HAPPY BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH!
In early June of 2013, author Milton Davis and I had a discussion – as we often do – about the importance of Black people reading, writing and watching Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Black authors, artists and filmmakers currently creating in these genres.
The conversation shifted to the various fan conventions we attend and the fact that the fastest growing demographic at these conventions is Black people. We became optimistic about this year’s Alien Encounters celebration and the audience that it is sure to draw. We also talked about how Alien Encounters is going national, with celebrations in the DC / Maryland / Virginia area, Philadelphia and even as far as California.
At some point, we began to kick around the idea of Black Speculative Fiction Month. Since Alien Encounters takes place in October, it made sense that Black Speculative Fiction month should also be celebrated in October.
On June 26, 2013, Milton Davis and I met with the Program Coordinator at the Auburn Avenue Research Library to plan the program for this year’s Alien Encounters when the concept of Black Speculative Fiction Month came up again. Milton discussed that meeting with famed writer and film producer, Reginald Hudlin and others the next day:
“So yesterday Balogun Ojetade, Morris Gardner (program coordinator for the Auburn Avenue Research Library) and myself were discussing the upcoming Alien Encounters program in October. We talked about a similar event being organized in the DC area the same month, and another event that will take place in Philly. At that point I brought up an idea Balogun and I were contemplating: let’s designate October Black Speculative Fiction month! Morris loved the idea. ‘Let’s claim it!’ he replied.
And there you have it. We’re shouting it out as we speak, encouraging others to plan events highlighting Black authors of speculative fiction. We’re contacting libraries, encouraging them to spotlight speculative fiction books by and about black people during this month. Why? Because every day we meet Black people who have never imagined Black folks writing and reading speculative fiction; especially science fiction. Why? Because a recent poll among young people found that the most popular genres were science fiction and fantasy. Why? Because every prominent scientist in the US listed that they read science fiction.
So there you have it. We hope you’ll join us.”
In celebration of this august – well, October – occasion, Milton Davis has launched the Black Speculative Fiction Month website, which features events, in celebration of the holiday, that are happening worldwide throughout the month.
My Black Speculative Fiction Month gift to you – well, one of them, because there is much more to come – is a short list of Blacktacular books of speculative fiction, by – and about – Black people.
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.
STEAMFUNK FICTION: A Darker Shade of Brown
Readers are asking for more Steamfunk, which is really quite shocking; not because Steamfunk fiction isn’t absolutely funktastic – it is – but because, after reading nearly five-hundred pages chock full o’ funky goodness, I would figure they would need to take a breather and inhale a bit of funk-free air.
Much to my surprise and glee, I was mistaken. “More Steamfunk!” is the cry. Even the august group of authors who contributed their fascinating fables of funkasticity to the anthology has demanded a second volume – Steamfunk II: Dieselfunk.
To tide you over until the final verdict on the production of a second volume is delivered, I offer you a listing of several books that are either Steamfunk, or Steampunk, with a main character of African descent.
Here goes. Enjoy!
And remember: keep it funky!
Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) by Balogun Ojetade
“I’m gon’ drive the evil out and send it back to Hell, where it belong!” – Harriet Tubman 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 this novel of dark fantasy (with a touch of Steampunk), 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?
The Switch and The Switch II: Clockwork by Valjeanne Jeffers
Includes The Switch I and The Switch II! York is a city of contradictions. Women are hard-pressed for lovers, because lovemaking can be dangerous. The upper city is powered by computers, the underground by steam. And the wealthy don’t work for a living, underdwellers do it for them. But certain underdwellers have a big problem with this arrangement. And so does the time keeper. Welcome to the Revolution…
Samoht Sivad, sorcerer and warrior, goes missing after a garrison tour. Naheem, his cousin and acting patriarch of the Sivad clan, sets out to find him. His journey puts him on the path of a man who has found a way to seek revenge from beyond his grave.
The Possession introduces the alternate world of the Sivads, a North America whose present is entirely unique from the world in which we live, a land of beauty, diversity…and magic.
In the second Sivad Chronicle adventure, brothers Samoht and Vel find themselves exiled from the Nations by their cousin Naheem for different reasons. They embark on a journey to the Motherland to seek the secrets of their clan and their mysterious power. Naheem sets out to right his cousins’ wrongs while they are away and finds himself in his own adventure, one that will be as dangerous as it is enlightening.
Immortal 4: Collision of Worlds by Valjeanne Jeffers
Rules were broken. Now the price must be paid. “The New World awoke to a roaring wind, light blazed from the mirror—swallowing the planet—a churning, savage vortex. Tundra’s inhabitants cried out, as their flesh bled from their bones like wet clay. The world shuddered. And was still.” The Immortals broke the rules. As punishment, Karla and Joseph are transported to a steam powered realm. Tehotep is now ruler of the empire. Karla is his concubine. Vampires roam the streets. Androids enforce a demon’s will. And there is no way out. Except death…
Steamfunk Issue 0 Written by Eric Doty; Illustrated by Luke McKay
A comic book for all ages, that includes a bit of Steampunk and a pinch of Dieselpunk with Western and Fantasy elements. Its biggest influences are the film, The Wizard of Oz and the television series, Firefly. The “funk” in the title serves a dual purpose, referring to the musical references throughout the story as well as the state of the world the characters exist in. The story follows the adventures of a gutsy delivery girl, Deaux, as she unravels truths that she may not be prepared for.
