BEYOND SWORD & SOUL: Charles Saunders, the Father of Dieselfunk!
For this year’s Black History Month, I – along with author Milton Davis – was asked to teach a class on Steamfunk at GA-Tech.
For the class, the students read my story from the Steamfunk anthology, Rite of Passage: Blood and Iron and Milton’s story, The Delivery.
Milton read an excerpt from his upcoming, long-awaited Steamfunk novel, From Here to Timbuktu.
I decided to introduce the students to some Dieselfunk, so I read them an excerpt from my novel, The Scythe.
A few days later, I received an email from a student from Howard University – news travel fast in this Age of the ‘Net – who congratulated me on “another first.” In addition to my “stellar accomplishment” in authoring the first Steamfunk novel, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, according to the student, I was also the first to author a Dieselfunk novel, as well.
While I appreciated the compliments, I had to correct the student. I told her that the first Dieselfunk novel was actually written by one of my idols, who I’m sure didn’t even know he was writing Dieselfunk at the time, as I didn’t know I was writing Steamfunk when I wrote Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman. I was just writing alternate history with some cool gadgets, enhanced abilities, the supernatural and a bit of magic.
“If not The Scythe,” she asked. “Then what is the first Dieselfunk novel?”
“Damballa,” I replied. “Damballa, by Charles R. Saunders.”
“What is Damballa?” She emailed me back.
I replied thusly:
Such is the stuff that makes Damballa the unique and awesome Dieselfunk read that it is.
A classic costumed pulp hero, the black-hooded Damballa steps out of the forests of Africa and onto the streets of 1930s Harlem to battle Nazi’s bent on proving the superiority of the Aryan race.
Damballa (2011) is an incredible pulp adventure written by author Charles R. Saunders, the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy fiction called Sword and Soul and creator of the Fantasy icon Imaro.
The action does not stop as the titular hero uses his vast knowledge of Western science, African science and martial arts to expose and neutralize the Nazi threat.
Set in Harlem in 1938, the world is on the cusp of World War II and the Nazis are bent on proving their racial superiority.
The world heavyweight boxing champion, an African-American named Jackhammer Jackson, is challenged to a title match by the Nazis. Their representative is Wolfgang Krieger, a freakishly strong and massive man known as the “Aryan Adonis”. Krieger possesses inhuman power, which the mysterious Damballa believes has been bestowed upon him by Nazi scientists in an attempt to prove their racial superiority.
Aided by African-American NYC detective Bynoe and the brilliant Congolese elder woman Mamadou, Damballa hatches a plan to neutralize the Nazis’ fiendish plot.
Saunders layers this intriguing plot with historical details that recreates post-Renaissance Harlem to perfection.
Damballa is a shining example of what Dieselfunk is and what Pulp is when it is at its very best: thrilling, visceral, tightly-plotted, well-written, fast-paced fun and the hero, Damballa, is a shining example of what a pulp hero in the hands of a master can be: a hero the reader can actually stand up and cheer for; a hero with qualities and with a story other authors do their damndest to echo in their own creative and original ways.
Saunders delivers a masterful blend of storytelling, film noir, and boxing, with an eye-popping cover by Charles Fetherolf and interior illustrations by Clayton Hinkle that combine to make Damballa an instant pulp classic you do not want to miss!
“I must read The Scythe and Damballa now,” the student said. “But are they Dieselfunk or are they Pulp?”
“Both,” I replied. “Dieselfunk is a subgenre; Pulp is a style. Science Fiction, Sports Fiction, Crime Fiction, even Romance can all be written in the Pulp style, however, they are all quite different subgenres.”
She asked me to share excerpts from my work that were of different genres but shared the Pulp style. I now share with you what I shared with her:
La Vipère Noire burst into the room behind him. She was dressed in a matte black cat-suit, studded with tiny black beads. Her boots, gloves and even her derby were all similar studded in a reptile scale pattern. A black bandana concealed her face from her cheeks to her chin. Her derby was pulled low over her forehead and tilted slightly to the left.
The two vampires sitting on post leapt from their seats.
“Viper, take the one on the left,” the Scythe said.
“Got him,” the Black Viper said sauntering toward the vampire.
She extended her right arm, revealing a small, tubular, metallic flashlight in her fist. She pressed a button on the flashlight and bright, white light washed over the vampire’s face.
The creature laughed heartily. “Sunlight hurts vampires, dinge; not tungsten filament-light!”
The Black Viper whipped her left leg toward the vampire’s head in a wide arc. As her leg passed through the light, the studs on her leg seemed to swallow it for a moment and then spit the light out with the intensity of two suns.
The vampire screamed in agony as his flesh blistered and charred.
Viper’s shin slammed into the vampire’s neck, separating his head from his shoulders.
The vampire’s body collapsed as his head bounced across his partner’s feet.
“Damn,” the Scythe said as the head rolled past him.
The surviving vampire leapt to the ceiling and then clung to it like a spider. He scurried toward the exit.
The Scythe vanished.
He reappeared right below the vampire and then thrust his right hand into the vampire’s back.
The vampire wailed.
“That’s your spine I’m holding,” the Scythe hissed. “The first vertebrae of your lumbar spine, to be exact.”
The Scythe slammed the vampire onto his face.
Brown blood sprayed across the black and white checkered floor tiles.
The Scythe yanked upward, ripping the vertebrae from the creature’s back.
The vampire gasped and then released a weak moan.
“He’s all yours, Viper,” The Scythe said.
The Viper held her left forearm in front of her flashlight. She turned the flashlight on and the black studs intensified the light to a blinding brightness. The intensified light struck the vampire, setting it ablaze.
The vampire cried weakly as it convulsed.
A moment later all that remained of the creature was ashes.
Agbu Tochi rose from the throne, looming above the crowd like a statue carved from onyx stone. His forearms were as thick as an average man’s thigh and appeared to be as hard as the throne he had just risen from. He slammed his cantaloupe-sized fist into his chest and the crowd roared. Tochi sprinted into the ring, charging directly toward Nick.
Nick swallowed his fear and stood his ground as the human locomotive called Agbu Tochi sped toward him.
The colossus stopped just inches in front of Nick, his massive chest almost touching Nick’s nose.
The giant stood still and in silence.
“Are you ready, Nick Steed?” Chizo asked.
“Are you ready, Agbu Tochi?”
Agbu Tochi tapped his chest twice with his fist.
Chizo slid her arm between the fighters. “Then, fighters take your places.”
Nick shuffled backward to his place at the edge of the ring. Agbu Tochi shambled backward to his place, his unblinking gaze locked on Nick’s throat.
“And now …” Chizo raised her hand high above her head, her fingers pointing toward the clear noonday sky. After a long pause, she brought her arm down sharply, slicing the air with her well-manicure fingers. “Fight!”
Agbu Tochi lurched forward. Nick charged forward to meet him.
Nick hammered into Agbu Tochi’s ribs with a volley of heavy right and left hooks. Agbu Tochi staggered backward.
Nick shuffled forward with a lead-hand hook toward Agbu Tochi’s chin.
The giant leaned back. The punch shot past his face. He then countered with a fierce cross, catching Nick square on the jaw.
Nick collapsed to his knees. He shook off the pain and exploded back to his feet, careful not to let his hands touch the ground. Both knees and a hand on the ground at the same time would be a loss by traditional rules.
Nick’s feet had barely touched the earth when he was lifted high into the air by the giant, who had grabbed him from behind in a tight bear-hug.
Nick thrust his leg to the outside of Agbu Tochi’s thigh, hooking his foot behind the giant’s knee. With the throw now blocked, Nick bent at the waist as he threw his palms toward the ground, breaking free of Agbu Tochi’s grip.
Nick thrust back and upward with his left foot, driving his heel into Agbu Tochi’s solar plexus. Agbu Tochi doubled over in pain.
Nick whirled toward Agbu Tochi, slamming a crushing shin kick into the outside of his thigh. Agbu Tochi’s leg buckled.
Nick followed with a second shin kick to the inner thigh of the same leg. Agbu Tochi’s leg quivered and he switched feet, bringing his left leg forward to protect his right leg from further onslaught.
Nick burst forward, wrapping his arms around Agbu Tochi’s waist and pulling him close. The giant thrust his massive right arm between his hips and Nick’s to partially break his grip.
The men mirrored each other, both holding the others left triceps with their right hand and waist with their left hand. They then fought for superior position, snaking their arms over and under each other in an attempt to grasp the other around the waist with both hands.
Nick proved to be a bit faster, lithely coiling his arms deep under Agbu Tochi’s armpits and then digging his fingers into the colossus’ sinewy shoulders.
Agbu Tochi shook furiously, but could not free himself from Nick’s boa constrictor-like control of his upper torso.
Nick thrust his hips forward as he punched his arms skyward under Agbu Tochi’s armpits, launching the massive wrestler high into the air. Agbu Tochi’s eyes widened. A hush fell over the crowd.
Nick torqued his hips as he arched backward, increasing the momentum of the throw. Both men struck the ground with a thunderous din. A cloud of sand billowed up from the ring.
So, there you have it – Dieselfunk and Fight Fiction, two different genres; both, very much Pulp Fiction; both inspired by my idol, Charles Saunders, the father and founder of Sword and Soul and Dieselfunk.
Greetings and salutations good people of Planet Earth. I am – once again – on board the Good Ship Sweet Chariot, traversing the aether in search of new Steamfunkateers to accompany me on a funktastic journey across the cosmos. So, this time around, I offer – without comment – a guest blog from world renowned Dieselpunk afficianado, Jack Philpott. He and a few other Dieselpunks have something to say about Dieselfunk and Steamfunk, so please, check it out.
And while I post this guest blog without comment, I ask that you, dear readers, comment away!
Punks Want the Funk!
A Guest Blog by Jack Philpott
On Valentine’s Day weekend 2014 Dieselfunk was brought officially to the world amid much fanfare, bringing a new element to the Retrofuturist spectrum, much as Steamfunk had before.
Yet this unveiling was not without controversy, as anyone who reads this blog is well aware. Accusations of “racism” were made by a couple of prominent names in the Dieselpunk community, and arguments began on what *funk’s role was within the Retrofuturist movement and culture. Looking on the surface one might be led to believe that *punk and *funk were opposed, mutually antagonistic communities. But is this true?
To answer this, let us look at the Dieselpunk community itself, who we are, and what the Dieselpunks (and Steampunks) think of their Afrofuturist brothers and sisters.
First, who are the Dieselpunks? Just a bunch of suburban white guys dressing up like Nazis?
Au contraire, mon ami. Dieselpunk is a diverse, international community. The global Dieselpunk community has members on every continent save Antarctica (and who knows if one of the polar scientists living there isn’t sporting a fedora between studies?) with major centers of Dieselpunk activity in Argentina, Australia, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States, to name a few. The Dieselpunks themselves are ethnically, racially, culturally, religiously, gender, and politically diverse and we pride ourselves on our devotion to diversity and equality. We don’t shy away from the wrongs of the Diesel Era or try to whitewash them. To the contrary, the “Punk” side of it is very much grounded in its original meaning of the outsider, the outcast, the voice not heard under the meta-narrative. In this way Dieselfunk is a natural extension of that Punk attitude and commitment.
So what do the Punks think of the Funkateers? Obviously some have spoken out in the negative, but fish below the surface and you find a very receptive community.
A poll asking the (weighted and leading) question of if a subgenre devoted to “empowering a specific race” should be considered “racist” was running continuously towards “no” with at least a plurality up to a supermajority at times, until its premature demise due to vote hacking. The associated comments to that poll were overwhelmingly positive towards and open to the Funk.
Let’s take a comment from Sky Marshal Jonny B. Goode, a prominent member, promoter, and leader within the Southern California Steampunk and Dieselpunk culture and a high ranking member of the Army of Toy Soldiers. A man whose word carries a lot of weight in the Diesel- and Steampunk cultures:
“I actually like the fresh air that steamfunk brings into steampunk. I think it’s cool to see 1890s and 1970s all mixed up. Very creative. And I’ve always been a fan of funk music. Also, keep in mind that in the real Victorian age, minorities were very poorly treated. If we’re going to rewrite that era in our own style, let’s have a better showing for the minorities this time around.”
Another telling comment came from Steam- and Dieselpunk Thomas E. Delfi, who said:
“Most Steamfunk and Dieselfunk I’ve read and seen isn’t about empowerment, it’s about presence. Steampunk and Dieselpunk has been accused of being an exclusive because of the perceived lack of minorities at events and in literature that suffered during the Victorian Period, which isn’t a fair assumption. That’s me speaking as the Puerto Rican with a Dieselpunk Rough Rider Costume.
“So, someone coins the term Steamfunk to highlight something different, a new perspective, not to specifically empower or segregate. To me, the term Steamfunk has been adopted because there’s so much written material by Steampunks that stories featuring black or Latino leads can be lost and the assumption that we are an exclusive, Anglo-philic genre will continue. If anything, Steamfunk and Dieselfunk is trying to prove Steampunk is an inclusive culture.”
He later added specifically for this blog entry: “I didn’t come into the Steampunk community to make points or represent beliefs. I came here for the same reason many people do; I wanted to have fun. I wanted to enjoy myself in the company of the eccentric, the creative, and the wide eyed maniacs that make up this wonderful community. So to me it’s not about under representation or making a stance. To me, anything that is Steampunk derived, be that Dieselpunk, Dieselfunk, or Steamfunk, must be conducive to fun and enjoyment. If we entertain a new perspective or outlook along the way, all the better. But I and many others didn’t come to this community and this fantasy to divide it. So in short, let’s just have fun.”
These voices were far from alone, as prominent Dieselpunks came out in loud support of Dieselfunk. In Episode 38 of the Diesel Powered Podcast, the premier radio outlet of the Dieselpunk community, hosts Johnny “Big Daddy Cool” Dellaroca, Larry Aymett, Ava Dahl, and John Wofford defended Dieselfunk and Steamfunk, rejecting any claims of “racism” in *Funk as misguided and ignorant, and openly welcoming *Funk into the Retrofuture community [http://bigdaddycoolshows.podomatic.com/entry/2014-02-10T12_02_24-08_00].
