Steamfunk * Steampunk * Sword & Soul

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STEAMPUNK & STEAMFUNK WRITERS, GET READY! Seeking your stories for a new anthology!

Steamfunk Bass Reeves

STEAMPUNK & STEAMFUNK WRITERS, GET READY! Seeking your stories for a new anthology!

Iyalogun Ojetade as Harriet Tubman, leader of the Guardians.

Iyalogun Ojetade as Harriet Tubman, leader of the Guardians.

MVmedia, publisher of Sword & Soul, Steamfunk and Science Fiction, today announced that submissions are now being taken for the second Steamfunk anthology the multimedia company will publish – Rite of Passage: Road to Nicodemus.

Based on the feature film, Rite of Passage – which is set in a world conceived by authors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade, based on a short story by Milton Davis of the same name – Rite of Passage: Road to Nicodemus will contain a collection of short stories inspired by this exciting alternate history Steamfunk world.

The release of Road to Nicodemus will coincide with the release of the movie in February 2014.

MVmedia is seeking completed stories between 2,000 and 10,000 words.

Writers will be paid $25.00 upon release of the anthology.

The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2013

Initial release will be in e-book format. Paperback release will occur at a later date.

Here are the Submission Guidelines and a breakdown of the world of Rite of Passage:

GUIDELINES

  1. Submissions must be set during the era of reconstruction (1865 – 1877). The story can begin at any time in the past, but the bulk of the story (roughly 75%) should take place during reconstruction.
  2. The story can begin anywhere in the world, but will end up in – or on the road to – Nicodemus, KS.
  3. Main characters – be they Guardians or Emissaries (see below) – should be in possession of an artifact – a special item that grants the user incredible powers. This artifact will have been bestowed upon the Guardian by a Mentor. Artifacts can be anything: a book; a gun; a sword; the saliva of a werewolf; a drum; etc. and the method of bestowal is up to the author. All artifacts are linked to some African deity.
  4. Technology is a combination of mundane technology of the era and retrofuturistic Steam technology.
  5. Magic, psionics and the like are acceptable, as long as they are linked to some artifact.
  6. The main character should be of African descent / Black.

MENTORS / GUARDIANS / ARTIFACTS

Steamfunk Bass Reeves Harriet Tubman – the living embodiment of the power of the artifacts – had a vision that told her Jedediah Green – a powerful and dark entity whose power comes from the consumption of the artifacts’ power through consumption of the wielders of the artifacts’ souls – would descend upon the thriving Black-owned town of Nicodemus and from there, gather the ability to subjugate the world.

Harriet – whose power is fueled by the use of the artifacts (whether used for good or evil) – travelled the world, gathering the original bearers of the artifacts and convincing them to pass on the items and how to use them (which eventually bring about a severe depression and longing for release from the responsibility of bearing the artifact) to new bearers who would help her oppose Jedediah Green and his Emissaries.

The original bearers thus became Mentors and the new bearers of the artifacts became known as Guardians.

Harriet has called for all the Guardians to take up residence in Nicodemus, KS and has personally bought a few there herself.

The known Guardians thus far, their Mentors and their artifacts are:

Harriet Tubman – Mentor: Akingbe; Artifact: She is an artifact.

Dorothy Wright – Mentor: Akingbe / Harriet Tubman; Artifact: Shango’s necklace.

Bass Reeves – Mentor: Unknown; Artifact: Carbine and revolver/shotgun hybrid (Deity unknown)

John Henry – Mentor: Ogunlana (“Lana”); Artifact: Twin hammers of Ogun.

Jake Jessup – Mentor: Tara Malloy; Artifact: Shapeshifter’s blood, a gift from Eshu.

Henry Turnipseed / John D. Konkeroo (Mayor of Nicodemus) – Mentor: Mr. Giggles; Artifact: Baron Samedi’s top-hat.

Osho Adewale / The Dentist of Westminster – Mentor: Falana; Artifact: Tome of Obatala.

James and Corliss Riley (“the twins”) – Mentor(s): Grandma and Grandpa Riley; Artifacts: James uses goofa dust, black cat bones and other “conjure” tools; Corliss uses a fiddle. Both artifacts are from the Ibeji twin spirits.

JEDEDIAH GREEN’S EMISSARIES

Mark Curtis - Steampunk and Cosplayer - portrays vampire leader, Greasy Grant in the feature film, Rite of Passage.

Mark Curtis – Steampunk and Cosplayer – portrays vampire leader, Greasy Grant in the feature film, Rite of Passage.

Jedediah Green is the living embodiment of the dark energy that gave birth to vampires, ghasts, ghouls, lichs and other undead and evil. As such, these creatures do his bidding. Also, Jedediah maintains several Emissaries, who he is the sole Mentor of and to whom he grants an artifact forged by unknown dark deities.

The known Emissaries are:

The Piper / Tillman (once helped to escape to freedom by Harriet Tubman) – Artifact: Flute

P.T. Barnum – Artifact: Money clip

Peter Pan – Artifact: None; Peter is one of the oldest and most powerful vampires in the world who loyally serves Jedediah Green, who he narcissistically believes is his shadow self.

So, there you have it. If you feel you have a compelling story to tell – one that will enhance and / or expand the Rite of Passage universe – please, submit it to mv_media@bellsouth.net.

Now, hop offline (after you read a few more of my posts if you’re new here) and get to writing; and most of all…have fun!

 


TRAYVON 2.0: The Valley of Dry Bones

TRAYVON 2.0: The Valley of Dry Bones

…thus, saith the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live…and they lived – and stood up upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.

The trio sat, cross-legged, at the feet of their master as he stood before them, supported by his ever-present, crystal walking stick, which reflected a rainbow of colors with each measured, yet graceful, movement of the man’s wiry frame. ‘Skittles’, the stick was called – and it was rumored to be a rod of immense power.

“Long have we awaited this day,” the old master said. “The wise diviners foretold of three young warriors rising up to one day defeat the Zimmer-Men – and here you sit.”

“We live only to serve!” The three youth replied in unison.

“And serve, you shall,” The master replied. “But to serve well, you must know yourself, your enemy, the time and what must be done. Do you know these things?”

The young warriors had memorized the answer to that question long ago, for it had been recited to them every night, at bedtime, for the past thirteen years.

The trio leapt to their feet and – as one – recited ‘The History’: “On the first day of The Resurrection, the Final Sacrifice was slain by the Zimmer-Man.”

“Continue,” the master commanded.

“On the thirtieth day of The Resurrection, anger over the slaying of the Final Sacrifice and anger over the portrayal of Black people in major roles in the film, ‘The Games of Hunger’, begat the Great Riot.

trayvon 2“And?” The master asked, raising a thick, gray eyebrow.

“And on the thirty-third day of The Resurrection, a group of racist scientists in Atlanta poisoned the water supply with a new disease, comprised of rabies, leprosy and the rhinovirus, or common cold.”

“And did this disease work as the scientists planned?” The master asked.

“No, master,” the trio replied. “While thousands of Black people died, as the scientists planned, non-Blacks suffered also.”

“How so?” The master inquired.

“The disease mutated, transforming them into creatures possessed by a terrifying rage and an inability to feel pain – the monsters we call ‘The Zimmer-Men’.”

“And what did the Zimmer-Men do?” The master asked.

“They set out to infect the world…to remake it in their image and their likeness.”

“So, you are telling me these monsters are intelligent?” The master said, feigning surprise.

“Incredibly so,” the trio answered. “And wickedly wise.”

“And did the Zimmer-Men succeed in their twisted mission?” The master asked.

“They have infected nearly half the population of the United States, thus far and would have succeeded in infecting the entire nation, had not all the Black, Native and Hispanic organizations within America set aside their petty differences, joined together and fought…but many Hispanics have turned to Zimmer-Men, so our numbers are dwindling fast.”

Then, all is lost?” The master asked.

“No, master,” the trio answered. “For it was prophesied that three youth would don hoods made from the blood-soaked cloth of The Final Sacrifice and these hoods would give them power to destroy the Zimmer-Men once and for all.”

“Very good,” the master said, smiling. “Now, place the hoods upon your heads and tell me who you are.”

The three young warriors slipped the black hoods over their shaved heads and then shouted, in unison – “I am Trayvon Martin!”

trayvon 1


DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? First, Steamfunk; Now, Rococoa!

DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? First, Steamfunk; Now, Rococoa!

Photo from the Toussaint L'Ouverture Mini-Series, France Television.

Photo from the Toussaint L’Ouverture Mini-Series, France Television.

During last year’s wildly popular Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, I inquired about the era that sits between Sword and Soul – the subgenre of African-inspired epic and heroic fantasy that is usually set before colonization – and Steamfunk, which normally takes place between 1837 and 1901. I asked if anyone had a name for that time because it is a time that fascinates me – a time of revolution (in particular, the Haitian Revolution); a time of pirates and swashbucklers; a time of reverence for art and science.

No one at the event had a name for the era, however, everyone agreed the time possessed that “cool factor” found in Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.

Curious by nature and a researcher by choice, I immediately began my quest of discovery, fueled by my determination to find a name for this era that fascinated me so.

After a brief bit of research, I stumbled upon Rococo…and, to my surprise, Rococopunk.

Rococo is derived from the French word rocaille, originally meaning the bits of rocky decoration sometimes found in 16th-century architectural schemes. It was first used in its modern sense around 1800, at about the same time as baroque, and, like baroque, was initially a pejorative term.

The earliest rococo forms appeared around 1700 at Versailles and its surrounding châteaux as a reaction against the oppressive formality of French classical-baroque in those buildings. In 1701 a suite of rooms at Versailles, including the king’s bedroom, was redecorated in a new, lighter, and more graceful style by the royal designer, Pierre Lepautre (1648-1716).

In the world of painting, Rococo style is characterized by delicate colors, many decorative details, and a graceful and intimate mood. Similarly, music in the Rococo style is homophonic and light in texture, melodic, and elaborately ornamented. In France, the term for this was style galant (gallant or elegant style) and, in Germany, empfindsamer stil (sensitive style). François Couperin, in France, and two of the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach – Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach – in Germany, were important composers of music in the Rococo style.

From the Film "Brotherhood of the Wolf". Distributed by Universal Studios.

From the Film “Brotherhood of the Wolf”. Distributed by Universal Studios.

Rococopunk is – like Dieselpunk – a sibling of Steampunk, set in the earlier Renaissance era, primarily in the high-class French community of the time. Participants in this movement wear outlandish makeup and hairstyles and sport bold, brightly colored clothing. Think Amadeus, Pirates of the Caribbean, or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. For darker Rococopunk – think Last of the Mohicans, Perfume: The Story of A Murderer, Brotherhood of the Wolf, or Sleepy Hollow.

Okay, I had a name for the era. Now, I needed to come up with a name to define the Black expression of Rococopunk; a name to define the subgenre so that – as author and publisher Milton Davis says of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul – “when you hear or read ‘Steamfunk’ or ‘Sword and Soul’, you know exactly what you’re getting.”

Modeling and Costume fabrication by Lee Camara (aka Fev): http://fevereon.deviantart.com/

Modeling and Costume fabrication by Lee Camara (aka Fev): http://fevereon.deviantart.com/

Before I could come up with a name myself, the brilliant Briaan L. Barron, artist and owner of Bri-Dimensional Images and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, did it for me with her release of the animated documentary, Steamfunk and Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy. While there is not much talk of Rococo or Rococopunk in the documentary – it is mainly about Steampunk and Steamfunk and features Diana Pho of Beyond Victoriana and Yours Truly – the spelling, Rococoa, was perfect!

Thanks, Briaan!

So, with a smile on my face, I now sit down to write Rococoa stories. Stories I will enjoy writing and hopefully you will enjoy reading.

Steamfunk now has a sibling.

Yes!


THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE: Black Folk Heroes in the Age of Steam!

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE: Black Folk Heroes in the Age of Steam!

A folk hero is a type of hero who gains this status based on personal achievement or some action which is recognized by others as revolutionary.

The one crucial trait that every folk hero must possess is widespread recognition of the person as being heroic. Many people commit acts of kindness or generosity but that alone does not make them a folk hero. When society is able to recognize an important figure by their name, personality, or deeds – and those deeds are deemed heroic by a large group of people – then that figure has achieved the status of folk hero.

In this post, we continue with the League of Extraordinary Black People Series and explore Black Folk Heroes in the Age of Steam!

High John the Conqueror

John D. KonkerooJohn the Conqueror – also known as High John the Conqueror, John de Conquer, John the Conqueroo and John D. Konkeroo – was an African prince who was sold as a slave in the Americas. Despite his enslavement, his spirit was never broken and because of the tricks he played to evade the back breaking labor and punishments inflicted by his cruel masters, he survived, in folklore, as a revered trickster figure. 

In the Rite of Passage Steamfunk universe, he is the mayor of the town of Nicodemus, Kansas, an extraordinary little town, which is protected by four extraordinary guardians who possess extraordinary abilities.

In fact, every inhabitant of the town is, in some way extraordinary, however, among the inhabitants, John and the Guardians are the most powerful, feared and revered of them all.

Joel Chandler Harris’s ‘Br’er Rabbit’, of the Uncle Remus stories, is said to be patterned after High John the Conqueror. Zora Neale Hurston wrote of his adventures (“High John de Conquer”) in her collection of folklore, The Sanctified Church. She also makes reference to him in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

In one traditional John the Conqueror story told by Virginia Hamilton, John falls in love with the Devil’s daughter. The Devil sets John a number of impossible tasks: he must clear sixty acres (25 ha) of land in half a day, and then sow it with corn and reap it in the other half a day. The Devil’s daughter furnishes John with a magical axe and plow that get these impossible tasks done, but warns John that her father the Devil means to kill him even if he performs them. John and the Devil’s daughter steal the Devil’s own horses; the Devil pursues them, but they escape his clutches by shape-shifting.

In High John De Conquer, Zora Neale Hurston reports that: like King Arthur of England, he has served his people. And, like King Arthur, he is not dead. He waits to return when his people shall call him again … High John de Conquer went back to Africa, but he left his power here, which dwells in the root of a certain plant. Possess that root, and he can be summoned at any time.

Clever, strong, and independent, High John the Conqueror is a child of the merging cultures of Africa and America, and – true to his trickster ways – although John is an Afrikan man in bondage, he exhibits all the qualities of an ideal American.

Railroad Bill

folk 3The legend of Railroad Bill arose in the winter of 1895 and is still popular of today from southern Alabama to Florida.

Railroad Bill was an African American outlaw whose action-packed career on the wrong side of the law has been preserved in music, fiction, and theater. He has been variously portrayed as a Robin Hood character, a murderous criminal, a shape shifter, and a nameless victim of the Jim Crow South.

While his identity has never been conclusively identified, it is believed by railroad detectives that he was a man named Morris Slater, but residents of Brewton, Alabama disagree, believing him to be a man named Bill McCoy, who was shot – and erroneously believed killed – by local law enforcement.

In early 1895, an armed vagrant began riding the L&N railroad’s boxcars between Flomaton and Mobile, earning the nickname “Railroad Bill,” or sometimes just “Railroad,” from the trainmen who had trouble detaining the rifle-wielding hitchhiker.

On March 6, 1895, railroad employees attempted to restrain a man they found sleeping on a water tank along the railroad. The man fired on them and escaped into the woods after hijacking a train car. This incident sparked a manhunt by railroad company detectives that led a posse to Bay Minette on April 6, 1895. When detectives confronted an armed man there, he opened fire. Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff James H. Stewart was killed in the ensuing gunfight and Railroad Bill evaded capture again.

Deputy Stewart’s killing by this mysterious, elusive and deadly Black man incurred the full wrath of law enforcement and the media. A notice for a $500 reward posted in Mobile identified him as Morris Slater, a convict-lease worker who in 1893 had fled from a turpentine camp in Bluff Springs, Florida, after killing a lawman. Slater had been nicknamed “Railroad Time” for his rapid work pace. Railroad Bill crossed into Florida where, on July 4, 1895, Brewton Sheriff E. S. McMillan tracked him to a house near Bluff Springs. As the sheriff approached the dwelling, the fugitive opened fire and disappeared into the woods, leaving McMillan fatally wounded.

The killing of Sheriff McMillan marked a turning point and greatly expanded the efforts of both Alabama and Florida in hunting down Railroad Bill.

Despite a massive increase in manpower, the outlaw remained at large, robbing trains and selling goods to impoverished people for prices lower than the local merchant stores and, of course, engaging in an occasional shoot-out with lawmen and L&N Railroad authorities.

And the legend of Railroad Bill grew.  

Many Black people admired his courage and audacity. Some people attributed supernatural powers to Railroad Bill, maintaining that he was able to evade capture by changing into animal form and that he was only vulnerable to silver bullets. Other tales said that Railroad Bill had the power to disable the tracking abilities of the bloodhounds on his trail.

The author Carl Carmer, in The Hurricane’s Children: Tales from Your Neck o’ the Woods, describes a lawman chasing Railroad Bill:

So the sheriff decided Railroad Bill must be hiding under the low bushes in the clearing and he began looking around. Pretty soon he started a little red fox that lit out through the woods. The sheriff let go with both barrels of his shotgun, but he missed. After the second shot the little red fox turned about and laughed at him a high, wild, hearty laugh – and the sheriff recognized it. That little fox was Railroad Bill.

By the summer of 1895, the L&N Railroad, the state of Alabama, the state of Florida, the town of Brewton, and Escambia County had pooled together a reward of $1,250 for Railroad Bill’s capture. A host of bounty hunters from places as far away as Texas and Indiana descended on southwestern Alabama and the western swamps of Florida. They were joined by operatives of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, L&N detectives, lawmen, and vigilante posses.

Soon, a small army – numbering over one hundred men loaded for bear – were after the legendary killer / “Black Robin Hood”.

The hunt for Railroad Bill persisted until March 7, 1896, when a man was gunned down by a host of law enforcement officials at Tidmore and Ward’s General Store in Atmore, AL, a depot town along the L&N.

Some say that authorities surprised and killed the man as he sat on an oak barrel eating cheese and crackers. Other accounts say that he engaged the lawmen in a shoot-out in front of the store, and still others contend that he walked into a trap at Tidmore and Ward’s.

