Steamfunk * Steampunk * Sword & Soul

Uncategorized

Link

So glad you made your appointment. Let’s begin…

So glad you made your appointment. Let’s begin…

So glad you made your appointment. Let’s begin…


HARRIET IS OUR HERO: Telling the Untold Steampunk Tales

HARRIET IS OUR HERO: Telling the Untold Steampunk Tales

Harriet Tubman Is Our Hero

Harriet crouched low in the thickets. She counted five – no, six – adults in the house.  Four men; two women. They were at the supper table, eating a grayish-brown mass from wooden bowls with their fingers.

A constant, dull thump emanated from the rear of the house.

“Must be the child,” Harriet whispered.  She reasoned that the girl was bored and was pretending to skip rope with the heavy chain she was tethered to.

Harriet crept towards the back of the house, but a familiar voice made her pause. She looked skyward. “I ain’t one to question yo’ Word, but is you sure, Lawd?” She nodded. “Thy will be done, then.”

Harriet stood and brushed the dirt from her dress. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.  The night air cooled the sweat on her forehead, and the flickering flame in her gut.  She opened her eyes and locked her gaze on the house.

In three strong bounds, she was standing at the front door of the house. She pounded her tiny, brown fist on the rotting wood.

The thumping of the heavy chain ceased.

The door was flung open wide.

And the stench of sweat and spoiled milk assaulted her nostrils.

“What you want, gal?”

Harriet quickly peered into the house. Everyone, except for the wiry man standing before her, was still sitting at the table. But they were no longer eating and their eyes were fixed on the doorway.

The man in the doorway spat onto the porch, the bilious sputum just missing Harriet’s boots. “You hear me, nigger? I said…”

The web of flesh between Harriet’s thumb and forefinger struck the man’s throat. She glided past him as he fell to the floor, clutching his crushed windpipe and gasping for air.

The men at the table jumped to their feet and rushed toward her, as the two women ran toward the rear of the house.

Harriet exploded forward, pummeling the nearest man to her with a flurry of elbow strikes.

Blood erupted from the man’s nose and mouth as his face collapsed under the force of Harriet’s swift and powerful blows.

Massive arms wrapped around her waist, jerking her into the air.

Harriet threw her head back forcefully. A crunching sound followed and then a scream.

She felt something warm and wet soak the back of her bonnet.

The grip on her waist loosened slightly. She took advantage of the opportunity, bending forward and grabbing the man-mountain’s leg with both hands. Holding on tightly, she rolled forward.

The momentum of the roll forced the giant to tumble over onto his back.

Harriet landed on her back, with the giant’s leg between hers. She thrust her hips forward forcefully, ramming her pelvis into the man’s knee, as she yanked his ankle back toward her shoulder.

The man-mountain’s leg made a loud, popping noise. Harriet tossed the badly twisted leg aside. The giant screamed as his leg flopped around on the floor, no longer under the goliath’s control.

She sprang to her feet. 

Harriet was met by a powerful punch toward her face as she stood. She shifted slightly to her right and the punch torpedoed past her.

She countered by slamming the heel of her right foot into the man’s solar plexus, which sent him careening through the air.  He came to rest on the supper table. Slivers of wood and chunks of gray-brown mush sprayed into the air.

The last man turned on his heels and ran toward the door. Harriet kicked an overturned chair. The oak chair flipped through the air and struck the man in the back of the head. The man’s head split open like an over-ripe plum. She turned from the dying man and walked to the rear of the house.

The back door was wide open.

The wind had extinguished the candles, but the moon bathed the room in a silver-blue incandescence.  The women were – wisely – long gone, but the girl was still in the room, crouched in a corner. An iron manacle was locked to her right ankle. The manacle was connected to a heavy, iron chain, which was screwed into the floor.

Harriet crouched before the little girl, and placed a gentle hand upon her shoulder. “You alright, baby?”

The little girl perused the room, as if to ensure they were alone, and then nodded.

“You Margaret, I reckon.”

The child nodded again.

Harriet rubbed her hand over the girl’s matted, light brown curls. “We gon’ get you outta here and get you cleaned up. Gotta have you presentable for yo’ daddy.”

The little girl’s eyes widened and the corners of her mouth turned up in the hint of a smile. Yet the act of smiling seemed to strain her, as if she had not smiled in quite some time. “My daddy? He sent you for me?”

Harriet pulled an L-shaped, sliver of metal from behind the ribbon in her bonnet; and slid it into the back of the manacle around Margaret’s ankle. “He sure did.” The manacle clicked and slid open.

Margaret caressed her bruised and swollen ankle. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me asking…”

“Go ‘head, child.”

“Who are you?” Margaret asked.

Harriet stood, and helped the little girl to her feet. “Me? I’m Harriet. Harriet Tubman.”

- From Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman by Balogun Ojetade

This is the Harriet Tubman of my childhood visions. The Harriet Tubman I chose to make the hero of my first novel, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman. The Harriet Tubman Milton Davis and I chose to make the leader of all the heroes in the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage.

Recently, masses of people – including Yours Truly – were outraged by a video from Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital Youtube page that parodies the iconic hero and freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, with a sex tape.

Yeah…exactly.

The video, titled Harriet Tubman Sex Tape, revisits the story of General Moses’ freedom fighting efforts by portraying her as engaging in aggressive sex acts with a white plantation owner.

“This our only chance to getting freedoms,” Harriet Tubman says when asked if her plans to have sex – doggy-style, no less – with the slave-master will actually work.

After engaging in sex – in which she also penetrates the slave-master doggy-style (yeah, it goes there) – Harriet Tubman smokes a cigarette as she lies with the satiated slave-master and makes demands upon him because she now has leverage with which to blackmail him.

This garbage – which Russell Simmons proclaimed the funniest thing he has ever seen – is alternate history gone completely wrong.

I enjoin other authors and filmmakers to join me, Milton Davis and other Steamfunk authors in getting it right.

This is just one reason why Steamfunk is important. It tells the stories that need to be told in the way people should tell them.

I enjoin fans of books, films, history and / or Harriet Tubman to read Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and Steamfunk and to check out and support Rite of Passage, which is now in production. These great works portray Harriet Tubman as the amazing person she truly is.

Below are other short films and videos that feature Harriet Tubman as the hero. And yes, Uncle Ruckus Simmons, you can portray Harriet Tubman with humor, but remember…

She ain’t no joke!


THE DENTIST OF WESTMINSTER PREMIERES NEXT FRIDAY! (Next Thursday, if you’re a Steamfunkateer)

THE DENTIST OF WESTMINSTER PREMIERES NEXT FRIDAY!

(Next Thursday, if you’re a Steamfunkateer)

Dentist of Westminster

Friday, August 23, 2013 is the World Premiere of Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster!

The exclusive Private Screening is Thursday, August 22, 2013. If you have received our invitation already, you know when and where.

After you watch The Dentist of Westminster, if you like it, donate to the Rite of Passage feature film, so we can bring you even more excitement and even bigger action.

If you don’t like it, donate to the Rite of Passage feature film, so we can make it even better.

But, you will like it!

Here’s a sneak peek:


GA-TECH GETS FUNKY! Filmmakers Partner With The Yellow Jackets to Produce the First Steamfunk Feature Film!

GA-TECH GETS FUNKY!

Filmmakers Partner With The Yellow Jackets to Produce the First Steamfunk Feature Film!

RITE OF PASSAGE POSTER 3

I was recently contacted by an agent who asked if Rite of Passage – the Steamfunk movie that goes into pre-production in May and production in August – was a student film. I informed her that the film is a collaboration between the professional multimedia companies MVmedia and Roaring Lions Productions and GA-Tech’s School of Literature, Media and Communication, so yes, students will be heavily involved in the making of the film, but under the guidance and leadership of experienced and accomplished film professionals who are the directors, producers and cinematographers on this project.

I informed her that the students will not be treated as “amateurs”, nor is the film going to be amateur or second rate. The students involved in the making of Rite of Passage are expected to be just as professional…just as committed as those who have worked on ten or more projects.

The agent’s response?

“Well, I will probably send a few of my actors to audition, but most of my actors would never act in a student film. I was a bit surprised to hear that most of the actors she represents dismiss programs that have produced some of industry’s best filmmakers and actors. “She needs to educate her people,” I thought.