And Larry Aymett, a man so central to the Dieselpunk culture, its promotion, and its philosophical foundations that he was declared the “Dieselpope”, went even further in a special message for this blog entry:
“Dieselpunk needs dieselfunk because of the way it explores the African-American experience during the 1920s – 40s. This exploration is vital for the –punk suffix in dieselpunk always points to the outsider. The ‘punk’ is the one marginalized by society. I’m grateful for the existence of dieselfunk and the way it uses Afrofuturism to explore the issues of race and class.”
In short, it is obvious: Punks want the Funk!
We see what you’re doing here and we love it. We want more of it. Our punk roots demand that the unheard voices be heard and that the oppressed be given the chance to stand up for themselves. Steamfunk and Dieselfunk are the epitome of that Punk attitude. Nothing could be less punk in my mind than to think otherwise.
African American contributions in the Diesel era aren’t just “worth including”, they’re central to the Dieselpunk narrative: the Harlem Renaissance, the birth and spread of Jazz and Blues, the struggles of right-thinking folk against the growing, hateful tyranny of Jim Crow, the KKK, or the NSDAP. What is the Diesel Era without Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Zora Neale Hurston, Cab Calloway, Langston Hughes, Jack Johnson, Eugene Bullard, or Bessie Coleman (to name but a fraction)? These are more than “just” the African American voices of the era, they are some of the essential voices of the era. Without the African voice…or the Asian voice, the Latin voice, the woman’s voice, the homosexual voice…there is no Diesel era. What is the era without the struggles of the Nisei or the Mexican American “zoot suiter” punks in California, or without the belle epoch of Rio de Jainero, or without the “we can do it” attitude of Rosie the Riveter or the artistic achievements of Cole Porter? That such voices are not always obviously present in Dieselpunk is more than just an omission, it is a heartfelt loss.
So to deny a place for Dieselfunk is to deny a critical part of what made the Diesel Era the time we Dieselpunks love, and is to deny a critical, essential part of what Dieselpunk is.
So please allow me the honor of being the Dieselpunk to formally welcome you, the Funkateers, into the Retrofuturist society.
Jack “Cap’n Tony” Philpott…
Jack Philpott is a born writer and artist who somehow ended up as an Electrical Engineer. Whether he’s enjoying a chilled Vermouth on the streets of Geneva, being catapault-launched off of a perfectly good aircraft carrier, or digging in the sand box with his son, Jack tries to appreciate the sublime nature of the moment.
Steampunk, Dieselpunk and Stereotype Threats at Anachrocon!
My wife; my seventeen year-old daughter, Yetunde; my eleven year-old, son, Oluade; and my five year-old daughter, Oriyemi, recently participated in Anachrocon 2014.
Yetunde put tremendous thought into her cosplay. She is a stickler for historical accuracy, so she insisted everything from her shoes, to her hairstyle to her fingernails be done as they would have been during the 1940s; to achieve said accuracy, Yetunde devoted weeks of research to the aesthetics of the 1940s. She did this while maintaining the 4.0 grade-point average she has achieved for her entire academic career.
Oluade gave a lot of thought to his cosplay as well. Since this year’s theme for Anachrocon was Dieselpunk, which is set in the Diesel Era of the 1920s through the end of WWII, and he knew, through reading my blogs and my latest novel, The Scythe, that Pulp magazines were popular during most of that era, Oluade decided he wanted to be a two-fisted masked pulp hero. Thus, the Auburn Avenger was born!
His concept of the character is so well-developed and so cool, I have promised Oluade that the Auburn Avenger will feature in a few of my short stories and perhaps even a Middle Grade novella.
Oriyemi was happy to just cosplay a vampire princess and to joyously – and accurately – point out which costumes at Anachrocon were Steampunk and Dieselpunk.
My children were completely comfortable at Anachrocon; much more than I have ever been at any convention.
Because they do not suffer from stereotype threat.
“What is stereotype threat,” you ask?
It is the fear or anxiety of confirming some negative stereotype about your social group; it is the idea that we hold within us that we might accidentally act in ways that confirm stereotypes about ourselves.
These fears are often self-fulfilling, pulling us, like magnets, toward the very stereotypical actions we hope to avoid.
In the Yoruba culture, we call this phenomenon Elenini – the personification of negativity. In western societies the statement “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” applies.
I have blogged about how the media often portrays Black people and other People of Color, negatively. One of the implications of these negative images is the notion of stereotype threat. A person who is constantly bombarded with negative images of his or her racial or ethnic group, begins to internalize the same social and personal characteristics of these images.
Numerous psychological studies have examined effects of stereotype threat in areas such as standardized tests, and athletic performance.
For example, the commonly held assumption that women are less skilled in mathematics than men has been shown to affect the performance of women on standardized math tests. When women were primed beforehand of this negative stereotype, scores were significantly lower than if the women were led to believe the tests did not reflect these stereotypes.
Channels such as BET and MTV offer blatantly stereotypical images of Black people and of women of all races that greatly affect young viewers who take these images to heart.
The term stereotype threat was first used by psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, who, in 1995, conducted several experiments that proved Black college freshmen and sophomores performed more poorly on standardized tests than White students when their race was emphasized. When race was not emphasized, however, Black students performed better and equivalently with White students.
The results showed that performance in academic contexts can be harmed by the awareness that one’s behavior might be viewed through the lens of racial stereotypes.
Long-term effects of stereotype threat are shown to contribute to educational and social inequality and affect stereotyped individuals’ performance in a number of domains beyond academics.
Research shows that stereotype threat can harm the academic performance of any individual for whom the situation invokes a stereotype-based expectation of poor performance. For example, stereotype threat has been shown to harm the academic performance of Hispanics, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, girls and women in math, and even white males when faced with the stereotype of Asian superiority in math.
Stereotype threat produces numerous consequences, most of which are negative in nature, such as:
1. Decreased performance
Perhaps the most widely known consequence of stereotype threat is reduced achievement on tests in situations in which the stereotype is relevant. In addition to affecting test performance, stereotype threat has been shown to decrease performance on other kinds of tasks, as varied as white people and women of all races in athletics ; women in negotiation; the elderly in memory performance and women in driving. Stereotype threat, it appears, can harm performance on any task where a stereotype is invoked suggesting that members of some groups will perform more poorly than others.
2. Internal Attributions for Failure
We often try to identify what factors are responsible when we fail to achieve a desired outcome. More often than not, we blame this failure on internal factors; on ourselves. This is especially true for those under stereotype threat. A test in 2008 showed that women under stereotype threat were more likely than men to attribute their failure on a computer task to their internal characteristics. When failure is internalized, stereotypes are reinforced.
Self-handicapping is a defensive strategy in which individuals erect barriers to their own performance to provide something to blame for their failure. They can point fingers at the barriers rather than at any deficiencies in their ability or effort. A test in 2002 showed that girls who performed poorly on a math test under stereotype threat were more likely to blame that performance on stress they experienced before taking the test.
4. Discounting the task
People under stereotype threat often question the validity of a task or the importance of the trait being tested. You might view a task as biased or as being ill-equipped to test your abilities if you expect to struggle with the task or have struggled with it in the past.
I believe this is one of the main reasons many Black people do not cosplay or read speculative fiction, whether it is written by a Black person or not. We are stereotyped as not being into Science Fiction and Fantasy; not possessing the capacity to create, or even understand it. Thus, we say such stuff is for white folks, or that Black people are too busy dealing with reality to deal with escapist hobbies such as reading Science Fiction or engaging in cosplay.
5. Distancing yourself from the stereotyped group
Stereotype threat can also affect the degree that we allow ourselves to enjoy and identify with activities associated with our social group. Steele and Aronson discovered that Black people who experienced stereotype threat expressed weaker preferences for – and performed less well than their White counterparts in – stereotypically “Black” activities such as jazz, hip-hop, and basketball. This identity distancing reflects a desire not to be seen through the lens of a racial stereotype.
To preserve their identity as a competent person in certain circles, stereotyped individuals sometimes distance themselves from an aspect of their social identity, or from people that bear the burden of the negative stereotype. When I first began to push Steamfunk, some Black Steampunks distanced themselves from me for fear that I was going to be the stereotypical angry Black man who happened to infiltrate Steampunk.
The effects of stereotype threat can be reduced or eliminated by several means.
1. Reframing the task
To reduce stereotype threat, you can “reframe” the task – use a different language to describe it. Simply informing Black people that it is cool to cosplay and showing examples of it can alleviate stereotype threat in fandom.
2. Deemphasizing threatened social identities
Interventions that encourage individuals to consider themselves as complex and multi-faceted can reduce vulnerability to stereotype threat.
It is important for Black people to know that we are not monolithic and thus are not confined to some unimaginative, non-creative, non-expressive “Black box.”
3. Encouraging self-affirmation
Affirming your self-worth is an effective means for protecting yourself from stereotype threat and the resulting failure.
Encourage people to think about their important characteristics, skills, values and roles. Black people who are given the opportunity to affirm their commitment to being Steamfunkateers are less likely to respond in a stereotypical fashion and bring great originality, creativity and coolness to Steampunk.
4. Providing role models
Providing role models who demonstrate proficiency in a field can reduce or even eliminate stereotype threat effects.
A Black historian sat in on the Diversity in Steampunk and Alternate History panel that I and the Co-Editor of the Steamfunk anthology, Milton Davis, were panelists on. He said that his interest in Steampunk came through his introduction to it through my blogs about Steamfunk and later, through reading the anthology. He further stated that he would have never participated in Anachrocon, or any other fandom convention, for that matter, if not for my – and Milton Davis’ – work.
In my efforts to help make all eight of my children proud of their Blackness; their intelligence; their wit and their creativity, I have, fortunately, helped to alleviate and maybe even eliminate any stereotype threat they may have been under had I done otherwise.
They have always seen my pride; they have seen me live as an African traditionalist in non-traditional America; they have always seen me embrace my creativity; to admire and model the brilliant and the ingenious; to push myself just as much as I push them and to succeed because of it.
So Yetunde, Oluade and Oriyemi approached Anachrocon with no fears, no worry that they would fall into some stereotype and embarrass themselves, me, or Black people. They weren’t thinking of being Black; they simply were Black, thus at Anachrocon, like everywhere else, they shined.
I pray to be like them one day when I grow up.
ARE STEAMFUNK, DIESELFUNK and SWORD & SOUL NECESSARY? Countering Negative Images of Black People in Science Fiction and Fantasy
ARE STEAMFUNK, DIESELFUNK and SWORD & SOUL NECESSARY?
Countering Negative Images of Black People in Science Fiction and Fantasy
We have become so insensitive or desensitized to our own negative typecasting and even dehumanization that we are no longer conscious of what we see, hear and what is going into our minds. We have become a party to our own brainwashing. We have joined in and become our own victimizers.
In the old days, white comedians put on black cork and made a living humiliating and ridiculing Black people. A few years later, their senses dulled by this illusion called “progress”, Black comedians said to the white comedians “Hey, you don’t have to ridicule and humiliate us, we’ll do it. We’ll take it from here, boss.”
And they took it from there…and carried it straight to Hell.
Let’s take the use of the word “nigger”, for example; so talked about now because of its use 110 times in the movie Django Unchained. Black comedians took this wicked, destructive word and took ownership of it as if to call ourselves a nigger was empowering, as if it was a term of endearment and still vehemently defend its use to this very day. And no, saying “the N-word” is no better. It is just foolish and strangely, makes us even less human than our use of nigger does.
“Man, you my N-Word!”
Or Kanye West and Jay-Z’s popular Niggas In Paris, now the politically correct N-Words In Paris:
“What’s Gucci my N-Word?
What’s Louis my killa?
What’s drugs my deala?
What’s that jacket, Margiela?
Doctors say I’m the illest
Cause I’m suffering from realness
Got my N-Words in Paris
And they goin’ gorillas, heh?”
Yeah…that shit cray.
The historian Carter G. Woodson said that Black people have been conditioned to go around to the back door, and if there is no back door, we will insist on one.
If you can get a Black comedian to show up on a late-night talk show and act the clown, it’s comforting to those people who say, “See they are a happy people. They aren’t angry with us for five hundred years of slavery and oppression.” It is like approaching a dog you have abused, neglected and chained up in your kitchen for a week, thinking “Boy, I sure hope it doesn’t bite.” And if, instead of tearing out your throat, the dog starts wagging its tail, you breathe a sigh of relief and say “Whew, good dog.”
We have been conditioned to expect little of ourselves and of each other.
Many Black authors lament that they create great content, but Black people pass by their table at geek conventions and head straight to Jim Butcher’s table to purchase his Dresden Files novels, or to the Marvel Comics booth to pick up the latest X-Man graphic novel.
Don’t lament, Black author. Remember, we have been conditioned to expect little of ourselves and of each other, so most Black people will assume, without any evidence, that your work is wack. You have to reach out and educate them; show them that your work is just as good as – or better than, what they are used to. Most will still flock to the Marvel booth. They love – and have faith in – good ol’ Stan Lee. To chastise them for that will gain you enemies, not friends and certainly not fans.
Now, outside the Black geek community is where I have found my greatest support. There is a hunger among “regular” Black people – those who do not identify as geeks, nerds, or science fiction fans – for speculative fiction written by and about Black people.
At the Westview Festival last year – a neighborhood festival in the predominantly Black, lower-to-middle-class area near Atlanta’s West End – I sold out all of my books in less than a half hour. Mind you, my table was next to a table that sold – at less than half price – mainstream fiction and science fiction and fantasy by authors such as Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert and George R.R. Martin.
At the recent 3rd Annual Ujamaafest – a festival celebrating Kwanzaa’s principle of Collective Economics – Milton Davis and I shared a table. Once again, Black Speculative Fiction sold like hotcakes. At this festival, the participants were mainly culturally conscious Black people from all walks of life.