Railroad Bill’s body was placed on public view in Brewton, AL and crowds of curious spectators gathered to get a glimpse. Many Brewton residents recognized the man as Bill McCoy, a local man who had threatened local saw-mill owner T. R. Miller with a knife at around the same time Morris Slater was working in the turpentine camp in Florida. Souvenir hunters paid 50 cents for a picture of Constable J. L. McGowan, believed to have fired the fatal shot, standing, rifle in hand, over the corpse of Railroad Bill strapped to a wooden plank. After a few days in Brewton, the body was taken by train to Montgomery and later to Pensacola, Florida, for public display. So many people came to see Railroad Bill in Montgomery that authorities charged an admission fee of 25 cents. His body’s final resting place is unknown.

Railroad Bill was a symbol of the racial and economic divide in the post-Reconstruction Deep South. During this period of increasing legal segregation in Alabama and the rest of the South, the hunt for Railroad Bill became a theatrical saga in local newspapers. The outlaw’s legacy has been passed down through generations in many cultural representations. Railroad Bill blues ballads began circulating in the early twentieth century and several blues singers have used “Railroad Bill” as a stage name. In 1981, the Labor Theater in New York City produced the musical play Railroad Bill by C. R. Portz.

In the Rite of Passage universe, Railroad Bill is a resident of Nicodemus under the guise of mayor John D. Konkeroo’s Chief of Staff, Henry Turnipseed.

 

Bud Billiken

BillikenBud Billiken is the Guardian Angel of Black children – a symbol of pride, happiness and hope for Black people worldwide. 

The character gained prominence in a comic strip and the Chicago Defender newspaper in the early 1930s.

Bud Billiken is the Black leader of The Billiken family of spirits who are responsible for things as they ought to be; so when Steampunks refer to Steampunk as “Victorian life as it should have been”, they are speaking to life under the guidance of the Billiken.

In the Rite of Passage universe, “Bud Billkens”, along with Harriet Tubman’s pupil, Dorothy Wright, teaches at Nicodemus’ only school.

The Billiken were made into charm dolls, created by American art teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908, she obtained a design patent on the ornamental design of the Billiken, who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he sat with his legs stretched out in front of him. To buy a Billiken was said to give the purchaser luck, but to have one given would be even better luck. The image was copyrighted and a trademark was put on the name.

Today, the Billiken is the official mascot of Saint Louis University and St. Louis University High School, both Jesuit institutions, and both located in St. Louis.

The Billiken is also the official mascot of the Royal Order of Jesters, an invitation only Shriner group, affiliated with Freemasonry.

Every year, on the second Saturday in August, there is a huge parade and picnic held in Chicago in honor of Bud Billiken that focuses on the betterment of Chicago Black youth. The Bud Billiken Parade is the second largest – and largest African American – parade in the United States.

John Henry

folk 5John Henry was born a slave in the 1840s or 1850s in North Carolina or Virginia. He grew to stand 6 feet tall, 200 pounds – a heavily muscled man. He had an immense appetite, and an even greater capacity for work. He carried a beautiful baritone voice, and was a favorite banjo player to all who knew him.

His story, now legendary, was told mostly through ballads and work songs, traveling from coast to coast along with the railroads, which drove west during the 19th Century.

“You speak of John Henry as if he was real!” You say.

That’s because he was.

There are actually two John Henrys – the man and the legend surrounding him.

John Henry was an ex-slave from Holly Springs, Mississippi who took his former master’s surname, Dabney, or Dabner, according to some records.

It is known that a Captain Frederick Yeamans Dabney was Chief Engineer for the Columbus & Western Railway Company during the construction of their line between Goodwater, Alabama, and Birmingham in 1887-88.  Dabney was a Rensselaer-educated civil engineer who made a career of railroad design and construction.  Captain Dabney’s father owned eight slaves, one named John Henry, born in 1844.  He would have been 43 years old when John Henry allegedly died in 1887 – a reasonable age for a champion steel driver.

In addition, there is a strong local tradition among Central of Georgia Railroad employees and around Leeds, Alabama, that a John Henry raced a steam drill and died just outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel, between Oak and Coosa Mountain Tunnels.

In the anthology Steamfunk, I write John Henry as a prisoner who agrees to work the railroad for a lesser sentence in the story Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron. This is closer to the truth than the notion of John Henry working for his beloved railroad in order to make a better life for himself and his family.

Evidence of this is in the prison songs that sing the praises of the “steel drivin’ man”. These songs are sung to hammer blows. The last verse says: “They took John Henry to the White House, and they buried him in the sand, and every locomotive comes roarin’ by says there lies a steel drivin’ man.”

Strange that a brother was brought to the White House during that era. Stranger still is sand at the White House and locomotives “roarin by”, as there is no railroad near the White House.

Strangest of all, however, is the fact that the term “White House” wasn’t used for the executive office until Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901.

White House is a term that refers to the penitentiary, which was commonly built near railroads and were often “paved” with sand.

During John Henry’s time, convicts were commonly used to do construction for the railroad; you find steam drills side by side with these convicts and you find that the tunnel they worked on primarily was the Lewis Tunnel.

The real story of John Henry is grimmer than the one in song; uglier.

The C&O railroad wanted to get these tunnels dug; it had to get these tunnels dug by 1872 if it was to be granted the rights to the whole run from Richmond to the Ohio River. So, they bought up all scores of convicts; and they bought up several steam drills.

John Henry and all the other prisoners were forced to work on those tunnels, and nearly everyone who was forced to work on them died in the space of five or six years…not from exertion but from acute silicosis – they inhaled toxic crystalline dust from the rock.

With each breath, the poor workers drew crystalline death into their lungs. So, it probably wasn’t the race that killed John Henry, but the disease he suffered after he was forced to work the tunnels.

The legend says that John Henry was hired as a steel-driver for the C&O Railroad, a wealthy company that extended its line from the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio Valley. Steel drivers, also known as a hammer man, would spend their workdays driving holes into rock by hitting thick steel drills or spikes.

The work was treacherous. Visibility was negligible and the air inside the developing tunnel was thick with noxious black smoke and dust. Hundreds of men lost their lives to Big Bend, their bodies piled into makeshift, sandy graves just steps outside the mountain. As the story goes, John Henry was the strongest, fastest, most powerful man working on the rails. He used a 14-pound hammer to drill 10 to 20 feet in a 12-hour day – the best of any man on the rails. 

One day, a salesman came to camp, boasting that his steam-powered machine could out drill any man. A race was set: man against machine. John Henry won, the legend says, driving 14 feet to the drill’s nine. He died shortly after, some say from exhaustion, some say from a stroke.

In the Rite of Passage universe, John Henry does not die. He lives on as one of the powerful guardians of Nicodemus, Kansas; his mighty twin hammers beating back all – natural, supernatural and mechanical – who would bring harm to the residents and property of his beloved home town.


RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web

Web25

RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web

The soles of Jake Jessup’s feet were on fire. Pine cones and dry twigs bit into his flesh as he sprinted through the dense forest.

The full moon cast a silver glow upon the leaves that crackled beneath Jake’s heels.

He no longer heard the dogs, or the curses of Master William Jessup’s slave-catchers, so he stopped to rest his weary muscles and catch his breath. “For a short spell,” he thought.

“Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”

Jake whirled toward the source of the voice, raising a silver carving knife – still sticky with his former master’s blood – chest high.

The most beautiful woman Jake had ever laid eyes upon stepped out of the shadows. The corners of her full lips were spread in an inviting smile. “I’m sorry, did I frighten you?” Her husky voice revealed a hint of an English accent.

“You obviously ain’t from around here,” Jake said, studying her tall, muscular frame. “You sound like this man who come from England and train me and the other catchers.”

“I’m from London, England,” the woman said. I moved here a while ago. I bought my freedom from…wait…catchers? What did you catch?”

“Runaways,” Jake replied.

“And now, it appears that you are the one who is running away,” the woman said.

“I was the worst catcher ever born,” Jake said. “Every runaway I went after got away.

“They just happened to get away, eh?” The woman snickered.

“My old master got wise to me,” Jake replied. “He decided to make an example of me…killed my wife; my daughter…so I killed him. Been runnin’ since.”

“Well, you are safe here for the night,” the woman said. “The locals are afraid of this forest. They say a terrible beast roams these parts.”

“Then, what you doin’ out here?” Jake asked.

“I love the outdoors,” the woman replied. “Besides, beasts don’t frighten me; men do.”

“Well, this man won’t do you no harm,” Jake said. “My name’s Jake, by the way. Jake Jessup.”

“I’m Tara Malloy,” the woman said, offering her hand.

Jake took Tara’s smooth, mahogany hand in his and kissed the back of it. “Pleasure, ma’am.”

Suddenly, Tara’s hand became a vice around Jake’s fingers, crushing the dense bones as easily as if she was squeezing an egg in her fist.

Jake screamed in agony.

Tara threw her head back as a growl escaped her throat. She snapped her head forward, fixing her maddened gaze on Jake. Her beautiful face had been replaced by what Jake could only describe as the visage of a rabid wolf.

Jake tried to snatch his pulverized hand out of Tara’s grip, but she was too strong and his pain was too great.

Tara yanked Jake toward her. The runaway’s head snapped back from the force as his feet skittered across the dirt and dry foliage.

Tara opened her mouth wide, revealing a mouth full of vicious canine teeth. She closed the toothy maw down upon Jake’s shoulder, rending sinew and bone.

Jake thrust forward with his carving knife, sinking it deep into Tara’s chest.

Tara staggered backward, coughing as a crimson cloud of ichor spewed from her mouth.

Jake collapsed to his knees. Tara fell onto her back, convulsed once; twice; and then, lay still.

Jake crawled to a large tree and rested his back against it. The pain in his hand and shoulder made it difficult to think; to understand what just happened and darkness encroached upon him, blurring his vision.

“Still alive, eh?”

Jake turned his head toward the voice. Tara stood beside him. He turned his gaze toward her beastly form, still lying where she fell.

“How?” Jake whispered. He wanted to leap to his feet and run, but the pain would not allow it. “What are you?”

“What was I, you mean,” Tara replied. “A werewolf; a child of Eshu; blessed with his gift.”

Tara pointed toward Jake’s wounded shoulder. “Now, you have his blessing, too.”

“I…I’m gon’ turn into a thing like you, now?” Jake spat.

“Maybe,” Tara answered. “You become what your spirit is.”

“I’m gon’ kill you!” Jake bellowed.

“You already have,” Tara said, nodding toward her corpse.”

This was all too much for Jake to bear. He shut his eyes and succumbed to the darkness.

****

Sunlight kissed his eyelids, awakening him.

Jake felt soft, warm flesh on his chest. He looked down. Staring up at him was a pretty woman with full, pouty lips and skin the color of sweet cream.

“Good morning, lover,” the woman said, flashing a smile. Her dimpled cheeks accented her beauty.

“You’d better give up that body, Tara,” Jake said, looking at the clock on the far wall of the inn’s room. “You only have a few minutes.”

“Jake, can we talk?” Tara asked, caressing his chest with borrowed fingers.

“Time’s tickin’,” Jake replied.

“I love you,” Tara whispered.

“You what?” Jake pushed Tara’s head off his chest and sat upright.

“I love you, Jake,” Tara repeated.

“We don’t have time for this,” Jake said. “A second past those six hours and this woman dies from shock or goes mad.”

Jake hopped out of bed. His flesh shifted; flowed, as if it was some thick, ebon fluid and then trousers, boots, a shirt and a leather overcoat – all a very dark brown – formed around his naked frame.

“You’re a haint, Tara…a ghost…the undead. I – hell we – hunt the undead. Love ain’t in the cards for us. ‘Sides, you did try to kill me, remember?”

“That was two-hundred forty-seven years ago!” Tara replied.

“Seems like yesterday to me,” Jake said.

A loud, sucking din echoed throughout the room as Tara rose out of the woman’s body. “We’ll talk more later.”

The woman sat bolt upright. She leapt from the bed, locking her gaze on Jake’s broad back. An ebony, wide-brimmed planter hat formed atop Jake’s head. The woman gasped and darted out of the room.

“Creole women,” Tara said, shaking her head. “So…emotional.”

“Let’s go,” Jake said, sauntering toward the door. “Ms. Tubman should have sent that telegram by now.”

****

Bourbon Street was busy.

On the ground, carriages carried people to-and-from the retail shops, restaurants, inns and houses of ill-repute. In the sky, out of the view of the common people – but not out of Jake’s view – the very wealthy and the military traversed the bustling city by ornate airships and hot air balloons.

“Isn’t it beautiful? Tara sighed.

“Nope,” Jake replied.

“What do you see, then, Mister Doom-and-Gloom?” Tara asked.

“I see smoke…and steel,” Jake answered. “I see children worked to death in dirty factories…widows turned into whores to feed their babies…and we’re still swingin’ from the end of the white man’s rope.”

“Like I said…Doom-and-Gloom,” Tara snickered.

“We’re here,” Jake said, pointing toward a large store nestled between a candy shop and a dentist’s office.

Jake entered the telegraph office. A man sat before each of the three telegraph machines.

“How can we help you fine folks?” One of the men asked, looking up from his machine.

Jake and Tara exchanged glances. Jake took a step back toward the door.

“Oh, don’t worry,” the man said, smiling. “Negro money spends here.”

“That’s not our concern,” Jake said.

“What, then?” The man said, rising from his chair.

“Well, considerin’ my lady friend here is a haint and y’all can see her without her willing it, y’all must be haints, too.” Jake replied.

The man directed his attention to Tara. “You’re a ghost, correct?”

“That’s right,” Tara replied.

“The two other men stood.

“We’re ghasts,” the man said. “A bit…stronger than our ghost brethren,”

“Hmm…ghasts,” Jake said, studying the trio. “Never had the pleasure of killing one of you. Ms. Tubman said you’re fast and can possess a body for days at a time.

“Ah, Ms. Tubman,” The ghast crooned. “After we kill you, we’ll have to pay her a visit.”

“The bloodsuckers got you interceptin’ her messages, now?” Jake asked.

“She has been sending her merry, little band all over to hunt down our kind…your kind!” The ghast spat. That nigger has to die!”

“Give me the message,” Jake said, unmoved.

“I don’t think so,” the ghast hissed.

“Jake raised his palms before his chest. His hands shifted, changing into a pair of ebon broadswords. “I reckon I’ll have to take it then.”

The trio of ghasts exploded forward. Jake leapt forward to meet them.

Jake’s body shattered into a cloud of miniscule, venomous spiders. Each of the thousands of spiders was armed with a scythe-like claw on each of its eight legs. The spider-cloud washed over the ghasts. A moment later, a reformed Jake landed in front of one of the telegraph machines.

The ghasts fell, their tattered bodies covered with an uncountable number of gashes; the organs of their hosts reduced to liquid by the venom racing through their veins.

Jake rustled through the telegrams until he found the one from Harriet Tubman. “Ms. Tubman found the nest.”

“Where to?” Tara inquired.

“Atlanta.”

****

The sweet-green smell of kudzu permeated the night air. Jake stood high above the ground upon the thick limb of an old oak tree. “Go check it out,” he said, pointing toward a large ranch house an acre away.

“Be back in a bit, lover,” Tara said, blowing him a kiss as she leapt from the limb. She floated toward the house like a feather held aloft in a gentle breeze, landing gracefully at the door of the house. With a quick step, she passed through the closed door as if it was not there.

Jake studied the house. The windows were all covered with a dense, black cloth, preventing any light from getting in or out; a sure sign of a vampire nest.

Tara appeared on the limb. She fanned her hand in front of her nose. “Lord, it smells like the flatulence of a thousand mules in there!”

“Any vampires?” Jake inquired.

“Three,” Tara replied. “It looks like they are getting ready to call it a night.”

“The sun will be up in a couple of hours,” Jake said. “Coffins?”

“No,” Tara answered. “Dirt. The whole house is covered in about two feet of it.”

“These are Old Ones, then,” Jake said. “Good. Kill an Old One and all their progeny die, too.”

Jake leapt from the tree limb. He landed silently below. The hunter knelt at the base of the tree and thrust his hands into the dirt. A moment later, he pulled out a suede sack that was filled with something metallic by the clinking sound of it. “Good old General Tubman,” Jake whispered. “Right where she said it would be.”

Jake tossed the sack over his shoulder and sprinted toward the house. His boots made no sound as they glided across the soft, red, Georgia clay.

Tara floated closely behind him. Upon reaching the house, she stepped through the door. A few seconds later, Jake heard the door’s bolt lock slide back. He tested the door, slowly turning its knob. The door opened.

Jake slipped into the house. He reached into the sack and withdrew a tiny, wedged shape device. The device, constructed of bronze, had a miniscule, amber crystal at its center.

Tara raised her thumb and smiled.

Jake placed the wedge back into the bag and crept forward down the long hallway. He felt something hard beneath the dirt sink under his feet. Iron shackles sprang up around his ankles. Jake transformed into the swarm of spiders to escape, but it was too late. Walls of thick glass sprang up from the floor, slamming into the ceiling with a tremendous thud. Jake was encased in an impenetrable, airtight cube.

The Old Ones stepped out of a room at the end of the hallway and strode toward Jake. Huge grins were spread across their pallid faces, exposing their fangs.

Tara floated toward them.

“I can feel you, darlin’,” the lead Old One – a tall, lean man, with the dress and ruggedness of a cowboy – said. “Well done.”

“Tara?” Jake gasped.

Tara turned her gaze away from Jake and cast her eyes downward.

“Oh, don’t act so surprised, son,” the lead Old One said. “You’ve been betrayin’ your kind for a couple of centuries.”

My kind are the servants of Eshu, charged with keeping the balance between the light and the darkness…between the Natural and the Unnatural, like yourselves,” Jake said. “My kind are the livin’.”

“Living; dead; undead…some of us are hunters; some prey,” the Old One said. “That – and blood – are all that matter.” The Old One stepped closer to the glass. “Where are my manners? In all of this excitement, I neglected to introduce myself. I am Henrick.” Henrick pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “The rather large gentleman behind me is Malloy and the enthralling beauty is Bloody Jane.”

“Let me out of here, so we can all shake hands,” Jake said.

