As a child, mangled bodies cluttered my literary landscape. My mom had to pry me away from Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels, not to mention Fangoria magazine. No doubt she thought she had a budding psychopath on her hands. At age nine, my foray into sci-fi was Stan McMurtry’s wonderful book The Bungee Venture, about two kids who race to rescue their time-machine-building father from the pre-historic era he accidentally travels to. I was so impressed with that novel that I set out to build my own time machine from a baby carriage and nuts and bolts laying around my grandmother’s cellar. Even though the protagonists in McMurtry’s tale were white, it never occurred to me that I, a rowhouse dwelling black girl from a former mill town (population 34,000) couldn’t fly, couldn’t teleport myself to a future (or past) society that would love and nurture me.
I’m no longer trying to build that time machine, but I can appreciate a good work of speculative fiction that transports me to future worlds. Ray Bradbury’s short story collection The Illustrated Man was instrumental in helping me to understand that science fiction/spec fiction is accessible, can be comprised of a simple story, grounded in reality. His collection of linked stories The Martian Chronicles was a nod to Sherwood Anderson’s short story cycle Winesburg, Ohio, and Bradbury once said that he wanted to replicate the Ohio community — with all of its secrets and passions and complexities — on the Red Planet.
Franz Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis” gave me permission to run with implausible premises, to not back down from an idea when I don’t have all the answers. The German author never explained how his protagonist Gregor Samsa awakened one morning, in his bed, from anxious dreams to find himself transformed into a giant vermin. The reader must simply embrace the idea of a young salesman navigating his life as a roach, and we are more than willing to climb Gregor’s scaly back and go on the journey with him.
Kit Reed, whom I consider a mentor, paved the way for women writers of speculative fiction to critique gender bias in their work. This was before the sexual revolution. When I first picked up her book Weird Women, Wired Women, it was refreshing to see a feminist writer blazing crater-sized holes in a male-dominated terrain. Her stories are darkly comedic, with empowered women protagonists dismantling tropes of submissive suburban housewives.
As I reflect on the collage of stories that inform my own writing, it dawns on me that the speculative landscape isn’t only found in novels. A playwright actually had a big influence on my desire to craft stories with a surreal slant. When I first picked up George C. Wolfe’s experimental work The Colored Museum about a decade ago, I was unfamiliar with the concept of speculative fiction. Just from reading the first few pages, it was evident the playwright was creating something audacious and futuristic, a biting satire that skewered stereotypes of black life — everything from slavery to respectability politics. Among some of my favorite vignettes from The Colored Museum are a celebrity slave ship, a bourgie black couple who finds themselves trapped in Ebony Magazine and an extraterrestrial drag queen.
Can you dig it?
As I’ve written before, speculative fiction allows us to interrogate social justice issues in otherworldly ways. It also allows us to bend language, a written form of psychokinesis, to reshape concepts and traditional modes of thinking. Although much of the genre touts white male agency, more and more women of color are blazing new trails in spec fiction/sci-fi, such as Nalo Hopkinson and N.K. Jemisin. I can also point to writers such as Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall and Toni Cade Bambara having speculative elements in their work.
For 2012 and beyond, I’d love to see black spec fiction on the big screen and the stage to help raise the visibility of the genre. It’s going to take brave and innovative writers who are willing to struggle for their art to create such daring representations.
Scroll to the end of this entry to learn how you can win a signed copy of Escape from Beckyville plus an Amazon gift card!
Check out other participating members of this seven-week blog carnival:
Winston Blakely, Artist/Writer — is a Fine Arts/Comic Book artist, having a career spanning 20 years, whose achievements have included working for Valiant Comics and Rich Buckler’s Visage Studios. He is also the creator of Little Miss Strange, the world’s first black alien sorceress and the all-genre anthology entitled Immortal Fantasy. Both graphic albums are available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online book store outlets. Visit him at : http://blakelyworks.blogspot.com or http://blakelyworkstudio.weebly.com.
L. M. Davis, Author — began her love affair with fantasy in the second grade. Her first novel, Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, was released in 2010, and the follow-up Posers: A Shifters Novel will be released this spring. For more information visit her blog http://shiftersseries.wordpress.com or her website www.shiftersnovelseries.com.
Milton Davis, Author — Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him at: www.mvmediaatl.com/Wagadu and www.wagadu.ning.com.
Margaret Fieland, Author — lives and writes in the suburbs west of Boston, MA with her partner and five dogs. She is one of the Poetic Muselings. Their poetry anthology, Lifelines http://tinyurl.com/LifelinesPoetry is available from Amazon.com Her book, Relocated, will be available from MuseItUp Publishing in July, 2012. The Angry Little Boy will be published by 4RV publishing in early 2013. You may visit her website, http://www.margaretfieland.com.
Valjeanne Jeffers, Author — is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls. Her fourth and fifth novels: Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork will be released this spring. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com.
Thaddeus Howze, Author — is a veteran of the Information Technology and Communications industry with over twenty-six years of experience. His expertise is in re-engineering IT environments using process-oriented management techniques. In English, that means he studies the needs of his clients and configures their offices to optimize the use of information technology in their environment. Visit him at: http://ebonstorm.wordpress.com or http://ebonstorm.weebly.com.
Alicia McCalla, Author — writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free will be available February 1, 2012. The Breaking Free theme song created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on iTunes and Amazon. Visit her at: http://www.aliciamccalla.com.
Carole McDonnell, Author — writes Christian, speculative fiction, and multicultural stories. Her first novel is Wind Follower. Her short fiction has appeared in many anthologies and have been collected in an ebook, Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction. Visit Carole: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com or http://writersofcolorblogtour.blogspot.com.
Balogun Ojetade, Author— of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within (non-fiction), Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Steampunk) and the feature film, A Single Link. Visit him at: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com.
Rasheedah Phillips, Author — is the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair in Philly. She plans to debut her first spec/sci-fic novel Recurrence Plot in Spring 2012. You may catch her ruminating from time to time on her blog, AstroMythoLosophy.com.
Nicole Sconiers, Author — is an author and screenwriter living in the sunny jungle of L.A. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she recently published Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. Visit her at: http://nicolesconiers.com and http://www.nicolesconiers.com/blog.
Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed. — is owner and operator of TheDigitalBrothers.com, BlackScienceFictionSociety.com and BlackCommunityEntertainment.com. Visit him at: http://www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com/profiles/blog/list?user=2stjwb1h216fd.
Escape from Beckyville contest rules:
No purchase necessary. Winners are selected based on a point system.
- Each person (human, not spam bot) who comments on a black sci-fi themed post on my blog between January 16, 2012 and February 5, 2012 will receive three (3) points.
- Each person who comments on the Escape from Beckyville fan page on a black sci-fi themed discussion will receive two (2) points.
- Each person who tweets the hashtag #blackscifi2012 to my Twitter handle @NicoleSconiers will receive two (2) points. For example: @NicoleSconiers Fab article about #blackscifi2012 Looking forward to next discussion!
Participants with the most accumulated points will win! Two (2) winners will receive a signed copy of Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage and a $10 Amazon gift card. So that’s one book and one $10 gift card per winner. Winners will be announced on the blog on February 6, 2012.