However, “To be fair,” – as Rite of Passage’s Producer, Akin Danny Donaldson, is fond of saying – he’s from England; everyone from England are fond of saying that – I could come up with a few reasons myself as to why an actor would not want to act in a student film – there is no pay; the filmmakers do not have a lot of experience and are still learning how to talk to and treat actors; and few student films become a success by Hollywood standards. However, from her reaction, I was sure she – or some of her actors – had experienced some Stygian nightmare in doing a student film.

RITE OF PASSAGE Promo 1She, or any of her actors, had not; she just thought there was nothing for her people to gain from such projects. She was oblivious to the tremendous opportunity provided by student films to form strong, lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with young, talented, up-and-coming directors, producers, actors and casting directors.

You could very well be working with the next Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee. They are not master directors yet, but “to be fair”, the next Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Malcolm X, or The Inside Man could be their next film.

Student films often achieve admittance into top notch festivals each year, earning these young filmmakers studio deals and the actors in their films worldwide recognition.

If you choose to act in a student film, there are certain things that you should not negotiate. You should receive a copy of your work in a timely fashion, be fed every six hours, and should not be asked to work longer than a 12-hour day without proper turnaround.

Know that student filmmakers, especially those in the early stages of filmmaking, tend to prioritize their aesthetic vision over an actor’s performance. Don’t be shocked, frustrated, or allow your ego to be bruised if hours are spent on a cool-looking, spinning, overhead dolly shot rather than your sublime performance in a close-up.

Keep in mind that these young filmmakers are attempting to bring their visions to life without large crews and budgets, so – “To be fair” – cut them some slack if things take longer than they should.

Actors, don’t feel ashamed, embarrassed or as if you are “settling” because you are auditioning for a student film. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad actor. Agents submit actors to films by USC, Columbia University and Columbia College Chicago every day.

“To be fair”, however, I will admit that many student films simply stink. The most common reason for such odoriferous works is lack of story. A suicide prone emo teen is a subject, not a story. If your story is about an emo college freshman with a football player roommate whose girlfriend is always trying to convince the emo kid to go out and party – who cares?

The second most common reason for the malodorousness is the student’s reach exceeding his or her grasp. The student tries to tell a story that is too convoluted; uses techniques that are far beyond his or her experience. The more complex the story, the more skill it takes to tell it and the greater likelihood that a relative beginner will fail in the telling of it.

Fortunately, Rite of Passage has some of the best professionals in independent film working on the project and the students chosen to work with us will be the best that GA-Tech has to offer, which, “To be fair,” is saying a lot, as GA-Tech is fast becoming recognized as one of the top film schools in America, particularly in the areas of special effects, sound effects, prop and graphics design and cinematography.

Below are the current professional members of the crew of Rite of Passage. We are all excited to work with the next generation of Scorseses, Lees, Singletons, Spielbergs, Poitiers, Tarantinos, Lucases and”To be fair,” Balogun Ojetades (go ahead, you can laugh)

Crew 1 Crew 2 Crew 3 Crew 4 Crew 5 Crew 6 Crew 7 Crew 8


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.”


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

REAL5

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

I am a “Conscious Brother”.

What is that, you ask?

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

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

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

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

I also love to read – and write – fiction.

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

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

His answer?

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

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

But they’re wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Non-Conscious Brain Treats Everything as Real

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

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

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

The Power of Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yoruba “keeps it real, son.”

And so should you.

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

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


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

AA4

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!


STEAMFUNK REFORMERS: Black Activists in the Age of Steam!

R2

STEAMFUNK REFORMERS: Black Activists in the Age of Steam

Every month, in The League of Extraordinary Black People Series, we feature members of the League of Extraordinary Black People who fit specific Steampunk Archetypes. This month, we examine Reformers – the suffragettes; the revolutionaries; the protesters and abolitionists.

As always, your feedback is welcomed and encouraged.

Nat Turner

Although Nat Turner led his rebellion a bit before the beginning of the Steampunk / Victorian Era (1837 – 1901), it did happen during the Age of Steam, the period of industrialization, which actually takes place between roughly 1797 and 1914. Besides, Nat Turner’s rebellion fueled the abolitionist movement, thus he certainly deserves a place within ‘The League’.

By far the most notorious and successful slave rebellion was led by Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831.

Born in Southampton County on October 2, 1800, Turner, who was the slave of Joseph Travis, was a preacher who had visions and felt divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. He plotted his revolt for six months, sharing his plan with only four others.

On the day the revolt took place, Turner and his men gathered in the woods and then began what is known by many as the “Turner Insurrection” by attacking the Travis plantation and killing the entire family. Turner’s group, which had grown to 60, then stormed the county, killing at least 57 whites. As the revolt progressed, the ranks of Turner’s army continued to swell, rising to the hundreds within hours.

Finally, on their way to Jerusalem, Virginia, the county seat, where they had hoped to gain additional support and replenish their ammunition, most of Turner’s forces were caught and subdued. Thirteen slaves and three free Blacks were hanged, but Turner was not captured until two months later, after returning from hiding to free more of slaves.

Turner was hanged on November 11, 1831.

Harriet Tubman

Probably the most iconic of all Reformers, Tubman gained international acclaim as an Underground Railroad operator, abolitionist, Civil War spy and nurse, suffragist, and humanitarian.

After escaping enslavement in 1849, Tubman dedicated her life to fighting for freedom, equality, and justice.

Born Araminta (“Minty”) Ross in early 1822 on the plantation of Anthony Thompson, south of Madison in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was the fifth of nine children of Harriet “Rit” Green and Benjamin Ross, both slaves.

From early childhood, Tubman was often hired out to temporary masters, many who were cruel and negligent.

One day, while working as a field hand, Tubman was nearly killed by a blow to her head from an iron weight, thrown by an angry overseer. The severe injury left her suffering from headaches, seizures and sleeping spells that plagued her for the rest of her life. They also left her with powerful and accurate visions.

In the late fall of 1849, Tubman took her own liberty. She tapped into the Underground Railroad, which was already functioning well on the Eastern Shore. Traveling by night, using the North Star as her guide, Tubman found her way to Philadelphia, where she sought work as a domestic, saving her money to help the rest of her family escape.

From 1850 to 1860, Tubman conducted approximately thirteen escape missions, freeing – by her own account – “thousands of slaves”. Among those she freed were her brothers, parents, and other family and friends.

Tubman brought many of her charges to St. Catharines, Ontario, where they settled into a growing community. Her dangerous missions won the admiration of abolitionists throughout the North who provided her with funds to continue her activities.

In early 1862, Tubman joined Northern abolitionists in support of Union activities at Port Royal, South Carolina. Throughout the Civil War she provided badly needed nursing care to black soldiers and hundreds of newly liberated slaves who crowded Union camps. Tubman’s military service expanded to include spying and scouting behind Confederate lines and she went on to become the most famous among the revered and feared Black Dispatches.

In early June 1863, Tubman became the first woman to command an armed military raid when she guided Col. James Montgomery and his 2nd South Carolina black regiment up the Combahee River, routing out Confederate outposts, destroying stockpiles of cotton, food and weapons, and liberating over 700 slaves.

After the war, Tubman returned to Auburn, New York. There she rose even higher as a community activist, humanitarian, and suffragist, her humanitarian work triumphing with the opening of the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, located on her own property in Auburn, New York, which she eventually transferred to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1903.

Tubman remained active in the suffrage movement, appearing at local and national suffrage conventions, until the early 1900s. She died at the age of 91 on March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator.

Born a slave, Douglass escaped at the age of twenty and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist.

Douglass’ work as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. For sixteen years, he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive speaker and writer. In thousands of speeches and editorials, he levied a powerful indictment against slavery and racism, providing an indomitable voice of hope for his people and preacheing his own brand of American ideals.

Douglass welcomed the Civil War in 1861 and portrayed it as a moral crusade against slavery.

During the war, he labored as a propagandist of the Union cause, a recruiter of black troops, and an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln.

After the war, he continued to travel widely and lecture on racial issues, national politics, and women’s rights. In the 1870s Douglass moved to Washington, D.C., where he edited a newspaper and became president of Freedman’s Bank. As a stalwart Republican, Douglass was appointed marshal and recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, chargé d’affaires for Santo Domingo and minister to Haiti.

