Steamfunk * Steampunk * Sword & Soul

Reviews

A Steamfunkateer encounters Twinjas!

Sword and Soul

A Steamfunkateer encounters Twinjas!

 

twin 1Recently I was interviewed by Twinja Book Reviews, a website dedicated to the fight to bring multiculturalism to Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction novels.

Founded and helmed by twin sisters Libertad and Guinevere Tomas, Twinja Book Reviews is a great site to find YA books that go beyond the white male default protagonist. Check out their ‘Our Reviews’ section for a wonderful selection of multicultural YA.

Also, check out their site for other exciting interviews to follow. They have a line-up of authors set up you do not want to miss. The schedule can be found on their site here.

I was privileged to be the first interview the sisters conducted. I have reposted it below for your reading pleasure:

My sister and I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of your books yet, but there has been a lot of buzz surrounding you in various places. It’s like we can’t conduct an online search pertaining to diversity in books without your name being mentioned! Why don’t you tell our readers a bit about yourself, as well as your writing?

I am very grateful for the buzz and I thank everyone for their ongoing support.

For those who don’t yet know me – and I would imagine that’s a lot of folks – I am an author; a father of eight children; grandfather of two; a husband; a Steamfunkateer / Steampunk; a filmmaker; a screenwriter; an actor (sometimes); a creator of role-playing games and a priest in the traditional Yoruba system of Ifa. I am also owner, master instructor and technical director of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, which has representatives in Atlanta, Macon, GA, Raleigh-Durham, NC and London, England.

I live and work in Atlanta, Georgia.

I write speculative fiction; mainly, Steamfunk, Sword and Soul, New Pulp and Urban Fantasy.

For those unfamiliar with my work and my writing style, you can check out some of my short fiction on my website at Chronicles Of Harriet .

My published fiction books include my books, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2)Once Upon A Time In Afrika; and Redeemer (or, paperback)  and I am contributing Co-Editor of the bestselling anthology, Steamfunk and Ki Khanga: The Sword and Soul Anthology. In December, I will release my fight fiction New Pulp novel, A Single Link and in 2014, I will release two novels and one novella and will appear in several anthologies.

We’ve recently discovered the two genres you’ve penned, “Steamfunk” and “Sword and Soul” floating around the realm of diversity in science fiction and fantasy. Why don’t you explain what those genres are?

Steamfunk Harriet TubmanSword & Soul is the African expression of Heroic and Epic Fantasy; think Conan or Lord of the Rings with African heroes, probably in an African setting and featuring African culture and spirituality and you have Sword & Soul. Sword & Soul has been around since the 1970s when the subgenre’s founder, Charles R. Saunders – the masterful author of two incredible Sword & Soul novel series: Imaro and Dossouye – coined the phrase and created a new subgenre of Fantasy.

As far as Steamfunk;  in order to understand it, we must first give a brief definition of Steampunk. Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or fantasy, characterized by a setting – in the past, present or future – in which steam power is the predominant energy source. Think the television show The Wild, Wild West, the graphic novel / comic book series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the movie The Golden Compass

Steamfunk is a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the Steampunk philosophy and / or Steampunk fiction.

I am one of the founders of the Steamfunk Movement.

On our blog, Twinja Book Reviews, we only review books that feature marginalized groups (e.g. black, gay, Latin, Asian, disabled, plus sized) Why you ask? Well, because then our book blog would be lost in the sea of other book blogs! And why not spread the word on how much we’d like to get our message out there, to perhaps encourage authors to write diverse fiction and for readers to demand it! Why is Diversity in Science fiction and fantasy important to you?

BalogunFirst and foremost, I have been a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy since I was two years old. In fact, I learned to read at two because my sisters introduced me to superhero and Archie comic books at that age.

I learned just how important Science Fiction and Fantasy is after spending several years as an English and Creative Writing teacher in the public and private sectors. In conversing with other English teachers, I often asked them if they taught creative writing in their classes. Most did not. One teacher told me that she tried “that creative writing stuff” with her students, but quickly gave up on it and returned to a more “practical syllabus”. Upon further investigation, I discovered that she believed creative writing – particularly Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy – to be something outside – and, indeed, beneath – the instruction of English.

Most educators of English / Language Arts focus on the mechanics of the subject – how to read and write, rules of grammar, use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and nouns and sentence comprehension – without the context of why and how those mechanics are used by students to express themselves.

Yes, we need to teach the mechanics – how to hold a pen; how to read; how words work – but we should not confuse use of a thing with understanding of it. Training in the mechanics of writing produces writing technicians; however, it does not make you a writer. So, you know how to spell; you can answer questions on grammar; you can repeat someone else’s literary criticism of a text – you are a technician. You can fix my text as a garage mechanic can fix my car. The garage mechanic can’t design a car. They can’t improve a car. They can’t build one from scratch. They can only ever work on someone else’s car.

This is why we – and our children – need to read and to write Science Fiction and Fantasy – so that our children do not only work on other people’s texts; they create and build their own. So they are not limited to just reading a story written by someone else and providing a report on it – they are out there in the field, experimenting with new stories and questioning old ones…if only for the reason that they can.

We need to teach our children to go out into the world to add to the pantheon of human creation and endeavor, not to dissect the words of long dead men. Science Fiction and Fantasy are best suited for that.

So, your latest book, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, features Steampunk elements (Or, as you say, Steamfunk) and Harriet Tubman as the Main Protagonist. You have to share what was going through your mind when you came up with that idea!

SteamfunkActually, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1) is my first fiction book. It was released as an e-book in 2011 through Mocha Memoirs Press. In July 2012, I released Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) in paperback under my own publishing and film production company, Roaring Lions Productions. I am now writing books 3 and 4 in the series.

Harriet Tubman is one of my heroes. I think because my mother, who is at the top of my list of heroes, is so much like Harriet Tubman, I fell in love with “General Moses” at a young age and I continue to love and admire her. I knew, long ago, that the first novel I wrote would have Harriet Tubman as the hero. I also knew that the world would be similar to that found in The Wild, Wild West – one of my mother’s favorite television shows; a show she made me fall in love with – but a bit grittier; a bit more fantastical.

What type of research goes into bringing one of your stories to life? 

SteamfunkTons of research…on the history; on the setting; on the culture and belief system of the people I write about. 

