IT AIN’T A $7 CUP O’ JOE, BUT…When Science Fiction & Fantasy meet the mean streets!

Lit 1A few nights ago, late night talk show host and comedian, Jimmy Kimmel, conducted a taste test to see how people would react to the new $7 cup of Costa Rica Finca Palmilera coffee that Starbucks is introducing.

However, instead of Costa Rica Finca Palmilera, each participant was presented with two cups of coffee and they had to determine which one was regular coffee and which one was “super-premium”. Unknown to the participants, each cup was poured from the same pot of regular, cheap coffee.

Time and again, the participants claimed one cup was better than the other – how one was richer; one creamier; one much more bold. Finally, one man – who looked like he just stepped off the set of Sons of Anarchy – said that both cups of coffee tasted exactly the same.

Later, that same night, I watched a documentary about Street Lit. Also called “urban fiction”, “hip hop fiction”, “gangsta lit” or “ghetto lit”, Street Lit is a mega-popular genre, especially among readers in their teens and 20s. In the 40-plus years since Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck released Pimp, the audience for so-called “street literature” has remained faithful, making bestsellers of such successors of Beck as Donald Goines, Omar Tyree, Teri Woods, Vickie Stringer, Sister Souljah and ‘Relentless’ Aaron.

Sessalee Hensley, a renowned fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble, says that urban lit now dominates the shelves of African-American fiction: “We have 25 or so new urban titles a month, versus about one of the literary titles.”

Lit 8With provocative titles, such as Black and Ugly and Section 8: A Hoodrat Novel, and with covers featuring half-naked women, flashy cars and big guns, these books stand out on the shelves. And standing out equals huge sales.

Around the country, street literature not only outsells novels by such esteemed Black authors as Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, but also popular genre fiction such as The Da Vinci Code. Owners of independent black bookstores say they must either stock street lit, or by a ton of candles for when the lights are turned off.

Lit 7However, even with the extraordinary success of street lit, the genre and its authors are still not respected as “real” authors and are, in fact, highly disrespected. In the documentary, entitled Behind Those Books, poets, authors and activists spoke passionately for or against this booming book industry.

In the documentary, Terry McMillan, author of the bestselling novel, Waiting to Exhale, says of street lit, “The fact that they are glorifying things that happen in our communities that shouldn’t be glorified – being a pimp, being a ho, you know? How much we can get away with it is seen as something to be applauded almost.”  She goes on to say – There will be something sexual to look at and it’s always a black woman. And it insults the hell out of me because it’s almost as if our breasts and our behinds are for sale…In the end [of reading a street lit novel], I want to know, am I a better person? Do I feel better about my son, my mama, my daddy, my brother, my neighbor? Now we are turning on ourselves. THAT’s what I hate about that shit [street lit].”

While street lit is known to be riddled with grammatical errors, misspelling, inconsistencies in the stories – and other issues that scream “Get a damned editor!” – Many authors of street lit actually write well and some even strive to be original in their work. In earlier posts, I discussed how Black people love science fiction and fantasy; and, obviously, we love street lit. Thus, it had to happen – street lit / science fiction  and street lit / fantasy mash-ups.

Of course, urban fantasy is already wildly popular, however, to my surprise, some  “urban science fiction” novels are pretty good reads too.

Lit 3Yes, they are set in the ‘hood, but, as anyone who has lived in the ‘hood can attest, anything and everything happens there. If aliens launch an attack on the earth, I guarantee it will start in the ‘hood. One of my favorite films, Attack the Block, deals with this very subject, with hilarious – and terrifying – results.

Zetta Elliot’s Blacknificent young adult urban fantasy novel, A Wish After Midnight, is about 15 year-old protagonist, Genna, who resides in the projects of Brooklyn. Genna’s mother has a hard time making ends meet and to make matters worse, Genna’s brother is involved in gang life. To escape the stresses of ‘hood life, Genna regularly visits the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, where she finds herself time travelling after making a wish at a fountain.

Genna and her friend, Judah, end up in Brooklyn during the Age of Steam. They eventually become heroes, fighting for justice and equality in the ‘hood of 1860s Brooklyn during the American Civil War.

Lit 4Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring is set in 21st century Toronto, which has been barricaded off and abandoned by its rich, predominantly white suburbs. Helpless to defend itself against the oppression of a ruthless drug lord, the city becomes one big…you guessed it…’hood.

Are these works Urban Fiction? Science Fiction? Fantasy? All three? None of the above?

Is Science Fiction Costa Rica Finca Palmilera and Urban Fiction regular coffee? Or, if done well, can they both be enjoyed from the same pot?

It was actually Hopkinson’s brilliant work that inspired me to write Redeemer, an urban fantasy novel set in the future – and the present – ‘hood. The pitch: Sent nearly thirty years into the past as an unwilling subject in a time travel experiment, Ezekiel Cross must save his younger self from the deadly path that forged him into the ruthless killer he is. This edge-of-your-seat thriller is both gangster saga and fantasy epic – “Goodfellas” meets “The Time Machine”.

Lit 2Will readers of science fiction and fantasy love Redeemer? Yep.

Will fans of urban fiction love Redeemer? Yep.

Is Redeemer science fantasy, or is it urban fantasy? Yep.

Redeemer is whatever genre or subgenre you want, or need, it to be.

Is Redeemer a cup of “super-premium”, Costa Rica Finca Palmilera, or just a regular Cup O’ Joe? Who cares? It’s rich, creamy, bold and stimulating.

Pick up a cup and enjoy!

 

Redeemer, from Mocha Memoirs Press, is available for KindleNook and paperback.

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.

14 responses »

  1. David H says:

    I work for a major chain bookstore but did not realize there was an urban sci-Fi/fantasy genre. Duh! I have been well aware of the urban fiction category but urban sci-fi is a new one for me. Definitely going to check this out. Thanks fit spreading the word!

  2. Good stuff, as always, Balogun. Nalo Hopkinson and Brown Girl in the Ring inspired me also, as well as Octavia Butler’s Parable series. What Nalo did with Toronto and Ms. Butler did with Los Angeles I want to do with Chicago with my short stories.

    And Terry McMillan’s quote is spot on. I don’t quite get the appeal of street lit, but to each their own.

    I’ll just do my best to write good urban fantasy and sci fi with strong, positive characters.

  3. Coffee is coffee. I wonder if they’re giving away free samples of the costly stuff?

  4. [...] IT AIN’T A $7 CUP O’ JOE, BUT…When Sci-Fi meets the mean streets! [...]

  5. [...] sit back once more and enjoy part two of Redeemer: [...]

  6. Sean Demory says:

    I would love to see the street lit/urban fantasy divide get crossed, if for no other reason than for the genre to be more than “half-vampire detective and her werewolf boyfriend fight the sexy, sexy demon” books.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with sexy, sexy demons.

    Still, there’s a lack of adventurousness to the genre at large that’s troubling. Sort of why I put mine out there. Glad you’re fighting the good fight!

    http://www.lulu.com/shop/sean-demory/zobop-bebop/paperback/product-20675215.html

  7. lkeke35 says:

    Thank you, thank you and more thanks for this post. I love UF but I hate Street Lit. However, if someone combined the two…

    Is there a website or something that lists such combos? I would love to read and promote these at my library, which has an extensive collection of the Street stuff but in order to find the SFF mashups, I’d have to wade through a lot, as the books look indistinguishable from the regular stuff.

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