Douglass died in 1895 after half a century of activism.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York.

Truth spoke only Dutch until around the age of nine when she was forced to speak English by John Neely, a cruel and brutal slave master, but she spoke with a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.

In 1799, the state of New York began to legislate the gradual abolition of slaves, which was to be put into full effect on July 4, 1827. Truth’s slave master had promised her freedom a year before the state emancipation, “if she would do well and be faithful.”  However, he reneged on his promise, claiming an injury to her hand had made her less productive.

Infuriated, Truth escaped with her infant daughter, Sophia, later saying “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”

Truth then immediately set to work freeing her five year old son Peter. With the assistance of Quakers, Truth made an official complaint in court. After months of legal proceedings, Peter returned to her, scarred and abused.

During this time, Truth had a life-changing religious experience, becoming “overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence” and inspired to preach. She quickly became known as a remarkable preacher and soon changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth, telling friends, “The Spirit calls me East, and I must go.” She wandered in relative obscurity, depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter. She eventually met and worked with abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles, giving her most famous speech at the Ohio Woman’s Rights Covention in Akron, Ohio, the legendary “Ain’t I a Woman?

During the Civil War, Truth spoke on the Union’s behalf and helped enlist Black troops for the freeing of slaves. After the Civil War ended, she continued working to help the newly freed slaves through the Freedman’s Relief Association and the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

In 1870, Truth began campaigning for the federal government to provide former slaves with land in the “new West.” She spent a year in Kansas, helping Black refugees and speaking in white and Black churches to gain support for the “Exodusters” as they tried to build new lives for themselves.

On November 26, 1883, Sojourner Truth died in Battle Creek, Michigan at the age of 86.

Maria W. Stewart

Maria Stewart was a black abolitionist, feminist, author and educator.

Stewart was born in Hartford, Connecticut, as Maria Miller.

Orphaned by age five, she became an indentured servant, serving a clergyman. Using the clergyman’s extensive library, she taught herself how to read and comprehend. When she was fifteen, left the clergyman and went on to work for herself as a servant.

In 1826 she married James W. Stewart, taking not only his last name but also his middle initial. With her marriage to a shipping agent, she became part of Boston’s small free Black middle class. Stewart became involved in some of the institutions founded by that Black community, including the Massachusetts General Colored Association, which worked for immediate abolition of slavery.

Upon the death of her husband in 1829, she became convinced that God was calling her to become a “warrior” “for God and for freedom and “for the cause of oppressed Africa.”

In 1831, abolitionist publisher, William Lloyd Garrison published Stewart’s first essay, Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, as a pamphlet. She also began public speaking, at a time when religious bans against women teaching prohibited women from speaking in public, especially to mixed audiences that included men.

In her first address, in 1832, Stewart spoke before an audience of only women at the African American Female Intelligence Society, an institution founded by the free Black community of Boston. She used the Bible to defend her right to speak, and spoke on both religion and justice, advocating activism for equality. The text of the talk was published in Garrison’s newspaper on April 28, 1832.

On September 21, 1832, Stewart delivered a second lecture, this time to an audience that also included men. She spoke at Franklin Hall, the site of the New England Anti-Slavery Society meetings. In her speech, she questioned whether free Blacks were much more free than slaves, given the lack of opportunity and equality. She also questioned the move to send free blacks back to Africa. Garrison published more of her writings in The Liberator and, in 1832, published a second pamphlet of her writings as Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart.

Stewart eventually made a move to New York, New York, where she remained an activist, supporting herself by teaching in public schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, eventually becoming an assistant to the principle of the Williamsburg School. She was also active in a Black women’s literary group and supported Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, The North Star, but did not write for it. Stewart moved to Baltimore in 1853, where she taught privately.

In 1861, she moved to Washington, DC, where she taught school again during the Civil War. During that time Stewart was appointed to head housekeeping at the Freedman’s Hospital and Asylum in the 1870s. A predecessor in this position was Sojourner Truth. On December 17, 1879, Stewart died in the hospital in which she worked. She is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

I hope you enjoyed the latest in the League of Extraordinary Black People Series. Be sure to join us next month when we examine Aviators…yep…Aviators!

 

 

 


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/.


THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE: Steamfunk in the ATL!

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE: Steamfunk in the ATL!

When asked in a recent study to describe their version of the “ideal” woman, black and white teens conjured up vastly different images.

The white teen ideal was a Barbie-like woman, 5’7”, between 100 and 110 pounds, with blue eyes and long flowing hair.

The black teens’ ideal American woman had nothing to do with physical characteristics. According to Sheila Parker, Ph.D., “They told us that the ideal Black woman has a personal sense of style, who ‘knows where she’s going’, has a nice personality, gets along well with other people, and has a good head on her shoulders.” Only if pushed did they name physical characteristics – fuller hips, ‘thick’ thighs, a ‘curvy butt’ and a small waist.

Nearly 90 percent of the white young women told the researchers they were dissatisfied with their weight, while 70 percent of the African-American young women were satisfied.

Cultural expectations, idealizations, and fixations mold the accepted definitions of beauty and the perceived ideal body-shape.

While this outlook among Black people is positive and much-needed, considering the lack of positive images of us in the media, it comes with risks. While I believe it is important for us to accept our curves and endowments – or lack thereof, it is of even greater importance that we realize when we are unhealthy and react properly to it. Obesity is an ever-growing epidemic among Black people in this country. Celebrating obesity can be a potential problem and can set a detrimental example as we improperly equate loving ourselves with accepting an unhealthy lifestyle.

Even though the African-American society promotes a curvier woman body-shape, more African-American girls are beginning to develop eating disorders as they become more exposed to traditional white ideals of beauty. Being too underweight also has serious health risks.

I have often contemplated – with such a healthy perception of body image – why so few of us cosplay, especially girls and women of African descent. Is it because we are not into science fiction or fantasy?

Nope. We are into speculative fiction, and in large numbers at that.

One reason why sisters shy away is the disdain for the fuller-figure that permeates fandom. Heavier people often feel too self-conscious to cosplay. Not only are there virtually no characters from anime, manga, film, science fiction, or fantasy who are already portrayed as fuller-figured, but fans can be very cruel to full-figured cosplayers who dare to cosplay “conventionally attractive” characters.

I have heard people laugh at the plus-sized Batgirls and Storms, or make rude comments about the guy with the beer-belly portraying a Spartan from 300.

On one forum, a full-figured girl asked who she could cosplay as at an upcoming convention. The only person who responded said, Princess Fiona, Shrek’s ogre wife.

On another forum, a curvaceous Black woman asked for suggestions for her television cosplay. Her answers? Sandra Clark – Jackee Harry’s character from the sitcom, 227 - or Mercedes Jones – the girl portrayed by actress Amber Riley on Glee. She was thinking she looked more like Lana Kane, the character from the animated series, Archer.

In an essay by journalist Kendra James called Race + Fandom: When Defaulting to White Isn’t an Option, James writes about facing ignorance when Black women cosplay. “when a non-white cosplayer colors outside the lines, there’s a risk of getting an awkward look because, instead of seeing the costume, no matter how perfect it might be, others see the color of your skin and you can see the confusion in their eyes: ‘Why is a black girl dressed as Zatanna?’ Worse are the ones who aren’t confused, but then think they’re being inoffensively clever. ‘You know there probably weren’t many Black USO Girls in the 1940s, right?’ Or, my personal favorite, ‘Wonder Woman? I thought you would’ve done Nubia.’ It’s an extension of the “default to white” privilege many fans still engage in on a regular basis.”

Ms. James goes on further to say “It often feels like a white cosplayer can not only dress as their favorite characters of color but also do so in the most offensive way  without comment.”

Yes, people are still that ignorant.

I will continue to fight such ignorance with education and inspiration.

On Friday, October 26, 2012, we came out in force – in all our myriad beauty – and brought the FUNK to Steampunk at The Mahogany Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk and Film!

A video, with photos from this Blacknificent event, follows:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS III

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

Thursday, October 25

7:00pm-9:00pm

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

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

The Mahogany Masquerade Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk & Film

Friday, October 26

6:30pm-9:00pm

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

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

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

Finding Black Faces within the Pages

Saturday, October 27

2:00pm-4:00pm

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

The Last Angel of History: Film Screening

Saturday, October 27

4:00pm-6:00pm

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

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

Sunday, October 28

3:00pm-5:00pm

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

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

See you there!


