BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION DURING THESE 28 DAYS OF BLACK HISTORY
Every year around this time, things get very busy for me and for most of my other Black friends who create speculative works. This year is no different and many fun and exciting things are happening during Black History Month that I am proud to be involved in and that I know you will enjoy.
I’d like to share them with you and I would like for you to commit to attending at least one, if you are able to, or to shout them out all over social media if you are not; if you are attending one or more of these Blacknificent events, then please, shout ‘em out anyway.
As you probably know, my books, The Scythe and Fist of Africa dropped this month and are now available. However, the official debut of The Scythe is at Anachrocon. This is fitting because Anachrocon’s theme this year is Dieselpunk and The Scythe is a Dieselfunk Pulp novel.
My publishing / film production company, Roaring Lions Productions, will have a table there, with all of our books. Please, come by, purchase some great Steamfunk, Urban Fantasy or Dieselfunk, get a book signed, or just chat it up. No debating if Steamfunk or Dieselfunk is racist or separatist, though. Save that for the panel discussions I am participating in…or go to author Milton Davis with it; his table will be right beside mine. Just kidding, Milton!
Anachrocon happens February 14-16.
WREK Sci Fi Lab
On Thursday, February 20, from 7:00pm-8:00pm, Milton Davis and I will be guests on the WREK Sci Fi Lab Radio Show.
During the show, we will discuss Steamfunk, Dieselfunk and the soon-to-be-released Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage.
Listen in on the radio or on the internet; call in and ask questions, or harass us. We look forward to hearing from you – and responding in kind – either way.
Come on out and meet Science Fiction, Fantasy and comic book authors Alan Jones, Alicia McCalla, Balogun Ojetade, James Mason and Milton Davis as we discuss Black Speculative Fiction and do some dynamic readings of our works.
Purchase books and have them signed by the writers.
As an added bonus, James Mason will provide caricatures for anyone who purchases books and comic books totaling $20.00 or more!
This is a great event for people of all ages!
Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis teach Steamfunk at GA-Tech
Milton Davis and Yours Truly are crashing and taking over the Science Fiction class at GA-Tech February 26 and teaching a class on Steamfunk, its relationship to Steampunk and why it is a necessary and fast-growing movement.
The students have been reading the Steamfunk anthology as part of their syllabus and now I get to play professor again; fun stuff!
Steamfunk in academia…who’da thunk it?
So, that’s my schedule, thus far. If any of you would like to bring Black Speculative Fiction to your school, presentation, convention, asylum for the violently insane, spice planet, or galaxy far-far-away, let me know…we’d be happy to work with you (well, maybe not the asylum).
Enjoy this Black History Month!
February 7, 2014 | Categories: Afrofuturism, atlanta, Dieselpunk, Panel Discussion, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Steamfunk, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy | Tags: Black comic books, Black History Month, black speculative fiction, science fiction | 3 Comments
MORE TROLLS THAN A MID-LEVEL DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS CAMPAIGN
Recently, a person tried to bait me into an argument, or get a rise out of me by insulting my latest book release, A Single Link, without reading it. When that didn’t work, they said they were purchasing another book that released the same day as A Single Link.
Fine by me; my short story, Brood is in that book, too.
No, not rabbit…troll.
In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a group forum, chat room, or blog.
While trolling – the term for the discordant actions of a troll – can be accidental, it is usually done with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
Media attention in recent years has equated trolling with online harassment and bullying. For example, mass media has used troll to describe “a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families.”
Of course, trolls are not limited to English-speaking countries. Every nation on Earth is plagued by the trollpocalypse.
In Taiwanese Mandarin, trolling is referred to as bái mù – literally, “white eye” – or, “eyes without pupils”. The pupil of the eye is used for vision; the white part of the eye cannot see. In regard to trolls, this means that trolling involves blindly talking nonsense over the internet, with no regard for others. The alternative term is bái làn – literally “white rot” – which describes an internet post that is completely nonsensical and full of folly made to upset others. It derives from a Taiwanese slang term for pale, white, male genitalia, considered to be the genitalia of someone who is young and foolish.
In Japanese, tsuri means “fishing” and refers to posts with the sole purpose of getting readers to react.
In Icelandic, þurs refers to trolls. The verbs þursa (to troll) or þursast (to be trolling, to troll about) are also used.
In Korean, nak-si means “fishing”, and is used to refer to Internet trolling, as well as to purposefully misleading post titles.
In Thai, the word krean – the name of a closely cropped hairstyle worn by school boys in Thailand – is used to address Internet trolls, thus equating them with school boys. The phrase tob krean, or “slapping a cropped head”, refers to the act of posting intellectual replies to refute and the messages of Internet trolls and cause them to be perceived as unintelligent.
Psychologists have discovered that trolling is a form of symbolic violence. Trolls desire to promote antipathetic emotions of disgust and outrage, which gives them a morbid sense of pleasure.
The troll is a predator who attempts to pass as a legitimate participant in a group, sharing the group’s common interests and concerns. A group’s success at detecting a troll depends on how well they – and the troll – understand identity cues.
And trolls must be identified and, upon identification, immediately banned from the group or unfriended because trolls can be costly in several ways:
A troll can disrupt a discussion, disseminate bad advice and damage the feeling of trust in the group or community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling – where the rate of deception is high – many honestly naïve questions may be perceived as trolling and the questioner branded a troll.
“Why would someone in their right mind troll?” You ask?
Most are bullies. Punk-ass bullies, at that.
These e-gangsters and keyboard killers are more aggressive, rude and forthright online because they are anonymous and can act as unpleasantly as they like without immediate consequence.
In real life, though, these chumps wouldn’t clap at a concert, because pulling the same shit would, at best, incur social sanctions and at worst, incur an ass whoopin’.
“Other than moderation and censorship, what can we do to stop these damned trolls?” You ask?
Well, let’s go to the experts on trolls – Dungeons and Dragons – and see what they have to say (the emphasis, in bold, is mine).
“With its 5 hit points of regeneration per round, a troll can stand up to a lot of punishment. Moreover, it has 10 feet of reach that allows it get the drop on Player Characters with attacks of opportunity, as well as two claws and a bite attack for significant Strength-enhanced damage.
Trolls have ravenous appetites, devouring everything from grubs to bears and humanoids. They often lair near settlements and hunt the inhabitants until they devour every last one…trolls can appear thin and frail but possess surprising strength
They launch themselves into combat without hesitation, flailing wildly at the closest opponent.
Trolls are infamous for their regenerative abilities, able to recover from the most grievous of wounds or regenerate entire limbs given time. Severing a troll’s head results merely in temporary incapacitation, rather than death. After cutting off a troll’s head or other limbs, one must seal the wounds with fire or acid to prevent regeneration. Because of this, most adventurers will typically carry some sort of implement capable of creating fire.”
“…After cutting off a troll’s head or other limbs, one must seal the wounds with fire or acid to prevent regeneration.” As I stated earlier, you must identify the troll, cut them off from communication with the group, or yourself, and then permanently ban them and warn others against the troll, thus “cauterizing” the wound caused by their actions.
So, hunt down those trolls, draw your +3 keen Vorpal Sword and decapitate those predatory little bastards.
Be sure you have a torch or a vial of acid handy, though.
Can’t have that troll growing a new head and coming back.
*DISCLAIMER: I do not condone the literal decapitation of anyone, not even trolls…unless, of course, it is in self-defense, or it is an actual out-from-under-the-bridge troll.
December 17, 2013 | Categories: Adventure, Afrofuturism, Panel Discussion, Role Playing Games, Speculative Fiction, Supernatural | Tags: black speculative fiction, dungeons and dragons, troll | 9 Comments
DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? Black Steampunks and Steamfunkateers
For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of what is commonly called Steampunk – a mash-up of fantasy and science fiction that embraces a fantastical past while incorporating a spirit of progress, exploration and do-it-yourself ingenuity.
Always a voracious reader, I devoured the classic works that continue to inspire Steampunk and Steamfunk – Jules Vernes’ From the Earth to the Moon, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and HG Wells’ The Time Machine.
One of my childhood rituals was to sit at the feet of my mother and, together, we would watch The Wild, Wild West. My mother, a huge fan of westerns (she has probably seen every western ever made in English…yes, really) and comedic spy stories (Get Smart and I Spy are her favorites) was in heaven watching James West and Artemus Gordon solve crimes, protect the President, and foil the plans of megalomaniacal villains, with the help of Verne-esque, technologically advanced devices, sharp wits and superior fighting skills.
In my preteens, I was the first of my friends to break away from Dungeons and Dragons in search of a game that allowed me to create a world more like that of The Wild, Wild West, in which espionage, steam power, trains and amazing gadgets were some of the tropes. I could not find such a game, so I included these elements in the TSR game set in the Wild West, Boot Hill (also created by Gary Gygax, the creator of D&D) and it quickly became a hit with my friends.
As an adult, when I decided to write my first novel I knew three things – I wanted the hero to be Harriet Tubman; I wanted Harriet to be an ass-kicking monster-hunter and freedom fighter; and I wanted the story to include amazing gadgets and over-the-top villains a la…you guessed it…The Wild, Wild West. Thus, the beginnings of Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman took form in my mind. Years later, I sent the first book in the series to independent publisher, Mocha Memoirs Press. The Editor-In-Chief of the company, Nicole Kurtz, wrote me saying they loved the story and were looking for more Steampunk stories like mine. “Steampunk?” I immediately hopped online and began my search and found a wealth of information on the movement.
My next search was “Black authors of Steampunk”, which did not yield much, however it did take me to an article written by an incredible writer by the name of Jha – who I later discovered is one of the leading authorities on Steampunk, Jaymee Goh – whose informative and inspiring work helped me to find other Steampunk People of Color. You should read her article – The Intersection of Race and Steampunk: Colonialism’s After-Effects & Other Stories, from a Steampunk of Colour’s Perspective [Essay].
Shortly after finding the article by Jah, I was fortunate to find other writers of African descent who write Steampunk. I was so happy I was not alone and that I could read works of Steampunk that included heroes who look like me.
Since that time, I have developed friendships and working relationships with most of the Black authors and artists who write Steampunk and – through the genius and diligence of these same authors and artists, we have successfully created a subgenre of Steampunk that is a movement within a movement – Steamfunk.
Recently, author Milton Davis and I co-edited and contributed to the definitive work in the subgenre, the anthology Steamfunk!. We are now working together on a feature film based on a story that Milton wrote and a world we have built also based on that story. Rite of Passage, which we are producing in partnership with GA-Tech is sure to be a powerhouse of entertainment and education and will incite much thought, emotion, conversation and – hopefully – action upon its worldwide release.
Following is a list of Black people who are helping to move Steampunk and Steamfunk forward and to elevate the quality of these sibling movements.
Milton is a chemist by day and a writer / publisher by night and on the weekends. All of his works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC.
He is contributing co-editor of the anthology, Steamfunk! and author and / or publisher of seven other books, which are all masterful works of Sword and Soul – African inspired heroic and epic fantasy.
Milton is an active historian and educator on the topics of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.
Valjeanne Jeffers, author of the erotic horror series, Immortal. The fourth book in that series – Collision of Worlds – is Steamfunk. She is also author of the Steamfunk novels, The Switch I and The Switch II: Clockwork.
Valjeanne also works as an editor of Steamfunk and other genres of fiction and is co-owner of Q and V Affordable Editing.
At present, Valjeanne is putting the finishing touches on her next novel – Mona Livelong – a mash-up of Steamfunk and horror.
Luisa Ana Fuentes – aka Dorothy Winterman – is a New York-based attorney, Steampunk and owner of the Hattitude store.
A true Renaissance Woman, Luisa is also an opera/Broadway show tune singing, belly dancing, martial artist who speaks several languages, loves metal and Rasputina and Kletzmer music.
A long-time fan of cosplay and Live-Action Role-Playing (LARPing), Luisa says “I’ve LARPed, RenFaired, CosPlayed, ComicConed and so forth and so on. STEAMPUNK/GOTH/NEO-VICTORIAN has won me over.”
Needing an outlet for her creativity – and relief for her stress – Luisa began making her own costumes. She now runs a successful hat making business but still makes time to fabricate her own beautiful clothing and accessories.
Luisa’s Steamfunk persona is Dorothy Winterman, a Steampunk Dahomey Amazon, a character who came to her in a dream. According to Luisa, “…one evening I awoke from a dream. In that dream, Miss Winterman was standing among bodies of White men in differing military uniforms. They were dead or dying. I/Miss Winterman had a cross bow with a red laser light shooting out its pinpoint accuracy onto a Joshua tree not too far ahead. I stood, Captain Morgan-like on what I knew to be a Dutch military man. All around me were clearly African women soldiers all dressed alike with the same or similar weaponry, but likewise standing as I was upon the chests of other fallen European male soldiers. We all shouted and whooped and hollered in victory-my sisters and I. We had defeated our enemies and Africa (yes, all of Africa) was safe from continued plunder and rape.”
Luisa also wears a beautiful outfit that combines the looks of Cherokee, Taino and Caribe Indian warriors, with whom she also shares heritage.
The famed, Ohio-based Steampunk crew, Airship Archon, is helmed by Captain Anthony LaGrange, nom de plume for Tony Ballard-Smoot, a maker, model and ambassador and activist for the Steampunk Community as a whole.
Captain LaGrange founded Airship Archon in 2008 and is a popular panelist at Steampunk conventions.
Mr. Ballard-Smoot believes that Steampunk is unique among other cultural movements. He says “Steampunk is doing something fantastic that a lot of other movements have not done – create a community. You have a lot of scenes out there: the goth scene, punk scene, hipster scene but none of them have evolved into an actual community or family.”
Truly a creative genius, Nivi Hicks wears many hats; and wears them quite well. She is a world renowned cosplay model, cosplay costume designer and fabricator, mother and Director of Utah’s popular fan convention, the first such convention ever in the state of Utah – the Salt City Steam Fest.
She says of Steampunk – “Steampunk, to me, is my outlet, my muse, and my friend. It’s been something I can say in regards to a hobby and a genre of interest I have been interested in for the longest time.”
Nivi is an all-around great person – humble and always offering a kind and encouraging word to fellow Steampunks and Steamfunkateers.
With his creative partner, Sixpence, Mr. Saturday leads the San Antonio Neo Victorian Association, a large group of Texas Steampunks who have taken it upon themselves to spread Steampunk throughout Texas and beyond. Also, with Sixpence, Mr. Saturday hosts brilliant and witty Steampunk performances at fan conventions across the country.
A friend, Mr. Saturday – along with Jaymee Goh, Diana Pho aka Ay-Leen, the Peacemaker and Savan Gupta, aka A Count Named Slick Brass (Savan Gupta is actually creator of SteamFunk Studios and SteamFunk, a separate, but just as awesome movement as Steamfunk) – has been extremely supportive of Steamfunk and when I was new to Steampunk, he was one of the icons of the movement who spread the word about Steamfunk and my work in it.