If we are going to write Steampunk and our story is set during the Victorian Era (between 1837 and 1901) and we want to avoid the cultural appropriation so prevalent in Steampunk, then it is necessary that we know history; that we understand how the Age of Steam was, so that we can determine how it should have been. 

If we cosplay a “Steampunk Squaw”, we should research how First Nation women lived during the Age of Steam; we should study First Nation cultures and choose in which nation we are going to gain historical and sociological expertise; we should research the word “squaw”, understand it is an offensive term to First Nation women and change the name…if you give a damn.

And that is what research is: giving a damn. So I do it…a lot.

What are some of your biggest challenges as a writer of Color?

The biggest challenge is letting people know that there are great works of Science Fiction and Fantasy by People of Color out there. Many more People of Color would read Science Fiction or Fantasy if they knew there are heroes in our books who look like them; who act, think and feel like them.

For years, we were the noble savage; the magical negro; the yellow menace. No one wants to invest days, weeks and sometimes even months, reading how less beautiful they are; how less intelligent; how less heroic. And mainstream publishes continues to perpetuate these images.

That is why I am convinced that the future of the literary industry is in independent publishing – small press and self-publishing. The mainstream literary industry is rooted in fear. It, like any corporation, is not in the business of taking risks – and Black books, other than street lit, are considered risky business. 

Books with People of Color as the heroes and sheroes are risks and the mainstream rarely wants to touch these books; and if they do, you are often asked to change your hero to a Caucasian male or they whitewash your cover, changing your Person of Color into a swarthy White person. Now, once an indie author creates a lot of buzz, the mainstream might pick them up, but before that, chances of your work getting published are slim. If your hero is Black, your chances are even slimmer and if your book is about Black on Black love, you can forget it. That is why I only work with independent publishers and I also self-publish.

I think one thing We love about your book covers is that they feature African American Women of a darker shade (Nothing against the lighter shades but you have to admit darker skinned women on book covers RARELY happens). I think the trend today is to write characters Bi-racial because some feel a black character is not as relatable as a bi-racial one that shares some European heritage. Do you think Colorism and the media’s narrow minded idea of beauty play a big role in the lack of black (especially darker skinned ones) characters on the front covers of books?

Sword and SoulI think the media is well aware of the beauty black people possess, however, for so long, the “beauty and magnificence of whiteness” has been fed to us through the media that now it is a risk to show otherwise and like I stated earlier, the media, like any other corporation, is not in the business of taking risks.

People who take risks; people who stand up and say “I am going to tell these stories about Black people unapologetically” – scare many white people. Hell, we scare many Black people too, who fear it is best to just get along. We scare the mainstream and those working within it because we show that we can be successful without the mainstream and we can do this our way.

In terms of diversity, you feature A LOT of characters of African descent (which is totally stellar). Do you plan on including other marginalized groups in future writings (e.g. Afro-Latina/ Latino characters; I ask because we’re both black Latinas) or Asian love interests?

I do include a diverse cast of characters in my books – and many Latinos / Latinas are of African descent, as I am sure you know – however, my main heroes and sheroes will always be of African descent. In my Steamfunk story, Nandi, which is set in 1970s California, the hero, Nandi, a law-enforcement officer who hunts the supernatural, is a Black woman, born in America, but with strong ties to Africa; her partner Pei-Pei Ming, is Chinese and her former lover, Wabli Ska, who is a law-enforcement officer, turned anarchist, is Native American.

I write what I want to see. I want to see more Black-on-Black love, so I write that; I want to see Black people on amazing adventures and being heroic, so I write that. I believe that most people want to see themselves as the hero. If they have the ability to create worlds in which they are that – through fiction, film, illustrations, or some other medium, they should do so.    

What are some areas or themes you haven’t yet covered but would like to in future writings?

I don’t believe in waiting. If I want something done, I do it, so I have now dived head first into writing New Pulp. I am also writing a Rococoa pirate novel, Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises. Rococoa is similar to Steampunk, but is set in the era in which clockwork technology is dominant. Think DaVinci’s DemonsThe Three Muskateers, or Brotherhood of the Wolf, told from a Black perspective.

All of these new writings will be published next year.

Where can potential readers learn more about you and your current and future works?

You can learn more about me and my works by visiting my website – Chronicles Of Harriet – or to learn more about the Steamfunk feature film I wrote, directed and fight choreographed, based on a short story written by author Milton Davis, visit Rite of Passage, The Movie

This amazing movie, entitled, Rite of Passage, will premiere in February, 2014 and is scheduled to screen at major film festivals and fan conventions worldwide.

You can also friend me on Facebook @ Balogun Ojetade; or follow me on Twitter @ Baba_Balogun

I am also quite active on Tumblr @ Black Speculative Fiction and Pinterest @ Balogun

 


HAPPY BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH!

Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month

HAPPY BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH!

SciFi 1In 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.

Black Speculative Fiction Month 4At 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.”

SciFiIn 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.

Finally, if you would like to meet others interested in Black science fiction, fantasy and horror, join us at Alien Encounters IV and on the State Of Black Science Fiction Facebook group.

Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month


STEAMFUNK FICTION: A Darker Shade of Brown

STEAMFUNK FICTION: A Darker Shade of Brown 

steam 1On February 22, 2013, the long-awaited, highly anticipated, hotly debated and deeply contemplated Steamfunk anthology debuted at AnachroCon and worldwide.

The book has done exceptionally well since its release, reviews are favorable and the popularity of Steamfunk – the anthology and the movement – is growing exponentially.

steam 2Readers 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…

The Sivad Chronicles: The Possession and A Debt to Pay by Milton J. Davis

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.

There you have it, y’all! Enough funk to last you for quite some time. If you crave even more funky goodness, please, check out my fiction stories on this site.

Stay tuned! There is plenty more Steamfunk to come!

steam 3

 


WHEN KEEPIN’ IT REAL GOES WRONG: Is Fiction More Powerful than Nonfiction?

REAL5

WHEN KEEPIN’ IT REAL GOES WRONG: Is Fiction More Powerful than Nonfiction?

I am a “Conscious Brother”.

What is that, you ask?

“A Conscious Brother” is a Black man who possesses a knowledge of – and love for – his history, culture and people. He knows that, because of the color of his skin, he is – by law, or tradition – politically, economically and socially discriminated against and he works – in a myriad of ways – to fight against said discrimination. Of course, there are also “Conscious Sisters”.

I hang out with Brothers and Sisters who are both “conscious” and not-so-“conscious”.

Now, talk to most “conscious” people and they are intelligent and very well read. Most of us can quote Chancellor Williams’ Destruction of Black Civilization from cover-to-cover. I have read everything from Soledad Brother to Flash of the Spirit. Our shelves are filled with great works of nonfiction.

I love to read nonfiction. Hell, I even wrote a nonfiction book – Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within.

I also love to read – and write – fiction.

After forty years of voracious reading and after nearly three decades of studying the workings of the brain and the mind, I have come to the realization that fiction is a more powerful tool – for learning and delivering truth; for shaping opinions and for affecting change – than nonfiction.

Recently, I asked one of my “conscious” friends why – out of over a thousand books – not one is a work of fiction and why he doesn’t allow his children to read fiction.

His answer?

“All that Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, Steampunk shit ain’t real, bruh. I keeps it real, son…for myself and definitely for my seeds (“children”). I got no interest in those ‘escapist’ hobbies, yo.”

Sadly, many Black people – particularly those who consider themselves to be “conscious” –  feel that Science Fiction, Fantasy and role-playing games are pointless; useless; a waste of time; and maybe even harmful. 

But they’re wrong.

My time spent playing role-playing games, reading comic books and storytelling during my childhood and teen years were crucial, formative experiences that were as real and memorable as my time spent running track, competing in the Academic Olympics or grappling on the sparring mat.

Once an event has passed into memory, it is the feeling of accomplishment, reward, mutual achievement and victory that is important. How I feel these feelings is irrelevant. The triggering event does not matter.

To fully understand this, let’s examine what the brain is – and how it functions – a bit deeper.

The Human Brain is the Most Complex Entity in the Known Universe

Our brains are organs of staggering complexity, having approximately 100,000 miles of capillaries…and it can grow more.  Your brain has 100,000,000,000 cells.  It also has 100,000,000,000,000 to 500,000,000,000,000 connections between those cells and no matter where you are at in your own brain development, you do not even use a fraction of 1% of your brain’s capacity.

Your Non-Conscious Thinking is 5 Times Stronger Than Your Conscious Thinking

Your brain thinks in six different areas at the same time.  You have six parallel processes going on at once.  Only one of these is your conscious process.  The other areas of your brain are not accessible by your conscious brain.  You have a different set of neurons that comprise your conscious thinking and you cannot directly access your non-conscious thoughts.

You have a powerful friend or foe in your non-conscious brain.  It is 5/6 of your thinking power.  Because you cannot directly control or access your non-conscious brain, you have to work at some techniques that will help you control it.

Your Non-Conscious Brain Sees, Hears, Smells, and Touches.

I am sure you have all heard of subliminal pictures.  Your conscious mind cannot perceive a picture that lasts for less than about 1/50,000 of a second.  However it is proven that your non-conscious brain does see and remember it.  Scientists monitoring your brain activity can tell what picture your non-conscious brain saw by observing the firing patterns in your brain when one of these pictures is flashed in front of you. Your non-conscious brain is aware of everything that is going on around you.  It is drinking in the world to a much higher degree than your conscious mind.  Just because you are not aware of it at the conscious level, does not mean that you are not thinking about – and reacting to – it.

Your Non-Conscious Brain Treats Everything as Real

Notice how when you are watching a scary movie, you actually get scared?  You react emotionally even though your conscious brain knows it is not real.  The same thing is true for fiction. 

You experience fear, happiness, sadness and other emotions when you watch a movie or read a book because your non-conscious brain is watching the movie too and it does not know the difference between fantasy and reality.

Your non-conscious brain believes that everything it thinks, sees, hears and feels is real.  It cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy or between the truth and a lie.

The Power of Fiction

Is fiction good for us? We spend huge chunks of our lives immersed in novels, films, TV shows, comic books and other forms of fiction. Some see this as a positive thing, arguing that imaginative stories cultivate our mental and moral development. However, others argue that fiction is mentally and ethically corrosive. That it is a bundle of lies, while nonfiction is the truth.

This controversy has been flaring up ever since Plato tried to ban fiction from his ideal republic.

In 1961, FCC chairman Newton Minow said that television was not working in “the public interest” because its “formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons” amounted to a “vast wasteland.”

What Minow said of television has also been said – over the centuries – of novels, theater, comic books, and films: They are not in the public interest.

Fiction does, indeed, mold us. The more deeply we get into a story, the more potent its influence.

In fact, fiction is more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. Studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this makes us malleable – easy to shape.

Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds. More peculiarly, fiction’s happy endings make us believe that the world can be more just than it is right now.

Fiction giving birth to the belief that a better world is attainable may even help explain why humans tell stories in the first place.

As the psychologist Raymond Mar writes, “Researchers have repeatedly found that reader attitudes shift to become more congruent with the ideas expressed in a [fictional] narrative.” For example, studies reliably show that when we read a book that treats white men as the default heroes, our own views on white men are likely to move in the same direction – we view them as heroes. History, too, reveals fiction’s ability to change our values at the societal level, for better and worse. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped bring about the Civil War by convincing huge numbers of Americans that Black people are…people, and that enslaving us is a crime against God and man. On the other hand, the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation inflamed racist sentiments and helped resurrect an all but defunct Ku Klux Klan.

Fiction can, indeed be dangerous in the wrong hands because it has the power to modify the principles of individuals and whole societies.

However, virtually all storytelling, regardless of genre, increases society’s empathy and reinforces an ethic of decency that is deeper than politics.

Psychologists have found that heavy fiction readers outperform heavy nonfiction readers on tests of empathy, even after the psychologists controlled for the possibility that people who already had high empathy might naturally gravitate to fiction.

One study showed that children ages 4-6, who were exposed to a large number of children’s books and films, had a significantly stronger ability to read the mental and emotional states of other people. Similarly, psychologists recently had people read a short story that was specifically written to induce compassion in the reader. They wanted to see not only if fiction increased empathy, but whether it would lead to actual helping behavior. They found that the more absorbed subjects were in the story, the more empathy they felt, and the more empathy they felt, the more likely the subjects were to help when the experimenters “accidentally” dropped a handful of pens.  Highly absorbed readers were twice as likely to help out.

It appears that ‘curling up with a good book’ may do more than provide relaxation and entertainment. Reading fiction allows us to learn about our social world and as a result fosters empathic growth and appropriate social behavior.

While fiction sometimes dwells on lewdness, depravity, and simple selfishness, storytellers virtually always put us in a position to judge wrongdoing. More often than not, goodness is endorsed and rewarded and badness is condemned and punished. Fiction generally teaches us that it is profitable to be good.

Furthermore, traditional tales – from heroic epics to sacred myths – perform the essential work of defining group identity and reinforcing cultural values, acting as a kind of social glue that binds fractious individuals together around common values.

On the continent of Africa, history, culture, the sciences, social norms and religious practices are imparted through storytelling and the storytellers – Babalawo, Iyanifa, Sanusi, Djeli – are held in the highest regard and are figures of great power, authority and respect.

The traditional African man and woman have long understood the workings of the brain. Indeed, the study, state and function of the three levels of the brain and mind – or “Ori” – are of the utmost importance in traditional Yoruba society. The more stories – called Ese (sounds, ironically, like “essay”) – a Yoruba knows, the more knowledgeable, wise and understanding he or she is considered to be.

The Yoruba “keeps it real, son.”

And so should you.

Read your nonfiction…then get “real” and pick up a novel.

Preferably, one written by me (just keeping it real).


WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: Where, on the map, is YOUR Fantasy?

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WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: Where, on the map, is YOUR Fantasy?

“Map Fantasy” is an umbrella term I use for the Fantasy subgenres of High Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy / Sword & Sorcery and Sword & Soul. If you ever see a book whose cover depicts a guy fighting a dragon, or a freakishly muscled warrior staring off into the distance as a buxom woman kneels at his feet, crack that mug (in Chicago, where I grew up, we call objects “mug”) open and I bet the first thing you find in there is a map. You have just discovered a book of “Map Fantasy”.  Now, there are exceptions; my own Sword & Soul novel, Once Upon A Time in Afrika does not have a map (although it does have a glossary). So do not send me any rants or “I told you so”-s. If you still do, know that you are crazier than a mug (yep, we use it like that, too).

Genre is primarily a marketing tool that publishers use to attract a certain demographic of readers and brick-and-mortar bookstores (yes, some still exist) use to categorize books on their shelves. Secondarily, genre is convenient shorthand – based on typical tropes and themes – to tell readers what type of book they are about to read.

So, what are the tropes of Map Fantasy?

In general, Fantasy uses the magical or the spiritual as an element of setting or plot. Oh yeah, and people wield Big Ass Swords.

In High Fantasy, Elves, dwarves, Halflings and other non-human, albeit humanoid, races often abound and an epic quest is quite common. Of course, the recounting of this quest usually requires multiple books. The Lord of the Rings and the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons are examples.

Before The Lord of the Rings and High Fantasy, there was Heroic Fantasy, which began with the pulp hero, Conan, the Barbarian, whose “mighty thews” first appeared in Weird Tales magazine in 1932.

Back then, speculative fiction wasn’t as clearly defined by genre and subgenre. Fantasy and horror often lay in the same bed, so Heroic Fantasy was bloody…very, very bloody and magic was – and often still is – wielded solely by the forces of “darkness”.

Sword & Soul – African-inspired Map Fantasy – is less confined by tropes and can include elements of both Heroic and High Fantasy. Sword & Sorcery can be quite bloody and magic is often wielded by the forces of good and evil.

Let’s examine these subgenres a bit closer and see how they are similar and how they differ.

Their Covers

Covers are an easy way to tell the subgenres apart.

On High Fantasy covers, look for men and women wielding swords and dressed in shining armor – women are usually dressed in the compulsory chainmail bra – and fire-breathing dragons, unicorns and electricity-wielding Lords of Darkness. You might also find a Castle, looming in the misty distance, or a wizard with a long, white beard and a pointy hat.

On Heroic Fantasy covers, you will find nearly naked men burying their axes and swords into the skulls of other bloody, mostly naked men, or into the pallid flesh of some creature that looks like it crawled out of the Devil’s toilet. You will also find full-breasted, nearly naked women kneeling at the hero’s feet, with her arms wrapped around his mighty thews. Oh, and as for those creatures that crawled out of the Devils toilet, those mugs usually have mighty thews, too.

On the covers of Sword & Soul novels, you may find the things you find on the covers of High and Heroic Fantasy, with one huge difference:

The hero will be Black.

The Effect of Saving, or Finding, a Mug

Whether saving a princess or finding nine powerful, magic rings, the heroes of High Fantasy will also save the world. High Fantasy is usually driven by its setting and the world is all-important.

Heroic Fantasy is less magnanimous. The effects are usually personal. If Conan saved the world, it’d be by accident, and he might curse Crom for allowing him to do so, because, in Heroic settings, the world isn’t worth – or is beyond – saving. Heroic Fantasy is usually character-driven.

In Sword & Soul, the heroes are usually of higher morals than the heroes – or anti-heroes – of Heroic Fiction. They may – or may not be concerned with saving the world, but whether the characters or on a seafaring safari, wandering a vast continent, or battling for the hand of a princess in a grand tournament, they are, most certainly, character driven.

The Setting

In High Fantasy, the world – yes, the entire world – looks, smells, sounds and acts like Medieval Europe. The places of good are rolling shires and an occasional stony underworld ruled by dwarves as strong – and sometimes as hard – as the stone and ore they mine. Kings are brave and wise and the people are hardy and simple. Of course, there is a Dark Lord just waiting to pass a shadow over the land.

Heroic Fantasy is a bit more willing to experiment. Medieval Europe abounds, but there are also other earth-based societies on the fringes. These societies are usually barbarous, grimy wildernesses (how a wilderness can be grimy is beyond me), swarming with thieves, or exotic lands in which cultists make sacrifices to naked deer-headed goddesses or monstrosities that would make Cthulhu soil his knickers. Farms? Hell, agriculture? There is none. I guess plant-life has a hard time growing when it’s watered with blood.

Sword & Soul is usually set in a city or village based on a real city or village found in ancient Africa. The people in the story are usually based on the real people who populated the real setting the story is based on. Thus, most writers of sword and soul are well-versed in history, or, since they are a lot who often communicate with each other and freely exchange information, they contact another writer who is well-versed in history, particularly African history.

Its Inhabitants

In High Fantasy, humans are generally the baseline. Humans can be bad or good, in league with the Dark Lord, ambitious, timid, brave, or cowardly. Basically, they’re people. White people. Other non-human races exist and their existence is usually a stereotypical one.  Dwarves are drunken, hardy louts who never forget a friend or enemy; Elves are usually arrogant and quite delicate, despite the fact they have lived, for eons, in the forest; Orcs are evil, stupid, dark-skinned brutes who are, most likely, servitors of the Dark Lord.

On occasion, one of the other humanoid races will “rise above” his or her stereotypical nature and act more human (i.e. more white). This “exceptional humanoid usually becomes the sidekick of the protagonist, eventually earning the respect of all and proving that all people can transcend their “lowly” upbringing.

Where High Fantasy stories usually veil their racist messages in the actions of its humanoid races, Heroic Fantasy shrugs its shoulders and screams “Who gives a crap?” as it openly embraces its racism and sexism. Jungle-residing cannibals, mysterious and treacherous “Orientals” and sexually insatiable witches are fodder for the mighty thewed heroes’ swords, clubs, axes and penises. Non-humans are rare. If they do exist, they are usually monstrosities best left unnamed.

In Sword & Soul, humans are usually the baseline. However, non-humans also often exist and inhabit the world. These non-humans may be heroes, villains, or just weary travelers looking for a bed and a hot cup o’ joe.

Monsters of various sorts exist in all three milieus. Vampires, demons, zombies and strange creatures, whose bodies are half in our world and half in some other world, roam the planet. In High Fantasy, monsters are varied and quite common. In Heroic Fantasy, monsters are usually less common and a lot meaner. In Sword & Soul, monsters are usually based on creatures from African folklore and are thus stranger – and often more frightening – to Western readers.

Magic

In High Fantasy, magic can be rare, like in The Lord of the Rings, or it can be so widespread that one has magical steeds and magical weapons and magical burger joints. Magic is used to heal the sick and feed the poor, or to infect the healthy with a plague and turn the poor into a shambling horde of zombies. It might be hereditary, or it might be learned from a wise old wizard or an arcane text.

In Heroic Fantasy, on the other hand, magic is usually rare, unpredictable, and is often evil. It is accessible to anyone who is willing to sell a bit of his or her soul to some demonic entity. In fact, Heroic Fantasy is often concerned with the triumph of the sword over sorcery.

In Sword & Soul, magic is linked more to the spiritual than to the arcane. Magic is usually the gift – or curse – of some god, or of some powerful ancestor. It can be as common as it is in High Fantasy, but is always more common than it is in Heroic Fantasy.

The Hero

In High Fantasy, the protagonist is often marked by ancient prophecy to rise to greatness and to remove the shadow that blankets all the mountains and shires. Often, the hero is an ignorant farm-boy, who happens to live somewhere out of the Dark Lord’s grasp. Usually, some town drunk or ne’er do well is secretly the person charged with protecting and teaching the boy when the time finally comes for the lad to take up his quest.

The hero of Heroic Fantasy is the anti-hero. The best of Heroic Fantasy’s heroes lives by a code of honor, but will go against that code if need be. Taking a quest because it is “the right thing to do” is unheard of. Quests, in Heroic Fantasy, are taken for the money, or for sex, or for revenge.

In Sword & Soul, quests are taken for the reasons in both High Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy, but the hero is usually more like the heroes of High Fantasy in morality and more like the heroes of Heroic Fantasy in attitude.

The Villain

We have already seen the Dark Lord throughout this work. Evil, in High Fantasy, is an ideal; a force that must be vanquished. The Dark Lord is an embodiment of that force, so he must also be destroyed. There are clear delineations of what is good and what is evil in High Fantasy; very black and white.

In Heroic Fantasy, the villain is usually just a tad bit more unpleasant than the hero. The hero, however does not wield magic and the villain does. He is not evil for evil’s sake. The villain in Heroic Fantasy most likely wants power, or booty (money and the other booty), and figures the best way to get it is by sending his horde of undead warriors to acquire it for him. If you had a horde of undead warriors at your disposal, you just might do the same.

In Sword & Soul, good and evil is more complex. This is probably because, in most traditional African societies, good and evil is not really dealt with; appropriateness is. If bandits invade a hero’s house and attempt to rape his mother, to do nothing, or to run and hide would be considered “evil”, because it is an inappropriate act in regard to the situation. To kill them all would be considered appropriate, thus good. If our hero runs next door and kills one of the bandits’ grandmother, then that would be considered inappropriate, thus evil. In Sword & Soul, the hero is often forced to deal with such complexities, which makes for some powerful storytelling.

Where do I get started?

By now, you are surely wondering where you can pick up some of these wonderful books to read (if not, you are crazier than a mug). While there are works from High and Heroic Fantasy that I enjoy – chief among them, Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser by Joe Bonadonna, I have loved Sword & Soul since I sought it as a child while creating people that looked like me in the world of Dungeons and Dragons and finding Charles Saunders’ Out of Africa article as a young man in Dragon Magazine (I did not know Charles was Black back then) and I have grown to pen a Sword & Soul novel myself and several Sword and Soul short stories.

Thus, I give you a few must have titles to get you started:

Imaro, volumes 1 – 4 by Charles R. Saunders

Imaro is the tale of the titular outcast, wandering warrior and his search for a people and a community to call his own. Written by the Founding Father of Sword & Soul, Imaro is an exciting series that is often compared to the works of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but, in my opinion, transcends all of the works of those authors and is some of the greatest writing in print.

Changa’s Safari, volumes 1 and 2 by Milton J. Davis

Driven from his homeland as a boy, Changa Diop travels the 15th Spice Trade world seeking wealth and adventure. Together with his companions and crew he crosses the Indian Ocean to fulfill his dreams and destiny. His dhows filled with the treasures of the East, Changa begins his journey home. But adventure waits with the winds, changing his fortunes and friendships in ways he could not have imagined.

Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology by 14 Authors; Edited by Charles Saunders and Milton Davis

Fourteen writers; fourteen artists; one unforgettable anthology! In Griots, Davis and Saunders have gathered together fourteen stories, written by new and seasoned writers, to answer the question: What is Sword and Soul? Each story is accompanied by illustrations to give vision to the prose. A first of its kind, Griots is an anthology that lays the foundation and expands the definition of Sword and Soul.