PUTTING THE FUNK IN STEAMPUNK: For the Mahogany Masquerade and Beyond!

PUTTING THE FUNK IN STEAMPUNK: For the Mahogany Masquerade and Beyond!

Dressing Steamfunk can be fun, but it can also be frustrating without first having a concept of who the character you want to portray really is.

Steampunk characters can be broken down into a few basic archetypes. Choose your character’s archetype and then develop a persona based on that archetype and create your persona’s back-story. This will help you determine what he or she should wear and make picking a costume much easier and more enjoyable.

My persona is Ogunlana, a Hunter / Fighter. He is the Aare Ona Kakanfo (“War Chief of War Chiefs”) of the Oyo Empire, who brought down an invading British airship with his war-drum, which emits powerful and destructive sonic waves. Ogunlana wears the trappings of the crew of the downed airship with his traditional African clothing to warn others what will befall them if they dare invade his homeland.

Here are a few archetypes. I have included suggestions for what they can wear. Add to or take away from them as you will, but most of all, make them your own…and make them funky!

Air Pirate: One of the quintessential Steampunk characters.  Air pirates are bad, bold, and armed to the teeth.

An Air Pirate can look scruffy, or he or she can be a dashing and daring swashbuckler-type.

Gear for an Air Pirate could include, but is not limited to, a tricorn hat, corsair boots, tailcoat, ruffled shirt, brushed cotton trousers, a telescope, eye-patch, cutlass, blunderbuss and neckerchief.

Adventurer/Explorer: Their reason for being is to boldly go where no one has gone before; to experience new things; and to discover new places.

Dressed for the wild and unknown, Adventurers / Explorers should wear utilitarian clothing, with sturdy footwear, equipment, such as a compass, map and wineskin, goggles and perhaps a safari vest and a pith helmet. Khaki is a great material for them and jodhpurs (horse riding tights) also work well. Accent your look with leather – add a leather belt, pouches, holster (and revolver) and other leather accessories.

Aviator: Whether military, or a rogue; whether they’re flying a bi-plane, a zeppelin, or a space ship; they are tough, brave, and even a bit gallant, especially in contrast to Air Pirates.

A pilot would wear goggles, a flight helmet, and sturdy boots, and would most likely have a military bearing, or the personality of a  rogue, depending on your preference.

Dandy/Femme Fatale: They use their wiles and charms to get what they want, sometimes at the expense of others.

Dandies / Femme Fatales wear very stylish, well tailored and flattering clothing. Suits, or a formal tuxedo or gown and well chosen accessories are the norm. Form-fitting and slightly revealing clothing in rich fabrics, rakishly worn hats, and bits of lace also work well.

Hunter/Fighter:  Monster hunters are all about firepower and skill in combat. They stay armed with stakes, silver bullets, and strange, arcane-looking weaponry.

The Hunter / Fighter will be a walking arsenal. The chosen weaponry would depend on its prey. Monster hunters would be armed with stakes, silver bullets and arcane-looking weaponry. They would wear leather or canvas clothing and accessories. The western look would fit this archetype well.

Mad Scientist/Inventor: Another quintessential Steampunk character, they embody the steam in steampunk, discovering new things, solving problems, and occasionally blowing things up.

Goggles and other tools of the trade, such as work gloves, practical clothing (so pants would be appropriate for women), a lab coat, tool belts, tools and light weaponry should be worn and wondrous inventions carried.

 

Mechanic/Tinkerer: A bit of a twist on the Scientist/Inventor.  Where the Inventor is creating things from scratch, the tinkerer is improving on things, often on the fly, or perhaps just trying to get things to work; making do with what they have. 

Your dress is similar to the Mad Scientist / Inventor, above, however, eliminate the work gloves and replace the lab coat with a grease-stained, leather apron. Don’t forget to add a few smudges of grease and/or dirt to the face and hands.

Philosopher/Scholar: They like old, rare books and wax poetic about the classics; they talk too much about things no one cares about or prefer books to people.

A philosopher or scholar would most likely wear a man’s or woman’s two-piece suit (the woman’s suit would replace trousers with an ankle-length skirt), a woman’s boater hat or a top-hat, a blouse or shirt, dress boots, a floppy tie and spectacles or a monacle.

Socialite/Lady/Gentleman: Often based on Victorian aristocracy, they can often embody the refinement and social norms we associate with the upper class of that era.  Many times they serve as patrons for the scholars, adventurers, and inventors.

Socialites would dress in a more sophisticated manner, with rich colors and materials. They would be well accessorized with gloves, parasols, or a cane, and a nice hat. For women, corsets worn on the outside and short skirts are also appropriate.

 

Street Sparrow/Scrappy Survivor: These are the street urchins, your pickpockets and beggars. This archetype also includes runaway slaves.  Hungry and dirty, they do what they need to do to survive.

Wear soiled, tattered clothing and scuffed shoes. Add a bit of dirt to your face and wear your hair disheveled. If you rock an afro, braid it the night before you cosplay and then unbraid it when you are in costume for a wild, unkempt look. 

Reformer: They could be abolitionists, suffragettes or an activist seeking to get rid of child labor or protesting imperialism. Reformers work to make the world a better place, often loudly and not always peacefully or without scandal.

Women could wear a suit, a hat, granny boots and maybe carry a derringer, tucked away somewhere in her suit.

Suggested wear for men includes an overcoat, waistcoat, John Bull top-hat, brushed cotton trousers, an ascot, a dress shirt and boots.

On Friday, October 26, 2012, come out in your (Steam)funkiest gear and enjoy The Mahogany Masquerade: An evening of Steamfunk and Film!

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

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!

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!

 


ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA

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

Once Upon A Time In Afrika is written in the subgenre of Sword & Soul. For those unfamiliar with what Sword & Soul is, here are definitions from several authors who contributed to Griots, the critically acclaimed, first Sword & Soul anthology and from fans of the subgenre:

Diop Malvi“The expansion of a subject once locked into one room without a window but a funhouse mirror.”

Sean Howard Mcintosh: “Sword and Soul is edutainment. Sword and Soul provides the readers a source of a fun filled escape to brand new worlds, while opening up minds to wholly unexplored cultures with real world basis.”

Milton Davis: “Sword and Soul is a celebration of our past with positive implications for our present and future. It represents us in a heroic, positive light and builds a bridge between us and our precolonial past. When done at its best, it inspires, enlightens and encourage. Sword and Soul Forever!”

Keith Gaston: “Sword fighting against evil – clang, clang, clang; blasting magical bolts at malevolent wizards, whose evil lair falls apart after you defeat them.”

Hannibal Tabu: “Many forms of western literature have done a good job at trying to pretend we don’t exist in the future, the past, and sometimes the present. Sword and soul is a part of putting on corrective lenses, seeing even the fantasy world as it is, as it has to be. Or, in the words of KRS-ONE: ‘We will be here forever. Get what I’m saying to you. Forever. Forever and ever, and ever and ever. We will be here.’

Valjeanne Jeffers: “Dark sorcerers with silver tongues, Magical Sisters with swords at their sides, Black knights with preternatural powers, lots and lots of monsters and villains LOL!”

And, finally, a definition of Sword & Soul from the subgenre’s founder, Charles R. Saunders: “Sword-and-soul is the name I’ve given to the type of fiction I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years.  The best definition I can think of for the term is ‘African-inspired heroic fantasy’.  Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.”

Thanks to all those who have taken the time to give me feedback on the book and for those who have supported me by purchasing it. I look forward to hearing from you all.

So, here goes…

 

RECOMMENDED

“Every now and then, a novel comes along that simply must not be missed. Balogun Ojetade’s Once Upon a Time In Afrika, published by Milton Davis’s MV Media, is such a novel. Full disclosure: I wrote the book’s Introduction.

Balogun is deeply imbued in African history, culture, and folklore. He is also a martial-arts instructor – one of many hats he wears. This eclectic range of knowledge and expertise has enabled him to tell a tale that is richly textured — and also a rip-roaring adventure yarn. Sword and Soul doesn’t get any better than this.