Henrick laughed. “I like you, hunter. It’s a shame you’ll be dead soon. We could have been friends.”

The vampires walked past Jake’s cell toward the door.

Henrick glanced over his shoulder. “We are heading out for a quick bite. Don’t go anywhere.”

The vampires left the house. Their sardonic laughter cleaved the darkness outside and echoed throughout the house.

“How could you do this, Tara?” Jake spat.

“I am sorry, Jake,” Tara replied. “One day, you’ll understand.”

“Just a few days ago, you said you loved me,” Jake said. “You sure as hell have a funny way of showin’ it.”

“I do love you,” Tara cried. “That’s why I’m doing this.”

“You ain’t makin’ no sense at all,” Jake said.

“Soon, you’ll run out of air,” Tara said. “You’ll die; then, you’ll have an eternity to fall in love with me.”

“That’s haint obsession talkin’,” Jake said. “After a while, every haint goes mad. I thought you had it beat. I reckon it just took you a little longer.”

“I am not crazy, Jake!” Tara shouted. “But, love makes us do crazy things.”

“If I die on account of you settin’ me up, do you really think I’m gon’ ever love you?”

“I…I’m not sure,” Tara sighed. I hope that you’ll…”

“I’ll hate you,” Jake said. “But, if you let me out of here, there might be a chance for us.”

“You’re just saying that to convince me to set you free,” Tara said.

Jake stared into Tara’s eyes. “Have I ever lied to you?”

Tara stepped into Jake’s cell. “I don’t know where the release switch is.”

Jake nodded toward his suede sack, which lay at his feet. “Then persuade those bloodsuckers to tell you.”

Tara closed her eyes and stretched her incorporeal fingers toward the sack. For a moment, her fingers became somatic and she grabbed it. A second later, she was, once again, incorporeal, as was the sack and its contents. She walked out of the cube, taking the sack with her.

Tara floated down the hallway and through the door, leaving Jake alone in his cell.

Jake launched a powerful side-kick at one of the walls of the cell. His heel slammed into the glass. Jake’s foot felt as if it had slammed into the side of a mountain. “Magically enhanced,” he mused. Jake sat, cross-legged, on the floor. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, slowing it.

A while later, Tara returned. “It’s done.”

Jake’s opened his eyes. “Did you get all the windows? The roof?”

“I was quite thorough,” she replied.

“Hope so.”

“Tara!” A voice wailed on the other side of the door.

Tara floated to the door. She willed her hand to become corporeal and used it to open the door.

A web of intense light crisscrossed the entrance.

Henrick stood a few yards away from the doorway. Malloy and Bloody Jane stood behind him.

Tara willed herself visible to the vampire’s eyes.

You’ve been a bad girl, Tara,” Henrick said. “What have you done to our house?”

“They’re called Thread Bombs,” Tara replied. Each one releases a thread of light akin to the light of the sun. I planted nearly a thousand around your house to encase it in a web of sunlight.”

“Well, be a dear and turn them off, please,” Henrick said, affecting a warm smile.

“I can’t,” Tara said. “Only Jake can.”

“And why is that?” Henrick asked, struggling to maintain his friendly demeanor.

“Every bomb has to be turned off at the exact same time, or they will explode, blanketing a square mile in their light,” Tara answered. “Jake can become a swarm of spiders and turn off each bomb simultaneously.”

“And how do we know he will do that for us once he is free?” Henrick inquired.

“You don’t,” Tara replied. “But, what choice do you have?” If you set Jake free, he might shut down the web; leave him in that cell to die and you’ll all burn.”

“Quite the fickle one, aren’t you?” Henrick said. “Okay, we’ll bite, so to speak, but know that if you cause the death of three Old Ones and their children, there is nowhere you can run; nowhere you can hide. We will find you…and even a ghost can be destroyed.”

“Duly noted,” Tara said. “Now, where is the switch?”

“In the study,” Henrick replied. “There is a brass statue of a tiger in there. Turn its tail clockwise and the walls will come down.”

“I’ll be right back,” Tara said, vanishing from sight.

“Hurry back, child,” Henrick said, looking skyward. “It’ll be dawn soon.”

A whirring sound rose from beneath Jake. A moment later, the glass walls slid back into the floor.

Jake breathed deeply, welcoming fetid, but cool air into his lungs.

Refreshed, Jake sauntered toward the door.

“We have upheld our end of the bargain,” Henrick said. “Your turn.”

“Bargain?” Jake said. “I don’t bargain with Unnaturals.”

Henrick’s smile faded. “Tara said…”

“Your deal was with Tara,” Jake said, interrupting the Old One. “Not with me.”

Henrick’s eyes turned crimson and his face twisted into a snarl. “Turn off this goddamned web!”

“Nope,” Jake replied, picking dirt from his nails.

“You bastard!” Henrick hissed, baring his fangs.

Malloy and Bloody Jane screamed as sunlight cut through the clouds and seared their flesh.

“Turn it off,” Henrick wailed, his skin turning black where the sun kissed it. “Please!”

“Nope.”

The Old Ones burst into flames. Their chilling screams rending the night sky until their vocal chords were to charred to emit sound.

Within moments, three piles of gray ash lay near the entrance to the house.

Tara materialized beside Jake. “I hope this makes things right between us, lover,”

“Nope,” Jake replied.

“What now, then?” Tara asked.

“We keep killin’ Unnaturals,” Jake answered.

A broad smile spread across the ghost’s pretty face. “So, we’re still partners?”

“For now,” Jake replied. “We make a good team. ‘Sides, huntin’ can be lonely work. But, I promise you, you ever betray me again and you get the sigil.”

“To use a sigil on a ghost, you have to know that ghost’s real name, Jake,” Tara said. “I never told you – or anyone – my real name.”

“Your ex-husband says different,” Jake said.

Tara’s eyes widened and her jaw fell slack. “My ex…?”

“I met a conjurer a few years back by the name of Laveau,” Jake replied. “She channeled your ex-husband, Kayode, and, boy, did he have a story to tell!”

“What did he tell you?” Tara asked.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jake said. This place stinks.”

“Jake, what did he say?” Tara’s voice was shaky. “Jake?”

The corners of Jake’s mouth curled into a slight smile as he stepped through the web and into the welcoming dawn.

For more about the world of Rite of Passage before the release of the movie, check out author Milton Davis’ Rite of Passage: Kiowa Rising Series and the Rite of Passage website.


STEAMFUNK FICTION: A Darker Shade of Brown

STEAMFUNK FICTION: A Darker Shade of Brown 

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

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

steam 2Readers are asking for more Steamfunk, which is really quite shocking; not because Steamfunk fiction isn’t absolutely funktastic – it is – but because, after reading nearly five-hundred pages chock full o’ funky goodness, I would figure they would need to take a breather and inhale a bit of funk-free air.

Much to my surprise and glee, I was mistaken. “More Steamfunk!” is the cry. Even the august group of authors who contributed their fascinating fables of funkasticity to the anthology has demanded a second volume – Steamfunk II: Dieselfunk.

To tide you over until the final verdict on the production of a second volume is delivered, I offer you a listing of several books that are either Steamfunk, or Steampunk, with a main character of African descent.

Here goes. Enjoy!

And remember: keep it funky!

Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) by Balogun Ojetade

“I’m gon’ drive the evil out and send it back to Hell, where it belong!” – Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman: Freedom fighter. Psychic. Soldier. Spy. Something…more. Much more. In “MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1: Kings * Book 2: Judges)”, the author masterfully transports you to a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people. In this novel of dark fantasy (with a touch of Steampunk), Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret. But is anyone who, or what, they seem?

The Switch and The Switch II: Clockwork by Valjeanne Jeffers

Includes The Switch I and The Switch II! York is a city of contradictions. Women are hard-pressed for lovers, because lovemaking can be dangerous. The upper city is powered by computers, the underground by steam. And the wealthy don’t work for a living, underdwellers do it for them. But certain underdwellers have a big problem with this arrangement. And so does the time keeper. Welcome to the Revolution…

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

Samoht Sivad, sorcerer and warrior, goes missing after a garrison tour. Naheem, his cousin and acting patriarch of the Sivad clan, sets out to find him. His journey puts him on the path of a man who has found a way to seek revenge from beyond his grave.

The Possession introduces the alternate world of the Sivads, a North America whose present is entirely unique from the world in which we live, a land of beauty, diversity…and magic.

In the second Sivad Chronicle adventure, brothers Samoht and Vel find themselves exiled from the Nations by their cousin Naheem for different reasons. They embark on a journey to the Motherland to seek the secrets of their clan and their mysterious power. Naheem sets out to right his cousins’ wrongs while they are away and finds himself in his own adventure, one that will be as dangerous as it is enlightening.

Immortal 4: Collision of Worlds by Valjeanne Jeffers

Rules were broken. Now the price must be paid. “The New World awoke to a roaring wind, light blazed from the mirror—swallowing the planet—a churning, savage vortex. Tundra’s inhabitants cried out, as their flesh bled from their bones like wet clay. The world shuddered. And was still.” The Immortals broke the rules. As punishment, Karla and Joseph are transported to a steam powered realm. Tehotep is now ruler of the empire. Karla is his concubine. Vampires roam the streets. Androids enforce a demon’s will. And there is no way out. Except death…

Steamfunk Issue 0 Written by Eric Doty; Illustrated by Luke McKay

A comic book for all ages, that includes a bit of Steampunk and a pinch of Dieselpunk with Western and Fantasy elements. Its biggest influences are the film, The Wizard of Oz and the television series, Firefly. The “funk” in the title serves a dual purpose, referring to the musical references throughout the story as well as the state of the world the characters exist in. The story follows the adventures of a gutsy delivery girl, Deaux, as she unravels truths that she may not be prepared for.

John Henry: The Steam Age Written and Illustrated by Dwayne Harris

John Henry, a former slave, wasn’t about to let some new-fangled steam hammer replace his ability to earn an honest wage as a steel-driving man. He’d beat that machine, or die with his hammer in his hand. We all know the outcome of that legendary contest. In this alternate history, however, John doesn’t die in his heroic effort, but instead slips into a coma, only to awaken to his worst nightmare. A robotic uprising has occurred, and a new age has dawned – the Steam Age! Now the only thing that can free the human race from the very machines they’ve created is John and his hammer. John Henry: The Steam Age is an exciting re-imagining of the story of John Henry in a steampunk setting.

Clementine by Cherie Priest

Maria Isabella Boyd’s success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty…she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago.

Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn’t pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials – essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay.

Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who’s been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea.

And now it’s Maria’s job to go get him.

He’s dangerous quarry and she’s a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice.

And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.

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

Stay tuned! There is plenty more Steamfunk to come!

steam 3

 


SEEKING SHELTER: A Steamfunk Tale

Shelter6

SEEKING SHELTER

 A powerful wind tore across the night sky.

A bitter chill gnawed at the back of Thomas Morgan’s pink neck.

He flipped up the collar of his overcoat and walked briskly up the lonely road. “It will be dark soon,” he whispered. “I must find shelter.”

Thomas continued on, thinking that the feeling of unmerciful winds biting into his flesh must be what it felt like to the countless number of slaves who had tasted the caustic sting of his whip.

The memory of his whip rending black flesh warmed him a bit and strengthened his resolve to continue on.

Finally, Thomas came upon a house. He crept up to it. The smell of cinnamon met him, caressing his nostrils. Thomas peeked through a window at the front of the house. Inside, an elderly Black couple sat before a flickering fire. Steam rose from their brass mugs as they sipped from them.

“Niggers,” Thomas hissed. To Thomas, ‘niggers’ were bad enough, but ‘Yankee niggers’ were the worst.

Well, their nigger home looks warm,” He thought. “And niggers are too scared to turn away a white man seekin’ shelter.

Thomas rapped gently on the door.

A moment later, a man’s voice called from the other side of the door. “Who’s there?”

“My name’s Morgan,” Thomas replied. “Thomas Morgan. My airship crashed about a half mile from here. I need a warm place to spend the night until I can find a tinkerer in the morning.”

The door opened a crack. A pair of brown eyes peered out. “You sound like a Southerner, Mr. Morgan,” the old man said.

“Born and raised,” Thomas said, tipping his bowler as he saluted the old man with a deep bow. “But my heart belongs to the North.”

“What brings you to Weeksville?” The old man inquired.

“I’ve been usin’ that ol’ airship of mine to transport runaways for Harriet Tubman,” Thomas lied. He wondered what this old coon would do if he told them that he was really headed to Auburn to kill ‘General Tubman’.

“You can stay,” the old man said. “If you tell me an’ my wife a good story.”

Thomas rubbed his numb fingers under his armpits. “Umm…there once was a man from Nantucket…”

“I said a good story!” The old man said, interrupting Thomas’ limerick.

“I wish I could, but I’m just a transporter of people and cargo,” Thomas said. “I don’t have no stories to tell.”

“Then, Godspeed, suh.” The door slammed shut.

“Black devil!” Thomas spat as he stormed away from the house.

He perused the area. A barn sat several yards behind the house. Thomas scurried toward the barn. He tugged at the door and it swung open. Inside, the barn was empty, save for a few farming tools strewn about and a large mound of straw that sat in a far corner.

Thomas dashed to the mound and dived into it. He burrowed deep into the mound, pulling straw over himself until he was completely covered. He quickly warmed up and, within moments, he was sound asleep.

****

“Drag that peckerwood in here!”

A gruff voice awakened him.

Thomas peered between a few blades of straw, seeking the source of the harsh, baritone voice that had startled him out of his slumber.

In the middle of the barn, illuminated by a single lantern, stood two of the largest men Thomas had ever seen in his life. One man stood about seven feet tall. His massive muscles strained against his leather overcoat as he rapidly rubbed two sticks together over a pile of twigs and dry leaves

The other man, nearly a foot taller than the first and just as massive, dragged something large and heavy across the floor.

Both men’s faces were concealed by the over-sized brims of their top-hats, but their hands were nearly black as pitch.

As the fire came to life and lit the barn, Thomas saw clearly what the man was dragging – the corpse of a portly white man. The flesh on the corpse’s neck was twisted into a sickening spiral pattern, as if someone – or something – had tried to screw his head off.

The first man tied a rope around the corpse’s feet. “Hang him from that beam and let’s roast him.”

Shelter 11The second man tossed the rope over the beam and pulled the corpse just above the fire. He then tethered the rope to a wooden column. “Now, you turn him so he roasts evenly.”

“I’m tired,” the first man replied. “Let Tom Morgan do it.”

Thomas shuddered. “How could they know I’m here? How do they know my name?

“Come on out,” the second man bellowed.

Thomas crawled out of the mound of hay.

The first man yanked him to his feet. “Turn the corpse…and do not let it burn!”

Thomas’ mouth went dry and sourness gurgled in his throat. He nodded.

Thomas began to slowly turn the corpse over the fire.

The men turned from him. The first man snatched the barn door open. Moonlight poured into the barn, reflecting off the giants’ ebon skin.

“Keep turning, Tom,” the second man said as he disappeared into the night. “We’ll be back soon.”

Thomas shook as he turned the body over the fire.

A loud snap startled him. Suddenly, the corpse plummeted into the now raging flame. Sparks and ashes flew into the air and the barn filled with smoke.

“No!” Thomas screamed. “They’ll kill me!”

Thomas sprinted out the door and back onto the road. He raced into the frigid wind, fear keeping his legs pumping even though they ached terribly. When he could not run another step, he scurried into a muddy ditch, hiding behind a moist clump of overgrown weeds.

He had barely caught his breath when he heard thunderous footsteps upon the road above him.

“I am tired of carrying this charred, fat fool,” a gruff voice bellowed. “You carry him now.”

“Not me,” a second voice – as deep and gruff as the first – replied. “I’m tired. Let Tom Morgan do it.”

A loud thud exploded behind Thomas. He whirled toward the sound. Standing over him was the massive second man from the barn.

The man wrapped his thick fingers around Thomas’ neck and then hurled him high into the air.

Thomas winced as his buttocks slammed onto the road.

The first man snatched him onto his feet.

“Drag this body to Whitmore Ridge so we can bury it!” The first man ordered.

“But…but ain’t Whitmore Ridge about a mile from here?” Thomas asked.

“Move!” The first man commanded.

Thomas tucked the corpse’s feet under his armpits and shambled up the road, dragging the obese, bloated body behind him.

Thomas’ legs burned and his back felt as if it would fold in upon itself, but his fear of the twin black giants kept his taxed legs moving.

Finally, after what seemed to Thomas like hours, they reached Whitmore Ridge. Thomas dropped the corpse’s feet and then collapsed onto his knees.

“While you’re down there, start digging,” the first man snickered.

“With my hands?” Thomas sighed.

“Well, you can’t dig with my hands, can you?” The first man spat.

The second man tapped the first man on the shoulder and then pointed toward the reddening sky. “Sun’s coming.”

“It’s your lucky night, Tom Morgan,” the first man said. “If we could stay a bit longer, we’d bury you with that body.”

With that, the men sauntered away and soon disappeared up the road.

Thomas leapt to his feet and then sprinted down the road in the opposite direction of the giants. Soon, he came upon the same house with the barn behind it in which the two men had found him. He slammed his fists on the door.

The door swung open. The old man of the house stood before him.

“You, again?” The old man hissed.

“Please, sir,” Thomas cried. “Some crazed men made me do terrible things! Please, grant me a place to hide and to rest and I will reward you dearly.”

The old man stepped aside and Thomas staggered through the doorway.

“Take a seat,” the old man said, pointing toward a table with four large oak chairs.

Thomas plopped down in a chair. The old woman of the house – a petite Black woman with smooth, cocoa skin and white locks that fell to the middle of her back - placed a cup before him. Thomas inhaled. The contents of the cup smelled pleasantly of honey, cinnamon and nutmeg. Thomas took a sip. The tea warmed and relaxed him.

Suddenly, heavy footsteps came from the back of the house.

A shiver crawled up the back of Thomas’ neck.

The twin, ebon giants sauntered into the room.

“Have a seat, boys,” the old woman said. “Tom Morgan got a story to tell.”


THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY

THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY

tammy 1Amy closed her eyes and whispered a prayer as the great, stone mansion drew closer.

The ivory Rolls Royce Phantom crept along the winding road towards the immense structure, which loomed on the horizon.

“Fifteen years.” Amy said.  Her perfect, white teeth reflected the shine from her gloss-moistened lips as she smiled.

“What?”  The chauffeur peered at Amy through the rearview mirror.

tammy 2“Fifteen years, Tosu,” Amy answered.  “Fifteen years of my fellow Senior Executives’ racist, sexist, bullshit.  Fifteen years of the black employees calling me ‘Aunt Tammy’ behind my back.  It all ends tonight.”

Tosu’s broad shoulders danced back and forth as he chuckled. “Aunt Tammy?”

“Yes, Aunt Tammy, Amy replied.  “A female ‘Uncle Tom’ – and that’s not funny, Tosu!”

“Of course, you are not an ‘Aunt Tammy’, little sister,” Tosu said.  “Just because you prefer Frank Sinatra to Fifty-Cent…or because you prefer quinoa to cornbread…or because you prefer Steampunk to Street Lit does not mean you are an Uncle Tom or an Aunt Tammy…It does mean, however, that you have poor taste!”

tammy 3Tosu and Amy laughed.

The driver looked over his shoulder at his little sister.  “Today, all that you have endured pays off.”

Amy took a deep breath.  “Yes, today it does…for us…”

“And for Malomo,” Tosu whispered, as he fought back the tears that threatened to pour from under his eyelids.

The Rolls Royce Phantom crept into the circular carport on the side of the mansion.

tammy 6A short, lean, Asian woman – dressed in a blue, silk kimono  – opened the door of the Rolls Royce for Amy.  “Good afternoon, Ms. Cross,” The Asian woman said, smiling warmly.  “My name is Yuriko Sakuraba.  Mr. Emilianenko is eager to see you.  Follow me please.”

Amy shuffled behind Yuriko, who escorted her to a pair of double doors within the mansion.  The doors were carved from heavy African ironwood and inlaid with gold.  “This is the dining room,” Yuriko began. “There are a few rules I must go over with you before you enter, but first, a quick search.”

Yuriko perused Amy’s face.  Her expression told Amy that the security expert could see the fearlessness in her eyes.  Fearlessness…and ferocity.  Amy searched Yuriko’s eyes and saw the same.

Yuriko glided her lithe fingers across Amy’s athletic frame.  Her skilled hands did not leave even the slightest wrinkle on Amy’s black shark-skin business suit. The search confirmed that Amy was unarmed.

“Now, the rules,” Yuriko began.  “First, once you are seated, please remain so, unless you need to go to the restroom.  If that is the case, please inform Mr. Emilianenko.  He will call me on the radio and I will escort you.”

Amy nodded and Yuriko continued.

“Second, please refrain from any sudden gestures, or talking excessively with your hands.”

Amy smiled and nodded again.  Yuriko nodded back at Amy and went on.

“Finally, just remember, I will be right outside this door if any assistance is needed.”

Amy nodded and held her smile.  She knew that the final rule was actually a warning that if she tried to harm Mr. Emilianenko, she would have to deal with Yuriko.  “I understand.”

tammy 10Yuriko smiled and then pushed the double doors open.  Amy stepped into the huge dining room behind Yuriko.  The room was illuminated by a crystal chandelier, which hovered above a ten-foot long, mahogany table, which Amy figured to be over a hundred years old, judging by the hand-carved craftsmanship.  Aside from the dining table and chairs, which sat in the middle of the room, the dining room was pretty bare, except for tropical plants, which sat in each corner and gave the room a fresh, pleasant smell that reminded Amy of cantaloupe, sprinkled with black pepper.

At the far end of the table sat Vasiliev Emilianenko, Amy’s boss.  CEO of Biochem, Incorporated.

“Please, be seated.” Yuriko whispered.

Amy sat at the end of the table opposite Vasiliev.

Vasiliev waved a well-manicured hand as if swatting flies with the back of it.  “You are dismissed, Ms. Sakuraba.”

Yuriko bowed and exited the dining room.  Vasiliev turned his gaze toward Amy and grinned.  “Good evening, Ms. Cross.”

“Good evening, Mr. Emilianenko.”

Vasiliev shook his head.  His curly, black hair bounced slightly as his head moved from side to side.  “Please, call me Vasiliev.  May I call you Amy?”

Amy nodded.  “Of course.”

Vasiliev smiled even wider.  “So, Amy, let’s chat while we wait for our meal, yes?”

“Yes, Vasiliev.”

tammy 11Vasiliev leaned forward in his chair and placed his arms upon the table.  His massive arms strained against the sleeves of his soft, burgundy, silk smoking jacket.  “So, you are my Vice President of International Affairs, yes?”

Amy nodded.  “Yes.”

“And now, you are here to put in your bid for President, now that Radcliff Delmont has retired, yes?”

Amy swallowed and then nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

“Well, Amy, I do not dine with V-Ps…only Presidents.”  Vasiliev grinned and the light from the chandelier danced across his perfectly veneered teeth.

Amy patted her chest.  “What?!  You mean the position is mine?”

“Yes,” Vasiliev said.  “You’ve earned it.  I would be a fool not to promote the person responsible for a two-hundred and twelve percent increase in our international profits.  If I do not promote you, my rivals will steal you away from me.”

tammy 12Vasiliev laughed and then reached under the table and brought up a long white box.  “Amy, I understand that you are quite the collector of masks.”

“Yes, Vasiliev,” Amy replied.  “I’ve been collecting masks from all over Africa for the past two decades.”

“And I hear there has been one mask, in particular, that you desire, but it has eluded you, yes?”

“Yes, it is called ‘Oya’s Beard’.  It is a rare Yoruba mask that depicts the Goddess Oya with a conical beard.  “It represents women who possess the power of man, as well as woman.”

Vasiliev shoved the box down the table towards Amy.  “I see…open the box, please.”

Amy caught the box as it slid over the edge of the table.  She opened the box and peeked inside.  “Oh, my God!  Vasiliev…I don’t know how to thank you!”

tammy 4She picked up the mask, sighing as she caressed its long, spike-like beard and dark, mahogany face.

Vasiliev pounded his fists on his broad chest.  “That is my thanks to you!  You have done so much for Biochem.  This is just a small token of my appreciation…but, please, tell me…why such a fascination with masks, Amy?”

Amy stared into Vasiliev’s grey eyes.  The time had finally come.  “Paul Lawrence Dunbar said: ‘We wear the mask that grins and lies.’  I collect masks to remind me that there are many masks that we wear and I must never allow one of them to become my face.”

Vasiliev leaned forward again.  “Explain, please.”

“We all wear masks and, many times, we wear them so long and so often that the mask becomes indistinguishable from the person.  The mask has become the face.  Thankfully, mine has not.”

Vasiliev smiled.  “So, what mask do you wear, Amy?”

Amy patted her chest and then ran her hands across her face.  “This is my mask.  Amy Cross.  Conservative…capitalist…loyal to the establishment…an Aunt Tammy.”

Vasiliev’s right hand crept closer to the two-way radio that sat at the corner of the table.  “Continue, please.”

“But my face, Vasiliev, is Esusanya Ogunlana.  Former operative of the OPC – Ododuwa People’s Congress…aunt of Malomo Ogunlana, who was a victim of the Atlanta Child Murders…remember those!?”

Vasiliev grabbed the two-way radio.  Amy hurled the Oya’s Beard mask towards him.  The spiked chin of the mask tore through his esophagus, piercing his spine.

tammy 7The tip of the mask’s chin protruded from the back of Vasiliev’s neck.  His shoulders bounced up and down involuntarily and his legs jerked back and forth in a sardonic tap-dance.  The two-way radio was frozen in Vasiliev’s right hand.  His eyes stared, unblinking, at Amy’s – or Esusanya’s – chest.

Esusanya was a blur as she sprung from her chair and darted across the room until she was directly behind Vasiliev.  She placed her full lips to Vasiliev’s ear and whispered:  “Within the next ninety seconds, you will be dead, so let’s make this brief.  I know you were responsible for the death of my nephew and all those other boys.  I know that you had those boys kidnapped and murdered in order to harvest their melanin and sell it to the highest bidder to use in their tanning lotions, sunblockers and contact lenses.  I know you, Vasiliev Emilianenko…your mask has been removed!”

tammy 9Vasiliev’s eyes rolled back in his head, his body spasmed once…twice…and then slumped forward until his head rested on the dining table.

Esusanya sauntered to the double doors and placed her hands upon the handles.  “I’ll have to soak in Epsom salts after this.”

She then opened the doors to face Yuriko Sakuraba…and a life with no masks.


THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNKATEER: Creating a Steamfunk Persona

THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNKATEER: Creating a Steamfunk Persona

Muhammad AliWhat is a Persona?

A persona is the fictional person you wish to have been had you lived during the period of time your Steamfunk setting covers, or had you lived in the world in which your Steamfunk stories are set.

Creating a persona takes some thought, a bit of time and a little research.

Deciding who to be is a fun and creative process. If you find it difficult to come up with a persona and a back-story, remember – do not take yourself too seriously and relax. The ideas will soon flow.

Here are some steps to assist you in the development of a Steamfunk persona:

Decide Upon a Time Period

Choose a particular historical occurrence you want your character to have been around for and, possibly, to have participated in; or choose a time you would like to further reinvent, or explore, or think had cool clothes.

Choose a Culture

Steam Sistas 1Decide what culture your persona is from – are they from the Mandinka of Mali? A group of runaway slaves, now living in their own city in Mexico? The Black British underclass?

Research the clothes worn by your chosen culture during your chosen time period and establish your persona’s dress style.

Choose an occupation and / or skill set based on those used and valued by your chosen culture; or you can choose to be a cultural anomaly that travelled and learned abroad and now uses the skills of other cultures with those of your own.

The reason you need to select a culture and time period first is that it’s easier to determine what names were in use at a particular time and place. If you choose a name first then you may find it difficult to fit it in with the culture your character is from. Naming your persona Shaka Vusumazulu, a Zulu name, would not make much sense if your character is from the Oyo Empire (of what is now called Nigeria).

Select a Name

Ogunlana with FlintlockEvery culture had its own naming ceremonies, practices, or manner in which names were given. Investigate the culture and see what kind of names they chose and how and why they chose them.

It is best to be as authentic as possible when selecting a name, because your name can open doorways to activities and points of interest for you to investigate in developing your persona’s history.

If your persona is from the Oyo Empire, for example, your name would represent your mission, your power and your challenge. Your surname would traditionally be given first, as family lineage is very important, and then the names you were given through various ceremonies (including your naming ceremony after your birth), initiations and deeds. If you wear a title, that is given before your surname. My real name – and title – for instance, would be said this way traditionally: Balogun Ojetade Farinmola Aregbesola Efunsegun Ogunyemi Oyabode Abeegunde Ige. My title is Balogun, which means “War Chief” and my surname is Ojetade, which means “The Ancestors are Royal”, indicating my lineage is a royal one. Each of my names tells a bit more about me. To know my entire name is to know my story in a nutshell. As my accomplishments increase; as my life expands, so will my names.

Once you finally decide upon a name, write it down and have your friends pronounce it. Do you like the way it sounds rolling off the tongue of others?  Does the name lend itself to jokes or teasing and if so, can you handle that? I once introduced myself to a gentleman as “Balogun”. He responded with “What’s up, Bag-of-Bones?” I found that hilarious and clever, as I was very thin at the time. Others might have not found the humor in that; something to consider before making a final choice on a name.

Flesh-Out the Details

Nivi HicksOnce you have settled on a name, a culture and a time period, you can stop there.  You may simply be Serengeti Jones, a 19th century British ex-slave turned monster hunter; or, you can go into depth, developing the ins and outs of your persona through research and imagination.  For example, you may be Serengeti Jones, hailing from the City of Westminster, former valet of Lord Alouicious Jones – member of the London Hunter’s Guild and Lord of the House of the Red Wolf. During an expedition in Kenya, your former master was killed by a rabid leopard – the same leopard you killed with your steam-powered slingshot. Seeing this as a God-sent opportunity for freedom, you fled into the wilds of Kenya, leaving Lord Alouicious’ young son, Brent, to fend for himself. You soon discovered that Brent has become a Simbada – a were-lion – who terrorizes the village that took you in. You now hunt Brent and his lycanthropic kin.

Your persona’s back-story can be as simple or complex as you choose. Just have fun with it.

Of course, to create a more multifaceted persona will take time and research. So you don’t feel overwhelmed and so this stays fun, you can start slow and simple, adding more details to your persona’s story as you go along.

Professor BadassSome questions you can use to help develop a detailed history for your persona are:

Would your persona have been literate in your chosen culture/time-frame?

What type of clothes does your persona normally wear?

What type of clothes does your persona wear for special occasions?

How did people of your culture/time-frame tell time?

How did people of your culture/time-frame keep track of days?

What kind of religion and religious duties would be required of your persona?

What does your persona know of history/science/medicine/geography?

What type of money did people of your culture/time-frame use?

How does your persona personally obtain goods and services?

What were the eating habits of people of your culture/time-frame?

What does your persona eat in a normal day?

What types of wildlife live in your persona’s area?

How did people of your culture/time-frame deal with trade?

Who are your culture’s allies and enemies?

What are the military tactics and strategies of your culture?

Funkdafying Your Fashion

In building your persona, be sure that your chosen style of dress makes the statement you want it to. This statement can be bold, or subtle; serious, or humorous; frightening, or inspiring. Know that all fashion makes a statement, so what you put on will reveal things about your persona (and yourself).

You can spice up your costume with various props and trappings. Goggles, top-hats, bowlers / derbies (yes, they are the same – it is a bowler in the UK and a derby in the U.S.) and modified Nerf guns are common accoutrements in Steampunk.

steamfunkateer 1Yes, I said Nerf guns.

See?

Hell, you could get really funky with your Steamfunk and mash it up with a little Nerfpunk. What the hell is “Nerfpunk” you ask? It’s this:

steamfunkateer 2

Heck, if you can Steampunk your Nerf, why not Nerf your Steampunk?

Personally, I am a fan of masks and masquerades. I am fascinated by them and by the implications of the mask becoming the face. I have even written stories about it and one of my favorite poems is We Wear the Mask, which was actually written in the Age of Steam, by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

We Wear the Mask

    WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Steamfunk WarriorSoon, many a Steamfunkateer will don masks as part of their personas with the coming of a new and beautiful Steamfunk line of masks from master mask-maker, Shay Lhea, who is taking inspiration from my Steamfunk short stories and from the funktastic stories in the Steamfunk anthology. I am also creating a series of short stories based on the back stories she created for each of her masks. Be sure to check those out on Shay’s Oculto Masks website.

Creating a Steamfunkateer can be a rewarding – and challenging experience. Push the limits of your creativity and have fun with it. And, of course, always…always…keep it funky!


STEAMFUNK IS A TURKEY DRUMSTICK!

STEAMFUNK IS A TURKEY DRUMSTICK

Turkey Drumstick

I recently made a comparison between Steamfunk and bacon and made the bold claim that the Steamfunk anthology is, indeed, tastier.

Angry BaconThe BLA – Bacon Lovers of America – was up in arms! Ironically, the Turkey Bacon and Vegetarian Bacon branches of this powerful and imposing organization were the most vehement.

For my safety and the safety of my family – who loves bacon (in case the BLA is monitoring this post), by the way – I have decided, for this post, to reserve my comparisons to turkey.

Not the whole turkey, mind you…just a turkey drumstick.

Recently, it was said to me that “Research isn’t necessary. After all, I am just writing fiction. A simple ‘it happens’ should suffice.” To that, I say that the reader is more sophisticated than you give them credit for.

Turkey Drumstick 1I would also say that fiction is not the art of just ‘making things up’. Fiction – especially Steamfunk and other forms of Alternate History / Alternate Reality – is a turkey drumstick: It is the bone of reality covered by the meat of creativity. Meaning, at the core of good Steamfunk is reality and then you add layer after layer of creativity around that core.

For me, Steamfunk allows me to explore, question and alter history.

I use history as a source and creative tool in most of my writing. Real world history has heavily influenced my writing since elementary school, since –after English – History was my favorite subject. History has been used as a source of terror in most of my writings, and speculative history is a major part of my Steamfunk and Sword & Soul settings.

Among all spheres of knowledge, History – as a device for storytelling – best rewards our research. It is not the absolute that it is often treated as, however. From the perspective of the present, the past cannot be known with great certainty. Thus, history tells stories of past events, and – like all stories – is told by someone for a purpose.

History can be used to enlighten, educate, entertain, inspire, and influence.

Alternate History

Turkey 2Two history types are very useful for writing fiction: Imaginative History is history that is wholly created. This is the history of most fantasy worlds.

The other type is Speculative History. This includes the “what if” of alternate history, as well as the projection of possible events into the future, which is the history of most science fiction settings.

Both types use historical analysis to generate a plausible set of events. This allows us, as writers, to tap into these created histories to add depth and life to our stories.

By far, the simplest technique is to take a bit of real world history and use it for inspiration. Alter a few things, combine fragments together, and you can create something with depth and character.

Begin with a change point – a historical event that you want to alter. From there, you can move on, creating changes until you end at the point your story begins. There are two theories with regards to change points. On one hand you can choose a major event, such as Germany winning WWII, the African Slave Trade never happening, or Frederick Douglass becoming President. The other theory is to change one small event and write what happens as a result, such as President Obama choosing Hillary Clinton as his Vice President, or Martin Luther King avoiding assassination.

Of course, you can combine these theories and come up with something really unique.

Whatever you decide to write, the next step is to show how and why the change in history occurred. For smaller changes, this is easier. The larger changes often require a summation of smaller changes, which result in the larger change. The earlier the change point, the greater the ‘snowball’ effect of changes. To be believable, you must do your research. Otherwise, you may make a mistake in some detail in setting or dialogue and readers who have done their research – a common phenomenon in science fiction and fantasy – are going to call you out on it. The readers’ suspension of disbelief will fade; they will close your book; and they will tell the world – via all the social media sites – how much your book sucks.

Although you do not need to be an expert, it helps to be well versed in history. I cannot stress enough that, if you are going to write speculative history, you must research…research…research!