 Once Upon A Time in Afrika 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” daughter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle answers,  telling 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 warriors 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?


“Magic and mayhem. Gods and glory. Witches and warriors. Once Upon a Time in Afrika has all this, and much more. It is Sword and Soul at its finest, casting a long shadow over the ‘jungle lord’ and ‘lost city’ motifs that have previously prevailed in fantasy fiction set in Africa”
-Charles R. Saunders, author of Imaro & Dossouye, creator of Sword and Soul

“Balogun Ojetade represents a powerful new voice in Sword and Soul. He’s a master storyteller with an engaging, exciting style. Once Upon a Time in Afrika is well worth the read.”
-Milton Davis, Author of the Meji duology and Changa’s Safari Volume One and Two


The State of Black Science Fiction: Filled with Possibilities!

While many are concerned with the state of the Union on this election day, my concern is with the state of Black science fiction…and fantasy…and horror.

In early 2012, author Alicia Mccalla spearheaded a blog tour called The State of Black Science Fiction 2012 to educate people on the wealth of speculative fiction written by and about Black people available for us to enjoy. This blog tour has since grown into a movement. A movement that has spawned many Blacktacular events, starting with The State of Black Science Fiction Panel at Georgia Tech to the most recent Alien Encounters III convention, which featured The Mahogany Masquerade and other State of Black Science Fiction-hosted panels, book signings and film screenings.

In fact, the State of Black Science Fiction 2012 blog tour and Steampunk activist and journalist, Jaymee Goh, were the inspirations for me to start this Chronicles of Harriet website.

When we decided to form a collective of authors called State of Black Science Fiction, we chose to do a collective story, called Possibilities that we would read at our presentations. Since that time, other authors have added stories and Possibilities has grown into a book, which is now available – for free – on Smashwords!

So, join artist Winston Blakely and authors LM Davis, Milton Davis, Margaret Fieland, Edward Austin Hall, Valjeanne Jeffers, Alan Jones, Alicia McCalla, Balogun Ojetade, Rasheedah Phillips, Wendy Raven McNair, and Nicole Sconiers as we explore the possibilities in the broad ranges of Science Fiction from Paranormal to Steampunk!


GREAT BLACK AUTHORS OF SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY: Past & Present

GREAT BLACK AUTHORS OF SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY: Past & Present

Ask people to name Black authors of science fiction and fantasy and only a few names will be repeated, if any names are known at all: Octavia Butler…Tananarive Due…L. A. Banks…Walter Mosley. While, most certainly, these brilliant authors should be in everyone’s library, you are cheating yourself if you do not know of – or explore – the many other great Black authors of speculative fiction.

The Black presence and impact on the world of speculative fiction is a vast and powerful one. Some of these authors you may have heard of; some you may not have. Some will absolutely surprise you. All of them tell Blacknificent stories.

Let’s dive in and see just how deep this well of creativity is.

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932)

Chesnutt published The Conjure Woman in 1899.  The book, a series of loosely associated short stories, focuses on Uncle Julius McAdoo’s efforts to manipulate and dupe his northern-born, white employers, with hilarious results.

Like the famed trickster of the antebellum and postbellum-eras in America – High John the Conqueror – Uncle Julius overcomes an oppressive society through cunning, veiled courage and humor and his tales offer coded commentary on the psychological and social impact of slavery and racial inequality.

The stories Of Uncle Julius combine a good bit of magic – “cunjuhring,” “root wuk,”  “goophering” – and creatures of the supernatural, placing it firmly in the realm of Fantasy. 

Pauline Hopkins (1859-1930)

Pauline Hopkins  was a prominent novelist, journalist, playwright, historian, and editor. She is considered a pioneer in her use of the romantic novel to explore social and racial themes.

Her novel, Of One Blood – also known as The Hidden Self – was published in a serialized version in The Colored American Magazine, beginning in 1902 and ending in 1903.  The novel begins on a bitter Boston night, in the living quarters of Reuel Briggs, a Black scholar of mysticism. Hopkins goes on to concoct an intricate and engrossing tale of Asian mesmerism, ancient and mysterious African kingdoms, and metaphysical globetrotting.  This book has all of the action, adventure and romance that you would find in a modern Fantasy bestseller.

Harry Potter? Twilight?

Nah, give me Of One Blood!

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963)

Yes the W.E.B. Du Bois.

While most people know who W.E.B. Du Bois is – and if you don’t, you really need to brush up on your history – most do not know that Du Bois frequently wrote speculative fiction.

A couple of Du Bois’ speculative works include The Comet (1920) – which imagines what would happen if there were only two people left on the planet (a black man and a white woman) and Jesus Christ in Texas (1920) – in which Jesus returns as an enslaved African in Texas to set the enslaved free. 

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

A literary powerhouse of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston is probably most well-known for her Blacktastic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Also a cultural anthropologist and Mambo (diviner / spiritual leader) in the Haitian tradion of Vodoun, Hurston published two collections of African American and Caribbean folklore, Mules and Men (1935) and Tell My Horse (1938) respectively, that include extensive sections on Vodoun (“voodoo”) and Hoodoo – a form of African-American traditional folk magic.

Hurston’s experiences with such folklore and spiritual tradition found its way into much of her work. In the novel Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), for example, Hurston recasts the biblical figure Moses as a powerful Hoodoo man, with a great command over the forces of magic.

Hurston challenges and subverts the predominant stereotypes of Vodoun and Hoodoo as “primitive magic” and “witchcraft”, giving us what she believed to be an authentic, African spiritual path to empowerment for those without power.

The result is a narrative of mythic status and import. Just as myths transcend the limitations of common life and imbue daily actions with universal significance, Hurston uses Vodoun and Hoodoo imagery and symbolism to create a modern American myth, grounded in the African diasporic traditions.

George S. Schuyler (1895-1977)

Schuyler was a satirist, and like many satirists, he created fantastical, alternate realities in order to deliver his social and political commentary. 

In his 1931 novel, Black No More, The protagonist, Max Disher, becomes white after strapping himself into the revolutionary “E-Race-O-Later” machine (invented by Dr. Crookman) and begins to understand what it is like to live on the other side of the color line.