Once Upon a Time in Afrika is set in Onile, a mythical alternate Africa along the lines of the Nyumbani of my Imaro novels and the Uhuru that is the background for Milton Davis’s Meji duology. However, Onile is fully distinguishable from Uhuru and Nyumbani, and so is the story Balogun tells.

And what an epic story it is. It is a story of sword-crossed lovers: a princess named Seeke (full name Esuseeke) and a warrior named Akin. Their perilous relationship unfolds within a context of events that threaten the future of their vast and variegated continent. The focal point of the plot is a grand fighting tournament in which the prize is not some Olympics-type medal, but the hand of Seeke in marriage. For only the greatest warrior of all is worthy to be her husband.

Akin enters the tournament under a false identity. As Akin progresses through its various – and potentially lethal – stages, Balogun reveals a variety of African martial-arts styles. The reader never knows which form will come up next.

The richness of cultural and mythic detail in Once Upon a lime is astounding. Here’s an example:

A sound, like distant thunder, joined the chanting of the young warriors. The ground shook and the scent of iron filled the air.

Master Gboyega leapt to his feet “Horses approach! The riders are armed! Form ranks!”

The warriors placed their training swords on the ground around the Warriors’ Circle and then quickly retrieved their iron swords from a row of racks nearby.

Akin kept the twin, ironwood swords he carried on his back. The wooden weapons were given to Akin by his maternal grandmother, Efunlade. The swords had been used by Efunlade’s father, Damilola, in slaying the last iron dragon, Garugu — a powerful and ancient malevolence that terrorized the citizens of Oyo for centuries. Garugu ate iron and breathed the digested metal as a cloud of molten shrapnel, thus Damilola wisely chose to forgo the use of an iron sword and shield in favor of two swords carved from incredibly hard ironwood. The blood of Garugu was said to be soaked into the wooden swords, giving them nigh indestructibility and the power to pierce and cut through iron as easily as a lion’s teeth pierces the flesh of a gazelle fawn.

Even as the tournament reaches its culmination, external events menace the kingdoms of Onile. The people of another continent are conspiring to conquer (Mile, exploit its riches, and enslave its inhabitants (sound familiar?). The outcome of the tournament will affect the larger course of Onile’s future.

Will the disguised Akin prevail in the tournament and win the hand of Seeke, who is a formidable fighter in her own right? Will Onile be able to overcome the forces arrayed against it? Will the continent’s gods and spirits intervene on the mortals’ behalf?

Hey, I don’t do “spoilers.” You’ve got to get hold of copy of the book and find out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.” – Charles R. Saunders, Father of Sword & Soul and author of the Imaro series of novels, the Dossouye series and the pulp novel, Damballa

Balogun Ojetade’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA

“‘Sword and Soul’ is a sub-genre I had yet to explore – had yet even to have heard of – before my good friend and fellow book freak EssJay mentioned it, and this book, to me. Ever ready to try something new, especially if it’s cheap, I decided to take a chance on Once Upon a Time in Afrika

I’m very glad I did.

Written like a fairy tale, densely plotted like the conventional epic fantasies it’s riffing on, Once Upon a Time in Afrika is a hell of a lot of fun to read. Set in an alternate pre-white-contact version of Africa in which the magic and the gods and demigods of folk tale and legend are real and part of everyday life, the story of badass Princess Esuseeke and her equally badass suitors is packed with action, combat, empowerment and intrigue. Ojetade is a student of African martial arts and it shows; his fight scenes are intricate, plausible, visceral and absolutely breathtaking, but he’s writer enough to keep the reader’s attention between battles.*

Refreshingly for this reader, Esuseeke is not rebelling when she takes up a sword or drops into an unarmed combat stance, but partaking fully of a culture that expects women to be able to defend themselves and boasts of a proud tradition of women warriors who often outshine the men. Her gender is important only because of her royalty; someone’s got to breed successors to the crown, and for that she needs, at some point, a husband.

But her husband can’t just be any old blue-blood type; he has to be her equal. And there aren’t many of those.

Enter the time-honored device of the tournament. The winner gets to marry Esuseeke — all nice and straightforward. But it isn’t; Esuseeke’s father, a politician rather than a warrior, doesn’t trust the mechanism to produce a satisfactory result. He has someone in mind for her that will probably win, but daddy wants to be sure, you see. In other words, daddy starts gaming the system even before the system is in place, just to make sure that his daughter marries the right guy.

Of course the right guy is kind a jerk. More than a jerk, actually, a terrifying warlord whose fixation on the Law brings him to commit acts of extreme cruelty towards those less fortunate than he, rather than bend the rules a little.

But wait, there’s more! Chiefly one Akin, the son of the unspeakably badass warrior woman who trained Esuseeke, but whom the princess somehow never met. He is the best student at his parents’ school but has yet to prove himself anywhere else, but oh is he ready. Packing a pair of wooden swords that once slew a dragon and sporting a bristling mohawk, he is every inch a hero-in-waiting, but the way he finds himself fighting for Esuseeke’s hand isn’t quite what he might expect.

There’s also a magician of intimidating power and wiliness, who just happens to be the sworn enemy of the Jerk. And a vast and skeletal monster only half of which, the left side, exists in our world. And a freaky witch that tricks her way into Akin’s stomach. And a giant, pasty warrior who rides an armored albino rhinoceros into battle. And much, much more.

I haven’t had this much sheer fun with a book since the first Crown of the Blood novel, if you couldn’t tell.

So if you love pulp fantasy but don’t love the racism, or the sexism, this may be your new favorite novel, or perhaps novella, for my one complaint about Once Upon a Time in Afrika, it’s that it’s just too short! But like they say, you want to leave ‘em hankering for more.

Mission accomplished, Mr. Ojetade.

*Although there is a bit of tedium in the middle as he sends the kingdom’s Prime Minister on a tour of the continent, recruiting warriors for the tournament. It’s only a bit tedious, though, because Ojetade’s considerable imagination gets free reign on the journey. And he does like a badass warrior-woman, does Ojetade. Oh, yes.” – Kate Sherrod, author of Suppertime Sonnets

Undercover Review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA

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

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


STEAMFUNK MUSIC!

STEAMFUNK MUSIC

 

Funk is a very distinct style of music based on R&B, soul and jazz which is characterized by a strong bassline – often in the percussive “slap bass” style of Larry Graham (originally of Sly & the Family Stone), complex rhythms and a simple song structure.

The name “Funk” originated in the 1950s, when “funk” and “funky” were used increasingly as adjectives in the context of soul music — the meaning being transformed from the original one of a strong, pungent odor to a strong, distinctive groove.

Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground. Funk songs are often based on an extended vamp on a single chord, distinguishing it from R&B and soul songs, which are centered on chord progressions.

Funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments such as electric guitarelectric bass, Hammond organ, and drums playing interlocking rhythms. Funk bands sometimes have a horn section of several saxophonestrumpets, and in some cases, a trombone, which plays rhythmic “hits”.

In early jam sessions, musicians would encourage one another to “get down” by telling one another, “Now, put some stank on it!” At least as early as 1907, jazz songs carried titles such as Funky Butt.

Characteristics of Funk

Rhythm

A great deal of funk is rhythmically based on a two-celled onbeat / offbeat structure, which originated in sub-Saharan African music traditions. New Orleans appropriated the bifurcated structure from the Afro-Cuban mambo and conga in the late 1940s, and made it its own. New Orleans funk, as it was called, gained international acclaim largely because James Brown’s rhythm section used it to great effect.

Funk creates an intense groove by using strong guitar riffs and bass lines, using bass lines as the centerpiece of songs. Slap bass’s mixture of thumb-slapped low notes and finger “popped” (or plucked) high notes allowed the bass to have a drum-like rhythmic role, which became a distinctive element of funk.

In funk bands, guitarists typically play in a percussive style, often using the wah-wah sound effect and muting the notes in their riffs to create a percussive sound. Guitarist Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers and Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic were notably influenced by Jimi Hendrix’s improvised solos. Eddie Hazel, who worked with George Clinton, is one of the most notable guitar soloists in funk. Ernie Isley was tutored at an early age by Jimi Hendrix himself, when he was a part of The Isley Brothers backing band and lived in the attic temporarily at the Isleys’ household. Jimmy Nolen and Phelps Collins are famous funk rhythm guitarists who both worked with James Brown. On Brown’s Give it Up or Turn it Loose (1969), Jimmy Nolen uses his guitar like an African drum, pounding out a rhythm that moves the soul.

Some of the best known and most skillful soloists in funk have jazz backgrounds. Trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker are among the most notable musicians in the funk music genre – both of them working with funk maestros, James BrownGeorge Clinton and Prince.

History

The distinctive characteristics of African-American musical expression are rooted in sub-Saharan African music traditions, and find their earliest expression in spirituals, work chants/songs, praise shouts, gospel, blues, and “body rhythms” (hambonepatting juba, and ring shout clapping and stomping patterns).

Famed and flamboyant singer and musician, Little Richard led a saxophone-studded, R&B road band in the mid-1950s, which was credited by James Brown and others as being the first to put the funk in the rock-and-roll beat. Following his temporary exit from secular music to become an evangelist in 1957, some of Little Richard’s band members joined Brown and The Famous Flames, beginning a long string of hits for them in 1958.

By the mid-1960s, James Brown had developed his signature groove that emphasized the downbeat – with heavy emphasis on the first beat of every measure to etch his distinctive sound, rather than the backbeat that typified African American music. Brown often cued his band with the command “On the one”, changing the percussion emphasis / accent from the one-two-three-four backbeat of traditional soul music to the one-two-three-four downbeat – and featuring a hard-driving, repetitive, brassy swing. This one-three beat launched the shift in Brown’s signature music style, starting with his 1964 hit single, Out of Sight and his 1965 hit, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.

Brown’s innovations led to him and his band becoming the seminal funk act, pushing the funk music style further to the forefront with releases such as Cold Sweat (1967), Mother Popcorn (1969) and Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine (1970). Late 1960s – early 1970s

Also from the West Coast area, more specifically Oakland, California, came the band Tower of Power, which formed in 1968. Their debut album East Bay Grease, released in 1970, is considered by many as an important milestone in funk. Throughout the ‘70s, Tower of Power had many hits, and the band helped to make funk music a successful genre, with a broader audience.

In 1970, Sly & the Family Stone’s Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) reached #1 on the charts, as did Family Affair in 1971, afforded the group and – and funk – crossover success and greater recognition.

George Clinton, with his bands, Parliament and Funkadelic, produced a new kind of funk sound heavily influenced by jazz and psychedelic rock. The two groups shared members and are often referred to collectively as “Parliament-Funkadelic”.

The breakout popularity of Parliament-Funkadelic gave rise to the term “P-Funk”, which referred to the music by George Clinton’s bands, and defined a new subgenre. Clinton played a principal role in several other bands, including Parlet, the Horny Horns, and the Brides of Funkenstein, all part of the P-Funk conglomerate.

Funk music was also exported to Africa, and it melded with African singing and rhythms to form Afrobeat. Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, who was heavily influenced by James Brown’s music, is credited with creating the style and terming it “Afrobeat”.

Rick James was the first funk musician of the 1980s to assume the funk mantle dominated by P-Funk in the 1970s. His 1981 album Street Songs with the singles Give It To Me Baby and Super Freak resulted in James becoming a star, and paved the way for the future direction of explicitness in funk.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the artist Prince used a stripped-down, yet dynamic, instrumentation similar to James, combining eroticism, technology, an increasing musical complexity, and an outrageous image and stage show to ultimately create music as ambitious and imaginative as P-Funk.

Similar to Prince, other bands emerged during the P-Funk era and began to incorporate synthesizers and other electronic technologies to continue to craft funk hits. These included CameoZapp, The Gap Band, The Bar-Kays, and The Dazz Band.

 Influenced by the Japanese band, Yellow Magic Orchestra and the German band, Kraftwerk, the African-American musician Afrika Bambaataa developed electro-funk – a minimalist, machine-driven style of funk – with his single Planet Rock in 1982. Also known simply as electro, this style of funk was driven by synthesizers and the electronic rhythm of the TR-808 drum machine. The hit single Renegades of Funk followed in 1983.

After 1983, Funk saw a decline, with hip-hop taking over the spotlight.

However, with the growing popularity of Steampunk among Blacks worldwide, Steamfunk music had to happen. And it has happened in a big way! Today, the popularity of funk is seeing resurgence as artists of African descent in hip-hop, rock and even club dance music are bringing the funk to Steampunk – artists such as T-Pain, Alex Cuba, Props! And Nikki Minaj.

Join us at the Mahogany Masquerade on Friday, October 26, 2012 as we explore the Steamfunk Movement in music, cosplay, films, literature and more!

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

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

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’.


STEAMFUNK DANDIES: Black Men & Women of Distinction in the Age of Steam!

STEAMFUNK DANDIES: Black Men & Women of Distinction in the Age of Steam!

In an earlier post – THE MAHOGANY MASQUERADE: The Politics of Fashion in Steamfunk – we looked at the relationship between politics and fashion. Now, as part of our League of Extraordinary Black People series, we will examine the embodiment of this relationship – the Black Dandy.

Dandyism was initially imposed on black men in eighteenth-century England, as the Atlantic slave trade and an emerging culture of conspicuous consumption generated a vogue in dandified black servants.

“Luxury slaves” tweaked and reworked their uniforms, and were soon known for their sartorial novelty and sometimes flamboyant personalities.

One of the most famous dandies was Julius Soubise, a freed slave who often wore diamond-buckled, red-heeled shoes as he circulated through the social scene of eighteenth-century London.

The magic of dandyism resides in the interplay between the dandy’s temperament and his appearance. Yet it is not a question of simple harmony, for one dandy may combine severe dress with a jocular demeanor, while another meshes cold aloofness with colorful and audacious dress.

The qualities that comprise the anatomy of the dandy, ranked in order of importance, are:

1. Physical distinction

Dandyism can only be painted on a suitable canvas. It is impossible to cut a dandy figure without being tall, slender and handsome, or having at least one of those characteristics to a high degree while remaining at least average in the other two.

2. Elegance

Elegance, of course, as defined by the standards of a dandy’s particular era.

The dandy’s independence, assurance, originality, self-control and refinement should all be visible in the cut of his clothes. Dandies must love contemporary costume and their dress should be free from folly or affectation.

3. Self-mastery

Dandies must possess a staunch determination to remain unmoved and an immense calm. Should a dandy suffer pain, he should keep smiling.

4. Aplomb

While self-mastery is the internal practice of keeping emotions in check, aplomb is how it is expressed to the dandy’s audience. Dandyism introduces antique calm among our modern agitations.

5. Independence

Ideally, a dandy should be financially independent, but if the dandy is forced to work, a spirit of independence will be expressed through his work. Independence – often to the point of aloofness – will also characterize the dandy’s dealings with the world.

6. Wit

A dandy should possess a paradoxical way of talking lightly of the serious and seriously of the light.

7. A skeptical, world-weary, sophisticated, bored or blasé demeanor

8.  A self-mocking and ultimately endearing egotism

9. Dignity/Reserve

10. Discriminating taste

11. A renaissance man

A dandy ought to dress well, dance well, fence well, have a genius for love letters, and an agreeable voice for a chamber.

12. Unpredictable

Because dandies are an enigma and because dandyism makes its own rules, the final quality is the ability to negate all the other ones, for in the end, there is not a code of dandyism. If there were, anybody could be a dandy.

Dandyism can be seen as a political protestation against the rise of egalitarian principles, often including nostalgic adherence to feudal or pre-industrial values, such as the ideals of “the perfect gentleman” or “the autonomous aristocrat”.

The dandy was, by occupation, always in opposition. He could only exist by defiance. The dandy, therefore, was always compelled to astonish. Dandyism was considered to be an aesthetic form of nihilism.

Dandies – called Dudes in America – were not just men. The female counterpart of the dandy was the Quaintrelle, or Dandizette. The Quaintrelle represented the epitome of elegant speech and beauty, with favorable personality elements of grace and charm.

Black minstrels

In the 1840s, William Henry Lane and Thomas Dilward became the first African Americans to perform on the minstrel stage. All-black troupes followed as early as 1855. These companies emphasized that their ethnicity made them the only true delineators of black song and dance.