Alternate Reality

Turkey 3You sit down to write a new story or novel. You want your story to be alternate history, with strong elements of fantasy and science fiction mixed. In fact, you want your story to be about Harriet Tubman. You want the world she operates in to be of the Steampunk subgenre and you want her – and others in her world – to possess “superpowers” (by the way, this has already been done in a cool and funktastic manner). What you are now writing is Alternate Reality – you are going to have to change not just history, but reality itself.

This means adding magic, anachronistic science based on clockwork mechanics and steam technology, psionics, super powers and the like. As with the altering of history, this will cause cascading effects on the timeline that need to be addressed.

If magic is possible, what does that mean to history? How would aether-based physics effect the development of social and political structures? If people can read minds, what does that do to concepts of privacy? If you have people flying around and throwing horses over houses, what purpose does society put these powers to? These are questions intrinsic to certain genres, but they also apply to the alternate history that introducing changes in reality can bring.

One of the pitfalls of altering reality is that suspension of disbelief becomes an issue. The degree to which you convince the reader these things are possible depends – once again – on the degree of your research and on your level of creativity.

Steamfunk is a turkey drumstick.

Turkey 4A grilled one; which tastes better than a baked one…and way better than a boiled one.

Hmm…is there a Boiled Turkey Lovers of America?

Hope not.

 

Here’s a list of some of my fellow Steamfunkateers. We’re celebrating the release of Steamfunk, so check out their sites for a funky overdose – which, unlike most overdoses, is a good thing!

Milton Davis – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com  andwww.wagadu.ning.com .

Ray Dean – Growing up in Hawaii, Ray Dean had the opportunity to enjoy nearly every culture under the sun. The Steamfunk Anthology was an inspiration she couldn’t pass up. Ray can be reached at http://www.raydean.net/.

Malon Edwards – Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malon Edwards now lives in the Greater Toronto Area. Much of his speculative fiction features people of color and is set in his hometown. Malon can be reached ateastofmars.blogspot.com.

Valjeanne Jeffers – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com  and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/ .

Rebecca M. Kyle – With a birthday on Friday 13, it’s only natural that the author is fascinated with myths, legends, and oddities of all kinds. Ms. Kyle lives with her husband, four cats, and more rocks and books than she cares to count between the Smokies and Cumberland mountains. Visit her at http://bexboox13.blogspot.com/.

Carole McDonnell – is a writer of Christian, supernatural, and ethnic stories. Her writings appear in various anthologies, including So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonialism in Science Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson; Jigsaw Nation; and Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs: Writings by Mature Women of Color among others. Her reviews appear in print and at various online sites. Her novels are the Christian speculative fiction, Wind Follower, and The Constant Tower. Her Bible study is called: Seeds of Bible Study.   Her website is http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/.

Balogun Ojetade – Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steamfunk); “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” (Sword and Soul); “Redeemer” (Urban Fantasy) and the film, “A Single Link” and “Rite of Passage”. Finally, he is Co-Author of “Ki-Khanga: The Anthology” and Co-Editor of “Steamfunk!” Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.

Hannibal Tabu – is a writer, a storyteller, and by god, a fan. He has written the novels, “The Crown: Ascenscion” and “Faraway” and the upcoming scifi political thriller “Rogue Nation.” He is currently the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Black geek website Komplicated at the Good Men Project, and uses his Operative Network website (www.operative.net) to publish his poetry, market what he’s doing, rant at the world and emit strangled cries for help.

Geoffrey Thorne – Geoffrey Thorne has written a lot of stuff in a lot of venues and will be writing more in more. It’s his distinct pleasure to take part in another of these groundbreaking anthologies. Thanks for letting me roll with you folks. For more (and God knows why you’d want more) check outhttp://www.geoffreythorne.com/.

 


STEAMFUNK IS…

STEAMFUNK IS…

life 9Life lived in a fabricated Age of Steam.

To fabricate means to “invent or create.”

Thus, Steamfunk, at its root, is the invention or creation of a story set in the “Age of Steam”. For the authors of Steamfunk, this Age is not limited to the Victorian Era (1837 – 1901). A Steamfunk story can take place in the past, present or future, as long as steam technology is the dominant technology in that story’s world.

life 7My story, The Hand of Sa-Seti is set in 12th Century Kamit (A nation akin to ancient Egypt), while Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises is a Steamfunk tale set in the Caribbean of the 18th Century and Nandi is set in 1973 California.

All are Steamfunk; all are very different from one another.

As far as the “blackness” in the stories goes, co-editor and publisher, Milton Davis says “In some of the stories, the main character happened to be Black; but, in others, the main character had to be Black.”

One story in which the main character had to be Black is Benjamin’s Freedom Magic by Ronald Jones. Benjamin’s Freedom Magic is based on the amazing life of the very real Benjamin Montgomery, an enslaved genius who was also one of the greatest inventors in modern history.

life 1Born in Virginia in 1819, Benjamin was owned by Joseph E. Davis, older brother of future Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. Benjamin was a mechanic who used his skill to invent a propeller that allowed steamboats to maneuver through shallow water with greater ease and safety. In the late 1850s, he attempted to get a patent for his invention. According to author, Ronald Jones “Not surprisingly, the U.S. Attorney General’s office refused to grant a patent to a slave. When the Davis brothers tried to patent Benjamin’s invention, they were denied as well, due to neither being the true inventor; how ironic that, when Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederacy, he enacted a law making it possible for slaves to patent their inventions.”

life 10Upon the end of the Civil War, Joseph Davis sold his plantation and other properties to Benjamin and Benjamin’s son, Isaiah. The sale was made based on a long-term loan in the amount of $300,000.00. Benjamin and Isaiah decided to pursue a dream of using the property to establish a community of freed slaves.

Like Benjamin Montgomery, Ronald Jones – one of the greatest Military Science Fiction writers in modern history – used his skill and genius to fabricate a story from a man’s amazing life that is even more amazing; one filled with intrigue, action and wondrous gadgets.

life 6Steamfunk is… Life lived in a fabricated Age of Steam.

And the heroes and heroines in every story in the Steamfunk anthology live those lives with great pain, weariness, vigor, ambition or zest.

Steamfunk is a life, or, for some of our more zealous Steamfunkateers, Steamfunk is life; however, it is somehow larger than life; more wondrous; more…funky.

And, for the record, the life that is Steamfunk is not “Black Steampunk”; no more than Steampunk is, well, White Steampunk. Steamfunk offers a look at Steampunk through a different set of goggles. Goggles with colorful lenses.

But, alas, I wax poetic. If you really want a great definition of Steamfunk, pick up the Steamfunk anthology. It can provide a much clearer definition than I ever could…and you’ll have the time of your life reading it, too.

life 5

Please, check out some of the incredibly talented and skilled contributors to the Steamfunk anthology:

Milton Davis – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com and www.wagadu.ning.com .

Ray Dean – Growing up in Hawaii, Ray Dean had the opportunity to enjoy nearly every culture under the sun. The Steamfunk Anthology was an inspiration she couldn’t pass up. Ray can be reached at http://www.raydean.net/.

Malon Edwards – Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malon Edwards now lives in the Greater Toronto Area. Much of his speculative fiction features people of color and is set in his hometown. Malon can be reached at eastofmars.blogspot.com.

Valjeanne Jeffers – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com  and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/ .

Rebecca M. Kyle – With a birthday on Friday 13, it’s only natural that the author is fascinated with myths, legends, and oddities of all kinds. Ms. Kyle lives with her husband, four cats, and more rocks and books than she cares to count between the Smokies and Cumberland mountains. Visit her at http://bexboox13.blogspot.com/.

Carole McDonnell – is a writer of Christian, supernatural, and ethnic stories. Her writings appear in various anthologies, including So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonialism in Science Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson; Jigsaw Nation; and Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs: Writings by Mature Women of Color among others. Her reviews appear in print and at various online sites. Her novels are the Christian speculative fiction, Wind Follower, and The Constant Tower. Her Bible study is called: Seeds of Bible Study.   Her website is http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/.

Balogun Ojetade – Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steamfunk); “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” (Sword and Soul); “Redeemer” (Urban Fantasy) and the film, “A Single Link” and “Rite of Passage”. Finally, he is Co-Author of “Ki-Khanga: The Anthology” and Co-Editor of “Steamfunk!” Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.

Hannibal Tabu – is a writer, a storyteller, and by god, a fan. He has written the novels, “The Crown: Ascenscion” and “Faraway” and the upcoming scifi political thriller “Rogue Nation.” He is currently the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Black geek website Komplicated at the Good Men Project, and uses his Operative Network website (www.operative.net) to publish his poetry, market what he’s doing, rant at the world and emit strangled cries for help.

Geoffrey Thorne – Geoffrey Thorne has written a lot of stuff in a lot of venues and will be writing more in more. It’s his distinct pleasure to take part in another of these groundbreaking anthologies. Thanks for letting me roll with you folks. For more (and God knows why you’d want more) check out http://www.geoffreythorne.com/.


BECAUSE IT’S TASTIER THAN BACON AND THICKER THAN THREE-DAY OLD GRITS!

BECAUSE IT’S TASTIER THAN BACON AND THICKER THAN THREE-DAY OLD GRITS!

bacon 2

That’s “Why should you read Steamfunk?” for a thousand dollars, Alex!

While some might argue that nothing is tastier than bacon – Steamfunk is certainly tastier than turkey bacon and, without a doubt, is thicker than three-day old grits.Steamfunk Release 3

See?

Now, I would argue that Steamfunk is much tastier than bacon. Whether you agree or not, however, you must agree that Steamfunk and bacon share some uncanny similarities.

Let’s explore the worldwide love affair with bacon and how it is indicative of the success of Steamfunk:

Why do we love bacon?

According to a recent scientific study, it is due to the Maillard Reaction, a form of nonenzymatic browning, which results from a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar. This reaction produces a wide range of molecules that vary in flavor and smell and is what gives us the flavor of toasted bread, roasted coffee, chocolate, caramel and – of course – bacon.

Bacon is made of mostly protein, water and fat. The protein is made up of the building blocks we call amino acids. The fat contains reducing sugars. Get that bacon really hot and the Maillard Reaction starts. And the smell of that sizzling bacon is enough to tempt even the staunchest of vegetarians.

And somehow you know, dear vegetarians…there is something deeper going on inside that sizzling meat. There’s some complex chemistry going on.

Well, the funky goodness that is Steamfunk occurs just like that bacon.

Milt Bal SepiaScientists refer to the phenomenon as the Davis-Ojetade Reaction, a form of creativity and determination born out of a desire to see great Steampunk stories told from an African and African-American perspective (that includes both North and South America, by the way).

After a conversation with other authors online, in which we decided to tell our stories in this fascinating subgenre of science fiction and fantasy called Steampunk and to call such stories Steamfunk, Milton Davis decided to produce an anthology of Steamfunk stories. I came to Milton and offered my services as Co-Editor, extolling my knowledge of Steampunk, my Steamfunk / Steampunk blog and my Steamfunk book. After about five minutes of contemplation, Milton sighed “Okay, you can be Co-Editor.” And followed this with a barely whispered “Damn!”

I think that “Damn!” Was Milton’s way of saying “Oh, happy day,” or something to that effect.

We then posted a call for submissions and received a surprising twenty-one – we didn’t know so many people were interested in telling Steamfunk stories. While all of the stories were incredible, we picked the twelve most funktastic ones and Milton and this author added a story each to this Blacknificent mix.

Marcellus Shane Jackson created some hot artwork and voila…Steamfunk was born.

And somehow you know, dear reader…there is something deeper going on inside that sizzling cover. With such a diverse and talented group of authors, there is some complex chemistry going on.

And the funk created by this thrilling anthology is enough to tempt the staunchest Steampunk and the most reluctant of readers.

But taste for yourself. Pick up a paperback copy of Steamfunk, or grab one for your Kindle or Nook.

You can thank me for all that funky goodness later.

bacon 1

You can also thank some of the other authors – who have graciously joined the blog tour of the anthology – while you’re at it. They are:

Milton Davis – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com  andwww.wagadu.ning.com .

Ray Dean – Growing up in Hawaii, Ray Dean had the opportunity to enjoy nearly every culture under the sun. The Steamfunk Anthology was an inspiration she couldn’t pass up. Ray can be reached at http://www.raydean.net/.

Malon Edwards – Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malon Edwards now lives in the Greater Toronto Area. Much of his speculative fiction features people of color and is set in his hometown. Malon can be reached at eastofmars.blogspot.com.

Valjeanne Jeffers – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com  and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/ .

Rebecca M. Kyle – With a birthday on Friday 13, it’s only natural that the author is fascinated with myths, legends, and oddities of all kinds. Ms. Kyle lives with her husband, four cats, and more rocks and books than she cares to count between the Smokies and Cumberland mountains. Visit her at http://bexboox13.blogspot.com/.

Carole McDonnell – is a writer of Christian, supernatural, and ethnic stories. Her writings appear in various anthologies, including So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonialism in Science Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson; Jigsaw Nation; and Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs: Writings by Mature Women of Color among others. Her reviews appear in print and at various online sites. Her novels are the Christian speculative fiction, Wind Follower, and The Constant Tower. Her Bible study is called: Seeds of Bible Study.   Her website is http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/.

Balogun Ojetade – Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steamfunk); “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” (Sword and Soul); “Redeemer” (Urban Fantasy) and the film, “A Single Link” and “Rite of Passage”. Finally, he is Co-Author of “Ki-Khanga: The Anthology” and Co-Editor of “Steamfunk!” Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.

Hannibal Tabu – is a writer, a storyteller, and by god, a fan. He has written the novels, “The Crown: Ascenscion” and “Faraway” and the upcoming scifi political thriller “Rogue Nation.” He is currently the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Black geek website Komplicated at the Good Men Project, and uses his Operative Network website (www.operative.net) to publish his poetry, market what he’s doing, rant at the world and emit strangled cries for help.

Geoffrey Thorne – Geoffrey Thorne has written a lot of stuff in a lot of venues and will be writing more in more. It’s his distinct pleasure to take part in another of these groundbreaking anthologies. Thanks for letting me roll with you folks. For more (and God knows why you’d want more) check out http://www.geoffreythorne.com/.


SWING DOWN, SWEET CHARIOT, STOP AND LET ME RIDE: A Steamfunk sneak-peek!

SWING DOWN, SWEET CHARIOT, STOP AND LET ME RIDE: A Steamfunk sneak-peek!

peek 1

Greetings, Steamfunkateers! We are broadcasting live from the airship Sweet Chariot, which is now docked at AnachroCon, where great fun, good food, drink and entertainment and a whole lot of learning is taking place.

Many new recruits to the crew of Sweet Chariot have signed on, given their oath of allegiance to the Funk and have purchased their copy of the Steamfunkateers’ first guide to funktastic – Steamfunk!

Steamfunk is a huge book at 485 pages and every story is a powerful vision of Steamfunk from the perspective of fourteen of the best authors in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Below, I offer a sampling of just four of those stories and will give more sneak peeks as we continue to tour this Blacknificent anthology.

Enjoy!

Benjamin’s Freedom Magic

By Ronald T. Jones

The Confederate stars and bars waved high above the mansion belonging to the Jensen family. Five airships descended upon the estate in V formation. The lead airship, larger than the others, landed softly on a patch of gray tarmac, its side-mounted turbines shifting horizontally to cushion its descent. Blasts of steam whooshed out of the craft’s side and top vents as its landing struts touched the surface with an impact lighter than a feather’s kiss.

 

Tough Night in Tommyville

By Melvin Carter

Thomasville had been founded one hundred and twenty-seven years back, and named after an eastern entrepreneur, Benjamin Thomas.  Mr. Thomas and his public relations departments, both in house and hired, had webbed a myth that portrayed him as frontier born, bear and buffalo wrestling hellion, who became both a guide and later a scout for General ‘Ham Fist’ Hammond and his elite Eleventh Lancers.  An all around American Hero, he was. The reality was that he had only been west of the Lanyard and into the North West Territories twice.

His only true adventure had been an upriver journey to get trading rights with the Chippewa-Sioux.  The second, was as an older and wealthier man, dedicating a statue, to “Corny” Cornelius Opopo, a real frontiersman among whose accomplishments were, he had prevented one who had grown so fed up with the whining of Mr. Thomas on the expedition, from splitting his fat skull.  Over the decades the bronze statue became that of the 5’6” potbellied businessman, rather than the 6’2” West-Man.     Thomasville had become an important trade hub by that time. Not even the tornado of ’67, the occupation by regional separatists in ’73, nor the subsequent pitched battle in the Regulars counteroffensive.

 

Once A Spider

By Rebecca M. Kyle

A woman’s terrified scream forced Nansi to move with her day-to-night transition incomplete. Off-balance, despite the many years of nightly changes from two legs to eight, she raced through the tangle of alleys along the river toward the sound. Somewhere in the city, a big cat stalked, claiming the lives of citizens nearly every night. Nansi’s goal was to stop the deaths.

Keep to the shadows, her eight-legged mind, bent on survival, tried to assert itself. Hurry, her still-human heart urged. So she sped along on her eight legs, using the smoke from stacks to camouflage her inky form.

If the night sky wasn’t so thick with fog, the moon would be eclipsed by beautifully colored pleasure balloons owned by the wealthiest who enjoyed soaring above the city and looking down upon the silver ribbons of rivers and snow-capped mountains. Dirigibles, both great and small, also flew in more clement weather. These more sturdy crafts served for long-distance travel and the city’s emergency services, including the police and fire brigades.

So far, none of the denizens of this fog-bound city where a wide river met the sea were aware of her dual identity, but that could change any time. The more the cat killed, the more in danger the other shadowy residents of the city were.

 

The Tunnel at the End of the Light

By Geoffrey Thorne

Ol’ Moby spun slowly in the airtides, creaking and groaning as the pressure pushed it this way and that, giving the false but persistent impression that it was alive.

The giant spokes, interlocking like spider webs, the great corroded drum squatting at the hub, even the enormous bolts protruding from the thing like huge dead eyes, somehow implied the presence of some great beast or skeeter.