About Steampunk, he has this to say – “Steampunk, I would say, is one of the more political “geek” subcultures out there. I never shy away from sharing my politics and views in any situation and Steampunk is no exception.” He further states “…there is no room for racism, sexism, elitism and various other cruel prejudices out there, within our community and we must do our best to prevent such counter-revolutionary efforts…”
He is a comic book and natural science illustrator, sculptor and bodger (woodworker). His influences range from Charles Darwin to H.P. Lovecraft to Clement Ader.
Like many others (this author included), Mr. Hicks was a lover of Steampunk before the term was ever coined. He says: “As a small child, I watched 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and fell head first into the waters of Steampunk, from which I have yet to resurface.”
Mr. Hicks’ work consists of Steampunk ray guns, respirators, odd gadgets, and masks as well as disturbing cryptozoological anomalies under glass and ocular oddities.
You can find Mr. Hicks at all manner of Steampunk and art conventions, fairs, festivals, shows, and other special events. As Shamus Tinplate, he is proprietor of Tinplate Studios, which sells Mr. Hicks’ incredible work.
In her precious, but little spare time, she enjoys all things Steampunk, Gothic, eccentric and eclectic. At present, Kimberly resides in Memphis, Tennessee.
That toy awakened the artist in young Standingo and he immediately started drawing…on his parents’ wall.
After awakening from the knockout blow delivered by his mom, Stan staggered to school, where he discovered an armless Spiderman action figure in the trash can. He retrieved Spidey from the detritus and took him home so he could draw him as well.
At ten years of age, Stan acquired his first comic book, when he saw an Incredible Hulk comic book at the local candy store and begged his father to buy it for him. It was then that Stan concluded that he wanted to draw comic books.
After unsuccessfully pursuing a career with Marvel, DC and Milestone comics – who told him he had tons of talent, but still was not good enough for them (they were wrong) – the disheartened Stan did not pick up a pencil to draw for the next five years.
In 2005, at the age of 32, Stan’s passion to draw was reignited, but this time, he was determined to remain independent and to create works on his terms. And boy, are we happy he made that decision! Stan is one of the most prolific artists in the business and is one of the premier artists in indie comics and genre fiction.
Stan has done the covers for several popular graphic novels and novels, including the Steamfunk series, The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and the Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time in Afrika, for which his work was nominated for best cover by the prestigious Pulp Ark Awards. Recently, Stan completed the beautiful cover for author Milton Davis’ Steamfunk series, From Here to Timbuktu.
He is highly sought after for his skills and has been commissioned by the NBA and the High Museum of Art.
His work can be seen on the covers of numerous magazines and books and in animation and designs for top apparel companies.
Marcellus is committed to developing the next generation of artists by sharing his experience and expertise as a judge for art competitions and as a panelist at conventions and festivals.
We were fortunate to commission Marcellus for the beautiful and beloved cover of the Steamfunk anthology and look forward to working with him on many more Steamfunk projects in the near future!
A popular prop maker, costume fabricator and mover and shaker at fandom conventions, Mark and his wife, Theresa, are true icons – and all around wonderful people – in the movement.
We were elated when Mark agreed to play the vampire Greasy Grant in the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage. Mark agreed to take on the role of the vampire mob boss mainly because he is an admirer of famed African American lawman, Bass Reeves and says he will be honored to be killed by the legendary U.S. Marshal.
He spends his day time hours pondering the mysteries of the Aether at the Emory Center for Comprehensive Informatics. His night time hours are dedicated to the enlightenment of students at local universities.
Steampunk evangelist, costume designer, maker, corset inspector, mixologist, computer jock and run-of-the-mill knowledge geek, Vernard is a popular and highly active Steampunk.
June 18, 2013 | Categories: Adventure, Afrofuturism, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Harriet Tubman, Historical Fiction, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: afrofuturism, cosplay, steamfunk, steampunk | 8 Comments
THE STATE OF BLACK SCIENCE FICTION 2013: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media
From posters that advertised slaves for sale in the 1500s, to the lumping of Zane’s erotica with Charles Saunders’ Sword and Soul on the same shelf in the bookstore today, there has been an unrelenting, powerfully persuasive and seeming purposeful, effort to promote black inferiority in the media. For every positive image of African-Americans, there are 100 negative stereotypes; sadly, many of them perpetrated by Black people.
Images and words combined are very powerful, and have been used, quite effectively, to convey this whole idea of African-Americans being “less than”; “not as good as”: the myth of Black inferiority.
And the concomitant myth of white superiority.
Black inferiority is a myth that had to be created in order to justify slavery within a democracy. These two contradictions – slavery and democracy – had to be reconciled, and the only thing the good old U.S. of A. could come up with was the declaration and substantiation that slaves were not human.
We must realize that we are not talking about ancient history, either. We have slave narratives that were written in the 1930s. The tragedy and horror of chattel slavery happened only a few generations ago. And the inferiority that was drummed into us through the media – through propaganda – has passed down from generation to generation just like a favorite family recipe.
This sickness must be addressed.
If you have a malignant tumor, you cannot just wait for it to dissipate. It will not just go away. It will spread. The disease of institutionalized racism in the media has been a cancer that we have hoped would just go into remission, but it has spread and now, the whole planet has bought into these myths.
We have become insensitive or desensitized to the point we are unconscious of what we see, hear and what is going into our minds. We have become a party to our own brainwashing. We have joined in and become our own victimizers.
In the old days, you had white comedians putting on black cork and basically humiliating and ridiculing Black people. Fast-forward a few years, when we were given this illusion called “progress”. Black comedians said to the white comedians “Hey, you don’t have to ridicule and humiliate us, we’ll do it. We’ll take it from here, boss.”
And they took it from there…and carried it straight to Hell.
Let’s take the use of the word “nigger”, for example; so talked about now because of its use 110 times in the movie Django Unchained. Black comedians took this wicked, destructive word and took ownership of it as if to call ourselves a nigger was empowering, as if it was a term of endearment and still vehemently defend its use to this very day. And no, saying “the N-word” is no better. It is just foolish.
The historian Carter G. Woodson said that African-Americans have been basically conditioned to go around to the back door, and if there is no back door, we will insist on one.
If you can get a Black comedian to show up on a late-night talk show and act the clown, it’s comforting to those people who say, “See they are a happy people. They aren’t angry with us for five hundred years of slavery and oppression.” It is like approaching a dog you have abused, neglected and chained up in your kitchen for a week, thinking “Boy, I sure hope it doesn’t bite.” And if, instead of tearing out your throat, the dog starts wagging its tail, you breathe a sigh of relief and say “Whew, good dog.”
It is a toxic mix – white supremacy, white superiority, and black inferiority.
Why we expect so little of ourselves and of each other
For starters, lower expectations mean fewer disappointments.
We have become comfortable with negative behavior; with poor performance.
Recently, my students and I met at a local, Black-owned vegetarian / vegan restaurant for a meeting. The restaurant, scheduled to open at 11:00am, was closed. It was noon when we arrived. This was not the first time this had happened and I suggested we go somewhere else, but everyone – except yours truly – was set on eating at this place.
Time crept on. 12:30pm…12:45pm…1:00pm.
Finally, at 1:15pm, the owners drove up, walked by us without even a “Hello”, let alone an apology for their extreme lateness, and entered the restaurant.
My students and I followed. I asked if they had anything already prepared that we could eat and they informed me that they prepare their food daily, so I would have to wait. I informed the owner that we had already been waiting for an hour and that they were supposed to be open at 11:00. The owner shrugged her shoulders and said “We have lives outside of this restaurant. Don’t you have a life outside of your job?”
As a business owner who goes above and beyond to satisfy my students and those who read my books and watch my films, I was shocked and furious. I told my students that I was leaving and would never spend another dime with those fools. My students all said that we need to give Black businesses second, third and forth chances. And that as “conscious” Black folks we must be even more forgiving.
I said “Consciousness has nothing to do with it! We have to demand excellence from Black businesses and cease this acceptance of Black mediocrity or we will remain mediocre!” I then hugged everyone and left. I have never returned to that restaurant. And never will.
From kindergarten through fourth grade, I attended Sol R. Crown Elementary School in a poor neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. At Crown, being smart and working hard was interpreted as acting white. Because to be smart, was also to be different. And to be different meant that you were trying to be better than those who were not striving.
When I was in kindergarten, one day my class was counting from one, through ten. My voice seemed to stick out from the rest of the group for some reason. The substitute teacher – a Caucasian woman who appeared to be in her early forties and mean as a junkyard dog fed a steady diet of gunpowder and guinea peppers – seemed to notice too and she singled me to count by myself. “Won…too…th-REE…for…” I said, pronouncing the words carefully and correctly, as my mother and sisters taught me. “…fiv…” The students laughed at the way I properly said five. They also laughed at my “nin” and my “tehn”, saying “It ain’t ‘fiv’, it’s ‘fahv’; it’s not ‘nin’, it’s ‘nahn’; and it shol’ ain’t ‘tehn’, it’s ‘tin’.”
I challenged them and said they were “talking country” (“talking country” means to speak in an unsophisticated manner, usually associated with the drawl of the rural American South) and asked the teacher who was right. The teacher told them I was wrong and that the “country” way they said the numbers was the “proper way for your people to say it.”
And no, this was not in Yazoo, Mississippi in the 1800s. It was 1972 in Chicago, Illinois.
The media is directly responsible for this. The perpetuation of stereotypes is always done through print, television, film, radio, music and, now, the internet.
Flip the channel or turn the page and there are the “baby mamas” and “baby daddies” so ubiquitous in common American culture that they become plot points or titles for mainstream comedies and movies.
The syndicated television program Maury, hosted by Maury Povich, is known for its “Who’s Your Daddy?” segments. Much of the content is based on issuing paternity tests to teens and young adults in hopes of determining fatherhood.
Many of Maury’s guests are black, and the sheer number of these cases is damning. Shows like these, along with court television shows that promote the same dysfunction, are very popular.
Millions of viewers are indoctrinated by these images of black family chaos. And we watch these programs like a gory highway car wreck because they involve so many people who look like us.
And we accept and share these perceptions without question, qualm or quarrel.
At a very young age, Black men and women are inundated with messages that they cannot trust or depend upon one other. Children see images of – and hear comments and jokes about – lazy, greedy, irresponsible, or otherwise flawed Black adults.
Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1888, but Black actors were not even hired to portray Black people in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.”
In addition, Black people were purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforced white supremacy over Black people. Since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years, this has had a tremendous effect on society’s view of Black people.
The media sets the tone for the morals, values, and images of our culture. Many people in this country believe that the degrading stereotypes of Black people are based on reality and not fiction. Everything they believe about us is determined by what they see on television. After over a century of movie making, these horrible stereotypes continue to plague us today, and until negative images of Black people are extinguished from the media, we will be regarded as second-class citizens.
1915 is a significant date in motion picture history because D.W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, which supported the Ku Klux Klan and is possibly the most anti-Black film ever made.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked very hard to try to ban the film due to its vicious portrayal of Black people as subhuman compared to the glorified Ku Klux Klan. The Birth of a Nation was important because it led to the creation of a new industry that produced “race films” for African-Americans. These films portrayed us in a positive light and addressed many social concerns of the community.
Before “race films,” Black people were nothing more than shuffling, shiny-faced, head-scratching simpletons with bugged out eyes who leaned on brooms and spoke bad English, but after the introduction of “race films,” we were depicted with more dignity and respect.
In order for Black people to ensure that they would have positive roles and stop reinforcing negative stereotypes through film, we had to make our own movies. The same holds true today.
I am asked, quite often, if there is such a thing as a Black Science Fiction movie. Supposing by “Black Science Fiction movie”, they mean a science fiction or fantasy movie that features a Black protagonist and majority Black cast and deals with issues that strongly impact Black people, I tell them that Black Science Fiction movies began in 1939, with the release of Son of Ingagi and that filmmakers continue to make quality Black Science Fiction movies today.
On Thursday, February 7, 2013, we will explore this topic in-depth and present solutions at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival during the panel discussion entitled The State of Black Science Fiction: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media.
This amazing discussion includes:
BALOGUN OJETADE, Co-Moderator
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 and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.
He is author of four novels – MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) (Steampunk); Redeemer (Science Fiction); Once Upon A Time In Afrika (Sword & Soul) and the Sword and Soul anthology, Ki-Khanga. In February, 2013, Balogun – with Co-Editor Milton Davis – will release the Steamfunk anthology.
Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth. He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.
MILTON J. DAVIS, Co-Moderator
Milton Davis is a chemist by day and a writer/publisher by night and on the weekends. He writes and publishes uplifting science fiction and fantasy stories from an African-American perspective because he feels that there is a lack of positive black characters in the speculative fiction market.
Milton is the author of four novels: Meji Book One, Meji Book Two, Changa’s Safari Vol. 1, Changa’s Safari Vol. 2 and two anthologies: Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, for which he is a contributing editor, along with sword and sorcery living legend – and founder of the fantasy subgenre, Sword and Soul – Charles R. Saunders and co-author – with Balogun Ojetade – of Ki-Khanga: The Anthology, a book based on Ki-Khanga: The Sword and Soul Role-Playing Game.
A man who wears many hats and wears them well, Milton is producer of the Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation, which is based on his short story, Rite of Passage.
In February, 2013, Milton and Balogun team up again, releasing the highly anticipated Steamfunk anthology worldwide.
All of Milton’s works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC.
Filmmaker extraordinaire Donnie Leapheart is the award-winning writer, director, producer and editor of the hit web series, Osiris, winner of the coveted Best Web Series award at the prestigious American Black Film Festival.
Osiris is an independent science fiction thriller with gritty elements of crime fiction, espionage and the supernatural.
Donnie has also edited and / or produced several documentaries and films, including The Walk, starring Eva Marcille (Pigford); the Soul Train Awards; and Paul Mooney’s Jesus is Black-So was Cleopatra-Know Your History.
Donnie creates his films and web series through his production company, Pyramid Pictures.
She has taught acting and producing at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Hollywood and was the first Program Director of the African American Heritage Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia.
An accomplished professional photographer and author of poetry, stageplays and short stories, Terésa is the creator of the bestselling book of poetry and reflections, Hot Sauce & Honey and the coffee table book, The Box 69: A Photo Blog Series…a Photographic Chronicle in Verse, Song, and Crayons.
She is the writer, director and producer of Genesis: New American Superheroes, a feature film that is now in production and that is to soon cross-over into a series of novels and a video game.
Terésa can be reached at Diva Blue’s Blog.
Tommy Bottoms, an Indiana native who now resides in Atlanta, GA, is a cultural and media critic as well as an HBO Def Poetry Jam alum. His 10 year career in spoken word and writing has garnered him critical acclaim in poetry and academia circles from Los Angeles to London. Because of Tommy’s ability to dissect complex topics in a witty and frank manner, he has been invited to speak at various universities around the country, including Penn State Law School and Harvard University.
His The Tommy Bottoms Report provides breaking news and in-depth analysis of politics and culture from an urban perspective.
Tommy is producer of the popular web series, Eternal, appropriately described as True Blood meets The Wire.