Racism made black minstrelsy a difficult profession. When playing Southern towns, performers had to stay in character even off stage, dressed in ragged “slave clothes” and perpetually smiling. Troupes left town quickly after each performance, and some had so much trouble securing lodging that they hired out whole trains or had cars custom built to sleep in, complete with hidden compartments in which to hide should things turn ugly. Even these were no haven, as whites sometimes used the cars for target practice. Unsurprisingly, most black troupes did not last long.

In minstrel shows, a common character, and counterpart to the slave, was the dandy. The dandy was portrayed as a northern urban Black man trying to live above his station by mimicking white, upper-class speech and dress – usually with disastrous results.

Dandy characters often went by the name Zip Coon, after the song popularized by George Washington Dixon, although others had pretentious names like Count Julius Caesar Mars and Napoleon Sinclair Brown. Their clothing was a ludicrous parody of upper-class dress: coats with tails and padded shoulders, white gloves, monocles, fake mustaches, and gaudy watch chains. They spent their time primping and preening, going to parties, dancing and strutting, and wooing women. Like other urban black characters, the dandies’ pretentiousness showed that they had no place in white society.

Dandyism was – and will always be a middle finger to the status quo. The Black Dandies can then be considered the originators of the Steamfunk Movement.

On October 26, 2012, we will further explore Dandyism and the other Steampunk / Steamfunk archetypes through cosplay – wearing costumes and / or taking on the persona of real, or invented, characters – a panel discussion and a screening of four short films at The Mahogany Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk & Film. See you there!


BLACK DISPATCHES & MORE DURING STEAMPUNK WEEK AT TOR.COM!

BLACK DISPATCHES & MORE DURING STEAMPUNK WEEK AT TOR.COM!

I am happy to announce that I am featured in the October 4th installment of Tor.com’s Steampunk Week 2012!

I discuss Black Dispatches – the Black espionage agents who helped the Union win the American Civil War – and their relationship to the Steamfunk Movement.

Also, please check out the other fantastic posts, which are chock full o’ steamy goodness!

Those featured include both steampunk veterans and innovative newcomers, talking about exciting things:

Kevin J. Anderson about working with the band Rush on their steampunk book Clockwork Angels

Award-winning producer Yomi Ayeni on transmedia storytelling in the non-colonialist world of Clockwork Watch

Julie Brannon, marketing wizard behind Steampunk Holmes, on creating a successful Kickstarter for your steampunk project

Professor Calamity of Combustion Books reveals Victorians’ Secrets (the steamiest post for the Week, hands down)

Executive producer Trevor Crafts and head writer Matt James Daley give the lowdown on Bruce Boxleitner’s Lantern City

Chaphop artist and tea connoisseur Professor Elemental delivers the funniest one-liner about steampunk, ever

Cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks draws a tribute to Fullmetal Alchemist                                                     

Dr. Lisa Hager, on why this genre-bender is also a gender-bender

Margaret “Magpie” Killjoy of Steampunk Magazine throws a political one-two punch about how steampunks can help save the world

Vaporiste Arthur Morgan introduces the Anglophone world to French steampunk

Tee Morris, author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, names the three things every steampunk filmmaker needs to know

James Ng’s artistic take on alchemy (and Chinese steampunk zombies)

Cat Rambo gives us the scoop on Nisi Shawl’s highly anticipated book set in the Belgian Congo

Composer Paul Shapera on penning a thrilling steampunk musical

Editor Ann Vandermeer offers an exclusive excerpt from the upcomingSteampunk Revolution anthology

Diana Vick, con chair of SteamCon, dishes about Victorian monsters

Plus tons of swag offered every day!


THE MAHOGANY MASQUERADE: The Politics of Fashion in Steamfunk!

THE MAHOGANY MASQUERADE: The Politics of Fashion in Steamfunk

“No matter where you get the fashion from, how it’s produced, who is in charge of distributing it are all political choices. That’s why I think Steampunk fashion is a highly charged fashion aesthetic. It deals with history and history is always political.”Diana Pho / Ay-leen The Peacemaker

One may not immediately think that there is a relationship between politics and fashion, choosing to think of dress as simply something we do, yet what we wear has political implications.

When we decide what to wear when we leave our homes to present ourselves to others may seem like an innocent and meaningless decision, but, in reality it is a decision that is conditioned by social conventions.

Try shopping for fruit, beer and P&J at your local supermarket wearing an elaborate, formal gown, or wear a pink wetsuit to a wedding, or ‘daisy dukes’ in Saudi Arabia and you will suffer disapproval, ridicule and maybe even violence and imprisonment.

We live in a political world. Politics happens every time we wake up and get dressed. We abide by power conventions and conform to certain expectations and if we defy these norms, we face numerous – and sometimes life-threatening – consequences.

The potential, political implications of the way we dress – violence, prejudice, marginalization – means that we can – and always have – used our clothes as a means of protest and resistance.

We have always used fashion to express and fight injustice, voice our disapproval with government, or as a way to highlight government intimidation and repressive regimes.

Resistance can occur through breaking the norm or through adopting a certain ‘forbidden’ item of dress. Recently, police in Sudan arrested thirteen women in a café and later flogged ten of them in public.

Why? What heinous crime did they commit?

They wore trousers and thereby violated Sudan’s Islamic Law. In response to the law and it’s seemingly selective enforcement, many women have taken to wearing trousers in public to register their dissatisfaction with the current government, using dress as a symbol of protest and resistance.  These women have used their situation to create a public platform to further highlight and draw international attention to their plight.

Steampunk fashion is reflective of the Victorian era (1837 – 1901). It can reflect Victorian Era England, France, the Wild West and the various fashions of the African and Asian continents.

Much of this fashion – for people of African descent and other People of Color – represents oppression, suppression, theft, rape, murder and enslavement. However, this fashion can be used to remember and represent those who made it…those who survived and thrived despite all we endured – Harriet Tubman; George Washington Carver; a Mino (“Dahomey Amazon”) warrior; the Haitian Vodun spirit of death and fertility; Baron Samedi; Frederick Douglass…

Do a bit of research, create a concept for your persona and be well aware of the political implications and ramifications of what you choose to wear.

Fashion is a powerful medium in which to make our voices heard.

On October 26, 2012 at The Mahogany Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk and Film, let’s make a tremendous noise and bring the funk to Steampunk!

 

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

Auburn Avenue Research Library

101 Auburn Avenue NE Atlanta, GA 30303

6:30pm – 9:00pm.

Four excellent Black science fiction short films will be screened.

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

This event is FREE and open to the public!


Tag, You’re it: The Next Big Thing!

I was tagged by Derrick Ferguson, author of the amazing Dillon series of pulp novels, for the Next Big Thing Blog Hop and I decided to join in. Thanks, Derrick!

 “The Rules” are: Answer these ten questions about your current Work In Progress on your blog. Tag five writers / bloggers and add links to their pages so we can hop along to them next.

So, here goes:

I will tag authors: Rasheedah PhillipsAlicia McCallaJoe BonadonnaWendy Raven McNair and Valjeanne Jeffers.

Now, on to the questions…

What is the working title of your book?

Redeemer. It is a Science Fantasy gangster saga.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came from my love of gangster films, such as The Godfather, Goodfellas and Hoodlum and my lifelong love for Science Fiction and Fantasy movies and literature. I figured I would combine all that I love into a thrilling story. It was fun to write and turned out to be a great yarn, too.

What genre does your book fall under?