John Henry: The Steam Age Written and Illustrated by Dwayne Harris
John Henry, a former slave, wasn’t about to let some new-fangled steam hammer replace his ability to earn an honest wage as a steel-driving man. He’d beat that machine, or die with his hammer in his hand. We all know the outcome of that legendary contest. In this alternate history, however, John doesn’t die in his heroic effort, but instead slips into a coma, only to awaken to his worst nightmare. A robotic uprising has occurred, and a new age has dawned – the Steam Age! Now the only thing that can free the human race from the very machines they’ve created is John and his hammer. John Henry: The Steam Age is an exciting re-imagining of the story of John Henry in a steampunk setting.
Clementine by Cherie Priest
Maria Isabella Boyd’s success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty…she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago.
Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn’t pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials – essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay.
Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who’s been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea.
And now it’s Maria’s job to go get him.
He’s dangerous quarry and she’s a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice.
And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.
Stay tuned! There is plenty more Steamfunk to come!
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA
Once Upon A Time In Afrika is written in the subgenre of Sword & Soul. For those unfamiliar with what Sword & Soul is, here are definitions from several authors who contributed to Griots, the critically acclaimed, first Sword & Soul anthology and from fans of the subgenre:
Diop Malvi: “The expansion of a subject once locked into one room without a window but a funhouse mirror.”
Sean Howard Mcintosh: “Sword and Soul is edutainment. Sword and Soul provides the readers a source of a fun filled escape to brand new worlds, while opening up minds to wholly unexplored cultures with real world basis.”
Milton Davis: “Sword and Soul is a celebration of our past with positive implications for our present and future. It represents us in a heroic, positive light and builds a bridge between us and our precolonial past. When done at its best, it inspires, enlightens and encourage. Sword and Soul Forever!”
Keith Gaston: “Sword fighting against evil – clang, clang, clang; blasting magical bolts at malevolent wizards, whose evil lair falls apart after you defeat them.”
Hannibal Tabu: “Many forms of western literature have done a good job at trying to pretend we don’t exist in the future, the past, and sometimes the present. Sword and soul is a part of putting on corrective lenses, seeing even the fantasy world as it is, as it has to be. Or, in the words of KRS-ONE: ‘We will be here forever. Get what I’m saying to you. Forever. Forever and ever, and ever and ever. We will be here.’”
Valjeanne Jeffers: “Dark sorcerers with silver tongues, Magical Sisters with swords at their sides, Black knights with preternatural powers, lots and lots of monsters and villains LOL!”
And, finally, a definition of Sword & Soul from the subgenre’s founder, Charles R. Saunders: “Sword-and-soul is the name I’ve given to the type of fiction I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years. The best definition I can think of for the term is ‘African-inspired heroic fantasy’. Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.”
Thanks to all those who have taken the time to give me feedback on the book and for those who have supported me by purchasing it. I look forward to hearing from you all.
So, here goes…
“Every now and then, a novel comes along that simply must not be missed. Balogun Ojetade’s Once Upon a Time In Afrika, published by Milton Davis’s MV Media, is such a novel. Full disclosure: I wrote the book’s Introduction.
Balogun is deeply imbued in African history, culture, and folklore. He is also a martial-arts instructor – one of many hats he wears. This eclectic range of knowledge and expertise has enabled him to tell a tale that is richly textured — and also a rip-roaring adventure yarn. Sword and Soul doesn’t get any better than this.
Once Upon a Time in Afrika is set in Onile, a mythical alternate Africa along the lines of the Nyumbani of my Imaro novels and the Uhuru that is the background for Milton Davis’s Meji duology. However, Onile is fully distinguishable from Uhuru and Nyumbani, and so is the story Balogun tells.
And what an epic story it is. It is a story of sword-crossed lovers: a princess named Seeke (full name Esuseeke) and a warrior named Akin. Their perilous relationship unfolds within a context of events that threaten the future of their vast and variegated continent. The focal point of the plot is a grand fighting tournament in which the prize is not some Olympics-type medal, but the hand of Seeke in marriage. For only the greatest warrior of all is worthy to be her husband.
Akin enters the tournament under a false identity. As Akin progresses through its various – and potentially lethal – stages, Balogun reveals a variety of African martial-arts styles. The reader never knows which form will come up next.
The richness of cultural and mythic detail in Once Upon a lime is astounding. Here’s an example:
A sound, like distant thunder, joined the chanting of the young warriors. The ground shook and the scent of iron filled the air.
Master Gboyega leapt to his feet “Horses approach! The riders are armed! Form ranks!”