Tommy can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @eternaltheshow.
LaRon’s feature film, blackhats – an action-packed science fiction thriller, already described by many as “an indie mini-blockbuster” – is slated for an early 2013 release.
LaRon can be reached at http://blackhatsmovie.blogspot.com/.
So, walk, crawl, bicycle, or rent a blimp…whatever it takes to make it out to the Black Science Fiction Film Festival at GA-Tech. You do not want to miss this!
January 26, 2013 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Film, Harriet Tubman, Historical Fiction, Horror, Martial Arts, Panel Discussion, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Street Lit, Supernatural, Thriller, Urban Fiction | Tags: atlanta, balogun, black speculative fiction, film festival, horror, milton davis, science fiction, steamfunk, steampunk | 4 Comments
DOROTHY, WE AINT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
The Building of a Non-Eurocentric Fantasy World
I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, loving both genres equally, however, when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons back in 1981, my greatest love became fantasy. Forced into game-mastering due to the racism of the white students who refused to teach Black students to play, or treated us like “orcs” when they did teach us, my storytelling grew from the simple stories about Shaft, Billie Jack, Luke Cage and the Falcon I would tell to entertain my friends and family, to the building of worlds inhabited by complex characters. Fantasy worlds filled with intrigue, adventure, horror and humor.
Wanting to tell better Fantasy stories and to create a richer world for the players in my Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I became a voracious reader of fantasy novels, reveling in the richly-textured worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Robert E. Howard.
After two years of enthusiastic play, however, I – and my friends, it turned out – was tired of playing such a Eurocentric game. We had grown tired of lands that were obvious representations of England, Germany and Russia. These settings were not offering us anything new; anything we had not seen in slightly different forms over and over again.
To make the game interesting, many of my friends would create a character that was a ninja or samurai – because they were people of color, which made them unique and because they were ninjas and samurai, which made them cool. When I decided to introduce a Mandinka king who had come to the Land of Nod – we called all Eurocentric settings that because, for us, they had become boring and powerful sleep-inducers – to hunt the vampires who murdered his family, however, our interest in the game resurged. The players in my group begged to have their characters accompany the king back to Mali once they helped kill the vampire hordes infesting the Land of Nod. I agreed and everyone went into a frenzy – they, to find armor, clothing, weapons and spells appropriate to the terrain; I, to research ancient Mali and African folklore, creature lore and social, military and ecological systems and to create a world worthy of my players and of Africa.
a) Know it personally.
b) Research; research; research.
c) Make it up.
For my friends who do not write fiction, you probably think that writers of fantasy rely entirely on “making it up”, but you would be wrong. For the most part, fantasy worlds – just like worlds in hard-boiled crime, horror and romance – are based on something. Very often, fantasy worlds are an altered or hybridized version of a pre-modern, non-technological human society, which means, to create a world that readers will accept as real, you gotta research, research, research!
If an author’s only research is other fantasy novels, he or she will wind up borrowing Eurocentric milieus from the rest of the genre – and give us even more cliché from the Land of Nod.
A world based on Europe or West Asia is no problem, as long as, when immersed in your world, we don’t expect Conan, Bilbo Baggins, or The Gray Mouser to hop out from behind a bush and shout “Surprise!”
We need more worlds like Charles Saunders’ Nyumbani – “home” in Swahili – a world based on the traditions, legends and lands of Africa. Saunders, the founder and father of the fantasy subgenre Sword and Soul, has created a world that is fantastic, yet very real. Nyumbani is home to Saunders’ Imaro, one of the greatest and most interesting heroes in the history of fantasy fiction.
Taking inspiration from Charles Saunders, authors Milton J. Davis and Balogun Ojetade (full disclosure: that’s me), no strangers to world-building themselves, joined forces to create Ki-Khanga, a unique world that draws readers in and keeps them there. What, exactly is Ki-Khanga? How does this world “work”? Well, Charles Saunders says it best:
“Ki-Khanga is an Africa that could have been, located in a world that might have been. Sprung from the fertile minds of Milton J. Davis and Balogun Ojetade, Ki-Khanga is a place of magic and mystery, heroism and horror, spears and seduction. It is a place roiled by the long-reaching repercussions of an ancient feud between pre-human races and the subsequent wrath of an affronted deity. Not only does magic work in Ki-Khanga – magic defines Ki-Khanga, in more ways than one.”
I invite you to join us on the sandy shores, perilous mountains and mysterious savannahs of our world. I invite you to ride beneath the dunes of Targa in the bowels of the oga’koi-koi or to do battle with the Ndoko in the Great Circle. I invite you to share in our tales of triumph; of tragedy; of terror and tenacity.
I invite you to free yourself from the Land of Nod…and flee to Ki-Khanga!
Help us change the game by supporting our game! All the profits from the anthology will go to the development of Ki-Khanga: The Role-Playing Game.
We’re not asking you to Kickstart or Indiegogo, just purchase a copy of this exciting collection of stories by Balogun Ojetade and Milton J. Davis; with an amazing cover by world-renowned fantasy and science fiction artist, Eugene Randolph Young and a powerful introduction by the Father and Founder of Sword & Soul, Charles R. Saunders!
You get a great anthology now…and a great role-playing game later. It’s a win-win!
Sword and Soul forever!
January 19, 2013 | Categories: Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Horror, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Supernatural, Thriller | Tags: anthology, balogun, charles saunders, fantasy, ki-khanga, milton davis, sword and soul, worldbuilding | 22 Comments
PSYCHOLOGY, SANKOFA AND SWORD & SOUL: The Coming of Ki-Khanga!
Fantasy often takes place in otherworldly settings – such as the planet Pandora, in the film Avatar – or a slightly different version of the world we know, such as Nyumbani, in Charles R. Saunders’ incomparable Imaro series of novels. The details that go into the imagining of a fantastical setting allow the writer to both ground a narrative in reality and challenge the notions of that reality.
In Fantasy, the distractions of the mundane world are stripped away by the fantastical setting, and the remaining resemblances between the story world and our world are only those that really matter.
Fantasy stories do not explicate their authors’ philosophies; rather, they incarnate them and thereby put them to the test. If author Milton Davis’ readers find his seafaring Swahili prince, Changa Diop, beautiful, it is because Changa represents the high and noble in human nature that rings true, that persuades us, whether we realize it or not.
Too often, Fantasy stories are mistaken as diversions for the entertainment of children, stories that not only aren’t true, but could not possibly ever be true. Many Black people discourage their children from reading fantasy and certainly will not read it themselves because Fantasy dares to tell children to believe in fantastical things like wizards and monsters. Fantasy does not teach children that monsters exist…they already know that. Fantasy teaches them that monsters can be slain – a lesson we grown folks need to learn and internalize too!
Recently, a few writing colleagues and I were guests at an annual festival that celebrates natural Black beauty, wellness and culture. We were invited to sit on a panel and discuss why Black people should read and write speculative fiction.
We were introduced by famed hip-hop artist and activist, Professor Griff of the famed Hip-Hop Group, Public Enemy (*sigh* yes, the same group to which Flavor Flav belongs), who spoke briefly before bringing us up.
When it was announced that we were discussing Fantasy and Science Fiction, the crowd of three hundred dwindled to twelve.
One of the authors was near tears and has since not shown up at any events where it is clear that a majority of Black people will be in attendance. She was shocked and hurt by the reaction of the festival’s attendees. She felt as if her own people had rejected her; perhaps even hated her for “selling out” to Fantasy and Science Fiction.
I was not shocked. These were “conscious” Black people and I know how so-called conscious Black people think, for I am one of them.
“Conscious” Black people are quick to accuse something of being trivial and a distraction from the work of awakening the ignorant masses of our people. And, to many of them, fiction is as trivial as you can get.
Damn the fact that our ancestors were master storytellers and conveyed most life-lessons and values through fiction. In fact, most traditional African cultures still have their Djeli, Sanusi, Babalawo, Iyanifa, Houngan, Mambo, Bokonon and other griots – keepers of the culture and history. And these storytellers are revered.
Damn the fact that every corner in the Black community has its storytellers; every mosque; every church; every barbershop.
Damn the fact that many of the Fantasy stories told by authors such as Yours Truly, Milton Davis, Valjeanne Jeffers and, of course, Charles Saunders are written in the subgenre of Sword and Soul and by writing such stories, these authors are applying the African principle of Sankofa.
The symbol of Sankofa is that of a bird whose head is faced in the opposite direction of its body. This illustrates the fact that even though the bird is advancing, it periodically makes it a point to examine / return to its past, since this is the only way for one to have a better future.
Some also interpret Sankofa to mean, “No matter how far away one travels they must always return home.”
However Sankofa is interpreted, the basic and important meaning remains – your past is an important aspect of your future. So, in order to make the best of your future, you must visit your past.
Fantasy stories carry readers beyond the restrictions of time and space and promote a sense of mystery and transcendence, helping readers envision a better society where intelligence, courage, and compassion prevail.
They awaken higher ideals without preaching and show how the small and powerless can triumph through perseverance and patience.
Fantasy is perfect for Black people. Conscious, or otherwise.
Balogun Ojetade, author of the Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika and Milton J. Davis, publisher and author of the Meji and Changa’s Safari Sword & Soul series, have come together to create a world of mystery; a world of magic; a world of warriors and Gods of Light and Darkness.
In mid-January, 2013, the Ki-Khanga Anthology arrives, with tales of our past – both dark and glorious – that will offer an escape from our present and pathways to our future.
January 12, 2013 | Categories: Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Role Playing Games, Speculative Fiction, Supernatural | Tags: balogun, black speculative fiction, charles saunders, ki-khanga, milton davis, sword and soul | 5 Comments
2012 was a great year for Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Yours Truly. I have shared a lot, learned even more and made the acquaintance of some of the most fantastic people ever!
Thanks to all who follow my blog, read my books, make comments on my posts and tolerate my rants. Even bigger thanks to those who inspire, empower and teach me. There are many of you and no one post is large enough to name you all.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog that I would like to share with you.
Here’s an excerpt:
4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 52,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 12 Film Festivals
December 31, 2012 | Categories: Fantasy, Harriet Tubman, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Street Lit, Urban Fiction | Tags: balogun, black speculative fiction, steamfunk, steampunk, sword and soul | 6 Comments
The Mystery Behind Why We Love A Mystery
Most of what we regard as entertaining is mysterious; suspenseful. Watch television, or read a book and you will see what I mean – Will the Falcons defeat the Bears? Will Mr. Gold / Rumpelstiltskin finally surrender to his dark side? Will Shaquita Love finally kill Pimpalicious and “come up”?
We aren’t sure how the story or the game will turn out, and we become very interested in finding out.
Uncertainty is not on most people’s list of pleasant experiences. If suspense builds on our uncertainty, then why is it possible to enjoy seeing a mystery movie or reading a suspenseful book?
But as much is uncertainty attracts us, we are still found returning to books and movies we have seen before and reading / watching them more than once. Why? You already saw the movie…you…know what is going to happen, but still you are sitting on the edge of your seat. How? Why?
Things that make you go “Hmm…”
The ability to adopt perspectives that we know are fictional is basic to the human imagination and our imaginations entail feelings as well as thoughts – we not only imagine the scary serial killer who grinds up human teeth and uses the powder to flavor his morning tea, but are terrified of him or her.
As I stated in an earlier post, the brain does not know the difference between fantasy and reality. That is why we can care about a story we know to be fictional. It also explains how we can feel suspense even when we know how the story ends. Knowing the ending doesn’t interfere with our ability to place ourselves in the situation of the characters in a story, and once we do that, we can suspend our knowledge of the ending in the same way we suspend our knowledge that the situation is fictional.
Murder Mysteries have fascinated us for well over a century. Whether you want to be in the middle of the unsolved case or just be a bystander, you are sure to enjoy it.
Join us on Friday, February 22nd, 2013, and discover just how much you enjoy it, as we step back in time, to the Age of Steam, and experience the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party!
Come in your Steamfunk gear. We are also giving a signed copy of Steamfunk! to the person with the (Steam)funkiest costume!
6:30pm – 9:30pm
Southwest Arts Center – Black Box Theater
915 New Hope Road, SW
Atlanta, GA 30331
November 23, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: balogun, milton davis, murder mystery, role-playing, science fiction, steamfunk, Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party, steampunk | 3 Comments
Steamfunk Detectives: Origin of the Murder Mystery Game
Murder mystery games are generally party games wherein the party-goers must solve a murder, determining who among them is the murderer and how and why the murder was committed. A typical murder mystery game opens with a ‘death’ and the rest of the time playing is devoted to investigation and solving the murder.
To understand the origin of murder mystery games, we must start at the very beginning and examine the origins of murder mystery fiction.
The first fictional detective was Edgar Allen Poe’s “August Dupin” in Murder in the Rue Morgue, which was published in 1841. A year later, reality followed fiction and the London Metropolitan Police appointed their first detective force, consisting of eight men.
On June 30, 1860, three-year old Saville Kent, was found with his throat slit in the privy of Road Hill House, a Victorian manor. The only suspects were the members of the household – Saville’s father and mother, his siblings, the nursemaid, and the household staff. The disturbing murder set the British public on edge and they clamored for more information on the case.
The press responded to the public’s interest by printing hearsay and rumors as well as facts and the general public descended on the investigation like vultures, eager for any bits of juicy gossip.
Everyone had their ideas as to who killed little Saville Kent and how it was done, even to the point of contradicting the police force in the national press.
It was this case that inspired murder mystery fiction for over a century and even now, serves as a blueprint for modern murder mystery novels – a manor house, a murder, a seemingly respectable family with secrets, and a singular detective who leaves no stone unturned.
Wickie Collins’ Moonstone, released just eight years after the Road Hill Murder, is considered to be the original fictional murder mystery.
And in 1887, the world’s best known detective, Sherlock Holmes, stepped on the scene, courtesy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who, during his career, wrote 4 Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories with Sherlock Holmes as the protagonist. By the way, for a Blacktastic take on the Sherlock Holmes franchise, check out Watson and Holmes, a digital comic by Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi, in which Holmes and Watson are African-American.
Besides playing detective and reading murder mysteries, people during the Age of Steam were also lovers of all types of parlor games, many of which have survived until this day.
The origin of present day murder mystery games can be found during this era, beginning in the late 1800s, after the Road Hill Murder case. These games started out in the form of after-dinner entertainment and had such intriguing names as Murder in the Dark, Wink Murder and Jury.
In 1935, the first murder mystery boxed game known as Jury Box hit the market. Guests took the role of jurors examining the evidence from the fictional murder case presented to them.
In 1948, the first murder mystery board game, Cluedo – called Clue in North America – was released and has continued to be a popular entertainment for all ages.
The 1980s saw the birth of the murder mystery role-playing game. Back then, the scenarios were simple, the acting directions minimal and the games relied on the guests being comfortable ad-libbing responses to each other’s questions.
Those basic games have increased in complexity and fun and are the role-playing dinner party games we now know and love.
Join us on Friday, February 22nd, 2013, as we step back in time, to the Age of Steam and experience the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party!
Be the first person to solve the murder mystery and receive a free, signed copy of the Blacktastic new Steamfunk! Anthology!
Come in your Steamfunk gear. We are also giving a signed copy of Steamfunk! to the person with the (Steam)funkiest costume!
6:30pm – 9:30pm
Southwest Arts Center – Black Box Theater
915 New Hope Road, SW
Atlanta, GA 30331
November 18, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: balogun, cluedo, murder mystery, mystery dinner, role-playing, sherlock holmes, steamfunk, Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party, steampunk | 5 Comments
WHEN KEEPIN’ IT REAL GOES WRONG: Is Fiction More Powerful than Nonfiction?
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.
“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.
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).
November 14, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Film, Harriet Tubman, Historical Fiction, Horror, Martial Arts, Panel Discussion, Reviews, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Short Story, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Supernatural, Thriller, Uncategorized, Writers Workshop | Tags: africa, afrika, balogun, black speculative fiction, fiction, nonfiction, ori, writers, Yoruba | 15 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
November 8, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Reviews, Role Playing Games, Short Story, Speculative Fiction, Supernatural, Thriller, Uncategorized | Tags: africa, african, afrika, afrikan, balogun, black speculative fiction, changa's safari, charles saunders, Dossouye, fantasy, fiction, Griots, imaro, meji, milton davis, Once Upon A Time in Afrika, racism, sword and soul, writers | 13 Comments
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-17, The Einstein Intersection, Nova, 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 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 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.
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 Asleep, Awake, 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 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/.
November 1, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Film, Harriet Tubman, Historical Fiction, Horror, Panel Discussion, Reviews, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Short Story, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Supernatural, Thriller, Uncategorized, Writers Workshop | Tags: author, balogun, black speculative fiction, charles chesnutt, charles saunders, fantasy, fiction, Henry Dumas, ki-khanga, LA Banks, milton davis, octavia butler, Pauline Hopkins, samuel delaney, sci fi, science fiction, speculative, steamfunk, steampunk, sword and soul, tananarive due, valjeanne jeffers, walter mosley, WEB Du Bois, wendy raven mcnair, writers, Zora Neale Hurston | 40 Comments
ALIEN ENCOUNTERS: Black Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Invade Atlanta!
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 Take. Devil’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!
October 23, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Film, Harriet Tubman, Historical Fiction, Horror, Panel Discussion, Reviews, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Supernatural, Thriller, Uncategorized, Writers Workshop | Tags: alan jones, alicia mccalla, Alien Encounters, atlanta, auburn avenue research library, author, balogun, black speculative fiction, ed hall, fantasy, l.m. davis, Mahogany Masquerade, milton davis, science fiction, steamfunk, steampunk, steven barnes, sword and soul, tananarive due, wendy raven mcnair, writers | 5 Comments
Revenge of the Nerds?
Steve Urkel demands your lunch money!
While I am a professed “Jocky Blerd” (“Blerd” = Black Nerd) – an athletic and fairly charismatic person who, nevertheless, is into things considered nerdy, like Dungeons and Dragons, video games, science, science fiction, fantasy literature and / or comic books – I have found nerd culture to be chock full of arrogant little racists and sexists who are quick to launch mean-spirited verbal assaults – because, God knows, they would not dare to launch a physical one – upon those they feel to be less intelligent, less nerdy, or who they think has screwed up their fandom by not engaging in or representing what they are into “just right”.
For example – the movie The Hunger Games had nerds up in arms because some of their favorite characters were Black – which they were in the books, too, but while a reader can change the look of a character in a book in their mind’s eye, that is not so easily achieved with the physical eye and, in The Hunger Games, the Blackness of the characters were in their zit-riddled faces and the scrawny little bastards went berserk, saying some of the craziest crap since 20th Century Fox took legal action against Warner Brothers over the rights to the Watchmen movie.
There is a misconception that all nerds are nice; that all nerds are victims of bullying and classism; that all nerds are super-intelligent, innocent, harmless and adorable and are fodder for bullies.
Bullies in Taped-Up Glasses
A study tracking nearly 2,000 children reveals that bullies and their victims share similar personal histories and traits, such as aggressive behavior in early childhood, overly stern parents, and low socioeconomic status.
Both bullies and nerds have poor problem-solving skills within social situations, have negative attitudes toward others, feel badly about themselves, and most likely grew up in a home with conflict.
The only significant difference between bullies and the nerds they victimize is that bullies dislike school and tend to perform worse academically than their geeky counterparts.
Aggressive behavior in early childhood is the strongest determinant of later victimhood, which means that poor little nerdy high school student getting pushed around in the school cafeteria was probably giving other children hell in Head-start.
To be fair, the aggression found in nerds is not the more cold-blooded aggression you find in bullies. Nerd aggression is more of a hostile hyper-reactivity, which has been linked, through other studies with unpopularity, a likely antecedent to being bullied.
An earlier study, from the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education found that between 1974 and 2000, in 37 school shootings, 71 percent of the shooters had “felt bullied , threatened, attacked or persecuted.” These oppressed nerds went on vicious killing sprees. Why? Because the aggression was already there; already a part of the nerd’s personality.
Further proof of the similarity between the bully and victims of bullying is that the solution for both is the same.
As a master instructor of indigenous African martial arts and conflict resolution specialist, I have found that learning African martial arts, in particular (and other martial arts, too, I would imagine) is one of the most effective ways of bringing an end to bullying.
The major responsibility of the practitioners of African martial arts is to understand conflict, both internal and external.
Destructive conditioning of the brain and nervous system leads to an inappropriate reaction to conflict called the “fight-or-flight response.”
The student of African martial arts must learn to break this destructive conditioning. When we give in to the fight-or-flight response, the only options we have in the face of conflict are to fight or to run.
The first step in breaking the destructive conditioning we have been subjected to by our families, friends, teachers, clergy, the media and others, is to work on the major weakness in self: the internal enemy called “fear.”
There is an old Yoruba saying: “Those who conquer the enemy within, have nothing to fear from the enemy without.” The student of African martial arts learns that the path to self-mastery and mastery of the martial arts (or anything else, for that matter) is rooted in the process of overcoming fear.
Fear is overcome by courage. Every confrontation with fear must involve action in spite of that fear. The aforementioned proverb teaches us that once the inner fears are conquered, those frightening situations in the outside world become insignificant.
Another Yoruba proverb states that “Fear is the parent of premature death.” This proverb expresses how devastating fear can be to a person’s mental and physical health. Not living one’s life to its full term is considered by most African cultures to be a result of resistance to living in harmony with Nature. Such resistance is believed to be rooted in the fear of self-understanding, self-transformation and self-discovery. It is through training in African martial arts that a person gains the focus, self-confidence and courage to overcome fear.
When faced with conflict, the ori inu (inner self) of the African martial arts student says: “This is a threat, but I can handle it.” The ori inu of an untrained person says: “I have to run away” or, “I have to hurt this person.”
The student of indigenous African martial arts knows he has the ability to fight effectively, so he does not have to resort to flight and he is confident enough to use verbal, non-violent alternatives, because he knows that if those alternatives do not resolve the conflict, he can defend himself physically if necessary.
An untrained, socially inept person, however, will rely not only upon the fight-or-flight response, but also on what I call “small townism”.
Though not exclusive to nerds, “small townism” is a defensive device in which a person limits him or herself to one type of fellowship. It’s similar to small towns, wherein the lack of exposure to people who look differently, think differently and behave differently from you can cause you to have a narrow scope on tolerance.
Nerds who were – or are – outcasts find solace and comfort either to themselves or with other people who have been treated the way they have. They will hang out with people who “get them” or share their strange sense of humor. So out of a group of outcast, introverted people who dress similarly, act similarly and feel similarly, you are bound to get some opinions that do not vibe well with those outside of that community. Small townism, while making nerds feel comfortable, develops a tremendous level of ignorance and lack of empathy.
Let’s look at a few examples:
Curse of the Black Spider-Man
The death, origin and intricate conflicts of superheroes have long portrayed many truths about ourselves that we can only metaphorically grasp; just a cornball in a spandex suit? Not quite.
Comic books affect their readers on a visceral level. So, when Marvel Comics killed of Peter Parker and Miles Morales – a Black Hispanic boy – took up the mantle of Spider-Man, nerds across the globe snapped, spitting such vitriol as:
“So, why now come out with homie the spider man? Wonder if he (President Obama) wasn’t elected Marvel would do this. But at least the comic book character will HELP better than the real life comic elected.”
“Peter Parker could not be whiter. A black boy under the mask just don’t look right. This opens up a whole new story line with a whole new set of problems. Who is going to believe a black man in a mask is out for the good of man kind?”
“Why not make him a dyslexic homosexual too, and cover all the politically correct bases, then we will really be “enlightened”
“Shame on Marvel Comics! This is not diversity; this is a disgrace! Spiderman was Peter Parker, and Peter Parker was white. Create a new character if you want to prove that Marvel Comics is ‘diverse’. Minorities are typically less than 18% of the population, but they seem to get nearly 100% of the history. Why should white children not have a comic book hero that they can identify with?”
“What will he say when he runs into a criminal? ‘Sup Foo? Dis is MY ‘hood!’”
“That’s just dangerous. With spider powers, just think how much stuff he could steal, if he was not so lazy.”
And those were all mild comments in relation to the others!
A similar uproar happened when it was announced that Idris Elba was going to play Heimdall in the movie Thor.
Nerds dislike change; when faced with it, out comes their inner bullies.
Irony & Intellect as excuses for racism.
Often, nerds are racist, but are either clueless that they are behaving in a racist manner, or feigning cluelessness. To the typical nerd, racists are the loud, confederate flag waving nutjobs in the movies, lynching Black people and calling us niggers, shines and coons at every turn.
A nerd’s snarky remarks – filled with much irony and intellect – are meant to show their enlightened viewpoint and, since they are enlightened, they can’t possibly be racist.
At least that’s what they think.
Many white nerds bemoan being white and oppressed and attribute any kind of complaint by a Black person as having no basis or just cause.
While many nerds can be quite obvious in their racist and sexist insults, quite a few have learned to insult you in the nicest ways. Take heed – niceness is a strategy of social interaction; niceness does not equal goodness.
So, the next time a good friend or family member tells you there is this nice man or woman they would like you to meet, RUN!
Just kidding (sort of).
Just as niceness does not equal goodness, nor does shyness equate to docility, or nerdy equate to intelligent, gentle and meek. Nerds ain’t Bambi; they’re Chuck Norris…with a chip on his shoulder.
‘Nuff said…Excelsior…Sweet Christmas…and other nerdy adages to drive my point home.
Hopefully, this won’t be my last post. Hopefully, a horde of enraged nerds, screaming ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’ won’t find me at Dragon*Con this weekend and pummel me with pocket protectors, leaving me in a quivering heap in the lobby of the Westin Hotel (which is where the Alternate History Track – my favorite – is held).
If they do, then damn it, so be it!
Somebody has to stand up against nerd tyranny. Somebody has to stand up for the jocks, the cheerleaders and other popular kids with IQs of less than three digits, but SQs (Social Intelligence Quotients) above 185.
Somebody has to stand up!
Damn the peril!
Damn being labeled a traitor by my Blerd peers!
Should I meet my end at the frail hands of a nerd, know that I left here fighting the good fight!
Milton J. Davis
This was all (mostly) in fun. I – Balogun Ojetade – wrote this article and posted it to my blog. Milton Davis (shown in the above photo with Wolverine) had nothing to do with the writing of it, so don’t go hunting him down!
I, myself, am a Blerd – Black Nerd – and wear the title – and my taped up glasses and pocket protectors – proudly.
However, I am also a writer and writers – like all artists – render the truth as they see it. The aforementioned study that shows nerds and bullies sharing the same traits is true. Bullying is wrong and must be addressed, no matter who the perpetrator is. Racism and sexism are wrong and we must stand against these societal ills…unless, of course, you are the perpetrator.
P.S. No nerds were harmed during the writing of this blog post (although some might be harmed after).
August 28, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, Martial Arts, Panel Discussion, Role Playing Games, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Uncategorized, Writers Workshop | Tags: balogun, black speculative fiction, Dragon*Con, fandom, geek, history, milton davis, nerd, nerds, racism, science fiction, steamfunk, steampunk | 6 Comments
The Father of Sword & Soul and an Elated Author talk Steamfunk, Sword & Soul and Racism in Role-Playing: Charles Saunders Interviews Balogun!
The Father of Sword & Soul and an Elated Author talk Sword & Soul, Steamfunk and Racism in Role-Playing: Charles Saunders Interviews Balogun!
Recently, I had the honor of being interviewed by one of my idols – Charles R. Saunders – the father of Sword and Soul and creator of the Imaro and Dossouye series of novels, as well as the incredible Pulp novel, Damballa.
The interview – along with other awesome blog posts, interviews, book reviews and other Blacknificence – was originally posted on Charles’ website at http://www.charlessaunderswriter.com/.
Balogun Ojetade is the Master Instructor and Technical Director of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, a school that teaches indigenous, West African martial arts. Born and raised in Chicago, he was educated at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Columbia College in Chicago.
At Columbia, he majored in Film, with a concentration in screenwriting. Balogun wears many hats, besides his career as a martial-arts instructor: freelance journalist, screenwriter, film director, film producer, fight choreographer and actor. And he is excellent at all these endeavors.
During the short time I’ve known him, Balogun has made a great impression on me. He could be considered a Renaissance man, but given his love for all things African, “Blackaissance Man” is a better tag. As you read the interview below, you’ll see what I mean.
Q: When and how did you become interested in fantasy and science fiction?
I became interested in fantasy and science fiction as a little boy of no more than five years old at the feet of my mother. My mother was – and still is – a huge fan of the television shows Get Smart and The Wild, Wild West. Get Smart was an American comedy television series that satirized the secret agent genre. It was a great science fiction show that I enjoyed. The Wild, Wild West – which incorporated classic Western elements with elements of the espionage thriller, science fiction/alternate history, a bit of horror and plenty of humor – is one of my favorite shows and greatly influenced my writing. The Wild, Wild West would be classified as Steampunk today – one of the genres I enjoy writing.
Q: Speaking of another genre, you’ve got a Sword and Soul novel coming out very soon called Once Upon A Time In Afrika. Where did the idea for the novel come from, and what’s it about? (Full disclosure: I was privileged to write the Introduction to this novel.)
Once Upon A Time In Afrika is about Akinkugbe – a young man from the Oyo Empire – who enters a martial arts tournament to fight for the hand of the woman he loves. The best warriors from across the continent of Onile (“Afrika”) have gathered to do battle, unaware that a threat to the entire continent is heading their way.
The idea came from my study of – and initiation into – the traditional priesthoods and warrior societies of the Yoruba. The customs intrigue me. How certain chiefs and warriors wear certain clothing and carry certain weapons and other trappings of status and those things carry deep meaning. Traditional people do not just throw on any old garment or wear a random headpiece. Their gear tells a story. That is what sparked the idea for “Once Upon A Time In Afrika” and the story just grew from there.
Q: Is the title a play on Once Upon A Time In The West?
The title is not only a play on “Once Upon A Time in the West”, but also on “Once Upon A Time in Mexico” and “Once Upon A Time in China”. I am a fan of all three films and figured it was time to tell the “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” story, which I hope to one day produce and direct as a feature film. In fact, the script is already written.
Q: When you first started reading fantasy and science fiction, were you already aware there were at least a few black writers in the field? Did you feel alone as a black person in reading this type of fiction, or were some of your black friends also into it?
I knew there had to be Black writers out there. It’s funny; I read an article you wrote in 1987 in Dragon Magazine #122. The article – which I still have – is entitled “Out of Africa” and is about creatures from African Folklore. When I read it, I said, “Man, this white dude has done his research, but one day, I am going to write about Africa and it wondrous creatures, history and artifacts so my people can get it from a brother.” It’s funny now…and kind of sad that I had no clue you were a Black man until about four years ago. And I did not know Samuel Delaney was Black until about two years ago.
I never felt alone in reading science fiction and fantasy as my friends were also into fantasy, science fiction and horror. Ninety-percent of my friends collected comic books and played role-playing games and ninety-nine percent of them were Black, so I felt right at home.
Q: Whoa, I almost had an identity crisis for a minute there. Moving on … from your viewpoint, what is the current state of Sword and Soul?
I see Sword and Soul growing tremendously in popularity this year and especially in 2013, with the release of Griots II: Sisters of the Spear. A lot of people – authors and readers alike – are very excited about its release.
Also, when I posted the cover art for “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” people loved it. The positive reaction and eagerness for the release of the book is incredible.
Finally, as a former teacher of English and Creative Writing, I turned my students on to your work and the work of Milton Davis and the students – many who were reluctant readers – fell in love with Sword and Soul, a testament to the power of the genre and to your – and Milton’s – Blacknificent talent.
Q: Thanks for the kind words, Balogun. Moving on …a new subgenre has sprung up over the past few years. It’s called “steamfunk,” and it’s a black variation of “steampunk,” which is itself a recent development. Is steamfunk to steampunk what Sword and Soul is to sword and sorcery?
Yes, 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.
Like Sword and Soul, Steamfunk has a rhythm; an aesthetic; a spirituality that differs enough from the genre from which it sprang to be its own genre, or at a minimum, a subgenre. Sword and Soul is not Sword and Sorcery in Black-face. It has a different feel to it, as does Steamfunk in relation to Steampunk.
Q: You’ve made your own contribution to steamfunk: “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman,” based on the black woman who helped more than 300 slaves escape from the South in the years before the Civil War. How did this idea come to you, and how does your version of Tubman’s exploits differ from what happened in real-life history?
Harriet Tubman is one of my idols and represents the epitome of a freedom fighter. I originally researched Harriet Tubman’s history for a poem I wrote about her and found out some incredible things about her, such as the fact that not one of the people after her head ever gave the same description of her as someone else. She seemed to be able to change her size and appearance.
She was also incredibly strong. Once, as an elderly woman, she refused to leave her seat on a train. It took five men – after breaking her arm – to remove her. And it is well known that she had psychic abilities.
These stories sparked my imagination and I decided to write a story about Harriet Tubman as a person who possessed abilities beyond normal human beings and that there were others like her – some good; some not so good. I then began to research the time period and the characters and story came to me.
In “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman”, Harriet battles and bonds with famous – and infamous figures in history. I have combined real events and twisted them with the paranormal and anachronistic technology. Harriet Tubman is still a freedom fighter, but she is also an expert in hand-to-hand combat and possesses powers that make her one of the greatest – and deadliest – opponents of those who would oppress, subjugate and destroy those weaker than themselves.
Q: Do you have any other steamfunk projects on the go? I know you’ll have a story in the upcoming steamfunk anthology that you and Milton Davis are co-editing.
I have written several Steamfunk stories, including “Nandi”, a story about a woman who is a detective in an America in which Africans purchased California and set up a free state for Blacks, First Nation / Native Americans and the oppressed Chinese. Steam technology is not discovered until the mid 1900s. The story takes place in the 70s and combines elements of Blaxploitation films with Steampunk.
Other stories include “Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises”, which takes place on the high seas; “The Hand of Sa-Seti”, a Sword and Soul / Steamfunk mash-up and “Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron”, a tale of the legendary John Henry.
As co-editor of the “Steamfunk” anthology, I am contributing a story in which Harriet Tubman does battle with Peter Pan.
Finally, Milton and I co-produced “Rite of Passage: Initiation” a short film I wrote based on his short story, “Rite of Passage”. We plan to use the short film to generate interest and funding to make the larger project, which is a television or webseries, also based on the “Rite of Passage” story. “Rite of Passage: Initiation”, which is about Harriet Tubman initiating her pupil as a Conductor on the Underground Railroad, is complete and will premiere August 4, 2012 at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival.
Q: You, Milton, and several others are in the process of developing an African-inspired fantasy role-playing game called Ki-Khanga. When did the inspiration for this venture hit you, and how is the game coming?
I have wanted to create an African-inspired role-playing game since I was twelve years old. I finally came up with a system for the game about six years ago, which I presented to Milton Davis last year and we have been developing it together ever since.
Ki-Khanga is coming along well. Milton and I have developed the countries on the continent of Ki-Khanga, an alternate Africa, and we are writing stories set in each country to make players more familiar with the world and to spark ideas for game-play.
We have play-tested the game and have gotten positive feedback, which we are using to further develop the game into a fun and unique experience that fans of role-playing games, fantasy and Sword and Soul, as well as African history will love. After one more local play-test, we will play-test the game a few times in other cities before we prepare for the game’s release.
Q: How did you and your group develop the Ki-Khanga setting? How much of it is derived from real-life sources, and how much came from your imaginations?
Milton and I have met several times over the course of a year to discuss – and work on – building the Ki-Khanga world. We took the continent of Africa as our foundation and then made things quite a bit more fantastic. Ki-Khanga is a bit smaller than real-life Africa and only has sixteen countries.
After naming the countries and creating their governments, economic systems, religious systems and the like, we created a history for the continent itself and how the fantastic creatures, fearsome monsters and powerful magic all came to be as a result of the wrath of the Creator. How He struck the continent with His axe and how the destruction in his wake was given life by His wrath and by the nurturing of his equally powerful wife.
Q: Who, besides Milton, are the others involved in the development of Ki-Khanga?
A: The other people working on Ki-Khanga are Stanley J. Weaver (“Standingo”), an extraordinary artist whose works have graced the covers and interiors of several novels and comic books; and Eugene Randolph Young (“Eurayo”), another Blacktastic artist who is an art instructor and artist for role-playing games and comic books. Stan is creating the visuals for the cultures in Ki-Khanga and Eugene is creating the creatures and further developing the maps, which are drawn by Milton. Milton is co-producer, co-creator and publisher of the game.
Q: For the record, Stan did the cover art for Once Upon A Time in Afrika. Meanwhile, I know the Ki-Khanga concept will ultimately involve more than just the game. What sort of spin-offs are in the works?
We will release an anthology before the game is released to build interest in the Ki-Khanga world. This anthology will be interwoven into the game itself also.
As a screenwriter and director, I am always looking at things and seeing how they can be developed into a film, so I have been working on a screenplay for Ki-Khanga as well. I believe that the release of a Sword and Soul role-playing game, followed by a Sword and Soul movie will send the popularity of Sword and Soul into the stratosphere.
Q: About 10 years ago, there was an African-based game out called Nyambe. Would you regard Nyambe as a predecessor to Ki-Khanga?
“Nyambe” wasn’t actually a role-playing game. It was a supplement for Dungeons and Dragons. Ki-Khanga is a stand-alone role-playing game with its own unique system of play and a unique random generation system that utilizes playing cards instead of dice.
Q: Martial arts are associated with almost every place on the planet, except Africa. There’s karate and kung-fu from Asia; modern boxing, which originated in England; mixed martial arts, which comes from North America; Greco-Roman wrestling (origin obvious) and so on. But Africa has indigenous martial-arts traditions of its own, which you have studied and Incorporated into your work. What are some of those traditions, and what can be done to make the rest of the world more aware of them?
If you go to Africa and ask for the local African martial arts school, they will send you to a Tae Kwon Do or Judo school because in Africa, the martial arts are referred to as “wrestling”. To wrestle – by African standards – means to put someone on their back, belly or side, thus rendering them more susceptible to a finishing technique. This is achieved by any means, thus, if I shoot my opponent in the neck with my long-bow and he falls, I have wrestled him by African standards.
Some of the names of these systems, which all operate on the same principles, with slight variations in strategy and / or application, include:
Laamb (Senegal) – also called Lutte Senegalaise avec frappe (Senegalese fighting with strikes); Ijakadi (Nigeria / Yorubaland); Nsanga (Angola) – also called Sanguar; and Mgba (Nigeria / Igboland).
Q: Are African martial arts in danger of becoming extinct in Africa itself? If so, what can be done to prevent that from happening?
A: No, African martial arts are not in danger of becoming extinct in Africa. They are an intrinsic part of the traditions of the people. In Senegal, Laamb is the number one sport, followed by soccer. The real danger is that Africans in the Diaspora (i.e. African-Americans, Black Brits, Afro-Brazilians, Afro-Cubans and the like) are forgetting, or have already forgotten the martial arts of their ancestors and feel Asian martial arts are the ultimate expression of martial arts. This can be prevented by making more African martial arts movies.
People believe in what they see on television and in film. When Steven Seagal — a master of the Japanese art of Aikido — came out with his Above the Law movie, Aikido schools around the world increased in membership by 400%1 Similar growth happened in Kung-Fu schools in the ’70s; Ninjitsu schools in the ’80s; and now in Mixed Martial Arts schools — all because of television shows and movies like Kung-Fu, Enter Wm Dragon, Enter the Nina, The Octagon, and The Ultimate Fighter.
A couple of African martial arts films would inspire many of our people to train. Of course, making films is expensive, which is why, until my production company produced A Single Link, there weren’t any such films made. A Sword and Soul film would be the best setting in which to showcase the African martial arts.
Q: As we can see from the above, you’re into a lot of projects, all of which are valuable and worthwhile. How do you manage to spread yourself out without spreading yourself thin?
A: Being the father of eight children, ranging in age from 25 – 4, has made me very efficient with time. I have a strong work ethic and I love the creative process, so I enjoy what I do. I also have a very patient and understanding wife, who is an artist herself – a photographer – so she allows me the time and space to do what I do. Of course, she knows that when I blow up, she will be sitting pretty, so her allowance is a wise move.
Q: How do you envision future participation of blacks in science fiction and fantasy? I’m old enough to remember when the only visible presence in the field was Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series. We’ve come a long way since then. Do we still have a long way to go?
A: Participation of Blacks in science fiction and fantasy is growing rapidly. There are over 2000 members on the Black Science Fiction Society website and our Facebook group, State of Black Science Fiction 2012, has nearly 400 members and has only existed since February, 2012.
We have many authors, animators, film directors and artists. Of course, we have a long way to go; however, most of us have stopped waiting for Hollywood to discover us, which is a step in the right direction.
For those that still think we cannot make it without Hollywood (I include major publishing companies in this), Street Lit and Nollywood prove otherwise. Admittedly, a lot of the work coming from these outlets is not the best, however, if we take the same hustle and grind mentality that they have and combine that with our superior work, we will be just as successful or more so.
It’s pretty obvious that we will be seeing a lot of multi-media creative output in the future from the Blackaissance Man. For more information on Balogun’s endeavors, check out his website: http://chroniclesofharriet.com, and his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ Afrikan.Martial.Arts. To see his seminal essay about the role of race in role-playing games, go to: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing!
August 23, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Film, Harriet Tubman, Historical Fiction, Horror, Martial Arts, Panel Discussion, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Short Story, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Supernatural, Thriller, Uncategorized, Writers Workshop | Tags: africa, african, afrika, afrikan, atlanta, balogun, black, black speculative fiction, charles saunders, chronicles, eugene randolph young, eurayo, fantasy, fiction, film festival, harriet tubman, history, milton davis, moses, Once Upon A Time, rite of passage, role-playing, roleplaying, stan weaver, standingo, steamfunk, steampunk, sword and soul, underground railroad | 1 Comment
THE BURNING QUESTION:Is there really such a thing as a Black Science Fiction Movie?
On August 4, 2012, the State of Black Science Fiction author’s collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture will host the Black Science Fiction Film Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.
Recently, someone in the State of Black Science Fiction group on Facebook asked “Is there really such a thing as a ‘Black’ Science Fiction movie?”
The film festival will answer that question in a big way, so don’t miss it!
In the meantime, I would like to share my list of the ten most Blacktastic actors in Science Fiction and Fantasy films and television programs. As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.
Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix trilogy.
Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of Morpheus in The Matrix films was absolutely brilliant, bringing to life an iconic master martial artist / father figure who is cooler than Yoda and Mister Miyagi put together.
“I was really attracted to the piece because of the dual reality thing,” Laurence Fishburne said, in regard to the role. “I was fascinated by the idea that there was a real world and then another world that was just inside your head. That was the thing that really drew me towards this. The character was wonderful because he didn’t die. I die a lot in movies. Here it was, I got to play this character that is a major force and I didn’t have to snuff it.”
Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars.
People talk as if Star Wars made Billy Dee Williams, however, when the original three Star Wars films hit the big screen, Billy Dee Williams was a big name actor and a sex symbol. He actually brought more name recognition to Star Wars. It’s a fact, fanboys; so sit down, relax and have a Colt 45.
Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
On playing Ben Sisko, Avery Brooks had this to say: “Certainly the fact you have a black man in a command position is very important. That is something that goes far beyond just having black people working on a show, which itself is also very important. It goes to children being able to see themselves on screen and visualize that in the future they will be doing something of importance to the world at large. It addresses the situation of having all kinds of people interacting and cooperating for the mutual survival of the planet. The writing was exceptional, and the funny thing is I initially said no to Star Trek. My wife convinced me to go to the audition. She was the one who said, ‘You can’t say no to this.’”
Thanks, Mrs. Brooks. I – and millions of other fans – am forever grateful.
Will Smith as Steven Hiller in Independence Day, J in the Men In Black series of films, Del Spooner in I, Robot, Robert Neville in I Am Legend and John Hancock in Hancock.
The undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of the science fiction film! He is the reason I could not present this list as a top ten, as he would – in all fairness – hold at least five of those positions. A Blacknificent actor!
Joe Morton as The Brother in The Brother from Another Planet, Miles Dyson in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Henry Deacon in Eureka.
Joe Morton always gives great performances and while most people recognize him as Miles Dyson in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and as Henry Deacon – the multi-talented super-genius on Eureka, I first became a fan of his work in The Brother From Another Planet, in which he sold the character through facial expressions and body language, as The Brother was “mute”.
Wesley Snipes as Blade in the Blade trilogy and Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man.
Wesley Snipes is one of the greatest action film stars ever! As Simon Phoenix, he brought an edge and skill to the action of Demolition Man that made what would have been an okay film a good one. Blade, on the other hand, was groundbreaking.
Bullet Time – a special effect / film technique often credited to The Matrix – was actually first seen in Blade. But besides this technological breakthrough, Snipes brought the first serious superhero of African descent to the big screen. Before Blade, our heroes were not characters, they were caricatures. Blank Man and Meteor Man, while interesting, were not embraced as heroes in the Black community. We had enough clowns and buffoons on screen; we had enough “in the hood” movies. We were looking for a hero we could be proud of. Someone we could root for. Blade is that hero. Thanks, Wesley!
Denzel Washington as Eli in The Book of Eli, Doug Carlin in Déjà vu and Ben Marco in The Manchurian Candidate.
Denzel Washington is such a great dramatic actor, that we often forget he has starred in several science fiction films and even starred in an excellent horror film (Fallen).
Denzel Washington is my favorite actor and when I wrote the soon-to-be-released sword and soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika, I envisioned him as Alaafin Rogba, ruler of the Oyo Empire. One day, that vision will become reality. You hear that Denzel? One day, that vision will become reality.
James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in Star Wars and Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian.
Although I am a fan of several actors, I only consider one to be an idol of mine. That actor is James Earl Jones. For more on why he is one of my idols check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/02/18/state-of-black-scifi-2012-my-tribute-to-science-fiction-and-fantasy-icon-james-earl-jones/.
Who could possibly forget the haunting voice behind the mask in Star Wars? And James Earl Jones portrayed one of the most menacing – and popular – villains in film – Thulsa Doom.
Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek.
Nichols’ role as Uhura was unprecedented – a lead character of African descent who was not a servant.
However, feeling that the character was not as fully developed as those of her peers, Nichols planned to leave after the first season to return to Broadway. She reconsidered when a fan of the show approached her at an NAACP function where she was speaking. That fan was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When she told him of her plans, Dr. King replied, “Stop! You cannot! You cannot leave this show! Do you not understand what you are doing? You are the first non-stereotypical role in television. Nichelle, for the first time, not only our little children and people can look on and see themselves, but people who don’t look like us, from all over the world…for the first time on television, they can see us, as we should be – as intelligent, brilliant, people! People in roles other than slick tap dancers, and maids, which are all wonderful in their own ways, but for the first time we have a woman, a woman, who represents us and not in menial jobs, and you prove it.”
Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in Avatar and Uhura in Star Trek (2009).
To create the aliens in Avatar, the cast acted on a bare stage while wired into performance-capture suits and headgear. We never see Zoe Saldana’s real face, but through her incredible acting, she brought the 10’ tall, blue-skinned Neytiri to life and we related to her.
Avatar represented a great leap forward for film technology and the viewer’s experience and an even greater one for the career of this great actress, who got her first shot at stardom in the movie Drumline.
The actress learned martial arts, archery and horseback riding for her role and was the first of the cast to master the Na’vi “language”. According to director James Cameron, “Zoe was the first one to really have to learn the language. As she owned the language, then everyone else had to match her accent and her pronunciation.”
Saldana admits that the idea of her own face and body never appearing in Avatar did bother her, but only for “about two nanoseconds,” the actress said. “It is a human condition for us to be prone to vanity – especially actors; but I feel this role has been the best role ever to cross my path. When I see Neytiri, I actually see me, in its entirety.”
And now, for your viewing pleasure, here is Wake, a short horror film from up-and-coming director, Bree Newsome. A great work of Black Speculative Fiction. Enjoy!
July 26, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Film, Harriet Tubman, Historical Fiction, Horror, Martial Arts, Panel Discussion, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Short Story, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Supernatural, Thriller, Uncategorized, Writers Workshop | Tags: balogun, black speculative fiction, fantasy, film festival, harriet tubman, milton davis, movies, sci fi, science fiction, speculative, steamfunk, steampunk, underground railroad, writers | 12 Comments
Do Black People Really Read This Stuff? High Fantasy, Low Fantasy & A “Racist” Publisher named Milton
Do Black People Really Read This Stuff?
High Fantasy, Low Fantasy & A “Racist” Publisher named Milton
“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling
The words ‘Fantasy Fiction’, more often than not, evoke images of faraway 14th Century (or earlier) kingdoms. Misty lands of green shires, towering castles, fire-breathing dragons, unicorns, orcs and busty wenches in chainmail bras. These images become even more powerful when played out in the mind in a Pen & Paper Role-Playing Game (for more on role-playing games, please check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/06/10/the-psychology-of-role-playing-games-and-the-crazy-folks-who-play-them/ and http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing/).
We are attracted to fantasy fiction and role-playing games because role-playing adventure, imagining yourself the hero in a great fantasy story and storytelling are crucial, formative experiences that are as real and memorable as any heroic feats on the bidding floor, basketball court or football field.
In a fantasy role-playing game, you conquer dragons, grow in power and save the day.
Once an event has passed into memory, it’s the feeling of accomplishment, reward, mutual achievement and victory that lingers. Why or how you feel these feelings is irrelevant. The triggering event no longer matters. What remains is how that memory resonates and the lessons that stay with us – how to strategize and think on your feet; how to use your imagination to solve problems; how to be part of something bigger than yourself.
Real or “true” stories that occur in non-fiction may sometimes be interesting, but in many cases, the plot is “alien” to our mind and we do not get any learning experience from it because we cannot relate to it.
Non-fiction informs without enriching, whereas fantasy stories have basic themes and plots that express deep experiences, problems, and challenges we all face in our growth and development.
The role of the unconscious in our development and the notion of an unconscious that is formed by our inherited experiences embodied in the images of art, suggests something further about why reading matters so much to us and about how it influences us. Our identity – the way we perceive ourselves and relate to the world – can be shaped through the fantasy literature we read.
Engaging in the simulative experiences of fantasy literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.
As we become immersed in the lives of the characters in fantasy stories, we develop para-social relationships with those characters and have strong emotional responses to the stories.
These responses suggest that frequent readers of fiction will improve their social skills through reading, an idea contrary to the common “bookworm” stereotype, which portrays “bookworms” as lonely, shy, depressed and friendless. However, studies suggest that the more fiction a person reads, the better socially adapted they are.
Fantasy – and its subgenres – allows the author to explore aspects of the world around the reader and its problems, thus offering the reader an experience of intellectual as well as emotional adventure. Fantasy books provide the opportunity for us to connect to – and sympathize with – our heroes and heroines.
Sub-Genres of Fantasy
Stories set in the “real world” in contemporary times, in which, it is revealed, magic and magical creatures secretly exist, either living in the interstices of our world or leaking over from alternate worlds. Fantasy stories in which magic is not a secret kept from the masses does not fit into this sub-genre.
Stories that focus on elements usually found in the horror genre but which take place in a sword and sorcery or high fantasy setting. Dark fantasy is occasionally used as a synonym for supernatural horror, to distinguish horror stories that contain elements of the supernatural from those that do not. For example, a story about a werewolf or demi-lich could be described as dark fantasy, while a story about a serial killer who eats his victims would simply be horror.
Heroic fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy literature which chronicles the tales of heroes and their conquests in imaginary lands. Stories tend to be intricate in plot, often involving many peoples, nations and lands. Grand battles and the fate of the world are common themes, and there is typically some emphasis on a universal conflict between good and evil.
The term high fantasy (also epic fantasy) generally refers to fantasy that depicts an epic struggle between good and evil. The world in high fantasy is usually set in an alternative, entirely fictional (“secondary”) world, rather than the real, or “primary” world.
Low Fantasy stresses realistic themes in a fantasy setting. It sometimes refers to stories that don’t emphasise magic overtly, or stories that contain a cynical world view. The effect of the fantastic infringing on real life in low fantasy fiction is usually either humorous or horrific – a supernatural onslaught against reason; or comedic or nonsensical plots that can result from the introduction of fantastic features.
Magical Realism presents fantastic and mundane elements side-by-side as if there is no conflict between the two. Magical elements blend with the real world and the story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought.
The Superhero Fantasy has, at its heart, characters with super powers and / or unusual abilities. The heroes and villains are very much like those you would find in a comic book, they just exist in a fantasy setting.
Sword and Sorcery
These types of stories usually include (with a few notable exceptions) sword-play, magic, and a medieval setting. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters.
Sword and Soul
Sword and Soul – like Sword and Sorcery – includes sword-play and magic. The adventures, however, are usually set in non-medieval, non-Eurocentric settings and the main characters are of African-descent. These stories are usually more spiritual than Sword and Sorcery and are more diverse in their styles of storytelling.
Now, do people of African descent – i.e. Black folks – read fantasy stories? Well this person of African descent does and so do my close friends, my siblings and my children. The Black people I know who do not read fantasy fiction certainly watch it, with Game of Thrones and period martial arts movies, like Hero and Kung-Fu Hustle being favorites and said they would read fantasy if the books had Black heroes.
Why do the same people who watch fantasy movies and television shows that feature few, if any, Black people – and none as the hero – refuse to read fantasy stories unless the hero is Black? Because a book – and often even a story – requires a greater investment of time, contemplation and emotions than a film or television show.
If you are going to invest so much of yourself, you have to relate to the character and Black people have grown weary of seeing themselves as the sidekick, noble savage, or the guy-who-dies-by-page-thirty-five. We do not relate to that and after years of such treatment in fantasy novels, we no longer trust those novels to show us in a positive light.
Now how, unless at some point we read those novels, would we know we receive such treatment in fantasy? So, Black folks do – or rather, did – read fantasy…and will again…
When we get it right.
Several authors – yours truly included – are getting it right. We write fantasy with Black protagonists – heroes who look like us. A few of these authors and their novels include:
Milton J. Davis
- Meji, Book 1 & Meji, Book 2 – Sword & Soul
- Changa’s Safari, Book 1 & Changa’s Safari, Book 2 – Sword & Soul
- Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology (Editor / Publisher; Contributing Author)– Sword & Soul
- Sword and Soul Adventures – Sword & Soul (Graphic Novel)
- Immortal, Books 1 – 4 – Dark Fantasy
- Interlopers – YA Contemporary Fantasy
- Posers – YA Contemporary Fantasy
Wendy Raven McNair
- Asleep – YA Superhero Fantasy
- Awake – YA Superhero Fantasy
- Once Upon A Time In Afrika – Sword & Soul
Charles R. Saunders (the father of Sword & Soul)
- Imaro, Books 1 – 4 – Sword & Soul
- Dossouye, Books 1 & 2 – Sword & Soul
Recently, author Milton Davis, who is also the owner of MVmedia, which publishes his own works, as well as the works of others – including my novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika – was accused of being a racist because in his submission guidelines for the upcoming Steamfunk anthology, he seeks stories with main characters of African descent. In Griots and Griots II: Sisters of the Spear, this was also a requirement for submission.
Other authors came forward and blasted the accuser, showing how ignorant it is to accuse someone of racism because they desire to see someone that looks like themselves – someone long erased from fantasy stories – in the stories they read and invest their money into publishing.
When I told Milton of the accusation, he simply said “Then, I must be getting it right.”
Yep, Milton, you are.
For a few short stories in the fantasy genre, check out:
How Adjoa Became King: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/07/12/how-adjoa-became-king-a-sword-soul-tale/ by Balogun Ojetade
The Hand of Sa-Seti: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/02/23/the-hand-of-sa-seti-a-short-story-of-steampunk-and-sword-soul-by-balogun/ by Balogun Ojetade
Old Hunter: http://www.scribd.com/doc/99387520/Old-Hunter by Milton Davis
July 12, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Martial Arts, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Short Story, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Supernatural, Thriller, Uncategorized | Tags: africa, african, afrika, afrikan, balogun, black speculative fiction, charles saunders, fantasy, history, horror, ki-khanga, l.m. davis, milton davis, racism, science fiction, steamfunk, steampunk, sword and soul, valjeanne jeffers, wendy raven mcnair | 27 Comments
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ROLE PLAYING GAMES: And the Crazy (?) Folks Who Play Them!
In play-testing the game, I have made even more discoveries about the impact and inherent power of a well-crafted role-playing game and a well-run role-playing game campaign.
Do role-playing gamers confuse fantasy and reality?
Role playing games – also called RPGs – are a popular form of entertainment in which players assume the identity of fictional characters and embark upon adventures. Some of the parameters of these adventures are specified by the game you play. However, these games also afford many opportunities for imaginative improvisation by their players.
I have been playing RPGs and game-mastering RPG scenarios and campaigns for over thirty years (for more on how I got involved and the racial issues I dealt – and continue to deal – with in role-playing, check out http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing/) and during this time, I have read – and heard – several stories about players who have gone over the edge, becoming totally and irretrievably lost in the imaginary world of the game
While this is not impossible, I do not personally know of anyone this happened to and, if such stories are true, such happenings must be exceedingly rare.
Why, then, do such stories abound?
Because many players seek to affirm their own sanity by holding on to the “fact” that, while there are people who confuse the fantasy of the game with the real world, and because they are aware such people exist, they cannot be one of those people.
Being of a typical NT (Intuitive Thinking) temperament, I pondered why so many players of RPGs are so eager to proclaim that they have a grasp on reality.
The answer is that players of role-playing games do, in fact, have very powerful experiences of becoming lost in the fantasy of the game; so much so that they sometimes wonder if they are in danger of crossing the boundaries of reality and losing themselves in the world of fantasy.
Many players unconsciously make gestures related to the fantastic events that are unfolding in their mind’s eye as the Gamemaster describes what is happening during an adventure.
Many of us consistently speak as our characters would. The markers of time and place in our speech – “Now, I strike that Pit Demon with my ice sword!” or “Hurry up and hand me that Aether Gun, Winslow…Mr. Hyde is closing upon me quite swiftly!” – often refer to the imagined fantasy rather than the real world. In times of intense focus of the game, many of us express and feel the emotions that our imaginary characters would feel.
None of this means that role players have a tenuous grip on reality. In fact, these experiences are very similar to what happens when avid readers get so caught up in a novel that they can’t put it down; or when sports fans become so focused on a spectator sport that they feel like they are on the court or field themselves.
This capacity to get caught up in fictions and games is also the basis of pretend play in children.
We RPG players are not insane. We – like most people – have extraordinarily powerful imaginations that allow us to become caught up in, and carried away by, games and fiction.
Benefits of Roleplaying
For children between the ages of ten and thirteen, that transitional period between concrete operations – thinking logically about objects and events – and formal operations – thinking logically about abstract propositions and testing hypotheses systematically – debating who would be stronger in particular situations, which weapon is better and what it can be used for, and the relative powers of mad scientists and mages sharpens their cognitive skills and encourages the development of more complex schemes for understanding their world.
For all ages, the only way players can successfully navigate the very abstract sets of possibilities found in role playing games is because of what is called scaffolding. Scaffolding is the process whereby two people together can do something more complicated than one person alone – especially when one of those people has greater skills.