At both festivals, most of the people who purchased books said that if Black authors were writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, with Black heroes, when they were young, they would have been into it, but they were eager to get their children and grandchildren into Black Speculative Fiction.
Are Steamfunk, Dieselfunk, Sword & Soul and other Black Speculative Fiction necessary? Damn right, they are.
While many of us want to see ourselves as the heroes and sheroes and recognize the need for Black Speculative Fiction, many of us cannot fathom ourselves as star-spanning, evil-crushing, saving-the-world heroes. The horse wrangler for the Steamfunk feature film Rite of Passage told me he never imagined we could be the heroes in a Fantasy or Science Fiction story, or that such a movie would ever be created.
The media is directly responsible for this. The perpetuation of stereotypes is always done through print, television, film, radio, music and, now, the internet.
Flip the channel or turn the page and there are the “baby mamas” and “baby daddies” so ubiquitous in common American culture that they become plot points or titles for mainstream comedies and movies.
The syndicated television program Maury, hosted by Maury Povich, is known for its “Who’s Your Daddy?” segments. Much of the content is based on issuing paternity tests to teens and young adults in hopes of determining fatherhood.
Many of Maury’s guests are Black, and the sheer number of these cases is damning. Shows like these, along with court television shows that promote the same dysfunction, are very popular.
Even Black millionaire housewives, doctors and business moguls are portrayed as argumentative, catty, incapable of being unified and downright ig’nant.
Millions of viewers are indoctrinated by these images of Black family chaos. And we watch these programs like a gory highway car wreck because they involve so many people who look like us.
And we accept and share these perceptions without question, qualm or quarrel.
At a very young age, Black men and women are inundated with messages that they cannot trust or depend upon one other. Children see images of – and hear comments and jokes about – lazy, greedy, irresponsible, or otherwise flawed Black adults.
Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1888, but Black actors were not even hired to portray Black people in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.”
In addition, Black people have, for nearly a hundred years, been purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforce white supremacy over us. Since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years, this has had a tremendous effect on society’s view of Black people.
The media sets the tone for the morals, values, and images of our culture. Many people in this country believe that the degrading stereotypes of Black people are based on reality and not fiction. Everything they believe about us is determined by what they see on television. After over a century of movie making, these horrible stereotypes continue to plague us today, and until negative images of Black people are extinguished from the media, we will be regarded as second-class citizens and will regard ourselves as such.
We have not come that far since 1914, when Sam Lucas was the first black actor to have a lead role in a movie for his performance in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
1915 is a significant date in motion picture history because D.W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, which supported the Ku Klux Klan and is possibly the most anti-Black film ever made.
The Birth of a Nation – with its vicious portrayal of Black people as subhuman compared to the glorified Ku Klux Klan – was important because it led to the creation of a new industry that produced “race films” for Black People. These films portrayed us in a positive light and addressed many social concerns of the community.
Before “race films,” Black people in films were nothing more than shuffling, shiny-faced, head-scratching simpletons with bugged out eyes who leaned on brooms and spoke bad English, but after the introduction of “race films,” we were depicted with more dignity and respect.
In order for Black people to ensure that they would have positive roles and stop reinforcing negative stereotypes through film, we had to make our own movies. The same holds true today.
I am asked, quite often, if there is such a thing as a Black Science Fiction movie. Supposing by “Black Science Fiction movie”, they mean a science fiction or fantasy movie that features a Black protagonist and majority Black cast and deals with issues that strongly impact Black people, I tell them that Black Science Fiction movies began in 1939, with the release of Son of Ingagi and that filmmakers continue to make quality Black Science Fiction movies today.
Contemplating fictional characters helps us examine the nature of heroism and villainy. Through fiction, film and television, we develop our view of the ideal person; we learn what to expect from good guys and bad guys, even in real life.
What distinguishes a superhero from a supervillain? How do their basic personalities differ — and how has the media affected our perception of ourselves and heroism?
Most people see themselves as being close in personality to their favorite superheroes and mimic their heroes’ characteristics in an effort to live up to that perception.
However, if the fiction you read or see consistently portrays those who look like you as less than heroic; as savage – whether noble, or not – as the eternal sidekick; as the first to die; as the one to sacrifice him or herself so that the real heroes can save the world; as the thug; the pimp; the whore, then how do you see yourself?
In Blueprint for Negro Literature, Richard Wright discussed the problem of Black literature:
“They [Black authors] entered the Court of American Public Opinion dressed in the knee-pants of servility, curtsying to show that the Negro was not inferior, that he was human, and that he had a life comparable to that of other people. These were received as poodle dogs, who have learned clever tricks. … In short, Negro writing on the whole has been the voice of the educated Negro pleading with white America.”
Wright went on to say that every story Black people write “should carry within its lines, implied or explicit, a sense of the oppression of the Negro people, the danger of war, of fascism, of the threatened destruction of culture and civilization; and, too, the faith and necessity to build a new world.”
While such pleading – such “curtsying to show that we are not inferior” – may have been the goal of Black writers during Wright’s time, it is certainly not my goal or the goal of my colleagues.
On the contrary, I seek to show Black people, in general – teens and tweens, in particular – that we are not inferior; that we are heroic; that we are beautiful, courageous, brilliant and strong.
Furthermore, while I appreciate a good story that deals with the ills of racism, sexism, classism and the destruction and rebuilding of Black civilization, I do not feel that every story must, or even should, deal with such issues.
What I do feel Black Speculative Fiction should do is tell our stories, because they have gone untold in Speculative fiction for so damned long. And I feel those stories should feature Black heroes and an occasional Black villain, too…a criminal mastermind, that is; not a damned street thug, or other walking stereotype.
And please, no more Black heroes who begin as gangsters, prostitutes, drug dealers, or dope fiends. Thanks.
If you are seeking a list of works of great Black Speculative Fiction, check it out here. For a list of great Black authors of Speculative Fiction, you can find that here. For a list of Black Speculative events in Atlanta in celebration of Black History Month, look here.
So, do you feel Steamfunk, Dieselfunk and Sword & Soul are necessary? Is there a type of Black Speculative Fiction you’d like to see created or more of? Horror? Dystopian? Young Adult glittery vampires?
Comment and let your opinion be known!
TOP 20 STEAMFUNK, DIESELFUNK, SWORD & SOUL AND URBAN FANTASY BOOKS FOR BLACK YOUTH!
Recently, I wrote about why Black children should read and write Science Fiction and Fantasy. I also wrote about it here. Now I would like to provide you with a list of books for young adults, teens and tweens. A list of books for children aged 2-9 will follow in a later blog.
Young Adult (“YA”) Fiction is fiction marketed to adolescents and young adults, ranging roughly between the ages of 14 to 21. The majority of YA stories portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child. The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character and the stories span the entire spectrum of fiction genres.
Middle Grade (“MG”) Fiction is intended for readers between the ages of 8 to 12, with the protagonist at the higher end of the age range.
MG readers are learning about who they are, what they think, and where they fit in. Their focus is inward and the conflicts in MG books usually reflect this. The themes range from school situations, friendships, relationships with peers and siblings, and daily difficulties that may seem ordinary to the rest of us. The protagonist’s parents are usually seen and have some sort of an influence. Stories are usually fast paced and chapters are short.
In contrast, Young Adult novels deal with underlying themes and more complicated plots. They allow teen readers to examine deeper issues, their roles in life, the importance of relationships, how to cope with adversity and even tragedy and how their actions can impact the world.
YA protagonists are usually searching for their identity, figuring out who they are as an individual and where they fit in. YA books are generally much more gritty and realistic than MG books. Parents have less influence in YA stories and are often not seen at all.
Below is a list of twenty of the most Blacktastic books that are sure to entertain, educate and even empower readers, young and old.
The books are grouped into three categories, by age appropriateness, for your convenience.
While there are many more great books written by and about Black people, this is a good start and more books will be shared in future posts.
YOUNG ADULT (Ages 15+)
A Single Link, by Balogun Ojetade
After suffering a brutal rape at the hands of a martial arts champion, Remi “Ray” Swan decides that, to gain closure and empowerment, she must face her attacker in the first professional fight between a man and a woman.
Join Ray in this powerful, two-fisted adventure as she fights, not just for herself, but for all who have suffered at the cruel hands of those who would wreak pain, oppression, injustice and death!
Step into the cage, where action, adventure, bone shattering fights, and a touch of romance await you!
Damballa, by Charles R. Saunders
The first ever African American 1930s avenger sets out to stop a Nazi plot to subvert a championship fight.
From deepest Africa to the streets of 1930s Harlem, the action is none stop.
Written by famed novelist Charles Saunders, with interior illustrations by Clayton Hinkle and a cover by Charles Fetherolf, this is a history making pulp adventure fans do not want to miss.
Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
But this infection goes far beyond disease. Beyond even the nightmare images of walking dead or flesh-eating ghouls. The infected are turning into creatures unlike anything ever dreamed of . . . more complex, more mysterious, and more deadly.
Trapped in the northwestern United States as winter begins to fall, Terry and Kendra have only one choice: they and their friends must cross a thousand miles of no-man’s-land in a rickety school bus, battling ravenous hordes, human raiders, and their own fears.
In the midst of apocalypse, they find something no one could have anticipated . . . love.
Dillon and the Voice of Odin, by Derrick Ferguson
He’s a soldier of fortune gifted with an astonishing range of remarkable talents and skills that make him respected and feared in the secret world of mercenaries, spies and adventurers. A world inhabited by amazing men and women of fabulous abilities that most of us are unaware even exists.
Fueled by a taste for excitement, driven by an overpowering desire to protect the innocent, see that wrongs are righted and assisted by a worldwide network of extraordinary men and women, all experts in their fields, Dillon spans the globe in a never-ending quest for the wildest and most breathtaking adventures of all!
Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles R. Saunders
Magic. Myth. Warfare. Wonder. Beauty. Bravery. Glamour. Gore. Sorcery. Sensuality. These and many more elements of fantasy await you in the pages of Griots, which brings you the latest stories of the new genre called Sword and Soul.
The tales told in Griots are the annals of the Africa that was, as well as Africas that never were, may have been, or should have been. They are the legends of a continent and people emerging from shadows thrust upon them in the past. They are the sagas sung by the modern heirs of the African story-tellers known by many names – including griots.
Here, you will meet mighty warriors, seductive sorceresses, ambitious monarchs, and cunning courtesans. Here, you will journey through the vast variety of settings Africa offers, and inspires. Here, you will savor what the writings of the modern-day griots have to offer: journeys through limitless vistas of the imagination, with a touch of color and a taste of soul.
Griots: Sisters of the Spear, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles R. Saunders
Griots: Sisters of the Spear picks up where the ground breaking Griots Anthology leaves off.
Charles R. Saunders and Milton J. Davis present seventeen original and exciting Sword and Soul tales focusing on black women.
Just as the Griots Anthology broke ground as the first Sword and Soul Anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear pays homage to the spirit, bravery and compassion of women of color.
The griots have returned to sing new songs, and what wonderful songs they are!
Ki Khanga: The Anthology, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Balogun Ojetade
What is Ki Khanga?
The answer lies in the pages of this amazing anthology.
Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis define this fascinating world which forms the foundation of the Ki Khanga Sword and Soul Role Playing Game.
Prepare yourself for stories of bravery, tragedy, love and adventure.
Prepare yourself for Ki Khanga.
Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, by Balogun Ojetade
Harriet Tubman: Freedom fighter. Psychic. Soldier. Spy. Something…more. Much more.
In “MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1: Kings * Book 2: Judges)”, the author masterfully transports you to a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people.
In what is hailed as the world’s first Steamfunk novel, Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret.
But is anyone who, or what, they seem?
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future
Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.
When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.
Steamfunk, Edited by Balogun Ojetade and Milton J. Davis
A witch, more machine than human, judges the character of the wicked and hands out justice in a ravaged Chicago. John Henry wields his mighty hammers in a war against machines and the undead. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman rule a country of freed slaves that rivals – and often bests – England and France in power and technology.
You will find all this – and much more – between the pages of Steamfunk, an anthology of incredible stories by some of today’s greatest authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Steamfunk – African and African American-inspired Steampunk.
Editors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade have put together a masterful work guaranteed to transport you to new worlds. Worlds of adventure; of terror; of war and wonder; of iron and steam. Open these pages and traverse the lumineferous aether to the world of Steamfunk!
Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter, by Keith Gaston
Taurus Moon is a relic hunter, but the artifacts he searches for aren’t found in the jungles of the Yucatan or the deserts of Egypt. His quests often take him through the grittier parts of urbanized cities where even the toughest of thugs fear to tread. Forgotten relics once thought of as only myths and legends can be found, if you know where to look, and have the guts to go searching into dark and deadly places.
Taurus Moon is hired by a vampire crime lord to locate an ancient artifact that would make the criminal a God. Even though Taurus is no fan of vampires, especially one aspiring to become a Deity, he does love money and despite his misgivings, he begins the treacherous hunt for the artifact. Things become more complicated when a rival crime lord hires a ruthless relic hunter who has no qualms about killing the competition.
YOUNG ADULT (Ages 13+)
Changa’s Safari, by Milton J. Davis
In the 15th century on the African Continent a young prince flees his homeland of Kongo, vowing to seek revenge for the murder of his father and the enslavement of his family and his people.
He triumphs over the slavery and the fighting pits of Mogadishu to become a legendary fighter and respected merchant.
From the Swahili cities of the East African Coast to the magnificent Middle Kingdom of Asia, Changa and his crew experience adventures beyond the imagination.
Changa will not rest until he has fulfilled his promise to his family and his people. The anchors are raised and the sails unfurled.
Let the safari begin!
Fist of Africa, by Balogun Ojetade
Nigeria 2004 … Nicholas ‘New Breed’ Steed, a tough teen from the mean streets of Chicago, is sent to his mother’s homeland – a tiny village in Nigeria – to avoid trouble with the law. Unknown to Nick, the tiny village is actually a compound where some of the best fighters in the world are trained. Nick is teased, bullied and subjected to torturous training in a culture so very different from the world where he grew up.
Atlanta 2014 … After a decade of training in Nigeria, a tragedy brings Nick back to America. Believing the disaffected youth in his home town sorely need the same self-discipline and strength of character training in the African martial arts gave him, Nick opens an Academy. While the kids are disinterested in the fighting style of the cultural heritage Nick offers, they are enamored with mixed martial arts. Nick decides to enter the world of mixed martial arts to make the world aware of the effectiveness and efficiency of the martial arts of Africa.
Pursing a professional career in MMA, Nick moves to Atlanta, Georgia, where he runs into his old nemesis – Rico Stokes, the organized crime boss who once employed Nick’s father, wants Nick to replace his father in the Stokes’ protection racket. Will New Breed Steed claim the Light Heavyweight title … Or will the streets of Atlanta claim him?
Once Upon A Time In Afrika, by Balogun Ojetade
An exciting Sword and Soul tale by Balogun Ojetade, Once Upon a Time in Afrika Tells the story of a beautiful princess and her eager suitors.
Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” duaghter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle tells the Emperor Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament inviting warrior from all over the continent.
Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament a powerful evil is headed their way.
Will the warriors band together against this evil?
The Scythe, by Balogun Ojetade
Out of the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, a two-fisted hero rises from the grave!
Inspired by the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, a tale of action, adventure, thrills and chills await fans of Dieselpunk, die-hard pulp fans and readers who just love a gritty story that packs a mean punch.
Enter a world in which Gangsters, Flappers, vampires, robots and the Ku Klux Klan all roam the same dark back streets; a world of grit, grime and grease; a world of hardboiled gumshoe detectives and mad scientists; a world where magic and technology compete for rule over the world.
Dieselfunk has emerged in The Scythe…and the Roaring Twenties will never seem the same!
The Seedbearing Prince, by DaVaun Sanders
Dayn Ro’Halan is a farmer’s son sworn to a life of plowing on his homeworld, Shard. After finding a lost artifact called a Seed, he’s thrust into an ancient conflict between voidwalkers of the hated world Thar’Kur, and Defenders from a floating fortress called the Ring.
Dayn must become a Seedbearer and learn to use the Seed’s power to shape worlds before the entire World Belt is lost.
Woman of the Woods, by Milton J. Davis
The latest Sword and Soul novel by Milton Davis returns to the land of Meji, the amazing world of Uhuru. It tells the story of Sadatina, a girl on the brink of becoming a woman living with her family in Adamusola, the land beyond the Old Men Mountains. But tragic events transpire that change her life forever, revealing a hidden past that leads her into the midst of a war between her people and those that would see them destroyed, the Mosele.
Armed with a spiritual weapon and her feline ‘sisters,’ Sadatina becomes a Shosa, a warrior trained to fight the terrible nyokas, demon-like creatures that aid the Mosele in their war against her people.
Woman of the Woods is an action filled, emotionally charged adventure that expands the scope of the world of Uhuru and introduces another unforgettable character to its heroic legends.
MIDDLE GRADE (Ages 10+)
Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer.
There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality.
But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
Amber and the Hidden City, by Milton J. Davis
Thirteen year old Amber Robinson’s life is full of changes. Her parents are sending her to a private school away from her friends, and high school looms before her. But little does she know that her biggest change awaits in a mysterious city hidden from the world for a thousand years.
Amber’s grandmother is a princess from this magical kingdom of Marai. She’s been summoned home to use her special abilities to select the new king but she no longer has the gift, and her daughter was never trained for the task. That leaves only one person with the ability to save the city: Amber! But there are those who are determined that Amber never reaches Marai and they will do anything to stop her.
Prepare yourself for an exciting adventure that spans from the Atlanta suburbs to the grasslands of Mali.
It’s a story of a girl who discovers her hidden abilities and heritage in a way that surprises and entertains.
Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, by L.M. Davis
Make sure to clean up your messes.
Keep the cat in the house.
Fraternal twins Nate and Larissa Pantera know all about strange rules. They’ve grown up with plenty of them, and they have always obeyed those rules without question
However, disturbing things are starting to happen–both at home and at school. And when their parents go missing and a strange messenger appears, they discover that the only way to save them is by breaking all the rules.
Interlopers: A Shifters Novel is the thrilling fantasy adventure. Fans of YA fantasy, such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, love this new series about the Pantera twins, who discover that everything they thought they knew is only the beginning of the truth.
I am sure this list will get you well on your way on your Blacknificent journey through the world of Black Speculative Fiction. We end this with a few book trailers to take along as companions on this journey. Enjoy!
THE SCYTHE HAS RISEN!
Dieselfunk has emerged and the Roaring Twenties will never seem the same!
Here’s a peek at what it’s about:
Out of the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, a two-fisted hero rises from the grave!
Dr. A. C. Jackson has been given a second chance at life. A second chance at revenge. He is the bridge between the Quick and the Dead.
He is…THE SCYTHE!
Inspired by the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, a tale of action, adventure, thrills and chills await fans of Dieselpunk, die-hard pulp fans and readers who just love a gritty story that packs a mean punch.
Enter a world in which Gangsters, Flappers, vampires, robots and the Ku Klux Klan all roam the same dark back streets; a world of grit, grime and grease; a world of hardboiled gumshoe detectives and mad scientists; a world where magic and technology compete for rule over the world.
Dieselfunk has emerged in The Scythe…and the Roaring Twenties will never seem the same!
*This novel also contains the illustrated short story, La Vipère Noire and the Initiation at Pic la Selle (illustrated by the Blacktastic artist Chris Miller) and other goodies!
**Cover art by Stanley “Standingo” Weaver, Jr.!
I KNOW YOU ARE, BUT WHAT AM I?
Steamfunk and Dieselfunk is Racist!
Yesterday, this was all brought up by author and Dieselpunk, Jack Philpott, who inquired if the founder of Dieselpunks.org – the premier Dieselpunk social website – knew of AnachroCon’s Dieselpunk theme.
Here is the inquiry:
Tome, Larry, Johnny,
I just heard that Anachrocon in Atlanta 14-16 Feb (http://www.anachrocon.org/) is having a Dieselpunk theme this year. Balogun Ojetade (CC) is even releasing a Dieselfunk book there. Had any of you heard of that? Anyone have plans to be there (aside from Balogun)?
Hi Jack, This is the first I’m hearing of it. Granted, I don’t pay much attention to “dieselfunk,” because it’s racist, but I didn’t even see the event across the wire. Things are bad at work in February due to the Olympics and SuperBowl, so I won’t be able to make it to Atlanta. All of the projects that have been put on hold will be lava hot emergencies once the big events are over. I probably won’t see daylight again until March. –Tome
Hell, I didn’t know Dieselfunk was racist, but if Tome Wilson, the Creator and Editor of Dieselpunks, says so, it – and by default, I – must be, right?
But wait…there is more proof that Dieselfunk – and Steamfunk, by the way – is racist. This time, Dieselfunk and Steamfunk are exposed by – horror of horrors – Lt. Condor of Dragonfly Armory. Check it out. Oh…and once again, the bold emphasis is mine, but not the words:
It is kinda crappy that the rest of the world is not represented in most Dieselpunk media. I haven’t seen many of the films or TV shows but I get the point just from looking at the previews and posters. There should be more representation for the other nations that participated in these wars and all of the people who fought.
On the same page though, you have to factor another point in. What if there is just a lack of interest among minorities? The Dragonfly Armory is a private organized group that is nothing but white people, but that isn’t because we’re excluding someone who’s asian, latino, black, or middle eastern. In fact I’m sure we would welcome that diversity. We, as far as I know, have never had anyone show interest before. I don’t think it’s too much of an assumption either to say that it’s not that the writers/directors are making these films such that minorities can’t be in them. Rather it is more that there isn’t an interest among prominent actors, who are minorities, to have a part in these films.
I could be completely off base in this assumption, there may be many actors who wish they could be a part of something like this. I feel that if that were the case though, there would be a larger presence of minorities in both the culture, and the con scene.
What upsets me the most about this though is the emergence of Steamfunk and Dieselfunk. To me this goes back to so many other aspects of society and culture that I won’t even begin to reference… The point is your right hand is saying that you want to be included, and treated equal. While your left hand is creating a situation where you are being exclusive and segregating every other race out.
Dieselpunk is in no way racist, exclusive, or prejudiced against any group of people. Except perhaps those who support Nazis…we don’t really want to have anything to do with them.
Dieselfunk though…by the very name of it you’re basically saying this can only be black people. Why would you create something that excludes you from the rest of society? Why make a subset of a culture exclusive to your own race instead of just joining into what’s already established? No one is excluding you, you clearly just don’t want to be involved.
This is why I can’t stand it when people say: “I don’t support this because its racist.” “We want to be treated the same.” etc… And then you go out and support something that is racist, just racist in your favor, that excludes you from being treated as the same since you are separating yourself from the rest of the races in the world.
Racism and segregation will continue to persist in this world as long as there are people who buy into the idea that the exclusion of the majority and other minorities is okay as long as you accept your own minority.
All that said I really did enjoy the rest of the article. It was very well written and included a TON of links to other blogs and sources. I think it is definitely worth the read.
- Lt. Condor
Come on, Tome; come on, Lt. Condor…you can’t just call a subgenre and a movement racist all willy-nilly.
Only racists do that.
The proper definition of racism, which is commonly used in academic research, and has been the accepted definition by sociologists and social psychologists for more than a decade is: “racism is prejudice plus power”.
Anyone can carry positive or negative stereotypes of others based on racial or cultural characteristics. Anyone can be prejudiced – can judge others based on preconceived notions about their ethnicity or race.
People of any race can commit acts of violence, mistreatment or ostracizing based on these stereotypes. A Chinese boy might beat up a Black boy because he doesn’t like Black boys. A Black person might refuse to associate with Latinos.
These two scenarios might be negative; they might be terrible…however, to be racist – rather than simply prejudiced – requires having institutional power. In North America, white people have the institutional power.
“White” is presented as the norm; the default, because white people have institutional power.
Notice how Tome and Lt. Condor can just label Steamfunk and Dieselfunk – and, by default, Milton Davis, Valjeanne Jeffers, Maurice Broaddus, Yours Truly and all the other Steamfunkateers – racist with no explanation; no evidence; without study or experience.
Because racism is systematic, they get to label things willy-nilly. They get to have no real argument for their anger. They get to feel justified without justification. They get to say dumb shit without being regarded as dumb.
They are really just acting out because they can…and because they feel threatened.
They feel threatened because we aren’t just getting along to get along. We are challenging the racism, classism and sexism found in Dieselpunk and Steampunk; we are telling the stories that, until we came along, went untold.
They feel threatened because, contrary to the lie that our “right hand is saying that we want to be included, and treated equal”, we are practicing Dieselpunk and Steampunk on our own terms. We are not seeking inclusion in any Airships or Armories not of our own making. We are not saying we want to be treated equal; we are equal, damn how you treat us. Our work is proof of that.
If you do not feel threatened, why utilize the classic – and oh, so obvious – defense mechanism of projection? We only defend ourselves when we feel threatened.
What is projection, you ask?
Projection is the psychological phenomenon where someone denies some aspect of their behavior or attitudes and assumes instead that someone else is acting out this behavior or attitude. Projection also extends to philosophies and knowledge.
I am sure you have heard the old adage, “When you point one finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”
We see in other people the very things we do not want to see in ourselves.
Thanks to the power of our unconscious minds, we can manipulate our picture of reality and see it as we wish to see it – usually in a way that initially makes us feel more comfortable.
By means of projection, we get rid of unwanted feelings and relocate them in someone else.
Sounds pretty cool, huh? Like some old Matrix-meets-Inception-meets Cloud Atlas-type s**t.
But, by their very nature, the projections we put out want to come back to us. They want to come home where they belong. And I’m packing their bags and sending their racist asses back to Tome and Lt. Condor and to all the other Dieselpunks and Steampunks who, instead of dealing with the racism in fandom, want to project it on to those who are actually working hard to make a difference; to those who have introduced Steampunk and Dieselpunk to People of Color all over the world as Steamfunk and Dieselfunk and have inspired them to take part in the cosplay and the cons; to purchase not only our books, but yours as well.
Steampunk and Dieselpunk have benefitted from our work and will continue to and we have done so without discriminating against anyone and certainly without being racist.
The fact is projection is one of the most destructive ways of handling our difficulties. We fare better in life when we take responsibility for ourselves – when we own the good, the bad, and the ugly that belongs to us.
Generally speaking, projection alienates others and says far more about our own insecurities than any real truths about other people.
People of Color – and many white people – in Steampunk and Dieselpunk have cried out for, and even demanded, a re-imagining of the XYZ-Punk genres and subgenres that highlights lesser known struggles and gives voice to underrepresented groups in Steam – and Diesel – punk. And we Steamfunkateers are delivering…in a big way.
Shut up, Joker (the Heath Ledger version)!
Dieselpunk and Steampunk have great social, intellectual, artistic and political value, so, while cosplaying, reading your favorite XYZ-Punk novel, or engaging in a Bartitsu sparring match might, indeed, be fun, we won’t dismiss, or shy away from, any controversy, we will engage in intelligent discourse and action that raises awareness and appreciation of Steamfunk and Dieselfunk and we will continue to tell the stories that must be told.
If that makes you uncomfortable; if it causes you to project onto Dieselfunk and Steamfunk exactly what Dieselpunk and Steampunk still struggle with, so be it.
You’ll just give me more to blog about.
DIESELFUNK DEBUTS DURING BLACK HISTORY MONTH & AT ANACHROCON!
Last year, in celebration of Black History Month, author and publisher Milton Davis and Yours Truly released the history-making, ground breaking and earth shaking anthology Steamfunk, through Milton’s publishing company, MVmedia.
We unveiled Steamfunk at AnachroCon - the premier Historical Reenactment, Alternate History and Steampunk convention in the South – and the reception was amazing. Steamfunk has since gone on to be a bestseller for MVmedia and is even studied in colleges and universities throughout America.
This year, AnachroCon’s theme is Dieselpunk – a sub-genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy that includes – but is not limited to, or bound by – the aesthetics, style and philosophies of film noir and pulp fiction.
Dieselpunk features retrofuturistic innovations, alternate history and elements of the occult.
Think the movies Captain America: The First Avenger; Sin City; Hell Boy; the Indiana Jones films and The Mummy (1999 – 2008) trilogy.
When the Dieselpunk theme for 2014 was announced at AnachroCon’s closing ceremonies last year, I was tickled because I had already planned to release the first Dieselfunk novel in history in early 2014. Thus, The Scythe will debut at this year’s AnachroCon!
What, exactly, is Dieselfunk, you ask?
Dieselfunk is fiction, film and fashion that combines the style and mood Dieselpunk with Afrofuturistic inspiration.
Dieselfunk tells the exciting untold stories of people of African descent during the Jazz Age.
Think the Harlem Renaissance meets Science Fiction…think Chalky White (from Boardwalk Empire) doing battle with robots run amok in his territory… think Mob bosses; Nazis; flappers. Jazz; bootleggers; Bessie Coleman; Marcus Garvey; the Tulsa Race Riots…that is Dieselfunk!
Since Dieselfunk is so wrapped up in Black History, it is the perfect type of writing to release during Black History Month.
For those who just can’t wait until February 14 to get your copy of The Scythe and you just gotta know what it is about, here is a sneak peek at the blurb on the books back cover:
Out of the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, a two-fisted hero rises from the grave!
Inspired by the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, a tale of action, adventure, thrills and chills await fans of Dieselpunk, die-hard pulp fans and readers who just love a gritty story that packs a mean punch.
Enter a world in which gangsters, flappers, vampires, robots and the Ku Klux Klan all roam the same dark back streets; a world of grit, grime and grease; a world of hardboiled gumshoe detectives and mad scientists; a world where magic and technology compete for rule over the world.
Dieselfunk has emerged in The Scythe…and the Roaring Twenties will never seem the same!”
And The Scythe is just the beginning for Dieselfunk. Milton Davis and I have discussed publishing the Dieselfunk anthology as a follow up to the popular Steamfunk anthology and The Scythe II will release at the end of this year.
Join me at AnachroCon February 14-16 and I will be happy to autograph your copy of The Scythe for you. If you can’t make it to AnachroCon this year, buy the book anyway and treat yourself to a great read.
Of course, I’ll still sign it for you whenever I see you, ‘cause we cool like that.
BUILDING BLACK YOUTH THROUGH SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Renowned Author, Neil Gaiman (the novel, American Gods; The Sandman comic book series) shared a fascinating fact. While appearing as Guest of Honor at China’s largest state approved Science Fiction convention, Neil decided to inquire 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 Fortune 100 companies to see what factors they had in common. The answer?
All of their CEOs, Presidents and Vice Presidents 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.
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, Tananarive Due’s and Steven Barnes’ Devil’s Wake and Domino Falls and this writer’s own Once Upon A Time In Afrika and Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, it is difficult to find Speculative fiction (Science Fiction and Fantasy) with Black protagonists, or even secondary characters, written for young adults by Black authors.
Middle Grade novels are even harder to find, with L.M. Davis’ Interlopers and Milton Davis’ Amber 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 and Fantasy – like Charles Saunders, Walter Mosley, Keith Gaston, Valjeanne Jeffers, Milton Davis, Cerece Rennie Murphy and Balogun Ojetade (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.
Above, we mentioned authors who 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.
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 – came together to host The State of Black Science Fiction 2012 Youth Symposium, an amazing and day-long symposium that spotlighted Science Fiction and Fantasy as a signature intersection of science, history, technology, and humanistic studies. Fun was had by all and the students who participated, who ranged in age from 5-15, all eagerly purchased books to read during their lunch break.
The symposium featured panel discussions, workshops and games that inspired the imagination and challenged minds.
The authors involved were Balogun Ojetade, Milton Davis, Alicia McCalla, L.M. Davis, Wendy Raven McNair and Ed Hall. A performance of an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure story, written by the students was featured and famed author Tananarive Due – the world’s first and most popular Black author of horror and suspense – honored us with an inspiring key-note address.
I mention the symposium because I would like to host another such conference in April or May of this year (2014). I invite my fellow authors – and anyone else who would like to become involved – to join me in creating a special event for our youth; our future.
I invite all African-centered, private and public schools who serve and care about Black youth to participate. Bring your students. Have them write works beforehand to share during the performance portion. Make it a weekend field trip. Let’s give them a day of fun, learning and transformation. Let’s give them all that speculative fiction has given us, or what it would have given us if we saw ourselves in it.
So, there it is: a full day of Black speculative fiction workshops, performances, art, games, contests and vending – all for our youth.
Are you down?
The Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Youth Symposium is set for Saturday, April 26, 2014; from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 94,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.
NO QUEENS IN AFRIKA: Women Rulers in Sword & Soul and other African-Inspired Fantasy
Now, while I am happy to see Nzinga recognized, every time I see it I cringe.
Because, the posters of that article scream “The mighty Queen Nzinga!” or “Warrior-Queen Nzinga!” or “Another great African Queen: Nzinga!” or, simply “Queen Nzinga!”
Nzinga was never a queen people!
No African woman ever was.
That’s right. I said it. Now, read on!
I should say that no traditional, pre-colonial, woman – or woman who opposed colonization / slavery ever was – because later, you did have some Europeanized African rulers who, in their attempts to reduce the power of women, reduced them to queens – and many women accepted their lot.
Nzinga was an Ngola – a ruler of a nation; a “king”, if you must.
Some say she was given the title after the passing of her father, who was an Ngola. Some say Nzinga was given the title after murdering her own brother and becoming her father’s next heir to the throne. However she became Ngola, she was Ngola…not queen.
Traditional rulers throughout Africa were not always given the title and responsibilities of rule by birth or by blood. More often than not, the people chose their ruler and if the ruler did not serve and / or represent the people well, the ruler could be removed from his or her throne.
It was the people who governed and, to the people, gender was rarely a factor in who they chose to lead them.
Among the Yoruba, anyone born under the Odu – the 256 patterns of life / containers of destiny in which all creation exists – Irete Ogbe (aka Irentegbe, or Ategbe) is destined to be an Ǫba, or “king”; gender be damned.
The term “queen” is a product of recent history and the English language. In Ancient African, Asian and Pacific cultures, and even some European countries, women rulers were given the title king or its equivalent, such as pharaoh.
The Byzantine Empress Irene was called basileus – “emperor” – not basilissa, or “empress”. Jadwiga of Poland was crowned Rex Poloniae, King of Poland.
In China, Wu Zetian became the emperor and established the Zhou Dynasty after dismissing her sons. It should be noted that Emperor Wu is described throughout history as huangdi – “emperor”, as opposed to huanghou – “empress”. Similarly, in Korea, the rulers Sindeok and Jindeok were called yeowang – “female king” not hwanghu – “queen”, which refers to the wife of a king or emperor.
“Then what the hell is a queen?” You ask?
Well, let’s examine the term.
A queen regnant (plural: queens regnant) is a European female monarch who reigns in her own right, in contrast to a queen regent, also known as a queen consort, who is the wife of a reigning king.
An empress regnant is a female monarch who reigns in her own right over an empire.
A queen regnant possesses and exercises sovereign powers. The husband of a queen regnant does not usually share his wife’s rank, title or sovereignty.
A queen consort, on the other hand, shares her husband’s rank and titles, but does not share his sovereignty.
A queen dowager is the widow of a king. A queen mother is a queen dowager who is also the mother of a reigning sovereign.
Among the Davidic Monarchs of the Kingdom of Judah, there is mentioned a single queen regnant, Athaliah, though the Hebrew Bible regards her negatively as a usurper. The much later Hasmonean, Queen Salome Alexandra (Shlom Tzion), was highly popular.
Accession of a regnant occurs as a nation’s order of succession permits. Methods of succession to queendoms, kingdoms and tribal chieftancies, include nomination when the sitting monarch or a council names an heir, known as primogeniture when the children are chosen in order of birth from eldest to youngest; or ultimogeniture when the children are chosen from youngest to eldest.
Historically, many European realms forbade succession by women or through a female line in obedience to the Salic law, and some still do. No queen regnant ever ruled France, for example. Only one woman, Maria Theresa, ruled Austria.
In Japan, the Chrysanthemum Throne – currently barred to women – did not always have such a restriction. There have been eight empresses regnant. The Japanese language calls such women rulers josei tennō – “female imperial ruler” – with kōgō being the term reserved for an empress consort.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of the differences between European and African women who rule and how referring to such African women as “Queen” in your fiction is not correct and could even be considered insulting to many, let’s look at a few African women rulers for information and inspiration in your research and writings.
Amina – or Aminatu – of Zazzau (Zaria)
Amina was the eldest daughter of Bakwa Turunku – also a woman – the founder of the Zazzau Kingdom in 1536. After the death of her mother in 1549, Amina ascended the throne. This medieval African kingdom was located in the region now known as the Kaduna State in the north-central region of Nigeria, capital at the modern city of Zaria, named after Amina’s younger sister, Zariya.
The earliest commentator to mention Amina is Muhammed Bello’s history text, Ifaq al-Maysur, composed around 1836.
Amina is also mentioned in the Kano Chronicle, a well-regarded and detailed history of the city of Kano and the surrounding Hausa people.
Known as a great military strategist, the cavalry-trained Amina fought many wars that expanded the southernmost Hausa kingdom.
Queen Amina is a legend among the Hausa people for her military exploits. She controlled the trade routes in the region, erecting a network of commerce within the great earthen walls that surrounded Hausa cities within her dominion. According to the Kano Chronicle, she conquered as far as Nupe and Kwarafa, ruling for 34 years.
Moremi Ajasoro, Olori of Ile Ife
Moremi Ajasoro was a figure of high significance in the history of the Yoruba people of Southwest Nigeria, Benin and Togo. She was a member, by marriage of the of the royal family of Emperor Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba people (whom some scholars believe was a woman).
Moremi was an Olori – a title held only by certain Chiefs – hailing from Ile Ife, a kingdom at war with the neighboring Ìgbò nation.
Scores of Ife – or citizens of the Kingdom of Ile Ife – were enslaved by the Ìgbò. Because of this, the Ìgbò were generally regarded with disdain by the Yoruba city-states.
Moremi – a very brave and beautiful woman – was taken and enslaved by the Ìgbò and, due to her beauty, was wed to their ruler.
After familiarizing herself with the secrets of her new husband’s army, Moremi escaped to Ile Ife and revealed these secrets to the Yoruba, who were able to subsequently defeat the Ìgbò in battle.
Following the war, Moremi returned to her first husband, King Oranmiyan of Ile Ife.
Oranmiyan immediately had Moremi re-instated as his wife and as a Chief.
In contemporary Nigeria, a number of public places are named after Moremi, such as the women’s residence halls at the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University.
Hatshepsut – meaning “Foremost of Noble Ladies” – was the fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. She is also known to scholars as “the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.”
Although it was uncommon for Egypt to be ruled by a woman, the situation was not unprecedented. Hatshepsut was preceded by Merneith, of the first dynasty; Nimaethap, of the third dynasty; Nitocris, the last pharaoh of the sixth dynasty; Sobekneferu, of the twelfth dynasty; and the warrior, Ahotep I.
In comparison with other women pharaohs, Hatshepsut’s reign was much longer and much more prosperous. She was successful in warfare early in her reign, but generally is considered to be a pharaoh who inaugurated a long peaceful era. Hatshepsut reestablished international trading relationships, once lost during a foreign occupation, and brought great wealth to Egypt – wealth that enabled her to initiate building projects that raised the caliber of Ancient Egyptian architecture to a standard that would not be rivaled by any other culture for a thousand years. Hatshepsut ruled for twenty-two years.
Ngola Nzinga Mbandi
Nzinga fearlessly and cleverly fought for the freedom and stature of her kingdoms against the Portuguese, who were colonizing the area at the time.
Around the turn of the 17th century, the independent kingdoms and states of the Central African coast were threatened by Portuguese attempts to colonize Luanda, today the capital of Angola.
Portugal sought to colonize the region in order to control the trade in African slaves, and attacked many of their old trading partners to further this goal.
Unlike many other rulers at the time, Nzinga was able to adapt to these changing circumstances and fluctuations in power around her. By her own determination and refusal to give in to the Portuguese without a fight, she transformed her kingdom into a formidable commercial state on equal footing with the Portuguese colonies.
In 1617 the new Portuguese governor of Luanda began an aggressive campaign against the kingdom of Ndongo. His troops invaded the capital and forced Ngola Mbandi – Nzinga’s brother, who inherited the throne from their father – to flee from the area. Thousands of Ndongo people were taken prisoner.
The Ngola sent his sister Nzinga Mbandi to negotiate a peace treaty in 1621, which she did successfully. But Portugal didn’t honor the terms of the treaty.
Ngola Mbandi, feeling he had failed his people, committed suicide, leaving the kingdom to his sister, Nzinga.
As the new sovereign of Ndongo, Nzinga re-entered negotiations with the Portuguese. At the time, Ndongo was under attack from both the Portuguese and neighboring African aggressors. Nzinga realized that in order to achieve peace and for her kingdom to remain viable, she needed to become an intermediary. She allied Ndongo with Portugal, and was baptized as Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande, with the Portuguese colonial governor serving as her godfather. By doing this she acquired a partner in her fight against her African enemies, and ending Portuguese slave raiding in the kingdom.