The warriors placed their training swords on the ground around the Warriors’ Circle and then quickly retrieved their iron swords from a row of racks nearby.
Akin kept the twin, ironwood swords he carried on his back. The wooden weapons were given to Akin by his maternal grandmother, Efunlade. The swords had been used by Efunlade’s father, Damilola, in slaying the last iron dragon, Garugu — a powerful and ancient malevolence that terrorized the citizens of Oyo for centuries. Garugu ate iron and breathed the digested metal as a cloud of molten shrapnel, thus Damilola wisely chose to forgo the use of an iron sword and shield in favor of two swords carved from incredibly hard ironwood. The blood of Garugu was said to be soaked into the wooden swords, giving them nigh indestructibility and the power to pierce and cut through iron as easily as a lion’s teeth pierces the flesh of a gazelle fawn.
Even as the tournament reaches its culmination, external events menace the kingdoms of Onile. The people of another continent are conspiring to conquer (Mile, exploit its riches, and enslave its inhabitants (sound familiar?). The outcome of the tournament will affect the larger course of Onile’s future.
Will the disguised Akin prevail in the tournament and win the hand of Seeke, who is a formidable fighter in her own right? Will Onile be able to overcome the forces arrayed against it? Will the continent’s gods and spirits intervene on the mortals’ behalf?
Hey, I don’t do “spoilers.” You’ve got to get hold of copy of the book and find out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.” – Charles R. Saunders, Father of Sword & Soul and author of the Imaro series of novels, the Dossouye series and the pulp novel, Damballa
Balogun Ojetade’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA
“‘Sword and Soul’ is a sub-genre I had yet to explore – had yet even to have heard of – before my good friend and fellow book freak EssJay mentioned it, and this book, to me. Ever ready to try something new, especially if it’s cheap, I decided to take a chance on Once Upon a Time in Afrika.
I’m very glad I did.
Written like a fairy tale, densely plotted like the conventional epic fantasies it’s riffing on, Once Upon a Time in Afrika is a hell of a lot of fun to read. Set in an alternate pre-white-contact version of Africa in which the magic and the gods and demigods of folk tale and legend are real and part of everyday life, the story of badass Princess Esuseeke and her equally badass suitors is packed with action, combat, empowerment and intrigue. Ojetade is a student of African martial arts and it shows; his fight scenes are intricate, plausible, visceral and absolutely breathtaking, but he’s writer enough to keep the reader’s attention between battles.*
Refreshingly for this reader, Esuseeke is not rebelling when she takes up a sword or drops into an unarmed combat stance, but partaking fully of a culture that expects women to be able to defend themselves and boasts of a proud tradition of women warriors who often outshine the men. Her gender is important only because of her royalty; someone’s got to breed successors to the crown, and for that she needs, at some point, a husband.
But her husband can’t just be any old blue-blood type; he has to be her equal. And there aren’t many of those.
Enter the time-honored device of the tournament. The winner gets to marry Esuseeke — all nice and straightforward. But it isn’t; Esuseeke’s father, a politician rather than a warrior, doesn’t trust the mechanism to produce a satisfactory result. He has someone in mind for her that will probably win, but daddy wants to be sure, you see. In other words, daddy starts gaming the system even before the system is in place, just to make sure that his daughter marries the right guy.
Of course the right guy is kind a jerk. More than a jerk, actually, a terrifying warlord whose fixation on the Law brings him to commit acts of extreme cruelty towards those less fortunate than he, rather than bend the rules a little.
But wait, there’s more! Chiefly one Akin, the son of the unspeakably badass warrior woman who trained Esuseeke, but whom the princess somehow never met. He is the best student at his parents’ school but has yet to prove himself anywhere else, but oh is he ready. Packing a pair of wooden swords that once slew a dragon and sporting a bristling mohawk, he is every inch a hero-in-waiting, but the way he finds himself fighting for Esuseeke’s hand isn’t quite what he might expect.
There’s also a magician of intimidating power and wiliness, who just happens to be the sworn enemy of the Jerk. And a vast and skeletal monster only half of which, the left side, exists in our world. And a freaky witch that tricks her way into Akin’s stomach. And a giant, pasty warrior who rides an armored albino rhinoceros into battle. And much, much more.
I haven’t had this much sheer fun with a book since the first Crown of the Blood novel, if you couldn’t tell.
So if you love pulp fantasy but don’t love the racism, or the sexism, this may be your new favorite novel, or perhaps novella, for my one complaint about Once Upon a Time in Afrika, it’s that it’s just too short! But like they say, you want to leave ‘em hankering for more.
Mission accomplished, Mr. Ojetade.
*Although there is a bit of tedium in the middle as he sends the kingdom’s Prime Minister on a tour of the continent, recruiting warriors for the tournament. It’s only a bit tedious, though, because Ojetade’s considerable imagination gets free reign on the journey. And he does like a badass warrior-woman, does Ojetade. Oh, yes.” – Kate Sherrod, author of Suppertime Sonnets
Undercover Review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA