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.

And many more of us should.

Sub-Genres of Science Fiction

Alien Invasion

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.

Alternate Reality

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.

Dystopian

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. 

Space Opera

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

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

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:

Milton Davis

Malon Edwards

  • 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)

Valjeanne Jeffers

Alan D. Jones

  • To Wrestle With Darkness

Ronald T. Jones

Alicia McCalla

  • Breaking Free

Balogun Ojetade

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link and Rite of Passage: Initiation. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – 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 – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika and contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. At present, Balogun is directing and fight choreographing the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk –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 – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG. Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth. He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.

12 responses »

  1. Dr. Curiosity says:

    Two names from the ’60s and ’70s that came to mind for me: Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler.

  2. Brooke says:

    Thanks so much for this! Sumayyah Talibah was my introduction to sci-fi, fantasy and more. I love her style and humor. https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/sumayyah1980

  3. Thank you for the mention, Balogun. Much appreciated.

    Octavia Butler (mentioned above) inspired me as a teenager to write science fiction set in Chicago about the Black experience in the future.

    But these days, I can’t get enough of N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor. I’m currently re-reading Nora’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and reading Nnedi’s African Sunrise novella for the first time. Both are quite different, but well-written and excellent reads.

    Hundred Thousand Kingdoms:
    http://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Thousand-Kingdoms-Inheritance-Trilogy/dp/0316043915

    African Sunrise: (http://subterraneanpress.com/magazine/fall_2012/african_sunrise_by_nnedi_okorafor

    • Balogun says:

      Thankyoufor being such a great author and for doing my hometown proud (raised on the Westside)! Nnedi (another Chicagoan) is one of my favorite authors.

      • Balogun: I didn’t realize you were from Chicago. I was born and raised on the South Side, for the most part, though I did move to the south subs just before high school. The high school Nnedi went to was my school’s arch-rival.

        Thanks again for the kind words, man. I’m just trying to do Chicago good through some solid writing.

  4. J.R. LeMar says:

    I’ve always loved Science Fiction. One of my earliest memories is my uncle taking me, my brother, and cousin to go see STAR WARS in a Drive-In Theater (remember Drive-In’s? Dang, I’m getting old…). And Star Trek always had me hooked.

    I’d say my favorite genres of Sci-fi are Space Opera and Alien Invasion.

    • Balogun says:

      I stood in a two block long line to see Star Wars when it first came out. and I still go to drive-ins (we have one in Atlanta).
      I enjoy reading all subgenres, however, my favorite Science Fiction subgenres to write are Steamfunk, Alternate History and Space Opera.

  5. [...] write well and some even strive to be original in their work. In an earlier post, I discussed how Black people love science fiction; and, obviously, we love street lit. Thus, it had to happen – street lit / science fiction [...]

  6. […] was then that I committed to writing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror fiction that told stories about Black […]

  7. Gloria Warburg says:

    Ken Sibanda writes and directs science fiction – South African American. Good article!

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3879098/

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