Of course it was neither of these things. The nearest anybody had been able to tell was that Ol’ Moby, one of the bigger wrecks floating in the misty aether a few leagues from Breaktown, was that it had been home to some manner of elseworldly persons many, many turns ago.

Those persons were all gone to dust now, leaving no clue about themselves or how they’d found their way into the Other Country.

Nowatimes only the homesteaders and the damned Morikans had any real presence and, of the two, only the homesteaders had been of a mind to take the place for what it was and put down roots.

I hope you enjoyed the excerpts from these funktastic tales dear Steamfunkateers!

Be sure to pick up your copy of the Steamfunk anthology and enjoy all the funky goodness found therein!

Also, please check out the blogs of several authors who contributed stories to Steamfunk. We will give away sneak peeks – and maybe some funky prizes, too – over the next several days. The authors and their pages are:

Milton Davis – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com  andwww.wagadu.ning.com .

Ray Dean – Growing up in Hawaii, Ray Dean had the opportunity to enjoy nearly every culture under the sun. The Steamfunk Anthology was an inspiration she couldn’t pass up. Ray can be reached at http://www.raydean.net/.

Malon Edwards – Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malon Edwards now lives in the Greater Toronto Area. Much of his speculative fiction features people of color and is set in his hometown. Malon can be reached at eastofmars.blogspot.com.

Valjeanne Jeffers – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy / Steamfunk novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend, Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com  and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/ .

Rebecca M. Kyle – With a birthday on Friday 13, it’s only natural that the author is fascinated with myths, legends, and oddities of all kinds. Ms. Kyle lives with her husband, four cats, and more rocks and books than she cares to count between the Smokies and Cumberland mountains. Visit her at http://bexboox13.blogspot.com/.

Carole McDonnell – is a writer of Christian, supernatural, and ethnic stories. Her writings appear in various anthologies, including So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonialism in Science Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson; Jigsaw Nation; and Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs: Writings by Mature Women of Color among others. Her reviews appear in print and at various online sites. Her novels are the Christian speculative fiction, Wind Follower, and The Constant Tower. Her Bible study is called: Seeds of Bible Study.   Her website is http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/.

Balogun Ojetade – Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steamfunk); “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” (Sword and Soul); “Redeemer” (Urban Fantasy) and the films, “A Single Link” and “Rite of Passage”. Finally, he is Co-Author of “Ki-Khanga: The Anthology” and Co-Editor of “Steamfunk!” Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.

Hannibal Tabu – is a writer, a storyteller, and by god, a fan. He has written the novels, “The Crown: Ascenscion” and “Faraway” and the upcoming scifi political thriller “Rogue Nation”. He is currently the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Black geek website Komplicated at the Good Men Project, and uses his Operative Network website (www.operative.net) to publish his poetry, market what he’s doing, rant at the world and emit strangled cries for help.

Geoffrey Thorne – Geoffrey Thorne has written a lot of stuff in a lot of venues and will be writing more in more. It’s his distinct pleasure to take part in another of these groundbreaking anthologies. Thanks for letting me roll with you folks. For more (and God knows why you’d want more) check out http://www.geoffreythorne.com/.

 


The Coldest Wynter Ever

The Coldest Wynter Ever

The Coldest Wynter Ever

A Lesson Learned; A Tale of Terror

 

Tent CityI have always had a heart for – and spoken in defense of – the downtrodden; the victimized; the rejected and the despised. I have never turned my nose up at a homeless person, or looked down upon those less fortunate than myself. I think of myself as one of the “good guys” and good guys defend the weak and help those in need.

It is easy, however, to “speak out against”, or “speak up for”, however to act on behalf of is quite another thing entirely and not so easy at all.

I learned this nearly two decades ago, while discussing the plight of the homeless in Chicago. I was scolding a group of brothers for not being “grassroots” enough; for not speaking out against homelessness and for not working together to erect a shelter for homeless women and children.

One of my closest friends pulled me aside after my tirade and told me he liked what I said and agreed that we must take an active stance in helping the homeless. He then asked if I’d like to go see Pulp Fiction – his treat. With dark comedies – especially ones with professional assassins – at the top of my list of favorite types of movies, how could I refuse?

On the way to the movies, my friend, who insisted that he drive, said he had to make a quit stop. He then proceeded to head toward downtown Chicago – the opposite direction from the movie theater we frequented.

“Where are we headed?” I asked.

“I have to drop something off to some old friends of mine,” my friend replied.

Winter HomelessWe reached Wacker Drive, the famed “triple-decker” street. My friend veered off toward the road that led to Lower Wacker Drive and we continued our descent to Lower Lower Wacker Drive, which was even more famous…for being one of the largest homeless encampments in the world. The homeless preferred sleeping on Lower Lower Wacker Drive because they are sheltered from the weather and dozens of them could be found sleeping on loading docks and other out-of-the-way spots on any given night. In the mid-1990s, Chi-Town began forcibly removing these unfortunate people, tossing out their belongings and fencing off the places where they stayed.

In 1993, however, Lower Lower Wacker Drive was a sprawling metropolis of tents and cardboard boxes.

My friend – Jermaine is his name, in case you’re wondering – parked beside a loading dock, honked twice and then hopped out of his vehicle. I followed him to the trunk. Jermaine opened it, revealing his wife’s mink coat, two goose down coats, a pair of his ostrich-skin boots – chill, PETA, it wasn’t me – and a crate of bottled water.

Dozens of homeless people approached us, with warm smiles. Jermaine knew them all by name. He embraced them without hesitation.

I felt immense shame, because I realized that I was talking the talk – with a proverbial megaphone at that – but had never walked the walk.

Jermaine had walked it many times, though and had never said a word about it. He did not seek accolades; he did not seek support. He saw people in need and wanted to help them in the best way he could.

Jermaine handed out his donations to a man he called “The Mayor”, a short, thin, elderly Black man, who corrected me when I said the word “homeless” during my conversation with this brilliant man – “We aren’t homeless; we’re residenceless. This is home.”

homelessThe Mayor of Lower Lower Wacker Drive then decided who would receive which items. No one complained about his choices and all was peaceful. Jermaine and I said farewell to everyone, hopped back in his car and drove off. I turned to Jermaine and asked “So, when are we coming back?” “Pick a day,” he responded. “I visit and drop off stuff four or five days a week.”

Jermaine – always a cool brother – became a hundred times cooler, in my eyes.

My many chats with the Mayor of Lower Lower Wacker Drive over the next year or so inspired me to write a story with a “residenceless” person as the hero. Finally, I crafted Chicago Wynter, a tale of a homeless man’s battle against the deadly cold that takes the lives of so many homeless in Chicago each year.

I recently recorded an audio version of the story for GA Tech’s WREK radio station (91.1 FM), which will air on their Sci Fi Lab show. I now share that recording, with an accompanying slide show, with you. Give a listen and a look, enjoy and then, please, give me your feedback.

 

I have given homage to authors Nnedi Okorafor and Milton J. Davis  by making them “actors” in this work. Why? Because they are artists whose work I admire greatly and, in the case of Milton Davis, he is also a great friend and teacher who I have had the honor – and pleasure – of working with on several projects.


REDEEMER: Glitch Part 3

glitch 36

Redeemer

We now continue the celebration of the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, with Part 3 of Redeemer: Glitch, the episodic short story based on the book. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers – the story is an alternate timeline, told from the point of view of our hero’s younger, wilder, vengeful self.

So, sit back and enjoy the finale (perhaps) of Redeemer: Glitch!

REDEEMER: Glitch Part 3

Glitch: A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag

glitch 33Z strolled down Abernathy Boulevard, past the old men hanging out in front of the West End Mall to ogle scantily clad girls as they passed by; past the men and women selling incense, fragrant oils and books on the Prison Industrial Complex or the Mayan Apocalypse. He strolled past them all, seen, but unnoticed, just as Norm had taught him to be.

Unnoticed, that is, except by one. One who remained unnoticed and unseen by all, stepping in and out of shadow as he traced Z’s every step.

Z stopped at the door of a three-story office building nestled between a swanky vegetarian restaurant and a natural hair salon. The sign on the door read ‘Carver Recording & Film Studios’.

Z stepped through the door, drawing his pistol from inside his Enyce vest. The pitol’s silencer reflected the light from the chandelier which hung over the security desk. He squeezed the trigger twice.

The first guard slumped in his chair.  A torrent of blood rushed gushed from a hole in his neck. Within seconds, his starched, white uniform shirt was a deep burgundy.

glitch 38The second guard collapsed to the floor as blood and tissue erupted from his back. A wisp of smoke rose from the hole in his black security officer’s shirt as he convulsed erratically. A moment later, he lay still.

Z sauntered to the elevator, pressed the button and waited.

The elevator door slid open. Z turned his back to the elevator, admiring his handiwork as he stepped into it. The elevator came to a smooth stop on the third floor. The door opened and Z stepped out of it into the hallway. The skylights that ran the length of the hallway’s ceiling bathed the corridor in the warmth and light of the noonday sun.

Z perused the numbers on the studio and office doors, stopping at ‘Studio 9’, from which emanated the din of southern gangster rap music, laughter and firm commands. Z recognized one of the commands belonging to the voice of Virginia Carver. He had found at least one of his targets.

Z raised his pistol before him. He then took half a step back from the door, inhaled deeply and then drove the heel of his foot toward the doorknob.

His heel crashed into the door, just below the knob. The door frame shattered and the door flew open. Z rushed in, squeezing off a volley of rounds from his pistol.

glitch 44The Carver Twins’ bodyguards, Manny and Steve, threw their bodies in front of their bosses, as Z had hoped – he did not want to have to face these two killers and the twins – and were caught in a hail storm of searing lead. Round after round tore into their flesh, rending tissue, bone and vital organs. The big men fell, soiling the hardwood flooring with entrails and gore.

The rapper Point Blank dropped to his haunches in the recording booth, thrusting his head between his legs.

Virginia Carver darted forward, closing on Z with fearsome speed and ferocity. Her hands wrapped around his pistol, as she pushed her arms high above her head. A round exploded from the gun, lodging in the ceiling.

Z tried to pull the trigger again, but Virginia held the pistol’s slide firmly in place and the gun would not fire.

Virginia jerked the weapon downward.

Z’s index finger, caught in the trigger guard, made a sickening snap as it bent sideways at an impossible angle. Z dropped to his knees, releasing the pistol.

Virginia thrust her knee forward, driving the air out of Z’s lungs as the powerful knee strike collided with his solar plexus.

Z tried to crawl away, but a heavy, leather boot came crashing down on his left hand, crushing the small bones and pinning it to the floor.

Z screamed in agony as he looked up into Virgil’s smiling face.

“Where are you running to, boy?” Virgil snickered. “”Don’t you have some killing to do?”

“This is one of Sweet’s boys,” Virginia said.

The hammer of Z’s pistol clicked as Virginia cocked it. “We’re gonna send what’s left of your head to Sweet. The rest of you, I’m gonna keep on display in pickle jars in my pool-house.”

Virginia aimed the pistol at Z’s forehead. A loud boom rocked the studio.

Blood and brain splashed onto Z’s face.

A second boom. More blood and brain rained on the floor before the teen.

Z scurried across the floor, slipping in blood and bits of flesh.

The headless bodies of the twins collapsed onto the floor with dull thuds.

Z reached out toward his pistol. With shaky fingers, he snatched it off the floor and raised it toward the entrance. There was no one there.

“Put the gun down, Z.”

glitch 45Z leapt to his feet, aiming his pistol toward the source of the rich, baritone voice. Standing before him was a tall, athletically built man holding a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun on his shoulder. Although Z had never seen him before, the man looked strangely familiar.

“Who the hell are you?” Z inquired. “How do you know my name?”

“You’re welcome,” the man replied.

“Thanks,” Z said, keeping his gun aimed at the man. “Now, who the hell are you?”

“My name’s Ezekiel,” the man answered. “Ezekiel Cross.”

“Bullshit!” Z shouted, struggling to ignore the intense pain gnawing at both hands.

“Naw, boy, that’s real shit,” the man said. “As real as the shock you’re gonna go into if we don’t get those hands taken care of.”

A wave of nausea washed over Z. The pistol fell from his shaky fingers and he collapsed against the mixing board. Ezekiel ran to Z and placed a powerful arm around the boy’s waist. “We have to get out of here. I’ll explain everything later.

Z nodded. Ezekiel sat Z in a chair and retrieved the boy’s gun. He tucked the weapon into the holster sewn into the interior of Z’s vest and then helped him to his feet. The duo crept out of the office and into the sunlit hallway.

“I can walk now,” Z said.

“You sure?” Ezekiel asked.

“Positive,” Z answered.

Ezekiel let him go. Z stood wide-legged, remaining still until he was sure that his balance would not fail him. He then sauntered down the hall toward the elevator with Ezekiel on his heels.

A low “ding” came from the elevator and the door slowly slid open.

Ezekiel raised his shotgun, holding it at the ready. Z took a few steps backward until he was standing a couple of feet behind Ezekiel.

glitch 41An immaculately dressed, elderly man stepped off the elevator and stood before the elevator door, offering only his profile to Z and Ezekiel. The man was tall, but his spiky, grey afro made him appear even taller. His full, grey beard seemed to glow against his mahogany skin and his frame, though covered in a tailored grey suit, was obviously athletic, despite his age.

“Oh, no,” Ezekiel gasped.

“What? Who is that?” Z asked.

“He’s called Paradox,” Ezekiel whispered. When a time traveler changes history, Paradox comes and fixes it back.”

“Man…what? Paradox?” Z said, shaking his head.

“That’s Grandfather Paradox to you,” the elderly man said. “Always respect your elders, boy.”

“What do you want, old man?” Z inquired.

“You,” Paradox replied. He turned his head slowly toward Z, revealing a wide grin.

Fire erupted from the muzzle of Ezekiel’s shotgun.

Paradox was thrown onto his back as a sabot shotgun slug blew a chasm in his chest.

“Run!” Ezekiel shouted.

Z did not move. “Run? You just ghosted that old nigga!”

“Damn, I do not recall being this stupid!” Ezekiel spat. “Now, we’ve got to fight this thing.”

“Man, I appreciate you saving me and all,” Z said, approaching Paradox’s body. “But you are straight cray-cray, for real!”

“Cray-cray?” Ezekiel asked.

“That means you take crazy to a whole ‘nother level,” Z said. If you really believe you’re…”

The words grew heavy in Z’s throat as he watched Paradox sit up on his haunches. “The hell?” The teen gasped.

glitch 43Paradox rose to its feet. It raised its head toward the ceiling and let loose a roar that sent a chill clawing its way up Z’s spine. The creature shifted…changed. Tendon, sinew and bone popped and crackled as they changed shape and function.  The Grandfather Paradox was no longer a sophisticated, athletic elderly gentleman; it was now gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin was pulled tautly over its bones and its complexion was now the pallid, ash-gray of death. Strange runes and raised patterns traversed the creature’s flesh. Its eyes were pushed back deep into their sockets, what lips remained were tattered and bloody and the monster gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition; of death and destruction; of disease, sickness and shit.

Z whirled on his heels and took off. The Grandfather Paradox exploded forward, sprinting on all fours, hot on Z’s heels.

Now, you run?” Ezekiel sighed.

Ezekiel squeezed the trigger of his shotgun.

The creature fell over on its side as its forearm was blown from its elbow.

Ezekiel squeezed the trigger once more. The shotgun roared.

Paradox’s head exploded, its oily, black ichor painting the walls and floor.

glitch 46Z darted out of the emergency door. Ezekiel followed.

“Keep going,” Ezekiel shouted. “That thing will be back at us in a few minutes!”

Ezekiel and Z reached the main floor. They ran through the door and into the lobby, continuing on, sprinting past the corpses of the pair of security guards.

“My car is parked around the corner…to your left,” Ezekiel said.

The duo ran out of the building and onto Abernathy Boulevard. Almost in unison, they reduced their speed to a brisk walk, so as to not attract too much attention.

“Time travelers…old men turning into monsters…what the hell is really going on, shawty?” Z inquired.

“Welcome to my world, kid,” Z sighed. “Welcome to my world.”


REDEEMER: Glitch Part 1

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Redeemer

To celebrate the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, I will share an episodic short story based on the book for the next three posts. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers – the story is an alternate timeline, told from the point of view of our hero’s younger, wilder, vengeful self.

So, grab a cup of chai tea, or your favorite brew, sit back and enjoy part one of Redeemer: Glitch!

REDEEMER: Glitch Part 1

Glitch: A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag

 

glitch 6The din of raucous laughter echoed throughout the private dining room of Sayles’ Lobster Bar. “Sweet” Danny Sweet had just told one of his anecdotes, which were always entertaining and, usually, quite funny.

Sweet’s charisma and “favorite uncle” demeanor was in stark contrast to his brutality; his ruthlessness. Those same qualities made him one of the most powerful record industry moguls in the world and the most powerful criminal in the Southeastern United States.

Z loved Sweet. When his father was brutally murdered, it was Sweet who stepped in to give him and his mother support; it was Sweet who found the man responsible for his father’s death; and it was Sweet who gave him the opportunity – and the will – to kill that man.

glitch 5Next to Sweet sat the giant, “Nigerian Norm” – the man responsible for Sweet’s safety and for Z’s training. Norm, too, was a man of contrasts – massively muscled; brutish; a master of murder, mayhem and pain. But he was also a graduate of the prestigious Oxford Law school, well-traveled, fluent in five languages and one of the most formidable attorneys on the planet.

Norm was Z’s instructor in the ways of death and, in that role, as all the others he played, he had done exceptionally well. At fifteen years of age, Z was already an experienced and respected assassin-for-hire and was determined to one day be the absolute best.

Z thrust his fork into a mound of spaghetti gamberetto and then twirled it, wrapping the platinum utensil in a cocoon of pasta and shrimp. He shoved the pasta into his mouth, savoring the spicy-sweet flavor.

The smell of stale cigarettes and coffee assaulted Z’s nostrils. “McGraw,” he whispered.

glitch 7Homicide Detective Terry McGraw sauntered into the dining room. His thick, brown fingers fumbled with the buttons of his tweed blazer as he approached the dining table. Behind him shuffled a stout, fireplug of a man, his plump belly jiggling with each step.

