I am part of a group on Facebook called State of Black Science Fiction. Many stellar authors, artists, filmmakers and fans are part of this Blacknificent group and many contribute, making it one of the more intriguing and informative groups on the internet.
Recently, a question was posed by renowned novelist and writer for television, Steven Barnes – “How do members of this group define ‘science fiction’? As opposed to mainstream fiction? As opposed to fantasy? “
Only two people even dealt with the question. I suppose it is because most writers and fans of science fiction find it difficult – if not impossible – to define it and among those who have attempted to define what the genre is, they rarely fully agree with each other.
Many authors – in an attempt to make sense of what they do and to explain themselves to friends, family and fans – lump fantasy, horror and science fiction together under umbrella terms. One such term is fantastika. Fantastika? Really? That may work for some, but as far as Black Speculative Fiction is concerned, that term is, honestly, just too corny.
Another term, The Fantastique, is a French term for a literary and cinematic genre that overlaps with science fiction, horror and fantasy. While it sounds better than fantastika, the fantastique deals with the intrusion of supernatural phenomena into an otherwise realist narrative. It evokes phenomena which are not only left unexplained but which are inexplicable from the reader’s point of view. While this would fit some works, it does not fit all.
Afrofuturism is defined as “a literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of Black people, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past”. This term has not really taken off because futurism confuses people. When we read or hear futurism we think future, not really the present and certainly not the past. Personally, though, I like the term.
The most widely used term, by Black authors – not to be confused with readers, who are still confused by this term – is Black Speculative Fiction. Speculative Fiction is used as an umbrella term for the genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction, however, speculation is the stuff of science fiction, but generally not fantasy. To speculate is to ask “what if”. “What if faster than light space travel was possible?” “What if an alien race populated earth before humans and had now returned to reclaim the planet?” “What if people of African descent all possessed a gene that gave them extraordinary abilities and could be awakened by an enhancement of their melanin?” Rarely does the fantasy author ask “What if magic was real?” It is a given in most fantasy that magic is, indeed, real in that world. In fantasy and even horror, there may be instances of “what if”, but it is not the dominant question. Thus using the term speculative puts a great deal of importance on science fiction and sort of delegitimizes fantasy and horror.
Furthermore, we must ask why we would call our work Black speculative fiction. Is it for us to better understand what we do? Is it to make what we do more understandable by the “three F’s” (Friends; Family; Fans). If so, the term speculative fiction is no help because you still have to define that for them. So you might as well be specific about what you read and write, because you’re going have to explain it anyway. If you write and / or read Sword & Soul, dang it, call it Sword & Soul. If you write or read Science Fiction, call it Science Fiction! If you write or read it all, say so! If someone has asked you, they will give you the few seconds it takes to tell them what you read / write. In fact, it takes less time to say “I write fantasy, science fiction and horror” than to explain what speculative fiction is. Go ahead…try it.
See. Told ya!