In role playing games, the person with “greater skills” is usually the Gamemaster. He or she guides players to the next step. He or she shapes their arguments to focus on the key points and he or she joins in the players’ arguments and keeps them going until the players come up with an idea or a plan that might actually work.
The Gamemaster – called “GM, for short – The The Gamemasterhelps players keep track of any bonuses or penalties their character may have and does not allow any one player to dominate the game.
He or she must do all of this while keeping the game exciting and unpredictable.
RPGs and Personality
How do our personalities influence how we shape our characters or what we try to get out of playing a game? Why do some players consistently choose the same character classes while others never choose the same one twice? Why do some players like to role-play reflections of themselves, while others prefer to role-play opposites? Are women attracted to RPGs for the same reasons that men are?
Let’s explore these questions further:
Introverts & Extroverts
The Introvert: Introverts are people who appear reserved and shy in social situations. They are taxed by interactions and thus prefer to be alone or with a small group of friends. They put aside time for reflection and introspection. Introverts often hide their real personality and put up a façade for the world.
In role-playing, Introverts allow their real identities to be expressed through their characters. Because of this, they often choose the same kinds of character classes or character types to role-play.
Role-playing their real selves in a character allows Introverts to feel more secure and they might begin to think and talk like their character in real life. To others, it might seem that the Introvert is becoming someone else. To introverts, it will feel like they are becoming their real selves.
Introverts would find it hard to role-play characters that are too different from who they really are.
The Extrovert: Extroverts are people who are energized by social interactions. They are active and feel at home in crowds or busy places. There are usually many people who they can call friends.
In role-playing, Extroverts find it easy to role-play characters with very different personalities and experiences. Thus, they do not have a preference for one character class over another.
They enjoy the hack-and-slash aspect of role-playing, but most Extroverts would rather be playing in a system that does not base characters on numbers and fixed classes.
The main appeal of RPG’s for extroverts is the social aspect. They like the opportunity to be able to interact with other people.
Sensates & iNtuitives
The Sensate: Sensates are people who like to learn through their five senses. They want to be able to feel and touch what they are working on. Sensates prefer to be realistic and to think about what is factual. They are down-to-earth and practical.
Sensates find it hard to role-play different kinds of characters. They may often find it difficult to connect and immerse themselves in the role-playing world because it is ungrounded and fantastical.
The Intuitive: Intuitives enjoy thinking about what is possible. They enjoy exercising their imaginations and coming up with creative solutions. They prefer to think abstractly and consider a problem conceptually.
Intuitives find it easy to be in the shoes of very different characters. They are attracted to RPG’s because it allows them to explore different perspectives and they find it to be an intellectual challenge.
Intuitives prefer RPG sessions to be deep and intense, with an emphasis on character and plot development.
Intuitives often grow as a person through participating in RPG’s because, through their characters, they are able to better understand and resolve some of the problems they have in real life.
Thinkers & Feelers
The Thinker: Thinkers are objective and cool-headed. They often pride themselves on being logical, firm-minded and fair. They believe in standards and almost universal laws or rules.
Thinkers are somewhat detached from the emotional and subtle aspects of the role-playing game, due to their objective, analytical nature.
In a game setting, they are probably the ones who know all the rules and are able to set things straight when the players are not clear on them.
The Feeler: Feelers believe that emotions and personal feelings should be accounted for when making decisions. They are soft-hearted and prefer to find common grounds between opposing ideas so that harmony can be achieved. They believe that mercy is far more important than justice.
Feelers are able to immerse themselves in their characters and usually build characters who are idealized versions of themselves. Because of this, they often find that they become easily attached to their characters and are able to feel their character’s pain and joy.
Feelers are attracted to RPGs because the intense interplay of emotions and personal interactions allows them to learn more about themselves. Like Intuitives, Feelers find that RPGs help them grow and understand their real life problems. Furthermore, Feelers are able to vent their pent-up emotions through their characters.
Judges & Perceivers
The Judge: Judges are planners and superb project managers. They have an internal clock that allows them to organize their duties and finish them in time. They like things finalized and set, and are not afraid to make decisions.
Judges are attracted to role-playing because of the logistical aspect. They love the elaborate tables and charts and how the game system is built up. They are less likely to be very attached and emotional with their characters, and they have very little trouble with playing a character with the opposite gender.
During the character creation process, Judges usually wait and fill in for a missing character type or needed skill set amongst their team of players.
The Perceiver: Perceivers are spontaneous. They want to let life live and prefer to leave things flexible and open-ended. They are adaptable and go with the flow.
In role-playing, Perceivers create characters that have the physical traits they would want in real life.
Perceivers play RPG’s because it lets them escape from mundane reality and they tend to be attached to their characters and empathize with them, often venting their pent-up emotions through their characters.
Age & Gender
Age: Young gamers are more likely to prefer one kind of character class or type over others, and often base their characters on their own quirks and motivations.
Young gamers tend to choose character alignments – measurements of goodness; evilness; chaoticness; lawfulness; neutrality – that are different from their own, both as an act of safe rebellion and of experimenting with different moral perspectives.
Young gamers usually see RPGs as an escape from reality.
Older gamers are usually less consistent in character choice and prefer not to role-play characters that are based on themselves.
They are not as drawn to RPG’s because of the escapist and fantastical aspects. Instead, they find that RPG’s provide a good atmosphere for socializing.
Gender: Women and girls tend find themselves more attached to their characters than men and boys are. Women and girls also tend to enjoy the perspective taking aspect of RPGs more than men and boys.
While men and boys prefer RPG sessions to be fun and light-hearted, women and girls prefer them to be deep and intense.
Men and boys are more likely to see dice – or some other form of random generator – as an integral part of gaming, while women and girls see good role-playing and decision-making as more important in generating results.
In designing and developing Ki Khanga: The Sword & Soul Role-Playing Game™, the creators have sought to use the above findings to create a game that meets the needs of all personality types, ages and genders. We have succeeded in this goal and continue to test the game before its release to ensure that it is the best gaming experience on the market.
For more on the game, please visit http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/109/; and https://www.facebook.com/groups/KiKhangaRPG/.
June 10, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Panel Discussion, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Uncategorized, Writers Workshop | Tags: black speculative fiction, charles saunders, ki-khanga, milton davis, racism, role-playing, roleplaying, science fiction, steamfunk, steampunk | 7 Comments
SWORD & SOUL:
Much needed new genre? Or “simply something old, with a new coat of paint”?
I grew up in a poor, tough neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago during the heyday of violent, organized crime. No, not the Prohibition Era mafia wars of the 1920s and 1930s. I am referring to the 1970s through the late 1990s, when gang crime was at an all time high. However, my experience was atypical and definitely broke all stereotypes of what “urban” life for an “at-risk” youth should be.
My family life was stable and possessing and displaying good character was stressed. Even the hardcore gang members would make sure you were going to school, staying away from drugs and reading comic books instead of hanging out with them if they deemed you to have the potential to do something better with your life. Hell, the leader of the gang in my neighborhood was an avid fan of rock music and paid me to teach him how to play Dungeons and Dragons. Like I said, atypical.
Or perhaps, not.
Perhaps the gang leader wanted to play D&D for the same reason I played; and why I read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea…and the Hobbit…and all the Choose Your Own Adventure books by Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery…to escape. As atypical as my “at-risk” life was, it was still an “at-risk” life and I sought to escape it – and indeed, this world in which I, and my people, have suffered so much – and, for a while at least, explore brighter horizons.
Often, however, I felt trapped, even in books and in Dungeons and Dragons, because the world I escaped to was just like the world I lived in – one in which people of African descent are perceived as – and treated like – second class citizens at best; as demons, Orcs (now, zombies) and other evils of the world at worst.
I could find no heroes that looked like me. And the heroic fantasy I loved so much was constantly hurting my young feelings by telling me how vile I was.
I and my friends could tell you all about the Conan, Frodo, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and the Cthulhu Mythos. We knew nothing about Imaro. Had we known – Charles R. Saunders would be a billionaire by now. Anyhow, being highly competitive and wanting to one-up my friends, I went to every college library that let me in (which was nearly all of them; I was the “adopted son” of many a librarian) and researched the authors of these stories (Young Readers: a library is something we visited before the introduction of the internet).
I soon came upon an interesting poem by H.P. Lovecraft that inspired me to write fantasy fiction and to write all of my stories, from that point on, with a Black man or woman as the hero:
On The Creation of Niggers
When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.
And then, it all made sense.
Robert E. Howard – the creator of Conan, the Barbarian and father of Sword and Sorcery – was a close friend and correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft. No wonder his works – like Lovecraft’s – were racist. Well-written, yes, but racist all the same.
Now, whenever there is a discussion about Robert E. Howard being racist, three main arguments are presented. The first argument is that Howard could not be a racist because he never participated in any racial violence. The second is that Howard was a product of his times and racism was as natural as breathing back then. And the third is that Howard’s fiction is no more racist than other fiction of that period. To these cliché arguments, I roll my eyes and answer:
Howard’s attitude toward violence inflicted on non-whites is visible in some of his letters. In a letter to psychopathically racist cohort, H. P. Lovecraft, Howard talks about a rancher who was investigated for the murder of a Mexican. “…just why so much trouble was taken about a Mexican I cannot understand” and in reference to a trial in Honolulu where native Hawaiians were accused of rape, Howard wrote, “I know what would have happened to them in Texas. I don’t know whether an Oriental smells any different than a nigger when he’s roasting, but I’m willing to bet the aroma of scorching hide would have the same chastening effect on his surviving tribesman.” Robert E. Howard writes approvingly of racial violence in more than one instance and in the letter to Lovecraft he has implied that he knows the smell of a “nigger when he’s roasting.”
As far as Howard being a product of his times and racism was as natural as breathing back “in those days”, this is what is referred to as “systematic” or “institutionalized” racism. It was indeed natural for the racist, for he benefitted from his actions and suffered very few, if any, consequences for those actions. The victims of systematic racism would beg to differ as to its naturalness though. Furthermore, I am a product of my times, I guess it is natural for us baby-boomers and Generation-Xers to sell crack, get infected with HIV and drop anthrax on Disney World.
Finally, to say that Howard’s fiction is no more racist than other fiction of that period is just ignorant…period. If I rob two banks, get caught and my attorney uses as my defense “Balogun hasn’t robbed any more banks than any other bank robber of this period”, they might as well add murder to my charges.
So, it was a burning desire to see myself in heroic fantasy – and the realization that none of the writing on the market that I had access to was going to satisfy that desire – that I started writing Sword and Sorcery stories with a Black man or woman as the hero. Much of the plot I took from the Dungeons and Dragons campaigns I created, so the settings of the stories were still pretty much medieval European, with an occasional adventure in Asia, as my friends were all caught up in the Ninja craze of the 80s. This continued until I went to college and started a serious study of African history to complement my lifelong study of African martial arts.
And thus began my writing of what I called “African Epic Folklore” at the time – my version of Sword and Soul.
What is Sword and Soul?
According to the genre’s founder, Charles R. Saunders, Sword and Soul is “African-inspired heroic fantasy. Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.” Some of you might ask “Well, what is ‘Sword-And-Sorcery’, then?” The following are the defining tropes of the genre:
- Active, violent, larger-than-life heroes that are often outsiders or rebels. These heroes are usually amoral, yet possessed of their own code of honor.
- A dystopian fantasy milieu where supernatural beings are real and magic works.
- Magic is very rare and often grisly in its methods and effects; its practitioners tend to possess inhuman urges, or suffer from madness; and rarely is magic ever on the hero’s side.
- The power of the human will to prevail against sorcery, monstrous foes, and the challenges of a primeval environment are included in the writing to show the toughness and determination of the hero.
Although Sword and Soul has roots in Sword-And-Sorcery, it has grown into something inclusive of the genre’s tropes, but quite different. As Sword and Soul author, Stafford Battle, puts it – “This is more than brown or black skinned Conans stomping through the dense jungle killing monsters. You will find no white Tarzan characters dominating the local natives. Sword & Soul – at least in one aspect – is the retelling of our African heritage as Kings and Queens, conquerors, explorers, warriors, and dreamers who influence the evolution of world civilization.”
Looking back at the tropes of Sword-And-Sorcery, I can now understand why I was so attracted to the stories, even more than the “High Fantasy” of Tolkien. I lived in a dystopian world (and I continue to), wherein slavery, exploitation, repression, and the gritty, grisly horrors of war were realities. Conan faced these issues – and overcame them – with his wits, his iron will…and a Big-Ass Sword. Something I would have loved to do, had I been able to…or had I believed I was able to, but I only read about Caucasians saving the day.
Had my friends and I discovered Imaro back in the ‘70s or ‘80s, who knows, perhaps we would have taken up our Big-Ass Swords and saved the world by now.
April 13, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Horror, Panel Discussion, Role Playing Games, Speculative Fiction, Supernatural, Thriller, Writers Workshop | Tags: africa, african, afrika, afrikan, balogun, black speculative fiction, charles saunders, fantasy, ki-khanga, milton davis, racism, role-playing, roleplaying, science fiction, slavery, steampunk, sword and soul, writers | 26 Comments
Cards vs. Dice
Recently, quite a few people have asked me what system we are basing Ki-Khanga™: The Sword and Soul Role-Playing Game on. I answer that I created the game mechanic and people respond with “Oh”, “Hmm”, or with silence. Now if Gary Gygax and the boys are capable of creating a game system, why isn’t a brother from the West Side of Chicago?
For those that don’t assume I am too stupid, too lazy, or too uninventive to create a viable and enjoyable game mechanic, I am next asked what type of dice we are using for resolution of actions like combat, running, jumping, building a ship, etcetera. When I answer that we are not using dice, we are using cards, I am met with either joy, pity for my soul, or outright animosity. One brother said with disgust: “Oh, another Amber.” I reminded him that Amber does not use any type of random generator. I also told him that Ki-Khanga™: The Sword and Soul RPG is not “another” anything. As an author, I take pride in my creativity. There is no need to be another Dungeons & Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, Palladium, Vampire: The Masquerade, or any other game. We are giving the gamer a unique experience or nothing at all. My co-creators feel the same. If we were going to base our game mechanics on someone else’s we’d just create a game supplement.
At this point you might be saying “All that rhetoric sounds good but, hey, cards and dice are both means of generating a random number, so why not just stick to pulling out a few dice and getting people to roll a few random numbers? Stick to what everyone else does, man!”
Because I have no desire to do what everyone else does. If I did, I would not have chosen to be an independent author and filmmaker. I would have – and could have – gone “mainstream”; I have no desire to do so.
Before you dismiss me as insane, or plot my death for such sacrilege, I would like to put in my two cents for the playing card.
1. Playing Cards have a greater subtlety than dice. It doesn’t matter how many sides your die has, a 5 is just a 5. In a deck of cards, 5 could be one of two colors (red or black) or one of four suits (spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds). You can just use the 5 as a five but the color or suit could also indicate something about the particular 5 that has been drawn.