“McGraw, what’s the good word?” Sweet inquired.

“I’ve got good news, Sweet,” McGraw replied, reaching across the table to shake Sweet’s hand.

“Good,” Sweet said. His eyes shifted to the clammy-skinned, beer-bellied man beside McGraw and then back to the detective. “Who’s the J? And why is he at my table?”

“He witnessed the robbery-homicide at Frankie’s spot,” McGraw answered. “His name’s…”

“Chuck Alexander Etheridge,” the fireplug of a man said, extending his plump fingers toward Sweet. “But, everyone calls me ‘Shakespeare’.”

“Okay. Have a seat McGraw,” Sweet said, ignoring Shakespeare’s hand. “…Spear-Chucker.”

The corners of Shakespeare’s mouth curled into a weak smile. “That’s Shake…”

glitch 8McGraw placed a hand on Shakespeare’s shoulder and shook his head. Shakespeare wisely shut his mouth and both men sat across from Sweet.

“Hey, Norm,” McGraw said, nodding toward the giant.

Hey, John Hop,” Norm said, leaning forward in his chair. “You had best brought some good Brad Pitt for this Buster Keaton.”

McGraw shook his head. “Damn, I’ve known you for, what? Eleven…twelve years? And I still can’t understand a friggin’ word when you talk that Cockney shit.”

“Well, if you cleaned the wax outta your sighs and had any eighteen in your loaf, understandin’ me would be lemon squeezy,” Norm said.

“It’s British Ebonics,” Sweet snickered. “You catch on after a while.”

Sweet turned his gaze toward Shakespeare. “So, what you got for me, Shake-n-Bake?”

“It’s…ahem…well, I was at Frankie’s spot when it happened,” Shakespeare replied. “It must have been around eleven, because I arrived at my regularly appointed time of ten-fifteen and had already taken my nightly dosage of opiate.”

“Opiate?” Sweet cut his eyes toward Detective McGraw.

“H,” McGraw answered.

“Oh,” Sweet said. “Go on, Salt-Shaker.”

glitch 9“He came out of the darkness,” Shakespeare said, with a sweep of his stubby arms. “Swift; silent…like Death, on gossamer wings.”

Shakespeare leapt from the table and paced the floor. He hung his head and closed his eyes. “Frankie and his henchmen did not stand a chance. Their guns meant nothing in the face of that creature of wind and shadow.

“And why are you alive to tell the tale?” Z asked.

“He left all of the patrons alive,” Shakespeare answered.

“And just what did this bloke look like?” Norm inquired.

“He was tall, but not nearly as tall as you, or Detective McGraw,” Shakespeare replied. “He was, perhaps, five-eleven, or six feet. He was athletically built, with short, well-groomed hair and his skin was a smooth caramel…”

“Damn,” McGraw shouted, interrupting him. “Did you get the motherfucker’s phone number?”

“Absolutely not,” Shakespeare said, turning up his nose. “I am…

glitch 10“Well, it looks like a new player is in town,” Sweet cut in. “He might belong to the Carver Twins; they like hiring them gossamer wing, spirit of the wind-type motherfuckers.”

“You thinkin’ a sit-down?” Norm asked.

“Definitely,” Sweet replied.

Sweet raised his glass of cognac and extended it toward Shakespeare. “Good work, Shakespeare!”

A broad smile spread across Shakespeare’s face.

Sweet withdrew a money clip from the inner pocket of his sharkskin suit coat and thrust two crisp hundred dollar bills toward Shakespeare. “Here; there’s a lot more in it for you if your information leads to us catching this bastard. Now, order yourself some food; it’s on me.”

Sweet held up a golden brown french fry. “Hey, Norm, tell Shakespeare what you call these in England.”

“Chips,” Norm said.

“Freakin’ chips!  Can you believe that?” Sweet asked.  “A chip is a thinly sliced, flat piece of potato.  Comes in different flavors, like plain – that’s my favorite – barbecue; , salt and vinegar – we call ‘em ‘salt and sour’ back home; , hot; , dill pickle – I don’t like them shits, though – anyway, that’s a friggin’ chip!”

Sweet snickered as he shook his head.  “You English are some weird motherfuckers!”

“First of all, I’m Nigerian,” Norm began.

Sweet rolled his eyes.  “Here we go…”

“Second of all, no brother would ever call himself ‘English’, he’d say he’s ‘British’, and third…”

“Hold that thought,” Sweet said, interrupting Norm.  “I gotta take a piss.”

“You’re already takin’ the piss, aren’t ya’?” Norm replied.

“See…weird!” Sweet said.

Shakespeare smiled wider.

Sweet rose from his chair.  Norm followed suit.

glitch 2“I want in on the sit-down,” Z said, dropping his fork onto his plate.

 Sweet wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin. “What?”

“I want in on the sit-down, in case the Carvers get froggy,” Z replied.

“What the hell do you think me and Norm are gonna be doing there, little nigga?”  Norm spat. “Playing with our dicks? It don’t get no better than me and Norm having Sweet’s back.”

“The Carvers have some tight security and I hear that the twins are pretty dangerous themselves,” Z said. “You can use my help.”

“You’re fifteen, Z,” McGraw sighed. “Leave this shit to the big boys.”

McGraw turned his gaze toward Sweet. “Little nigga kills two or three motherfuckers and thinks he’s Dirty Harry, or some shit!”

Z pointed toward the silver police detective badge, encased in leather, hanging from McGraw’s neck. “Without that badge and gun, you’re just a really tall asshole who fights like a sissy with bad feet.”

Norm slapped the table with his fingertips. Plates rattled as silverware tap-danced against them. “Ezekiel…enough!”

“Yes, Sensei,” Z said, lowering his gaze.

“Bloody hell,” Norm shouted. “McGraw is your elder, Z. Apologize!”

“Yes, Sensei.” Z turned toward McGraw and pressed his palms together with his hands before his chest as if he was about to pray. “Detective McGraw, I apologize. I was wrong.”

McGraw smiled warmly. “It’s okay, Z. I accept your…”

“You are a really tall asshole who fights like a sissy,” Z said, cutting McGraw off. “But you don’t have bad feet.”

The room erupted in laughter.

McGraw thrust his middle finger toward Z.

“That’s better,” Norm said. “Gotta show the geezers their respect.”

glitch 11“Y’all motherfuckers are crazy!” Sweet chuckled. “Look Z, this game’s political. If someone your age attends a sit-down, it’ll be taken as disrespect. I know your father – God rest his soul – gave you a soldier’s heart and Norm is teaching you to kill like a pro, but you gotta be patient.”

“The Carver Twins hired Greg Blake to merc my dad,” Zeke sighed.

“And they’ll pay for that,” Sweet said. “Just like Greg Blake did. You’ll have your revenge, little man; we just gotta be smart about it.”

“Yes, sir,” Z said.

Sweet pulled the brim of his homburg over his right eyebrow. “That’s my boy! Be right back, fellas; nature calls.”

Join us in a few days as we continue our thrilling tale with Redeemer: Glitch, Part 2!

And, as always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.


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

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

I am a “Conscious Brother”.

What is that, you ask?

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

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

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

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

I also love to read – and write – fiction.

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

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

His answer?

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

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

But they’re wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Non-Conscious Brain Treats Everything as Real

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

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

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

The Power of Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yoruba “keeps it real, son.”

And so should you.

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

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


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

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

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

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

So, what are the tropes of Map Fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their Covers

Covers are an easy way to tell the subgenres apart.

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

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

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

The hero will be Black.

The Effect of Saving, or Finding, a Mug

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

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

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

The Setting

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

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

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

Its Inhabitants

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

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

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

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

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

Magic

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

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

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

The Hero

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

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

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

The Villain

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

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

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

Where do I get started?

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

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

Imaro, volumes 1 – 4 by Charles R. Saunders

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

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

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

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

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

 Once Upon A Time in Afrika by Balogun Ojetade

Once Upon a Time in Afrika tells the story of a beautiful princess and her eager suitors. Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” daughter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle answers,  telling the Emperor Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament inviting warriors from all over the continent. Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament a powerful evil is headed their way. Will the warriors band together against this evil?


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

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


The State of Black Science Fiction: Filled with Possibilities!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932)

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

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

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

Pauline Hopkins (1859-1930)

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

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

Harry Potter? Twilight?

Nah, give me Of One Blood!

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

Yes the W.E.B. Du Bois.

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

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

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

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

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

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

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

George S. Schuyler (1895-1977)

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

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

Henry Dumas (1934-1968)

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

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

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

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

Virginia Hamilton (1934-2002)

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

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

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

Samuel R. Delaney

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

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

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

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

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

Charles R. Saunders

An African-American author and journalist currently living in Canada, Saunders is best known as the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy called Sword & Soul, which is described by Saunders thusly, Sword-and-soul is the name I’ve given to the type of fiction I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years.  The best definition I can think of for the term is ‘African-inspired heroic fantasy’.  Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.”

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

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

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

Milton J. Davis

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

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

Valjeanne Jeffers

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

Alan Jones

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

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

Balogun Ojetade

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

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

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

Wendy Raven McNair

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

Alicia McCalla

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

Ronald T. Jones

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

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


DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? Cosplay and the building of a Black World

DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? Cosplay and the building of a Black World

Last semester at the school I teach – and where my son, Ade, attends – the younger male students – ranging in age from six to ten and all of African descent (i.e. Black) – decided to fashion their own costumes based on characters they created. The boys created elaborate back-stories for their personas, developed comic books and transformed from being “themselves” into their personas at every break, during lunch and – for Ade, at least – on the ride home from school.

My son and his schoolmates had discovered the joys of cosplay.

Cosplay, thought by most to be short for “Costume Play” is, more accurately, short for “Paracosmic Play”. Paracosms are the fantasy worlds that many imaginative children invent.

Young people who engage in cosplay are developing creative skills that pay off later in “real life.” The famed trio of Brontë Sisters – best known for the novels, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre – and their Brother, Branwell, are a prime example of those who began writing early through creating and building upon imaginary worlds. As children, they concocted paracosms so elaborate that they documented them with meticulous maps, drawings, and hundreds of pages of encyclopedic writing.

Yes, cosplay involves wearing costumes and acting in the role of a favorite character from a novel, television program, comic book, movie or one’s own imagination; however, any good cosplayer knows that to cosplay well requires a knowledge of the world that character comes from. Those who cosplay characters from their own imaginations – such as my son and his schoolmates – usually create their character’s back-story, which includes the supporting characters and the setting from which that character comes.

It now appears that, like the Brontës, children who engage in cosplay are more likely to be creative as adults. A 2002 study shows that geniuses are twice as likely as “normal” non-geniuses to cosplay. Some fields were proven to be particularly rife with cosplayers: Fully 46 percent of the recipients polled in the social sciences were cosplayers in their youth.

Fandom and cosplay is not for every child – some are just genuinely more interested in football than they are in Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles (note that on the covers of the Kane Chronicles, the protagonist’s face is never shown; the protagonist is Black, however, on the cover of Riordan’s Percy Jackson series of novels, the white protagonist’s face is always shown) – but we need to see a change in the media; more Black writers need to tell our stories so that more young, Black fans are encouraged to reap the benefits of participatory fandom and cosplay.

These young, Black cosplayers will go on to make a better world for us.

Why?

 Because cosplay requires practical creativity. Fleshing out a universe demands, not just imagination, but an attention to detail, consistency, rule sets, and logic. You have to grapple with constraints – just as when you are problem-solving at work.

The future belongs to those who can imagine it.

 

On October 26, 2012, join us for a night of adult cosplay and exciting short films at The Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film.

Come out in your (Steam)funkiest gear and 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!

Presented by the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture & History and the State of Black Science Fiction as part of Alien Encounters III, the four-day convention on Black Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy!

Friday, October 26, 2012
6:30pm – 9:00pm.

This event is FREE and open to the public!

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

 


WELCOME TO ATLANTA…

WELCOME TO ATLANTA

 

A salty-sweet smell smacked Keonna in her broad nose and awakened her.  “Mmm…never smelled anything like that in Brewton,” she whispered as she rubbed her eyes.

She peered out of the dusty window of the Greyhound Bus.  “Yang’s Lemon-Pepper Wings.  I’ve gotta try that!”

The Greyhound’s wheels squeaked as it came to an abrupt halt at the Atlanta bus depot.

Keonna slipped her backpack over her smooth shoulders and shuffled towards the front of the bus.  Her pristine, white leather Adidas made a dull thud as she leapt from the bus and onto the hot Atlanta pavement.

An emaciated man soft-shoed towards Keonna with his crooked fingers outstretched.  His shiny, black skin reminded her of old axle grease.  “Welcome to Atlanta, where the playas play,” the old man rapped.  “And we ride on them thangs like ev-ery day.”

Keonna slapped a dollar into the man’s hand as she joined in.  “Big beats, hit streets, see gangstas roamin’.  And parties don’t stop ‘til eight in the mo’nin’.”

The old man bowed.  Keonna curtsied and then skipped across the street to ‘Yang’s Lemmon-Pepper Wings’.

A soft “ding-dong” heralded her grand entrance into the crowded restaurant.  A tiny Asian woman, who stood behind the counter, waved her hand, gesturing Keonna to come near.  She read the menu on the wall as she approached the counter.

“Can I take your order, ma’am?”  The tiny woman asked.

“Umm…I’ll try your ten-piece lemon-pepper wings.”

“You want to make it a combo for one-seventy-five more?”

Keonna squinted at the woman and shook her head.  “A combo?”

“Yes.   It come with large fry and large drink.”

“Sure, make it a combo and make my drink a sweet-tea.”

“Okay,” the cashier replied, “That’ll be four-ninety.”

Keonna handed the cashier a crisp five-dollar bill.

The cashier placed a tarnished dime in the palm of Keonna’s hand.  “Have a seat.  I’ll bring it to you when it’s ready.”

“Thank you,” Keonna said, as she turned towards the booths.

Keonna slid into a booth and stared out the window.  Her hazel eyes narrowed against the rays of the sun, adding a touch of sultriness to her pretty face.

“May I sit down?”

Keonna snapped her head towards the husky, alto voice.  A woman towered over her.  The woman’s athletic body stretched the polyester, navy blue uniform she wore to its limit, which accentuated her musculature.

Sure, Officer…” Keonna searched the woman’s shirt for a name tag.  The woman pointed to the bronze plate that rested upon the swell of her right breast.  “Sergeant Caldwell,” the woman said, as she slid into the booth and sat across from Keonna.  “But you can call me Carla.”

Keonna extended her hand.  “Pleased to meet you, Carla.  I’m Keonna.”

“Keonna,” Carla began, as she shook Keonna’s hand.  “Can you do me a favor?”

“A favor?”

“Yes.” 

Carla drew a small knife from her belt, unfolded it and handed it to Keonna.  “Please, cut those tags off your backpack.  Muggers and pimps look for girls new to Atlanta to victimize.  I lost a sister to these damned streets.  Been looking out for naïve, young women like you ever since.”

“I’m not all that naïve,” Keonna said.  “But…thank you.”

She quickly cut off the Greyhound tags and tore them into tiny pieces.

“So, what brings you to the A-T-L?” Carla asked.

“Well, my grandma passed about six months ago and she left me with a nice sum of money.”  Keonna leaned toward Carla and began to whisper. “It’s over half a million.  I decided to leave Brewton, Alabama – that’s where I grew up – and move here to shop my demo.”

Carla’s eyes widened.  “A demo?  You sing or rap?”

“I sing,” Keonna replied.

“Do you sing, or do you sang?”

Keonna laughed.  “I sang!”

Carla reached into a small pouch on her belt and pulled out a larger than normal business card.  The phone number was printed in large, raised numbers.  “Well, call me when you get a deal.  I want to support by buying your CD.”

Keonna touched the large numbers on the card.  “Wow!  I’ve never seen a business card like this!”

“My husband owns a print shop,” Carla replied.  “He’s extremely near-sighted, so he came up with the ingenious idea to make business cards that people with poor vision can see and feel.  I had him make mine like that, so I can market his work.”

Keonna slipped the card into the pocket of her sweatpants.  “Thanks.  I’ll be sure to call.”

“Carla rose from the booth.  “Alright, Keonna.  Good luck and be safe.”

“Thank you,” Keonna replied.  “Take care.”

Keonna watched Carla as she sauntered out of the restaurant and out onto the sidewalk, where she resumed walking her beat.

The cashier brought the foam container of steaming, lemon-pepper wings to Keonna’s booth.  “Here you go.”

Keonna bent close to the container and inhaled deeply.  “Mmm.  Yeah, I think I’m gonna like it here!”

Welcome to Atlanta, where the playas play,

And we ride on them thangs like ev-ery day.

Big beats,

Hit streets,

See gangstas roamin’.

And parties don’t stop ‘til eight in the mo’nin’.

 

**TWO**

 

“Help!”  Someone Help me!  Please!”

Keonna tried, frantically, to free herself from the ropes that gnawed at her wrists and ankles.  She strained to open her eyes, but a bolt of pain stabbed her in the temples and radiated across her face.  “My eyes,” she screamed.  “What’s happened to my eyes?!”

She stopped struggling and tried to calm herself.  “Gotta think.  Where am I?  Think, Keonna!”

The last thing she remembered was checking in to the Super-8 Motel on Peachtree Street and lying down for a nap.  She had felt so sleepy after her meal at ‘Yang’s’.

“Is this still the Super-Eight,” she whispered.  “It can’t be.  The bed didn’t have anything to tie me to.  Wait?  Who…who tied me to this bed?  Oh, God.  Help me!”

Keonna took a deep breath to fight back the panic that was trying to claw its way back into her head and her heart.

Suddenly, a loud, creaking noise broke the silence in the room.

“Hello?  Is someone there?”  Keonna asked.

Silence.

She felt the bed sink.  Someone was sitting at the end of the bed.  Someone big. 

Tears welled up in Keonna’s eyes, but could not escape her eyelids, which were tightly shut and beyond her control.  “Why me,” she asked.  “Why are you doing this to me?”

Silence.

She was shocked to feel hands suddenly fumbling with the bonds around her wrists.  Perhaps someone had come to rescue her and were just keeping quiet so as not to disturb her kidnapper.  Once her hands were free, her savior began freeing her legs.  After she was completely free, she felt the bed rise, followed by a few quick steps on a wooden floor and then the closing of a door.