The new alliance didn’t last very long, however. Portugal betrayed Ndongo in 1626, and Nzinga was forced to flee when war broke out. Nzinga took over as ruler of the nearby kingdom of Matamba, capturing Matamba’s ruler – a woman by the name of Mwongo Matamba – and routing her army. Nzinga then made Matamba her capital, joining it to the Kingdom of Ndongo.
To build up her kingdom’s martial power, Nzinga offered sanctuary to runaway slaves and Portuguese-trained African soldiers and stirred up rebellion among the people still left in Ndongo, now ruled by the Portuguese.
Nzinga also reached out to the Dutch and invited them to join troops with her. She told the Dutch she would be happy to ally with them because of their justice and politeness, whereas the Portuguese were proud and haughty.
Even their combined forces were not enough to drive the Portuguese out, however, and after retreating to Matamba again, Nzinga started to focus on developing Matamba as a trading power and the gateway to the Central African interior.
By the time of Nzinga’s death in 1661 at the age of 81, Matamba was on equal footing with the Portuguese colony. The Portuguese came to respect Ngola Nzinga for her shrewdness and tenacity.
Now, please, no more excuses. If you are writing Sword and Soul, building an African setting for your Fantasy Role-Playing Game, or hell, writing an essay on an African ruler who happens to be a woman, please, do your research. Get it right.
And for all you players and smooth-talkers, the next time you open your mouth to call a sister a “beautiful African Queen”…don’t.
Beautiful African King, maybe. But if that doesn’t sound right to you, although it’s much more accurate, hell, just go with Goddess. Yeah, that’s it.
AFRICAN PULP: The Spear in Racist Pulp Fiction’s Heart!
Throughout Africa, storytelling has always been an intrinsic part of society, used to recall historical events, impart wisdom, debate and communicate messages from the divine.
Storytellers – called Djele, Sanusi, Babalawo, Iyanifa, Okomfo and other titles, depending on where, on the continent you go – are revered and are usually also skilled in spiritual and healing practices as well.
Tales of powerful heroes, megalomaniacal villains, sorcerers, witches and fearsome creatures abound in African folklore, thus I was not surprised at my recent discovery – thanks to Paul Bishop, author and mastermind behind the Fight Card brand of Fight Fiction books – that Pulp magazines, created by, and about, African heroes were highly popular across the continent in the 1960s through the 1980s.
Sold under the brand names African Film and Boom, these magazines – called photo comics, or “look books” – were illustrated with stunning photographs instead of drawings, giving them the uniqueness, creative flair and do-it-yourself spirit common throughout Africa.
With heroes like the Tarzanesque Fearless Fang (Boom) and the “African Superman”, Son of Samson, children and adults alike waited eagerly every month for latest edition to hit the newsstands.
The most popular photo comic magazine was The Spear (African Film), which featured Lance Spearman, the super-spy / detective whose coolness James Bond and Derek Flint would envy. The Spear drove a Corvette stingray, sported a panama hat and well-tailored suits with a bow tie and smoked expensive cigars. And in true Pulp fashion, he had a bevy of beautiful women at his beck-and-call.
Lance Spearman pursued the bad guys with zeal, outwitting their conspiracies, kicking much ass with his African martial arts and saving the day…all in one issue!
These popular Pulps – a portfolio of black and white photos, complete with speech balloons, narration boxes and all the “bam-pow” sound effects that a kick and a quick upper cut to the jaw makes in any comic book.
Unlike the popular Pulps of the Western world, however, which were rife with racist tropes of uncivilized, uneducated, spear-chucking cannibals, or damn-near naked noble savages, with objectified, ample body parts, Lance Spearman was sharp, stylish and sophisticated.
Even the jungle stalking Fearless Fang was intelligent, witty, brave and well, cool.
Combining Western references with a distinctly African cultural identity, these amazing African Pulps presented a critique of colonialism and a significant variation in how the genre classically figured normality and otherness.
And they were entertaining as hell!
Published first by publisher Drum Publications in Nigeria in the early 1960s and later also published in Kenya and Ghana the photo comic had a powerful and lasting influence in fostering postcolonial pride and identity.
Its combination of extreme violence, melodrama, romance and glimpses of the glamorous life preceded and influenced the Blaxploitation craze in American cinema in the 1970s and its use of inventive DIY tactics to overcome budget constraints influenced the booming Nollywood film industry.
“Ok, you’ve told us about the photo comics, but how, and why, were they created?” You ask? “
Well, Drum Publications of Nairobi, Kenya – tired of the clichéd racist images of Black people in contrast to the heroic images of white soldiers and superheroes in Western comics – decided to create comic books that would appeal to Black men. They began photographing black men in adventures that were designed to appeal to the Black African population.
Drum would buy stories and then send the scripts to Swaziland, where a photographer would takes pictures of a cast of Black actors. They would then send the photographed strips to London, England, where the magazines were printed. Finally, the photo comic magazines would be distributed in West, East and South Africa.
The Lance Spearman title was the most popular publication, with circulation figures estimated at 100, 000 in West Africa, 45,000 in East Africa and 20,000 in South Africa. In fact, Lance Spearman had a greater circulation in Kenya than any of the local daily newspapers at that time.
The writers of these look-books were Black Africans, who were paid $65 – equivalent to approximately $508.00 today – for every script they produced.
Expected in the scripts were lots of fistfights and the bad guys always losing in the end.
The readership of these photo comics included men, women, boys and girls from small rural towns to sprawling urban cities; from the barely literate to highly educated professionals.
The man, who played the character of Lance Spearman, was Jore Mkwanazi, originally employed as a “houseboy” in Durban, South Africa, scrubbing the floors of an apartment for $35 a month and as a musician, playing the piano in a nightclub for $1.50 a night, when photographer Stanley N. Bunn discovered him and decided he had the tough, cynical, sophisticated face that was needed for The Spear. In the role of the super-spy, Mkwanazi earned $215 a month.
Here is the original Drum Publications information, found in every issue of their photo comic magazines:
Drum Publications (E.A.) Ltd
P.O Box 43372
Editor: J. Singh
Printing and Packaging Corporation Ltd
P.O Box 30157,
But the story of photo comic magazines does not stop here.
In fact, it is just beginning.
In the summer of 2014, I will publish my first photo comic book, The Siafu: Revolution.
The Siafu is about escaped prisoner, Jamil Brown, who suffers a virus-induced myostatin deficiency that gives him enhanced strength, speed and endurance. Jamil is hunted by his makers, while gathering others like him to help fight against the corrupt system that made him.
For those of you who don’t know, siafu are army ants that, while small, are powerful and – in large enough numbers – can bring down an elephant.
So, be on the lookout for this amazing new graphic Pulp science fiction novel in a few months.
Get ready for The Siafu.
Get ready for Revolution.
THIS AINT I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE: Rape in Black Speculative Fiction
For years, I worked as an expert witness on violent crime in Illinois and I am the founder of the NZINGA: Mother / Daughter Self-Defense Program, in which I taught rape awareness as part of the course. I say taught, because I have since given responsibilities of that program over to my wife and to the women who are Assistant Instructors under my tutelage.
Among African Americans, there is a reluctance to report rape and incest. A reluctance born of wariness of authority, especially white authority, which is learned from the experience of white lynch mobs; the death of four little girls killed during the bombing of a church in Birmingham and the battered body of young Emmett Till. There is reluctance, because we remember the destruction of entire cities – such as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rosewood, Florida – at the hands of white mobs after a Black man was wrongfully accused of raping a white woman.
Historically, we have learned that the system is not to be trusted.
Rape is one of the most underreported violent crimes, according to the Department of Justice, regardless of the victim’s sex, age, race, ethnicity, religion or class, but as a group, African American women are the least likely to break the silence.
This phenomenon, first documented in 1981 by Gail Wyatt, a sexual behavior researcher at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, is now being addressed in self-help books and at rape crisis centers created specifically to serve People of Color, such as the Rosa Parks Sexual Assault Crisis Center in South Los Angeles.
I believe what I suffered, which I kept to myself for thirty years, led me to being sexually promiscuous at a very young age; to high blood pressure, which led to several strokes in 2012 and a bout with alcoholism. What I, three of my children and countless women I know, suffered also led to my portraying rapists, or potential rapists, as the vilest of villains in some of my writing.
It’s no secret that rape is common in fiction. Sometimes it’s relevant to the plot, often used as the catalyst in a revenge story. Other times rape is used to remind us that we live in a cruel world, filled with even crueler people. And other times, it is used to shock, or even titillate.
I don’t write much about rape. Only my latest book, A Single Link, actually has such a horrific event take place and in one of my screenplays, I hint that one of the villains is a rapist.
When I wrote A Single Link, which I first wrote, directed and produced as a film, I conferred with nearly fifty women of various ages. I asked if I had handled the rape intelligently, if it came off as a gimmick, or if it was predictable. They invariably answered “no,” and told me A Single Link was a story that needed to be told.
Many of the women – including my wife – gave suggestions on how I could make the story more believable; more like something they would want to see. I am glad I listened and made much needed changes based on their suggestions. The story went through fifteen drafts – more than I have ever done for any of my writing – before I was comfortable enough with the script to shoot it.
I am happy I did.
Many lazy writers use rape as a plot device in their stories because it is easy to use as a motivator for the shero to begin her quest. Well, for those who have known me for even a short while, you know I am far from lazy, so you know that was not my motivation (as one reader and part-time troll implied). She assumed my use of the rape is predictable…which is a predictable – and lazy – response, by the way (do your research – or at least read the book – before passing judgment, y’all).
However, to be fair, rape is often overused or misused in fiction; particularly in Science Fiction and Fantasy.
In fact, no violent act – assault; battery; terroristic threats; murder — should take place in a story unless it is integral to the plot or to develop characters. Any violence, for the sake of violence, is wrong and makes for poor writing.
A common statement that has been made is “Let’s see men get raped in fiction as well.” Once again, if it is handled intelligently and with empathy, why not? However, if such a story is told on some old ‘quid pro quo’ bull, then it is just as gimmicky; just as lazy; just as wrong.
Rape of men has happened in popular fiction a few times; most famously in Pulp Fiction, Deliverance and Antwone Fisher. Sadly, these rapes have been made jokes of by men and women, as if a man suffering a rape – especially if committed by a woman – has no lasting effect on men. This should be rectified, so I would welcome someone writing a story that deals with this issue seriously.
America has been described as a “rape culture” – an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence – and I would agree with that description.
A Single Link is my contribution to the fight against such a twisted, cruel culture that leaves my mother, my sisters, my daughters, and even my son, unsafe.
I pray I got it right.
Read the book and let me know.
A SINGLE LINK IS HERE!
I am excited – and proud – to announce that the action adventure, fight fiction, New Pulp book is available in paperback and ebook!
A Single Link is sure to keep your eyes popped, your jaw dropped and your fingers turning the pages as you step into the cage with Remi Swan, who becomes the first woman to fight against men in professional mixed martial arts on her quest for justice and closure after suffering a brutal assault by a pro fighter.
I loved writing this Rocky meets Enough story, which is filled with heart, grit and pulse-pounding, two-fisted action and I know you’ll love it too!
The action adventure New Pulp novel A Single Link is now available in paperback and ebook!
Make it a REAL “Black” Friday!
Buy Black Speculative Fiction!
Also, try out these Blacktastic Books you will absolutely love:
Imaro by Charles Saunders – A masterwork from the father of Sword and Soul. Imaro is the definition of great Heroic Fantasy.
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler – Widely considered Butler’s best work, this is an incredible story of a dystopian future and a heroine with hyper-empathy.
Immortal by Valjeanne Jeffers – The first in a series of exciting books that takes place in the world of Tundra. Jeffers deftly combines Science Fiction, Horror and Romance in telling the story of Karla, a shapeshifter who fights the forces of evil of which she dreams.
Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell – This epic fantasy romance explores race, ethnicity, and imperialism in a beautiful – and sometimes brutal – ancient African setting.
A Darker Shade of Midnight by Lynn Emery – Mystery, Horror and Romance combine to give you this masterpiece that is a first in an incredible series. LaShaun Rousselle – the protagonist, who uses her paranormal abilities to solve the mystery of who killed her cousin and what lives in the woods on her family’s land – is one of the most interesting heroine’s in fiction.
Order of the Seers by Cerece Rennie Murphy – This thrilling tale of discrimination, love, retribution, lust for power and the great potential that lies dormant in us all follows the life and struggle of Liam and Lilith Knight – a brother and sister duo who are hunted by a ruthless and corrupt branch of the U.N., which seeks to capture and exploit Lilith’s unique ability to envision the future.
Hayward’s Reach by Thaddeus Howze – a series of short stories told by Mokoto, the last survivor of an unexpected cataclysm. Mokoto, even in his current state of in-humanity, learns what it means to be truly human.
Steamfunk edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade – This is the definitive work of Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines Black culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – featuring fifteen masterfully crafted stories by fifteen amazing authors.
Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis – A powerful Sword and Soul tale, set in Davis’ intriguing Uhuru universe, first experienced in his seminal series, Meji. Woman of the Woods draws us into the world of demon-hunter, Sadatina and her “sisters”, a duo of twin lionesses who aid her in her battle against the vicious Mosele and their demon allies, who seek to destroy her people.
Redeemer by Balogun Ojetade – This is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that is both gangster saga and science fiction epic. A tale of fatherhood and of predestination versus predetermination. An entertaining mash-up that Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Urban Fiction fans alike will enjoy.
If you are interested in finding more authors of Black Speculative Fiction check out Black Speculative Fiction Reviews.
Do Black People Need Black Superheroes…or Just Black Heroes?
Stories about the heroes and superheroes in speculative fiction, film and comic books capture essential truths about human nature. We relate to – and identify with – the characters and themes in these stories; we empathize with the dilemmas and problems that superheroes face, and we admire – and often mimic – their heroic acts.
What, exactly, is a superhero, you ask?
What is the difference between a superhero and a hero?
I would say that every hero in a work of Black speculative fiction – and least the works I have read, which is pretty vast – is a superhero.