2. Playing cards also come with court cards. These unique cards (Jack, Queen and King) could be wild cards, have augmentation properties or indicate automatic successes or failures.
3. Playing cards come with a greater number of interpretations. There are 10 numbers and three courts per suit… and Jokers!
4. Dice need tables, cards only need hands. Dice need a surface to bounce off so that they can reveal their secrets. A player can sit on a couch in a room with no table and pull cards from a deck he is holding in his hands. With dice, he’d have to hunch down to roll them on the floor. Back pain…poor posture…shame.
I recommend a card-based system over a dice based one but, to each is own. The essential point is that your conflict resolution method should be intuitive. Here are some intuitive ways of measuring:
Your random chance will be expressed as a number. When you test you will do some light mathematics and end up with a number. This will be compared to some other number and success or failure will thus be determined. Dice can do this too, but let’s examine the cards further:
This is one thing dice can’t do. A 6 in a deck of cards could just be a six, but it also possesses a Suit and that Suit could have significant meaning. A six of diamonds could be very different from a six of clubs.
Each Suit can deal with a different aspect of life, attribute, power type, school of magic and so on. For example:
• ♠: Intellect
• ♥: Emotion
• ♣: Spiritual Growth
• ♦: Wealth
You may note that the four categories described here present all sorts of possibilities for bonuses and plot effects. Anything that will give you, as the GM, a break in interpreting what a result means has to be a good thing.
Suits can also denote effects on plot, characters, world events (e.g. weather) or treasures. And don’t forget that cards come in two colors. This expands the possible meanings of the Suit even further. For example, red cards could mean “yes” and black cards mean “no”.
This is where cards really start to take off into a whole different stratosphere when compared to dice. No other randomizer has extra elements built in the way a pack of cards does. Here you have three cards per Suit that essentially have no numeric value.
They are “special” cards. They could mean something or nothing. You can even remove them if you feel they are unnecessary.
With dice, a roll of 1 is either great (on testing systems that go low) or disastrous (on testing systems that go high). Cards have tended to indicate there is something special about the number ‘one’. It’s called the “Ace”, after all – as in ‘acing’ a test, or an ‘ace’ pilot. One of the distinct problems of dice based systems is that once players are used to the system, they can tell, from a roll, what kind of result they’ve achieved. Cards allow for more flexibility in this case.
Just when you thought a single randomizer couldn’t get any cooler, along comes a card without a numeric value or a suit. A card that essentially represents a kind of “all bets are off” concept. The power and versatility of the Joker card is exemplified by how the card itself has stepped out of the deck and into unrelated games like quizzes. The Joker symbolizes that some extraordinary game event has been introduced. Whether you harness this power for your own adventures is up to you.
If you take a die, add another die what do you have? Well, two dice. Take a deck of cards and add a second deck of cards and you could have a couple of things – Firstly, you have one HUGE deck of cards. Secondly, you could buy two packs of cards which are of different brands. Then, you have two different decks. You could use one for straight numeric randomizing and the other as a kind of fate deck and/or fortune deck. The possibilities are many.
Hopefully, I have helped to open your eyes – and mind – to the power of card decks as a randomizer in role-playing. Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG uses playing cards quite ingeniously for fun, exciting and versatile play.
January 27, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Role Playing Games, Speculative Fiction | Tags: africa, african, afrika, afrikan, black speculative fiction, ed hall, eugene young, game, games, ki-khanga, milton davis, playing, role, role-playing, roleplaying, stanley weaver, sword and soul | 3 Comments
RACISM IN ROLE-PLAYING GAMES!
Thirty-three years ago, as my friends and I sat at lunch discussing our latest scores on Pac-Man and Defender at the arcade – in the ancient of days, there was no Playstation, Wii, Gamecube or any other home game console (astounding to y’all yungins, I know) – I looked around and noticed that at every white table (yes, Caucasians sat separately from us – Chicago was, afterall, the most racially segregated city in the nation – it is now third most racially segregated) the male students were having a good time hurling plastic cubes (which I recognized as dice), pyramids and an array of other polyhedrons as they referred to books and charts and sheets of paper.
I alerted my friends to what was going on and – being the bold fellas we were – we sauntered over to a table and observed.
“What are y’all playing,” I asked.
No one answered. They were lost in what I discerned to be a battle that was taking place entirely in their minds, but was represented by the charts and sheets and books.
I asked again – “What are y’all playing?”
The name of the game sounded cool and being a fan of fantasy literature and of games – particularly wargames, such as Risk and games like Clue, in which you assume the role of a character – my interest was piqued, as were the interests of my friends. We stood watching the action, growing more interested in this strange, new game with every roll…with every declaration of a hit with a sword…with every spell cast and every lock picked. It was apparent that, within the world of Dungeons and Dragons, you could simulate anything with the game mechanics. I had to learn more!
After the session was done, my friends and I spoke to Phillip – the one the players referred to as “the Dungeon Master” and “DM” – and asked if we could play. Phillip agreed to teach us to play, but said he would only teach us “Basic D & D”, as “Advanced D & D” would be beyond our level of understanding. I felt an urge to punch Phillip in his ruddy face, but I hid my feelings and agreed to learn the game from him, determined that I would surpass him and would one day be a “Dungeon Master” without peer. Phillip agreed to meet us after school and left with a wave, saying “See ya later, Orc Clan!” My friends chuckled in ignorance. I did not. I had noticed the brutally inflicted upon an orc horde as the table of guys played and calling us orcs resonated as racist with me. My friends dismissed my suspicions. “Calm down, Farrakhan,” one snickered. “Yeah, Nat Turner,” another quipped.
“Just keep your eyes and ears open.” I said.
We met Phillip at the school’s library. We sat down and began making our characters. I chose to be a Fighting Man, as did my friend, Johnnie. My friend, Solomon chose to be a Cleric and my friend Reggie decided he’d be the Magic-User.
“At lunch, you guys had cooler classes to play,” I said.
“Yeah,” Phillip replied smugly. “That’s because we play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. This is Basic.”
“When can you teach us the advanced game?” Solomon asked.
“Never!” Phillip shouted. “I told you, the advanced game is beyond your orcish capacity!”
I slammed my fist on the table and growled. “Call another one of us an orc again and I’ll beat your ass!”
The librarian peeked up from her desk.
“Sorry, ma’am.” I said.
The librarian went back to reading Wuthering Heights and I turned back to Phillip. “We will learn Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and I will be a better DM than your racist ass!” I hissed, trying to be as quiet as possible while getting my point across.
My friends and I tore up those lame characters and “chi-town pimped-walked” off, leaving Phillip red-faced, sweaty and shaking.
“How we gonna afford those Advanced D & D books? Solomon sighed. “I looked at the prices. They are twenty bucks each!”
I knew that we needed the three core books – Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual – I knew we were all broke and I knew our parents would be hard-pressed to spend sixty dollars on a game, but I knew – somehow – we would prevail.
I went home extolling the greatness of the game. How mathematical probability was generated with dice and even percent could be generated. My mother and sisters listened as I enthusiastically described Dungeons and Dragons to them. My family has always been supportive of my passions and – true to form – a week later, I had all three books in my hands. I devoured them, committing the rules to memory and my friends and I began to play an adventure I wrote. They loved it and thus began my three decades journey as a player, Gamemaster, collector, and now, creator of role-playing games.
I realized that most of the role-playing games on the market back then – and today – were played by, created by and written for the “Phillips” of the world. Non-Caucasian people were not a concern of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson when they created Dungeons and Dragons, other than the striking similarity between orcs and the negative stereotypes of people of African descent and the Willie Lynchesque handling of “non-white” races.
First, let’s look at the magic users. While all the “white” races (yes, when we envision elves, dwarves, gnomes and even humans in Dungeons & Dragons, we see Caucasian people, don’t we?) have magicians, sorcerers and the like, orcish magic users are referred to as “witch doctors,” a derogatory term which is associated with traditional African healers and priests.
Now, let’s examine a quote from page 104 of the 1st edition of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The italicized emphasis is mine:
“Non-human troops, bugbears and humanoids, will be very difficult to handle. They will tend to fight amongst each other, fight with humans nearby – whether friendly or not, run from battle if they see troops on their own side retiring or retreating, and fall to looting at the first opportunity. Communications are also a great problem. If the master is strong and powerful and gives them cause to fear disobedience, it will be of some help in disciplining such troops. Likewise, if there are strong leaders within each body of such troops, threatening and driving them on, they will be more likely to obey. Weakness in leadership, or lack of officering (overseeing), will certainly cause these troops to become unruly and impossible to control”. Shaking your head yet? Let’s continue.
Here are descriptions of the Half-Orc, the progeny of an orc and a human parent (assumed to be from rape, as orcs are, without exception, evil, brutish things). Once again, the italicized emphasis is mine:
This one is from page 15 of the Players Handbook (1st Ed.). “Half-Orcs are boors. They are rude, crude, crass, and generally obnoxious. Because most are cowardly they tend to be bullies and cruel to the weak, but they will quickly knuckle under to the stronger. This does not mean that all half-orcs are horrid, only most of them. It neither means that they are necessarily stupid nor incapable. They will always seek to gain the upper hand and dominate those around them so as to be able to exercise their natural tendencies; half-orcs are greedy too. They can, of course, favor their human parent more than their orcish one.” Spoken like a true racist, but oh, it gets worse.
This is from the 3rd Edition, released in 2003: “The orc language has no alphabet and uses Dwarven script. Orc writing is found most often in graffiti. Half-orc characters receive a +2 modifier to strength and -2 modifiers to intelligence and charisma ability scores. Half-orcs prefer simple pleasures: feasting, singing, wrestling and wild dancing. They have no interest in refined pursuits such as high art and philosophy.” I know you are shaking your head now…and rightfully so!
This racism is further perpetuated visually – and quite viscerally – in film director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the books by JRR Tolkien.
Peter Jackson’s 2002 film, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, opens with a scene of the Uruk-Hai (“Orcs”) running toward Isengaard with the hobbits Merry and Pippin. For those of you who have seen the film, you will remember that the Uruk-Hai are tall, black, and muscular with long coarse dreadlocks – an image that evokes stereotypical portrayals of black men. The racism was such in this film that at one point, Legolas the elf comments on how quickly the Uruk-Hai move. He says: “They run as if the very whips of their masters were behind them”.
Tolkien’s original language was actually much more neutral: “The Orcs have run before us, as if the very whips of Sauron were behind them”. This makes it apparent that Peter Jackson’s portrayal of the Uruk-Hai – and Legolas’ comment – was meant to hammer a metaphor into the viewer. For more on “Orcs” and how they represent people of African descent, please check out Racism in Role-Playing Games.
Recently, Naz Humphreys – a Brit of Pakistani heritage – stood in line for three hours in Hamilton, New Zealand, hoping to be hired as an extra in the new Hobbit movie. When she finally stood before the casting director, she was basically told that her skin was the wrong color.
Humphreys, who is fairly short (under five feet tall), thought she’d make the perfect extra. Instead, one of the casting crew for the film told her and others at the audition: “We are looking for light-skinned people. I’m not trying to be… whatever. It’s just the brief. You’ve got to look like a hobbit.”
Perhaps this is all Humphrey’s fault; after all, she obviously failed to read the casting call, which specified that applicants have “light skin tones”. Of course, this was not for a lead role or anything, it was for a position as an extra – as a hobbit running around some shire or another, or walking hand-in-hand with her (God forbid) “dark skin-toned” husband, or some other mundane act only noticed by your subconscious. But, how dare she start a Facebook group entitled Hire hobbits of all colours! Say no to Hobbit racism!. Facebook – in all their wisdom and righteousness – took that subversive group down.
Thank you, Facebook. I can only imagine the carnage that would have ensued had you not acted swiftly and decisively!
One Facebook group that Facebook – in all their wisdom and righteousness – did not take down provided the solution to all Humphrey’s tom-foolery: “For years J.R.R Tolkien has been called a Racist, because he created his books for mainly European children and created a mythology for English people. The Hobbits are based on White people, keep it that way and have some respect for Tolkien.”
See, problem solved.
Seriously, folks, it is absolutely ridiculous to have strict rules about depicting imaginary beings, in an imaginary world populated by…imaginary beings.
It is very important to remember, when creating any work of speculative fiction, that metaphor is powerful. Even though the world of your story may be extremely different from our “real” world, that story is being read by a reader, or watched by a fan, who dwells in the “real” world, so you must be aware of how race in your speculative fiction world might be interpreted through the lens of that reader or watcher.
Be aware of the metaphor you’re broadcasting if you make all of your evil people a certain complexion, and all your heroes a certain different complexion. Be aware of the metaphor in play if a rugged, ruddy-complexioned hero saves all the sepia-toned natives – a la Tarzan.
Earlier, I mentioned how we see the non-orc races of humans, dwarves, halflings (“hobbits”) and gnomes as “white”. Why? It is because the Caucasian image has been perpetuated as the face of fantasy – the characters…the settings…all very medieval…all very Anglo-Saxon, even if the hero is not “human”.
In nearly 100 illustrations that depict adventurers in the 1st Edition of the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide (both published in 1978), there are NO non-white adventurers. In the over 100 illustrations in the 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide (both published in 1989), there are NO non-white adventurers. In 80 illustrations spread over the combined 980 pages of the 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, there is one (scantily clad) black woman and no black men. And finally, in the 4th Edition (2008), there is one black man. Thus, through four editions, over thirty eight years, and 1,691 pages, there is one non-Caucasian male and one non-Caucasian female!
The creative team that is producing Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul Role-Playing Game say it is time for a long overdue change!
We are creating a unique table-top gaming experience that puts you in an alternate Africa, wherein magic still lives and wondrous and fearsome creatures still roam the savannah. Where Sumunguru and Sundiata Keita meet on the battlefield and you become Imaro, Changa, Mistress Oyabakin, or even Queen Nzingha.
Co-Creator, Milton J. Davis and I will release an anthology of stories, set in the world of Ki-Khanga, in mid-January, 2013. This book – chock full o’ amazing short stories – will serve as a fundraiser to produce the game, which is currently in the final playtest phase all across the United States and in several other countries. We plan to release the game in the fall of 2013.
With over 2,000,000 people playing pen-and-paper role-playing games on a regular, monthly basis (based on 2000 market research – and the numbers are rapidly growing), it is estimated that 17% are non-white. We will increase those numbers and of those 17% already playing role-playing games, most will play Ki-Khanga™ and love it! Many of the 83% will become players of Ki-Khanga™ too.
How do I know? Let’s just say I have checked my Knowledge (RPG) skill against a DC of 10 and rolled a natural 20 (those who know, know…those who don’t, soon will)!
January 19, 2012 | Categories: Adventure, atlanta, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Film, Historical Fiction, Horror, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Supernatural, Uncategorized | Tags: africa, afrika, balogun, changa's safari, charles saunders, ki-khanga, milton davis, orc, racism, role-playing, rpg, soul, sword, sword and soul | 44 Comments