Henry Dumas (1934-1968)

A man of many hats, Dumas was a  writer, a poet, did a stint in the military, was a teacher, and even worked a year at IBM.    A poet of the highest order, poetic rhythms and structures infuse his prose.   As a lover of all things Black, Dumas’ writing reflects his lifelong love of African American and African Diasporic folklore and musical traditions.

Echo Tree, an amazing collection of Dumas’ short, speculative works, features such stories as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a fantasy story, with elements of horror, set in an underground jazz club.  The protagonist, Probe, tests a legendary instrument of immense power on a few unwelcome guests.

In Dumas’ works, magic offers a way of giving power to the powerless – to exact a kind of decisive justice, as when, in “Fon,” flaming arrows whiz from the sky and dispatch a group of would-be lynchers. 

This is my favorite author and one of my greatest influences. After you read Echo Tree, I am sure he will be one of your favorites, too. 

Virginia Hamilton (1934-2002)

Virginia Hamilton’s first novel, Zeely, was about two children who encounter a “Watusi” (Tutsi) queen on their uncle’s farm.   She received numerous honors for her writing throughout her career, including the Coretta Scott King Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award and a MacArthur Genius Grant, publishing more than 40 books in various genres for children, middle grade, and young adult audiences.

Though Hamilton’s works range in theme and content, much of it is, most certainly, speculative fiction.  Hamilton deftly handles topics as diverse as aliens – Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed – and African goddesses – The Adventures of Pretty Pearl.

In one of my favorite works by Hamilton – the Justice Trilogy – a girl, Justice, and her twin brothers – all of whom possess incredible powers – are thrust into a desolate, post-apocalyptic world a million years in the future.

Samuel R. Delaney

One of the most prolific science fiction authors of the 20th century, Delaney’s body of work includes more than twenty novels, several novellas, and countless short stories. 

Publishing his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, in 1962 at the age of 19, Delaney has since gone on to win countless prestigious awards including the coveted Nebula and Hugo awards.

His science fiction novels include Babel-17The Einstein IntersectionNova, Dhalgren, and the Return to Neveryon series.

After winning four Nebula awards and two Hugo awards over the course of his career, Delany was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002.

Delaney is currently a professor of English and Creative Writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he is Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program.

Charles R. Saunders

An African-American author and journalist currently living in Canada, Saunders is best known as the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy called Sword & Soul, which is described by Saunders thusly, 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.”

Saunders has inspired several generations of writers with his work, beginning with the four-volume Imaro series of Sword & Soul novels – about a skilled, fearless, wandering warrior who rivals (exceeds?) Conan – and continuing with the two-volume Dossouye series about a fierce woman warrior from Dahomey and her mighty war-bull, Gbo.

Saunders has also created a Blacktacular pulp fiction novel – and one of my favorites – Damballa, about a shadowy hero who fights evil in 1930s Harlem with unprecedented martial skills and a combination of African and Western science.

If you have not read any of Charles Saunders work, run, don’t walk, to your nearest computer and visit his website, http://www.charlessaunderswriter.com/!

Milton J. Davis

Author and publisher Milton J. Davis specializes in writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is the author of four Blacknificent Sword and Soul novels – Meji I, Meji II, Changa’s Safari, Changa’s Safari II – one alternate history novel – A Debt to Pay – contributing editor and publisher of Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology and the long awaited, soon-to-be released Steamfunk! anthology.

His books, and the works he publishes, can be found at http://www.mvmediaatl.com/ and on Amazon.

Valjeanne Jeffers

Valjeanne Jeffers is best known as the author of the erotic horror / fantasy series, Immortal. She is also author of the Steamfunk novel, The Switch II: Clockwork (Books I and II) the short works, Grandmere’s Secret, and Colony. She has been published in numerous anthologies including Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology and the upcoming Steamfunk!. Contact Valjeanne at http://www.vjeffersandqveal.com/.

Alan Jones

Alan Jones is a native Atlantan, a former columnist for the Atlanta Tribune, and a Wall Street consultant. 

Alan writes a brand of science fiction that blends fanciful characters and scenarios with generous doses of philosophy and social commentary. His book, To Wrestle with Darkness, is available at most major retailers.

Balogun Ojetade

A diverse writer and wearer of many hats, Balogun is the author of several short stories in the genres of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction and of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator – with author, Milton Davis – of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG.

A long-time admirer of Harriet Tubman, in Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Balogun elevates this already heroic icon to super-heroic status when he pits her against the advanced technologies and enhanced abilities of the servants of a government that has turned its back on her and seeks to see her dead. Harriet, possessing extraordinary abilities of her own, enlists the aid of other heroes of history to make a stand against the powerful forces of evil.

Balogun is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. His books are available on Amazon and at http://www.mvmediaatl.com/.

Wendy Raven McNair

Raven McNair is the author of  AsleepAwake, and the soon-to-be-released Ascend, a young adult fantasy trilogy about teen super-beings. McNair’s stories celebrate African American teen girls. Her novels are available at http://wendyravenmcnair.com/.

Alicia McCalla

Alicia McCalla is author of the Teen Dystopian, “Genetic Revolution” series of novels, which includes Breaking Free and Double Identity, which is scheduled for release in early 2013. Alicia’s work is available on amazon.com and through her website: http://aliciamccalla.com/.

Ronald T. Jones

Chicagoan, Ronald T. Jones, is considered by most to be a master of Military Science Fiction and his novels, Chronicle of the Liberator and Warriors of Four Worlds, are proof of that. His work is available on Amazon.

*NOTE: For more research on this subject, please check out the website of author L.M. Davis, who has done extensive research on authors of Black Speculative Fiction and is the author of the incredible Young Adult Fantasy Shifter Series of Novels: http://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/.


ALIEN ENCOUNTERS: Black Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Invade Atlanta!

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS: Black Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Invade Atlanta!

Alien Encounters is an annual convention for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music that serves as a venue for both education and entertainment.

The Atlanta-based State of Black Science Fiction collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History have collaborated to offer exciting, informational and interactive discussions, film screenings, book signings and much more that are all free and open to the public.

“About four years ago, I went to the Decatur Book Festival, and found authors of color who wrote in these genres (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, horror),” the original event organizer, Sharon E. Robinson, says.