Keonna brought her quivering hands to her face and gingerly touched her eyelids.  “Oh, God,” she gasped.  “Help me, Lord Jesus.” 

Her eyelids had been stitched shut with something that felt like fishing line.

“Help!”

She rose out of the bed.  The hardwood floor was cold.  She felt her way around the room – which was bare, other than the bed – until she found the door, which was unlocked.

She opened the door, took a deep breath and ventured out of the room.  “Hello?  Is anyone here?”

She was, once again, answered with silence.

“He must be gone,” she whispered.  “He’ll probably come back to kill me soon.”

A wave of panic slammed into her chest and Keonna began to stumble around the large room.  Her thigh slammed into the corner of a table.  She reached out to catch herself and her hands touched…

“A phone!”  Keonna turned her stitched eyes skyward.  “Thank you, Jesus!  Thank you!”

She picked up the telephone and tried to dial 9-1-1, but there was no number one-button.  She quickly felt for the zero-button, but it was nonexistent also.  “No,” she screamed.  “This cannot be happening…I…wait a minute!”

She thrust her hand into her pocket and withdrew the large business card.  “Carla!”

Keonna slowly traced the numbers on the card with her fingers. “Six…seven…eight…four…five…four …five –four…two –three.”

She typed the numbers into the phone.

Keonna jumped as a telephone rang somewhere close behind her.  “What the hell?  How…?”

She shook her head in disbelief and dialed Carla’s number again.

Again, a telephone rang behind her.

Keonna hurled the phone across the room.  “No!”

Someone snickered in the darkness.

“It…it’s you.  Carla.”

Keonna sobbed as she sank into despair.

Strong arms wrapped around her and held her in a crushing bear-hug.

A husky, alto voice slithered up the back of Keonna’s neck and into her ear.  “Welcome to Atlanta.”

Welcome to Atlanta, where the playas play,

And we ride on them thangs like ev-ery day.

Big beats,

Hit streets,

See gangstas roamin’.

And parties don’t stop ‘til eight in the mo’nin’.


Do Black People Really Read This Stuff? II: Science Fiction, Steamfunk & More!

Do Black People Really Read This Stuff? II: Science Fiction, Steamfunk & More!

 “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling

In our first installment of the Do Black People Really Read This Stuff Series, we explored Fantasy Fiction. This time, we examine Science Fiction and the Black contributors to it.

And yes, there are many Black readers – and writers – of great Science Fiction.

And just why do we read this oeuvre of weird and wonderous?

We read Science Fiction to enjoy a world that is not our own; to live someone’s life tangentially and vicariously. We read Science Fiction to be informed, to be entertained and to escape, for indeed, reading is an escapist hobby, but Science Fiction reading even more so – we escape out of our own worlds into places and times that do not exist, existed in a different way,  or never will exist at all.

Reading Science Fiction is the ultimate interactive experience because when you read it, your brain begins to build a world from the ground up.

Science Fiction stories are set in worlds that are unknown and disparate to us, and we automatically reorder them. Readers of science fiction have the luxury of extrapolating a positive future or predicting – and hopefully avoiding – negative ones.

Science Fiction is called “the literature of ideas”, and it really is, but those ideas aren’t about fusion or nanotubules; they are the same ideas of racism, love, anger and the human heart in conflict with itself that drive all other stories, but foregrounded and made new.

Many of us read Science Fiction because it’s a genre full of ideas and optimism and inspiration.

Many Black people read Science Fiction.

And many more of us should.

Sub-Genres of Science Fiction

Alien Invasion

Other-worldly creatures from outer space or other planets. Possibly the first novel about aliens visiting Earth was “Micromegas”, by Voltaire (1750), in which two giants from other worlds come to Earth to humble our primitive mental capacities. However, it was in 1898, when H.G Wells published the wildly popular “War of the Worlds” that this sub-genre seriously came into its own.

The alien invasion is a common theme in science fiction stories and film, in which a technologically-superior extraterrestrial society invades Earth with the intent to replace human life, or to enslave it under a colonial system, or in some cases, to use humans as food.

Alternate Reality

Stories about a self-contained, separate reality that coexists with our own. This separate reality can range in size from a small geographic region to an entire new universe, or several universes forming a multiverse.

Under Alternate Reality, also falls Alternate History, which has grown into a sub-genre of its own, particularly in Fantasy.

Alternate History – or alternative history –is set in a world in which history has diverged from history as it is generally known. Most works in this genre are set in real historical contexts, yet feature social, geopolitical or industrial circumstances that developed differently or at a different pace from our own.

Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic

Apocalyptic Science Fiction is concerned with the end of civilization, through nuclear war, plague, or some other general disaster.

Post-apocalyptic Science Fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten or mythologized. Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in a future world in which technology has fallen to low-tech, or a world where only scattered elements of technology remain.

Dystopian

The creation of a nightmare world, designed to make the reader ask the bleak question “Is life worth living if this is where humanity is going?”. Many of these stories have an emphasis on brainwashing, censorship and destruction of the family unit, or of a future gone mad.

Hard Science Fiction

Characterized by an interest in scientific detail or accuracy, many hard SF stories focus on the natural sciences and technological developments. Hard Science Fiction must contain the inclusion of at least one of the “hard sciences”, such as Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry – sciences ruled by mathematics and stringent rules. If the plot cannot maintain its integrity without them, then the story is Hard Science Fiction.

Military Science Fiction

A subgenre of Science Fiction in which interstellar or interplanetary conflict and its armed solution (war) make up the main or partial backdrop of the story. Such war is usually shown from the point of view of a soldier. A detailed depiction of conflict forms the basis of most works of military science fiction. Everyone joins “the Corps” to fight to save us all from those nasty spike-spitting slug-like aliens with the chitinous hides. Yep, that’s Military Sci-Fi. 

Soft Science Fiction

Based upon the softer sciences of Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Socialogy, Theology, Biology and Ethnology. 

Space Opera

Usually set in outer space or on a distant planet. Planets usually have earthlike atmospheres and exotic life forms. The machinery of space opera often includes (in addition to spaceships) ray-guns, robots, and flying cars.

Most space operas are a futuristic version of the old Western Horse Opera and commonly violate the known laws of physics by positing some form of faster-than-light travel. Many space operas diverge further from known physical reality by invoking paranormal forces, or vast powers capable of destroying whole planets, stars, or galaxies.

Steampunk

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that refers to works set in an era where steam power is still widely used – usually the 19th century – but along with steam engines, you have futuristic technological inventions, such as dirigibles, mechanical computers, multi-function goggles, giant robots and ray guns.

Works of Steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as people who lived during that time might have envisioned them.

Steamfunk

Steamfunk is narrowly defined as “a person, style of dress or subgenre of fiction that seeks to bring together elements of blaxploitation films and merge it with that of Steampunk fiction”. 

A broader definition 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”.

 

Several Black authors – yours truly included – write Science Fiction. We write Science Fiction with Black protagonists – heroes who look like us – however, the stories are universal. It is important that all people, Black people in particular, read Science Fiction and we are giving everyone Blacknificent stories to dive into!

A few of these authors, with links to their novels and stories, include:

Milton Davis

Malon Edwards

  • Four in the Morning Anthology (contributed)
  • Fading Light, an Anthology of the Monstrous (contributed)
  • Gear and Lever I: A Steampunk Anthology (contributed)
  • Steamfunk! Anthology (contributed)

Valjeanne Jeffers

Alan D. Jones

  • To Wrestle With Darkness

Ronald T. Jones

Alicia McCalla

  • Breaking Free

Balogun Ojetade


CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL BRASSIERES: Sexism in Fantasy Fiction!

CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL BRASSIERES:

Sexism in Fantasy Fiction

I love reading and writing Fantasy. I really do. But I am growing increasingly disgusted by the racism and sexism within it. I can no longer read books in which people of color and women are constantly oppressed and seen as lesser beings in a world based on fantasy.

Lately – as the father of seven daughters who are all avid readers of Fantasy – I have become particularly disgusted with the continuing sexism in Fantasy fiction and visual art.

Writers, you can create a world with any rules you choose. In your world, you don’t have to continue to perpetuate the sexist tropes so prevalent in Fantasy since its inception.

Are you that lacking in creativity that you cannot write something better? Are you that apathetic to the plight of our Sisters? Or have you convinced yourself you have to maintain some sexist status quo to sell?

Shame on you.

Certain tropes have been formed and propagated. Given the overwhelming number of Fantasy novels set in a sort of idealized, white, medieval Europe…given the grossly oversimplified and homogenized concept of medieval gender roles, stereotypes and sexist archetypes have arisen in Fantasy. Some examples are:

  • The Spirited Woman Married Off Against Her Will To A Man She Doesn’t Love
  • The Lone And Exceptional Woman Warrior In A Culture Of Male Warriors
  • The Widowed Queen Fighting To Keep Her Throne Against An All-Male Cast Of Contenders
  • The Woman Who Runs Away Rather Than Be Married Off Against Her Will But Who Then Needs Rescuing From Worldly Perils
  • The Woman Whose Love Of Books And Scholarship Is Exceptional And Odd And Therefore Deemed Socially Awkward
  • The Unmarried Woman Who Is Happy Being Unmarried And Therefore Considered An Oddity
  • The Unmarried Woman Who Was Forbidden To Marry The Man She Loved And Is Therefore Sad And Unfulfilled
  • The Woman Who Ran Away To Marry The Man Forbidden To Her And Who Is Now A Social Pariah
  • The Penniless Woman Who Needs To Be Rescued From Penury As Her Gender Prevents Her From Working
  • The Girl Forced To Dress As A Boy In Order To Live Out Her Socially Unacceptable Dreams
  • The Adventurous Daughter Whose Parents Let Her Run Free But Threaten Her With Marriage Should She Fail
  • The Female Scholar/Magician Trying To Make It In A Largely Male World
  • The Lone Female Soldier/Technician/Magician/Scholar Whose Male Colleagues Don’t Take Her Seriously.

Come now. That’s all you got?

Shame on you.

Regarding the existence of sexism in the real world both historically and currently, I’m not trying to suggest that any of the above tropes are unrealistic; nor am I suggesting they should be avoided at all costs, or that they are inherently bad. What I am saying is that as writers, we are not bound by these tropes and have chosen to portray worlds that involve societies in which sexism plays a part. We can choose otherwise.

Or we can choose to take our exploration of sexism further.

In most Fantasy, we are left with sexism as a background detail; a tool used to justify the plight or origins of particular female characters, but never actually addressed.

You, dear writer, can follow sexism to some of its natural conclusions rather than focus exclusively on those few exceptional women who have avoided it, forcing characters – and, by extension, the readers – to view sexism as more than an inevitable background detail.

Or, you can avoid writing default sexism in the first place by actually considering how gender roles work in your story, building a cultural, social and historical setting that usurps the expectations of the reader. You can create an equal society, or one whose inequalities are unusual; you could write a typically sexist society, but make sexism a major narrative focus. Lots of different ways to explore the topic…if you are willing.

If not?

Shame on you.

As writers, we should not perpetuate sexism by training readers to take its presence for granted: to refrain from so much as questioning or calling it out, let alone showing its worst consequences.

Most Fantasy authors write sexist stories without any conscious thought, simply because it never occurs to them to do otherwise. The freedom to ignore the relevance of women is just another form of privilege; one more malignant than benign. And remember: if your equality looks homogeneous, then it’s probably not equality.

Modern sexism has become cunning; sly; codified. In the same way a closet racist would never dream of openly saying “nigger” but might refer to killing “zombies”, or make a pointed reference to someone Black having a natural rhythm, or liking fried chicken, a closet misogynist has a vast array of words, comments, phrases and attitudes they can employ to subtly put a woman down, or disconcert her, but without it being immediately apparent that that is what they are actually doing.

Intelligent writers are particularly adept at this.

I recently wrote a Fantasy novel in the Sword & Soul subgenre. This novel, Once Upon A Time in Afrika, attempts to turn these tropes on their heads. Read the novel and tell me if I succeeded.

In my research for the novel – and in my life as an African traditionalist, which requires an in-depth study of African history and sociology, I discovered some amazing facts about the women-warriors of Africa and the Diaspora that many of you may find useful in your writing:

The “Dahomey Amazons” 

The “Dahomey Amazons”, referred to as Mino, meaning “Our Mothers” in the Fon language, were an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey which lasted until the end of the 19th century. They were so named by Western observers and historians due to their similarity to the semi-mythical Amazons of ancient Anatolia and the Black Sea.

 For The Mino were recruited from among the ahosi the king’s wives – of which there were often hundreds.

The Mino trained with intense physical exercise, with an emphasis on discipline. Units were under female command.

Considered exceptional and brutal warriors by all unlucky enough to encounter them, those who fell into the hands of the Mino were often decapitated.

The Aje of Yorubaland

A story, that teaches the tenets of African wrestling, is as follows:

There was a boy named Omobe (“rascal”, “troublesome child”) that had great physical ability and was trained to be a wrestler. As he grew older his wrestling abilities grew stronger and before long he was considered the greatest wrestler in the world. At his birth the local priest/diviner warned his parents to not allow Omobe to climb palm trees. But one day while his parents were away he decided to climb a palm tree any way. From high up he could peer into the spirit world and he noticed that several divinities had gathered for a fantastic wrestling match!

Omobe immediately climbed down and made his way to the spirit world to test his own luck amongst a variety of spirits. He beat every opponent: Egungun (ancestors), Orisa (Forces of Nature) and all others lost at his hands. Finally he prepared to wrestle Olokun. While he summoned all of his physical strength, Olokun drew on her spiritual powers.

During the match Omobe attempted to throw Olokun to the ground, but instead Olokun ended up firmly attached to Omobe’s head. All attempts at removing Olokun from his head failed and Olokun declared Omobe’s head her permanent abode as a sign of Omobe’s arrogance and disrespect towards the other spirits.

When Omobe returned home the local priest/diviner advised him to appease Olokun or die. So for seven days Omobe made sacrifice. On the last day Omobe was initiated as the first Olokun priest. After Omobe’s initiation into the priesthood, Olokun loosened her grip on Omobe’s life.

Amongst African traditionalists, the palm tree represents the ancestors and the elders.  Omobe climbed a palm tree even though he was not supposed to, which means he learned the higher levels of wrestling technique – and gained the ase (power) of the wrestler – through crafty means and then abandoned his teachers (he climbed down from the tree) and used what he had learned to fight those who taught him. 

This act of arrogance and disrespect led him to fight against the Forces of Nature, themselves.  Finally, Olokun, the spirit of unfathomable wisdom and matron spirit of the descendants of Africans who were taken captive during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, defeated Omobe. This means, though Omobe had mastered the physical aspect of wrestling, his disrespect of – and disconnection from – the community and its spiritual support prevented him from learning the deeper wisdom found within the study and training of the martial arts.

It was not until Omobe devoted himself to the attaining of deep wisdom and respect for the African traditions as an Olokun priest, that he was able to save himself from an early death. 

This story teaches us that in order to learn the depths of wisdom found in the African martial arts, reverence of one’s ancestors, respect for one’s elders and adherence to tradition is paramount.

Furthermore, the “deep wisdom” Omobe had to learn in order to redeem himself and to save his life was the wisdom rooted in respect for, and understanding of, the “Aje” – referred to as Awon Iyawa, also meaning “Our Mothers” – which is primal, female power.

It was Olokun, a female Force of Nature, who defeated Omobe and threatened to take his life until Omobe became her priest.  Omobe was socialized by Olokun, which is in accord with Aje’s function as a biological, physical and spiritual force of creativity and social and political enforcement.

War, defense and anything associated with Ogun, the Warrior Spirit of the Yoruba, is also associated with Aje.

It is recognition of – and respect for – the power women and girls that gives the African warrior the authority to defend and to take life.

The Isadshi-Koseshi

Nupe Women-Warriors, called Isadshi-Koseshi, fought as fiercely as the men, opposing invasions of the Fulbe conquerers who raided the Nupe for cattles and slaves.

Ibo Women and the Aba Rebellion

The Aba rebellion in southeastern Nigeria grew out of a traditional female rite of the Ibo. People were outraged at the colonial government’s plan to tax women.

In protest, Ibo women bound their heads with ferns, painted their faces with ash, put on loincloths and carried sacred sticks with palm frond wreaths. Thousands marched on the District Office, dancing, singing protests, and demanding the cap of office of the colonial chief Okugo.

This protest spread into a vast regional insurrection. The Ibo women’s councils mobilized demonstrations in three provinces, turning out over 2,000,000 protesters.

The British District Officer at Bende wrote, “The trouble spread in the 2nd week of December to Aba, an important trading center on the railway. Here there converged some 10,000 women, scantily clothed, girdled with green leaves, carrying sticks. Singing angry songs against the chiefs and the court messengers, the women proceeded to attack and loot the European trading shops, stores, and Barclay’s Bank, and to break into the prison and release the prisoners.

Elsewhere women protestors burned down the hated British “Native Courts” and cut telegraph wires, throwing officials into panic. The colonials fired on the female protesters, killing more than fifty and wounding more. Marches continued sporadically into 1930. These mass actions became known as the Aba Rebellion of 1929, or The War of the Women. It was one of the most significant anti-colonial revolts in Africa of that day.

Black Women in Ohio

In the summer of 1848, ten African-Americans, fleeing their enslavement, made it across the Ohio River into Cincinnati. The slave catchers tracked them down, but the bounty they were after proved to be quite difficult to acquire:

Cincinnati’s North Star newspaper’s August 11, 1848 issue reported the event thusly: “The women began to gather from adjoining houses until the Amazons were about equal to the [slave-hunters] – the former with shovels, tongs, washboards and rolling pins; the latter with revolvers, sword-canes and bowie-knives. Finally the beseigers decamped, leaving the Amazons in possession of the field, amid the jeers and loud huzzahs of the crowd.

Let us all strive harder for awareness of – and sensitivity to – sexism in our writings and our readings. Let us be more critical of it, for to do – and say – nothing about sexism is to help propagate it. Are you helping to propagate oppression?

If so, shame on you.

As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.


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