringent rules. If the plot cannot maintain its integrity without them, then the story is Hard Science Fiction.
Military Science Fiction
A subgenre of Science Fiction in which interstellar or interplanetary conflict and its armed solution (war) make up the main or partial backdrop of the story. Such war is usually shown from the point of view of a soldier. A detailed depiction of conflict forms the basis of most works of military science fiction. Everyone joins “the Corps” to fight to save us all from those nasty spike-spitting slug-like aliens with the chitinous hides. Yep, that’s Military Sci-Fi.
Soft Science Fiction
Based upon the softer sciences of Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Socialogy, Theology, Biology and Ethnology.
Usually set in outer space or on a distant planet. Planets usually have earthlike atmospheres and exotic life forms. The machinery of space opera often includes (in addition to spaceships) ray-guns, robots, and flying cars.
Most space operas are a futuristic version of the old Western Horse Opera and commonly violate the known laws of physics by positing some form of faster-than-light travel. Many space operas diverge further from known physical reality by invoking paranormal forces, or vast powers capable of destroying whole planets, stars, or galaxies.
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that refers to works set in an era where steam power is still widely used – usually the 19th century – but along with steam engines, you have futuristic technological inventions, such as dirigibles, mechanical computers, multi-function goggles, giant robots and ray guns.
Works of Steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as people who lived during that time might have envisioned them.
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”.
Several Black authors – yours truly included – write Science Fiction. We write Science Fiction with Black protagonists – heroes who look like us – however, the stories are universal. It is important that all people, Black people in particular, read Science Fiction and we are giving everyone Blacknificent stories to dive into!
A few of these authors, with links to their novels and stories, include:
- The Wizard of Ez
- Sugar Daddy
- The Metro Force Series
- Steamfunk! Anthology (contributing editor; releases in early 2013)
- Four in the Morning Anthology (contributed)
- Fading Light, an Anthology of the Monstrous (contributed)
- Gear and Lever I: A Steampunk Anthology (contributed)
- Steamfunk! Anthology (contributed)
- The Switch II: Clockwork
- Steamfunk! Anthology (contributed)
- To Wrestle With Darkness
- Chronicle of the Liberator
- Warriors of the Four Worlds
- Steamfunk! Anthology (contributed)
- Breaking Free