“We got together, talked, had several meetings, and finally came up with the idea of putting together this program (Alien Encounters).  A lot of the time, our literary audiences aren’t as familiar with these genre writers as they are with, say, urban romance (authors) and others. There are a lot of writers, in the Atlanta area and across the country, who write in these genres, and we hope to increase readers’ knowledge base about them and their works,” she explains. “Our ultimate goal is to broaden visitors’ literary knowledge and understanding about these particular genres.”

Join us, October 25-October 28, 2012 for our third year of four Blacktastic days of Black Speculative Fiction, Film and Steamfunk!

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS III

Black Speculative Fiction: What it is and why Black people should read it

Thursday, October 25

7:00pm-9:00pm

A dynamic discussion on Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in literature, film and other media with authors of African descent. The authors will showcase their involvement in their respective genres and subgenres of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Panelists Include:
Ed Hall (moderator): Author and Editor
Milton Davis: Author and Publisher
Wendy Raven McNair: Author
James Eugene: Visual Artist
Balogun Ojetade: Author and Filmmaker

The Mahogany Masquerade Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk & Film

Friday, October 26

6:30pm-9:00pm

Come out in your (Steam)funkiest gear and enjoy The Mahogany Masquerade: An evening of Steamfunk and Film!

Enjoy the four short films that will be screened; engage authors, filmmakers and artists in a panel discussion on the Steamfunk Movement; shop for books and movies in our bazaar and meet and greet your fellow Steamfunks, Steampunks, and lovers of Science Fiction and Fantasy!

Wear your Steampunk / Steamfunk Clothing, Costumes, Gadgets and Gear and receive a Blacknificent Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror novel free!

Finding Black Faces within the Pages

Saturday, October 27

2:00pm-4:00pm

Fantasy and science fiction young adult authors will read excerpts from their books and discuss ideas and techniques in writing Sci-Fi literature for young adults of color.

The Last Angel of History: Film Screening

Saturday, October 27

4:00pm-6:00pm

Directed by John Akomfrah, this film is an engaging and searing examination of the hitherto unexplored relationships between Pan-African culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel, and rapidly progressing computer technology.

Devil’s Wake and My Soul to Take: Discussion and Book Signing with authors Tananarive Due & Steven Barnes

Sunday, October 28

3:00pm-5:00pm

The Auburn Avenue Research Library will host authors Steven Barnes and Spelman College Cosby Chair in the Humanities, Tananarive Due, who will discuss their latest publications, Devil’s Wake and My Soul to TakeDevil’s Wake is the tale of young people struggling to remain human-and humane-in a post-apocalyptic near future.  My Soul to Take is set in the year 2016 when governments are striving to keep terrorists at bay and plagues secret to reduce the threat of panic. 

There you have it. A fun-filled weekend of Blacktastic Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror you absolutely do NOT want to miss!

See you there!


ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA

Recently, several reviews of my novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika, have been released. I would like to share a couple here and I will share more (eventually all) in future posts.

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…

 

RECOMMENDED

“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

Sword and Soul“Since the advent of Sword & Soul, a subgenre focusing primarily on African mythology, we’ve seen many wonderful anthologies and novels come along that are breathing new life and welcomed vigor into fantasy literature.  The two biggest proponents, creators if you will, of this new classification are authors Charles Saunders and Milton Davis.  Saunders is known for his lifelong achievements in authoring some of the finest black fantasy fiction ever put to paper to include his marvelous heroes, Imaro and Dossouye.  Whereas Davis, beside his own amazing fiction, has been the driving force behind MV media, LLC, a publishing brand devoted to Sword & Soul.
Now, from that house, we have ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA by Balgum Ojetade; a sprawling, colorful and fast moving adventure that defines the best of Sword & Soul.  It is a tale of whimsy, love, magic and war told with such comfortable ease as to pull the reader along effortlessly.  Now in all fairness, this reviewer was challenged to keep the many characters separate due to their exotic foreign names that twists one’s mental tongue in a variety of unique vowels and consonants.  Thankfully Ojetade does provide a glossary of names at the book’s conclusion which was most helpful.  Despite this minor annoyance, he does distinguish each figure in unique ways that did allow us to enjoy the action without getting overly concerned about proper pronunciations along the way.
Alaafin, the Emperor of the Empire of Oyo wishes to marry off his beautiful but mischievous daughter, Princess Esuseeke.  Seeke, as she is referred to, is very much a “tomboy” who prefers studying martial arts rather than learning sewing or poetry in the royal palace.  It is Alaafin’s prime minister, Temileke who suggest Alaafin sponsor a Grand Tournament to feature the best fighters in all the land brought together to battle for the hand of the princess.  The emperor approves of the idea and dispatches Temileke to the furthest corners of Oyo to recruit only the greatest warriors in the kingdom to participate.
Meanwhile, Seeke, frustrated by her role as the prize in such a contest, accidently encounters her father’s chief general, Aare Ona Kakanfo.  Or so she believes. In reality the person she meets wearing the general’s combat mask is actually Akinkugbe; a young warrior wishing to enter the contest disguised as the general.  When Akin manages to win Seeke’s heart, things start to get complicated.  All the while the real Kakanfo is commanding the forces of Oyo in the south against their enemies the Urabi, desert people whose singular goal is to conquer Oyo.
As the day of the tournament fast approaches, Akin is trapped having to maintain his disguise and somehow figure a way to defeat the other fighters to win the hand of the woman he loves.  While at the same time, the Urabi, unable to defeat Kakanfo’s troops, desperately recruit the services of a brutal demon and a deadly female assassin to help turn the tide of battle in their favor.
All these various plot elements converge dramatically at the book’s conclusion wherein Akin and Seeke not only must overcome overwhelming odds to be together but at the same time rally their people to withstand the calamitous assault of their fiendish enemies and save the empire.  ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA is a rousing, old fashion adventure tale that had me wishing Hollywood would pick it up and film it; it is that captivating an epic.  Ojetade is a writer worth taking note of, he delivers on all fronts and this reviewer has become an instant fan.” – Ron Fortier, Publisher, through his company, Airship 27 and Author of the comic books The Terminator and The Green Hornet.

Once Upon a Time In Afrika is available in both e-book and print form at http://www.mvmediaatl.com/ and on Amazon.


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