Science Fiction and Hip Hop Fiction, I suppose. Some folks say it is the bridge between Science Fiction and Street Lit. While it is certainly well-written, well-edited science fantasy, it has a gritty edge to it that readers of street lit love. I guess the readers will decide what Redeemer is to them.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Michael Jai White would be the perfect person to play the hit man, Ezekiel; Clifton Powell would make a great Sweet Danny Sweet, the crime boss and record company CEO; for the role of Z (teen Ezekiel), I would choose Jaden Smith. I believe he has the acting and the martial arts chops (no pun intended) to pull it off; finally, for the role of crazed killer, Lala – I would choose Rosario Dawson. The cast of Redeemer would be huge, but those are some of the main characters. The funny thing is, I wrote Redeemer as a screenplay first, so I have already given a lot of thought to who would play the characters in a perfect world.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Science Fiction meets the Gangster Saga when a professional assassin finds himself trapped in the past and faced with saving himself from the path that led him to a lifetime of murder.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Redeemer will be published by Mocha Memoirs Press and is scheduled to release November, 2012.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took me approximately three months, as I developed it from a screenplay I wrote a couple of years ago.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I would not compare it to anything else out there. I just worked hard to make it a great work of fiction that appeals to the diehard fan of science fiction and fantasy as well as the person whose reading has thus far been limited to street lit or not much at all.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by black films, such as Hoodlum, A Rage in Harlem, Attack the Block (an incredible science fiction film from the UK), American Gangster and Ghost Dog, as well as the movie Blade Runner and a plethora of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Although Redeemer is packed with action and elements of science fiction and fantasy it is also a powerful story about love and how far a person will go for what he or she loves. If you like martial arts, time travel, futuristic gadgets, dark humor, action, intrigue and a bit of romance, you’ll love Redeemer.


THE MAHOGANY MASQUERADE: The Origin…And Beginning of Steamfunk Cosplay!

THE MAHOGANY MASQUERADE: The Origin…And Beginning of Steamfunk Cosplay!

Carnival is a festive event that typically involves a public celebration or parade, combining elements of a circus, masking and public street party. People commonly dress up in costumes and/or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning and renewal of daily life.

Widely thought to have originated in 12th Century Rome – with its purpose being to play and eat meat before Ash Wednesday, thus marking the beginning of Catholic Lent – Carnival – also known as Jankunu, particularly in the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States – actually has West African roots much older than its Roman influences.

Spreading from Italy into Spain, Portugal, England, Germany and France, Carnival – by the 15th and 16th centuries – had become a rowdy tradition, featuring boisterous games and masquerades adopted from a variety of late winter and early spring festive practices. It was a time for ritual and play and by engaging in irony, disguise, laughter, and revelry, people sought renewal and growth for themselves and their communities.

The political and industrial revolutions of the 19th century had a significant effect on Carnival celebrations. With newly formed governments perceiving the festivities as civic events, urban street parades became more structured. Groups from different neighborhoods and workers’ guilds competed with one another for the best performances.

In the Caribbean and Southeastern United States, it is an undisputed African engine that propels this form of cultural expression and the African Carnival, or Jankunu has nothing to do with Lent or Christmas.

Every society, however inhibited or repressed, finds occasion for celebration, feasts, festivals, merry-making and the like – it is an aspect of humanity in which we all share. Most societies also have the idea of the masquerade or the costume in one or another form, whether in social or religious ritual, dramatic theater or the stage, or the street parade.

Where Africa and Europe appear to diverge in this respect is in the setting of costumed celebrations.

French, Portuguese English and Spanish colonialists held costumed balls. Individuals wore costumes and the merry-making was largely indoors, though spill-over onto the streets could be expected. It is the same today with the European Carnivals of Quebec, Venice and elsewhere and is also present also in the celebration of Halloween.

By contrast, the African style of celebration called for costumed bands, and for the merry-making focus to be outdoors, rather than indoors, similar to what we see with today’s Caribbean and American Carnivals.

Egungun

One of the clearest examples of the masquerade in Africa is the Yoruba Egungun Festival. During this festival, every family honors its collective ancestors, and all the members of an extended family lineage wear the same colors, thus constituting a “band”.

From the Egungun celebration also comes a feature that we find prominent in various Caribbean carnivals: throwing talcum powder on fellow masqueraders, from which comes the Trinidadian expression – “you can’t play mas’ and ‘fraid powder!”.

During the Egungun festival people wear masks to show outwardly that they are no longer themselves, that their body has been possessed by an ancestral spirit.

The ancestral spirits of the Yoruba are much more than just dead relatives, they play an active role in the daily life of the living. Believed to provide protection and guidance, there are numerous ways the ancestors communicate with the living, one of the most unique is their manifestation on earth in the form of masked spirits known as Egungun.

Ancient Khemet (Egypt)

The Greek scholar, Herodotus describes – during the 5th Century – one of the ceremonial processions in Egypt: “… they come in barges, men and women together, a great number in each boat; on the way, some of the women keep up a continual clatter with castanets and some of the men play flutes, while the rest, both men and women, sing and clap their hands. Whenever they pass a town on the river-bank, they bring the barge close in-shore, some of the women continuing to act as I have said, while others shout abuse at the women of the place, or start dancing, or stand up and pull up their skirts. When they reach Bubastis, they celebrate the festival with elaborate sacrifices, and more wine is consumed than during all the rest of the year. The numbers that meet there are, according to native report, as many as seven hundred thousand men and women…”

Sounds like what today we would call a Carnival. Even in regard to Herodotus’ description of women pulling up their skirts, thousands of years later, at Carnival, they do the same thing.

Northern Edo Masquerades

Masking traditions are a major part of the Edo groups of Nigeria, who trace their beginnings to the kingdom of Benin, their neighbors to the south. Basic political units are formed from ritual ties. A council of elders within a number of Masquerade societies forms each small village’s government. Men and women of the Edo people belong to masquerade societies, whose primary responsibilities are to control anti-social forces and help to bring about a better, safer, and well-adjusted community or village.

The best-known of the Edo groups, the Okpella, use a widely varying range of mask types, which, according to some African artists, may take up to a year to complete. The masks that are created by the artist convey many different types of rituals and ceremonies. One example of this is a brilliant, white-faced mask representing “dead mothers”, appearing during the annual Olimi festival, which is held at the end of the dry season, and is worn by dancing kinsmen. This festival, as others do, signifies social control and ancestral reverence, celebrating the transitions of age-grades.

The Otsa festival embraces women dancers in addition to the male masquerade dancers. During the festival, the women come to the dance area with their masquerade celebration to sprinkle white chalk and water, which symbolizes peace and good luck. This festival annually celebrates the feast of Otsa to purify the land and reinforce community solidarity.

In addition to the masks and costumes worn during the masquerades, another vital component is the music and dance used to create the atmosphere that is conducive to capturing the essence of the spirit. The highly sophisticated dance helps expand more of the character being portrayed. Throughout the ceremony, the actions of the dancer may be something entirely different than the person beneath would normally portray. Atmospheric circumstances are another essential element to the success of the masquerade. The right mood and setting add to and enhance the integrity of the performance, inviting the spirits to join. The audience’s participation from the sidelines only adds to the intensity of the masquerade – clapping, singing, and dancing, allowing themselves to feel the spirit’s presence. This strong relationship between human and spirits is the grand hallmark of the Northern Edo Masquerades.

Caribbean Carnival

Caribbean Carnival is the term used for a number of events that take place in many of the Caribbean islands annually.

The Caribbean’s Carnivals all have several common themes, many originating from Trinidad and Tobago Carnival which is based on folklore, culture, religion, and tradition. Carnival tradition is based on a number of disciplines including: “Playing Mas”/Masquerade; Calypso Music and crowning a Calypso King or Monarch; Panorama (Steel Band Competition); Jouvert morning; and a number of other traditions.

Jankunu (“Junkanoo”) is a street parade with music that occurs in many towns across The Bahamas every Boxing Day (December 26), New Year’s Day and, more recently, in the summer on the island of Grand Bahamas. The largest Jankunu parade happens in Nassau, the capital. In the USA, there are also Jankunu parades in Miami, in June, Key West, in October and Knoxville, Tennessee in June.

Similar masquerades / street performance traditions, are found on other islands in the Caribbean.

The Mahogany Masquerade

On October 26, 2012, we will continue the tradition of the masquerade – and make it even funkier – with The Mahogany Masquerade.

The Mahogany Masquerade features Steamfunk cosplay and an evening of Black science fiction and Fantasy short films.

In addition, participants will engage authors, filmmakers and artists in a panel discussion on the Steamfunk Movement; shop for books and movies in the Bazaar and meet and greet their fellow Steamfunks, Steampunks, and lovers of Science Fiction and Fantasy!

The event is 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!

The Mahogany Masquerade runs from 6:30pm – 9:00pm and is FREE and open to the public!

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

Please view the video below for ideas and inspiration for your Steamfunk costume and persona.

See you there!

 


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.


RITE OF PASSAGE, the Series

RITE OF PASSAGE, the Series.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,526 other followers