The definition of a hero is someone who rises above his or her fears and limitations to achieve something extraordinary. A hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves. By definition, a hero would include entirely fictional characters, such as Batman, Brotherman, or Storm; characters who are real, but surrounded by legend, such as John Henry, Bass Reeves, or ‘Black’ Mary Fields; and “real world” firefighters, teachers and parents.
The clearest difference between a hero and what we tend to consider a superhero is that superheroes possess fantastic powers, fight their battles with advanced technology, or possess uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck. Superheroes are heroes who cannot possibly exist in our own world today.
Unlike ordinary heroes, superheroes must have abilities that normal people do not and cannot have. A superhero like Brotherman – a great comic book hero and protagonist of a comic book series of the same name, brilliantly realized by writer, Guy Sims and his brother, artist Dawud Anyabwile – has no super powers. He belongs to the uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck camp.
Brotherman is also larger-than-life and his stories are timeless; eternal.
Would this make Harriet Tubman a superhero? The great freedom fighter, spy and warrior of history is certainly a hero, however, while she possessed a supreme amount of bravery, endurance, skill, luck and the gift of accurate visions, her abilities were attainable by anyone – except, maybe those accurate visions. They were not uncanny, or otherworldly.
However, Harriet Tubman – protagonist of the Steamfunk novel Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and one of the protagonists of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – is a superhero. She possesses the ability to heal from massive damage to her body at ten times the rate of a normal person; she has the strength of several men; and she can cast illusions.
Milton Davis’ Changa, of the Sword and Soul series, Changa’s Safari, fights monsters, sorceresses and men and has the ability to see malevolent spirits.
Remi ‘The Single Link’ Swan, hero of the fight fiction novel, A Single Link, is the first woman in history to fight men in professional co-ed mixed martial arts.
These are all superheroes – larger than life; powerful beyond the normal realm of human ability; fearless, lucky, or talented beyond measure.
And, like Brotherman, all their stories are timeless; eternal.
No costume is necessary; but it is cool.
But, how do we relate to and identify with characters with such amazing attributes?
Is the reason why the most popular stories in comic books are origin stories because they show us the exact moment when a normal man or woman goes from being just an average Joe or Josephine to being somehow better, faster, smarter, or stronger?
I believe it is not the attributes, but the altruism, we identify with – or at least we aspire to.
It is also the trauma superheroes suffer at their becoming. Many have told me that they love the origin story of The Scythe, who readers will get to see more of when the novel is released in summer, 2014. What they have said they love is how Dr. A.C. Jackson makes a bargain with the sentient scythe of death to return to earth and exact revenge on his murderers. Dr. Jackson is, literally, a tortured soul; the victim of racism and brutality during the Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Riots of 1921.
Readers also identify with the life-altering force of destiny found in origin stories. In the film Rite of Passage, Harriet Tubman gathers several Guardians – those endowed with supernatural powers to fight men, machines, monsters, demons and the undead. One such Guardian, Harriet Tubman’s young pupil, Dorothy Wright, is reluctant to accept her destiny, yet she rises to the occasion and becomes one of the protectors of the Black-owned town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Many of us identify with Dorothy’s challenge of assuming a great responsibility that forces her to grow up sooner than she wants to.
Finally, there’s sheer chance; or the illusion that it was chance – I am not inclined to believe in coincidence – that readers love about origin stories. In the Rite of Passage tie-in, the short film The Dentist of Westminster, the protagonist, Osho Adewale, travels to Nicodemus, Kansas to put his deceased grandmother to rest, but is introduced to a world of darkness in which he gains the power to bring the light. His heroism is an example of how seemingly random, adverse events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path.
Good writers of speculative fiction are keen observers of nature, in general and specifically, human nature. They are able to express those observations as captivating stories; they are able to tell the stories of self through the stories of their superheroes.
So, pick up a great comic book, like Dusu (issue #1 is free), Watson and Holmes (also free), the Chronicles of Piye, or Sword and Soul Adventures; or great books, such as Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Changa’s Safari, Damballa, or A Single Link (which releases at the end of this month). Soar with the superheroes within.
Capes aren’t necessary.
But, they are cool.
BLACK PULP: Fight Fiction with Funk!
Recently, I have expanded my writing into the Pulp genre of Fight Fiction, which was pretty much inevitable because my novels contain lots of exciting action and fight scenes.
What is Fight Fiction. You ask?
Fight Fiction is comprised of tales in which the fighting – whether it happens in a temple in Thailand, a boxing ring in Las Vegas, a cage in Atlanta, or in a bar in New York City – is not merely in the story to make it more exciting; or to add a different spin to it. The fighting must be an integral part of both the story and its resolution. Take the fighting out and you no longer have a story. Think Fight Club; Rocky; Blood and Bone; Kung-Fu Hustle; Million Dollar Baby; and Tai Chi Zero.
My friend, renowned spoken word artist XPJ Seven, once told me “Dude, I like your fight scenes.”
“What do you like about them?” I inquired.
“They’re not like the fight scenes in most of the fiction I’ve read.” He replied, his brow wrinkling as he scowled.
“What’s wrong with those fight scenes?” I asked.
The wrinkles in XP’s brow deepened into canyons as he frowned in disgust. “Dude…they’re wack!”
Can’t argue with the wisdom of XP.
Thus, I write this as a helping hand to my fellow writers who may struggle with writing fight scenes. If writing fight scenes for you comes easy, please, keep reading; you’re already here…you might as well. And – in the spirit of all things not wack – if you will be so kind as to contribute your wisdom to this post, it will be greatly appreciated.
Writing fight scenes has always been something I enjoy and that I believe I do fairly well. This is probably due to the fact that I have been a student of indigenous African martial arts for over forty years and I have been n instructor of those same martial arts for nearly thirty years. I am also a lifelong fan of martial arts, boxing and action films.
Thus, I share with you what little I know about writing fight scenes in the following Fight Scene Plan, which I hope will help guide you toward the light at the end of that dark, dank tunnel called wackness.
Just remember – all good plans are malleable. As my good friend, author Milton Davis, says, “A plan is a work in progress. It must be adjusted and modified based on results. An inflexible plan will eventually lead to failure.”
Fight Scene Plan
1. Show, don’t tell
I put this point first because it seems to be the one most writers have difficulty with when writing a fight scene.
Here is an example of telling:
After taking eight punches and several kicks to now vital areas all over her sinewy frame – such as her solar plexus, spine and head – Harriet Tubman staggered backward, wailing in agony.
This is “telling” because the punches and kicks are all lumped together, making it impossible to say, with any certainty, how many blows Harriet actually suffered.
Furthermore, we cannot be sure of exactly which body parts are suffering all the punishment, although we get a grocery list of a few parts that might be getting damaged…or might not – who knows?
Finally, what is Harriet doing while she is taking that beat-down? Just accepting it all willy-nilly? Does she throw a counterpunch? Beg for mercy? Scream “Feets don’t fail me now” and then haul ass? We don’t know. We cannot see this scene. We cannot see Harriet. We’re just being told about it. Wack.
2. Show sequence, not simultaneity
It rarely makes sense to make two different actions simultaneous in a fight scene.
Because a fight scene is loaded with different sorts of actions, each of which takes a different amount of time.
If one action takes a tenth of a second and another takes two seconds, the action will feel distorted if the author asserts that they happen simultaneously.
John Wilkes Booth ducked his head and whirled to the right, simultaneously kicking furiously with his right heel as he shouted “Harriet Tubman, you just will not die, will you?”
Now, you can whirl to the right pretty quickly. You can kick pretty quickly. But how long does it take to shout ‘Harriet Tubman, you just will not die, will you’? All this action cannot happen simultaneously. So, writing something like this? Wack.
3. Enforce causality
A Cause should be shown first, and then the Effect shown afterward. Showing the Effect and then the Cause? Wack.
Case in point:
John Wilkes Booth ducked his head and whirled to the right. He kicked furiously with his right heel as he shouted “Harriet Tubman, you just will not die, will you?” Just after he spotted Harriet throwing another punch at him.
So, what happened first? Booth saw Harriet throw another punch at him. However, that is shown last in the passage. The Effect is shown first, followed by a long sequence of events: Booth ducks his head; Booth spins to the right; Booth kicks; Booth shouts; only after all that are we shown the Cause of it all.
4. Show the fastest action first
When you sequence a group of actions that happen at roughly the same time, show those actions that happen fastest before you show those that happen slowest.
Do not write the passage this way:
The steambot was no longer a threat to Harriet, as it lay broken in the dirt, wondering if it would ever see its beloved creator – Mistress Nakamura – again, the very woman who had nurtured it and taught it love, an agonizing scream escaped its metallic throat.
We see the steambot pondering whether it would see its creator again and then we see it scream in agony. A scream usually takes less time than a deep pondering, so it is better to show the steambot scream first and then show it ruminate.
Showing the slower action before the faster one? Wack.
5. For every action, show a reaction
A fight scene should be written in this order: Action then Reaction. The Steambot slams an elbow into Harriet Tubman’s jaw; she staggers backward. Harriet whips a roundhouse kick at the Steambot’s head; it blocks and swings a back-fist at her temple.
See? Action…Reaction. Writing the character’s Reaction before the Action is backpedaling toward wackness. Case in point:
Harriet staggered backward when the steambot slammed its elbow into her jaw.
The Reaction – staggering backward – took place before the Action – the elbow to the jaw. Wack.
Each Action – Reaction should have its own paragraph. This, however, is not always possible. Sometimes, the sentences are too short to have their own paragraphs and can be combined. It’s up to you how to format it.
The steambot exploded forward with a powerful uppercut.
Harriet leaned backward to evade the blow. A breeze slithered up her face as the steambot’s iron knuckles swished past her nose.
The steambot exploded forward with a powerful uppercut. Harriet leaned backward to evade the blow. A breeze slithered up her face as the steambot’s iron knuckles swished past her nose.
6. Make it happen in Real Time
When writing your Action – Reaction, be sure to make it happen in Real Time. When a fight is happening, you see one punch and then right away, you see the response; and then right away, you see the next punch. During a fight in Real Time, you do not have time for such contemplations as this:
The steambot’s elbow slammed into Harriet’s jaw. She staggered backward. She was hurt quite badly; perhaps not as badly as when she shattered her shin against the thigh of that giant knoll, but badly, just the same.
This should be written this way:
The steambot’s elbow slammed into Harriet’s jaw. She staggered backward.
7. Control the pace
Pace is important in a fight scene.
It is not cinematic – and you want your fight scene to play like a movie in the reader’s head – to show a nonstop flurry of Actions and Reactions.
Even a warrior who possesses extraordinary gifts like Harriet Tubman has to catch her breath.
A cinematic fight has ebbs and flows in the pacing.
You show the faster parts of the scene with short sentences that show only the Actions and Reactions.
Use short sentences and phrases to make reading flow run faster. Long, descriptive sentences slow the reading pace.
In a fight scene, you want your reader to roll with each punch; shift in his or her seat with each kick.
Fast reading pace is essential. Use only a phrase, sentence, or – at most – two short sentences for each action. You can also combine short phrases together, since each phrase will still let the action move along:
Harriet paused, listening for movement. The whisper of a footstep to her right. She whirled, exploded forward, felt her knee connect with muscled flesh and then heard a soft thud as Booth fell to the floor.
Conversely, reading flow can also become bogged down if there are too many sentences of the same length one after the other. Cases in point:
He kicked. She ducked. He chopped. She whirled.
Harriet turned at the sound of running feet. Booth crashed into her as she stood there. Her body struck the table with a thundering crash. Splinters stabbed into the back of her neck.
Continue to avoid long, rambling description, but vary your sentence and phrase length:
Running feet. Harriet turned. Booth crashed into her, slamming her into the table with a thundering crash. A low gasp escaped Harriet’s lips as splinters stabbed into the back of her neck.
You can also show the slower parts of the scene with longer sentences that show Actions and Reactions interspersed with dialogue and interior monologue.
To do otherwise? Wack.
8. Favor completed verbs over continuing action verbs
Use simple past tense verbs, such as kicked, ran or leapt rather than participles such as kicking, running or leaping.
When you say Harriet head-butted Booth, you imply that it happened quickly and the act is now over. When you say Harriet was head-butting Booth, you imply that the act is going on and on and on. A head-butt happens in a fraction of a second, so writing “head-butting” causes the reader to envision the head-butt happening over and over and over again. Or they envision it happening in slow motion. Either way, it is not much like a fight anymore, is it? Wack.
Finally, remember that a good fight scene is about momentum and rhythm.
Jackie Chan once gave me some advice on choreographing a fight scene (yep, the Jackie Chan – I’ll tell you that story one day) that I now use in my writing. “The rhythm of a fight scene sells it. I use African and Japanese drum rhythms for my fights. Those rhythms draw the audience in and make them love the fight.”
Each move should flow from where the last one ended. If your hero throws a spinning back kick, where is her weight when she lands? Is she standing straight or bent at the waist? In what direction is her body leaning? The next blow she delivers should follow the same line of momentum. If she kicked in a clockwise motion, her next kick will also probably be clockwise.
Try to act out fight sequences – or, if you live off a steady diet of Krispy Kreme donuts and Coca Cola, ask someone else to do it – in order to figure out momentum and balance, which creates rhythm. Throw a punch and observe how your weight shifts, or what area of your body is exposed.
I often act out the entire fight scene with my wife. We are both career martial artists, so, for us, it comes easily. However, if you do not happen to have a spouse that is a martial arts expert handy, watch movies for ideas (or call me – I choreograph fight scenes for films, theater, comic books and novels…for a meager fee).
Finally, choose the type of fights you want in your story. Do you want gritty, brutal fight scenes such as the ones in Steven Seagal’s Above the Law or in The Bourne Identity (the 2002 movie, not the 1988 television miniseries)? Or do you want Hong Kong Cinema-styled fights, such as the ones in The Matrix, Inception, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Most readers will follow either style as long as they make sense and are a good match with the genre you are writing in.
Recently, I joined a team of stellar authors, who all write under the pen name Jack Tunney, as part of the Fight Card Project.
The books in the Fight Card series are monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings, and are inspired by the fight pulps of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Fight Stories Magazine and Robert E. Howard’s two-fisted boxing tales featuring Sailor Steve Costigan.
By the end of this year (2013), the Fight Card series will have published twenty-four incredible tales of pugilistic pandemonium from some of the best New Pulp authors in the business. I am writing under the Fight Card MMA brand and my book, A-Town Throwdown should debut in early 2014.
When I spoke to Paul Bishop, who – along with author Mel Odom created the Fight Card concept – he expressed an interest in my protagonist, Nick ‘New Breed’ Steed and the story of his coming of age as a fighter in the Adewale Wrestling Compound in Oṣogbo, Oṣun State, Nigeria. I was happy because I have always wanted to share with the world the fierceness, efficiency and effectiveness of the indigenous African martial arts for self-defense, as well as their transformative powers in the building of men and women with self-discipline, courage and good character. Fight Card MMA was a perfect outlet for my unique brand of Fight Fiction, which I am sure you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.
In A-Town Throwdown, readers will experience jaw-dropping action on the mean streets of Chicago, in the sand pits of Nigeria and in cages in the “Dirty South” (Atlanta).
2014 will also offer a full slate of monthly Fight Card titles along with further Fight Card MMA, Fight Card Romance, and Fight Card Now titles, as well as the debut of the Fight Card Luchadores brand, set in the world of Mexican Masked wrestling.
Before the Fight Card debut, I will publish my Fight Fiction novel, A Single Link, based on the short film I wrote, directed and produced of the same name back in 2010. It is the story of Remi “Ray” Swan, who, after suffering a brutal rape at the hands of a martial arts champion, decides that, to gain closure and empowerment, she must face her attacker in the first professional fight between a man and a woman.
You will not want to miss this powerful, two-fisted adventure, set in the near future, as Ray fights, not just for herself, but for all who have suffered at the cruel hands of those who would wreak pain, oppression, injustice and death.
Look for A Single Link December, 2013.
If you have more to add to this post, please comment. I am always looking for effective ways to avoid wackness.
BLACK HEROES OF PULP FICTION (and we don’t mean Samuel L. Jackson or Ving Rhames)
Some of you are saying “If not the movie by Quentin Tarantino, then what the in the hell is Pulp?”
Is it that nasty, fibrous stuff I hate in my orange juice, but my wife always buys, because – for some odd reason – she loves it?
What is Pulp?
Is it that early 80s British alternative rock band who sounded like a hybrid of David Bowie and The Human League?
What is Pulp?
Think adventure, exotic settings, femme fatales and non-stop action. Think larger-than-life heroes, such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Marv, from Sin City and Indiana Jones.
The genre gets its name from the adventure fiction magazines of the 1930s and 1940s.
Pulp includes Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Western, Fight Fiction and other genres, but what sets pulp apart are its aforementioned fast-pace, exotic locales, linear – but layered – plots, its two-fisted action….and those characters! As author Thaddeus Howze describes them: “I like the larger than life heroes of the pulp era, loud, bombastic, often arrogant, sexy, outrageous and oh so violent…”
The first pulps were published in the late 1800s and enjoyed a golden age in the 1930s and 1940s.
And – like most genre fiction of the day…and today – Black heroes were absent. Like most genre fiction of the day, if a Black person was found in pulp fiction at all, they were the noble savage…or just the savage.
Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones
However, in 1957, we saw our first Black pulp heroes with the duo of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, violent and vicious Harlem police officers, who operated more like private detectives, often going beyond police protocol to solve their cases.
A true master of the pulp aesthetic, Chester Himes – an accomplished author and screenwriter before going to prison – discovered the work of popular pulp author Dashiell Hammett while serving eight years in an Ohio penitentiary for armed robbery. Himes vowed to write pulp books that would, in his words, “tell it like it is”.
Upon his release from prison, Himes moved to Paris and – true to his word – wrote a string of what he called “Harlem domestic detective stories”, all but one written in French and later translated into English.
His first novel, A Rage in Harlem (1957) – first published in French as La Reine des Pomme and also known as For Love of Imabelle – which won the prestigious French literature award, Grand Prix de la Litterature Policière, gave us our first taste of the fearsome Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.
Fans begged for more of these pulp bad boys and Himes delivered, with a total of seven more bestsellers and one unfinished novel that was published posthumously: The Crazy Kill (1959), The Real Cool Killers (1959), All Shot Up (1960), The Big Gold Dream (1960), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965), The Heat’s On (aka Come Back, Charleston Blue)(1966), Blind Man With A Pistol (1969), Plan B (1993).
While the duo frequently uses physical brutality, psychological torture and intimidation to solve their cases, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed have deep and genuine sympathy for the innocent victims of crime. They frequently intervene – even putting their own reputations and lives on the line – to protect Black people from the vicious and truly pointless brutality of the white, openly racist police officers in their precinct. Jones and Johnson generally go easy on – and even tolerate – numbers runners, madames, prostitutes, junkies and gamblers; but they are extremely hostile to violent criminals, drug dealers, con artists and pimps.
It can be said that Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones were the darkest heroes in pulp…and not because they’re Black…well, that too.
The next Black hero in pulp did not come on the scene until 1983. Who was he? Aubrey Knight, a lightning quick mountain of muscle, trained to be a Null Boxer who fights in brutal matches while locked in a zero-gravity bubble.
Aubrey Knight is the protagonist of Street Lethal (1983), a jaw dropping pulp thrill ride, penned masterfully by veteran science fiction, fantasy and horror author, Steven Barnes. Street Lethal is set in a near-future dystopian Los Angeles in which Aubrey Knight must battle genetically engineered New Men, drug kingpins, brutal prison guards, a ruthless femme fatale and brainwashing similar to the horrific Ludovico Technique from the classic novel A Clockwork Orange.
Barnes, an accomplished martial artist himself, gives us a pulp hero who is one part Luke Cage Noir and two parts Iron Fist…only cooler, savvier and more…well, street lethal.
Damballa (2011) is an incredible pulp adventure written by author Charles R. Saunders, the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy fiction called Sword and Soul and creator of the Fantasy icon Imaro. The action does not stop as the titular hero uses his vast knowledge of Western science, African science and martial arts to expose and neutralize the Nazi threat.
Set in 1938, Damballa is a shining example of what Pulp is when it is at its very best: thrilling, visceral, tightly-plotted, well-written, fast-paced fun.
And the hero Damballa is a shining example of what a pulp hero in the hands of a master can be: a hero the reader can actually stand up and cheer for; a hero with qualities and with a story other authors do their damndest to echo in their own creative and original ways.
Equal parts James Bond, Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and The Saint, Dillon – by his creator Derrick Ferguson’s account – first came to attention of the world a decade ago, when he began hiring himself out as a soldier of fortune. Dillon possesses remarkable talents and gifts that make him respected and even feared in a world of mercenaries, spies, adventurers, powerful technology and mystic artifacts.
Actually, Dillon first came to our attention in the Pulp fiction masterpiece, Dillon and the Voice of Odin (2003).
Dillon’s actual age is unknown, but what is known is that he was born on the technologically advanced, doomed island of Usimi Dero. After the Destruction of his home, twelve year old Dillon and his mother fled to Shamballah, a monastery hidden in the Himalayas. Dillon was adopted by Shamballa’s Warmasters of Liguria, who spent the next seven years training him in various martial arts and other physical and mental disciplines. After those seven years, Dillon elected to leave Shamballah and return to the world.
Once back in the world, Dillon wandered, learning various skills that would help him in his chosen profession as an adventurer and seeking out those who destroyed his homeland.
This adventurer is the hero of four of his own books – the aforementioned Dillon and the Voice of Odin; Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell (2010); Four Bullets for Dillon (2011) and Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira (2012) – and appears in the anthology Black Pulp (2013).
First seen in the often hilarious and always exciting, Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter (2011) and now returning in the recently released, equally exciting sequel, Taurus Moon: Magic and Mayhem (2013), Taurus moon is a complex Pulp hero who walks a complex world of mythic creatures, gangsters and even mythic gangsters and gangling creatures.
The morally conflicted hero, Taurus Moon is often compared to another famed relic hunter, Indiana Jones. Unlike popular relic hunter Indiana Jones, however, the artifacts Taurus Moon hunts are not found in the deserts of Iskenderun Hatay, or in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. Taurus Moon’s quests take him through the grittier parts of urbanized cities; settings where Indiana Jones would get that whip and fedora shoved up his…well, you get the picture. Also unlike Indiana Jones, Taurus Moon’s clientele includes vampire crime bosses and other individuals of ill-repute.
Taurus Moon is straight up mercenary, motivated by money; yet he is imbued with nobility, which keeps him from being completely amoral.
If Indiana Jones and Blade had a clone created from both their DNA strains, with a dash of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford sprinkled in, that little GMO fella would be Taurus Moon.
2014 will see the premiere of at least three more pulp heroes.
In early 2014, my character Nick ‘New Breed’ Steed, the indigenous African martial arts expert turned MMA fighter will enter the world with a bang in my novella, which is part of the Fight Card Series, Fight Card MMA: A-Town Throwdown. A second novella starring Nick Steed, Fight Card MMA: Circle of Blood is likely to follow shortly behind it.
2014 will see another MMA fighter, Remi Fasina [ray-MEE fah-SHEE-nah] – a woman – battle men and women fighters – and her inner demons – on her quest to defeat the MMA champion who sexually assaulted her seven years in her past in my Pulp action novel, A Single Link.
Finally, the Pulp hero Black Caesar – a former slave, imbued with enhanced intelligence, strength, endurance and agility by dark forces run amok upon a stone slave ship – debuts in the first Rococoa novel, Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises.
I have also created the Pulp hero The Scythe, the resurrected Dr. A.C. Jackson, who was murdered in the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 and returns to reap vengeance upon his murderers and their kin. It is likely that I will expand his story into a novel in 2015.
What other Black Pulp heroes and sheroes do you know of? What Pulp heroes or sheroes are you in the process of developing or creating?
The State of Steamfunk, Part II!
It has been exactly ten months since our last State of Steamfunk address.
We are now broadcasting from the Airship Sweet Chariot to bring you news of the Funktastic happenings in the world of Steamfunk!
Milton Davis’ MVmedia, LLC, Balogun Ojetade’s Roaring Lions Productions and Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Media and Communication wrap shooting the Steamfunk feature film, Rite Of Passage, November 17, 2013.
This amazing film – about the four Guardians of Nicodemus: Harriet Tubman; Harriet’s student, Dorothy Wright; famed lawman, U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves; and the steel drivin’ man, John Henry and their battle against the supernatural and technological forces of oppression and evil – premieres in late February, 2014 at the 2nd Annual Black Science Fiction Film Festival.
A tie-in to Rite Of Passage, the short film, Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster – about a Guardian from “across the Pond” – premiered worldwide September 1, 2013.
A tie-in anthology, Rite of Passage: Road to Nicodemus, is now accepting submissions and will launch in 2014 as well.
2013 also saw the launch of the wildly popular Steamfunk! anthology, an incredible book of fifteen stories by fifteen amazing authors from diverse backgrounds that has become the defining work of the Steamfunk Movement.
The Steamfunk Movement is growing by leaps and bounds and gaining, well…steam.
During Black Speculative Fiction Month in October, the Auburn Avenue Research Library, in partnership with Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade, hosted The Mahogany Masquerade and the Retrofuturistic Worlds of Steam and Diesel Funk panel discussion. Both events were very well-attended and fun was had by all.
At Stan Lee’s Comikaze convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center, tens of thousands gathered November 1-3, 2013, to enjoy all manner of geek-pop culture. Among them was author MD Marie, who unveiled her stunning Saints of Winter Valley 2014 Calendar, a spectacular calendar featuring beautiful photographs of the characters from the world of her soon-to-be released Steamfunk novel, The Saints of Winter Valley, Volume 1.
The graphic novel The Amazing Adventures of David Walker Blackstone, written and illustrated by artistic genius Kevin Sipp, is now crowdfunding through Kickstarter and the releases of the Steamfunk novels Mona Livelong, by Steamfunk, horror and erotica author Valjeanne Jeffers and Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises, by Balogun Ojetade, are forthcoming.
Finally, you know you’re growing when people are enraged by your work. Recently, an individual who represents a prominent Dieselpunk group, expressed on that group’s website how the use of the terms Steamfunk and Dieselfunk caused him to “get a little pissed off”:
“What upsets me the most about this though is the emergence of Steamfunk and Dieselfunk. To me this goes back to so many other aspects of society and culture that I won’t even begin to reference…The point is your right hand is saying that you want to be included, and treated equal. While your left hand is creating a situation where you are being exclusive and segregating every other race out.
Dieselpunk is in no way racist, exclusive, or prejudiced against any group of people. Except perhaps those who support Nazis…we don’t really want to have anything to do with them. Dieselfunk though…by the very name of it you’re basically saying this can only be black people. Why would you create something that excludes you from the rest of society? Why make a subset of a culture exclusive to your own race instead of just joining into what’s already established? No one is excluding you, you clearly just don’t want to be involved.
This is why I can’t stand it when people say: “I don’t support this because its racist.” “We want to be treated the same.” etc… And then you go out and support something that is racist, just racist in your favor, that excludes you from being treated as the same since you are separating yourself from the rest of the races in the world.”
I’ll let you good people reading this dismantle that foolishness. I don’t even waste my time responding to this rubbish anymore, but I do post it and make mention of it to make others aware that such ignorance still exists and you can decide if you want to deal with it or not.
I’m too old; too busy being productive; and too not giving a damn.
Anywho…check back often; I will keep you updated on all the exciting happenings in the world of Steamfunk as the movement continues to grow.
This is Balogun Ojetade, from the Airship Sweet Chariot, signing off Steamfunkateers.
Until next time…keep it funky!