African American fiction – speculative fiction – Afrofuturism

(This is a brief introduction to some of the best speculative fiction being created by African-Americans.Feel free to explore! Descriptions are from the Nashville Public Library website.)

Okorafor, Nnedi    Binti (3-book series)  Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Butler, Octavia  Parable of the Sower (2-book series)  Set thirty years in the future, a young woman suffering from hyperempathy, to feel others’ pain as well as her own, makes a dangerous journey north from Southern California.

Delaney, Samuel L   Babel-17  Winner of the Nebula Award for best novel of the year, “Babel-17” is a fascinating tale of a famous poet bent on deciphering a secret language that is the key to the enemy’s deadly force, a task that requires she travel with a splendidly improbable crew to the site of the next attack.

Hopkinson, Nalo   Brown Girl in the Ring The rich and the privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways — farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother. She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.

LaValle, Victor   The changeling: a novel  Apollo Kagwa has had strange dreams that have haunted him since childhood. An antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia, he is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, unlike his own father who abandoned him, when his wife Emma begins acting strange.

Jemisin, N.K.  How long ’til black future month?: Stories   In the first collection of her evocative short fiction, Jemisin equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption. In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination

Solomon, Rivers   The Deep  Yetu holds the memories for her people — water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners — who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one — the historian.  

Due, Tananarive   Ghost summer: stories In her debut collection of short fiction, Due takes us to Gracetown, a small Florida town that has both literal and figurative ghost; into future scenarios that seem all too real; and provides empathetic portraits of those whose lives are touched by Otherness. Featuring an award-winning novella and fifteen stories.

Shawl, Nisi      Everfair   What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Christmas town

This was the door to Christmas town. Everyone who lived here celebrated Christmas every day. Every night was once again Christmas Eve, with the anticipation and eagerness you would expect. It seemed backwards to do it this way, but it worked for them. And who were these fine citizens to do anything in a normal way? They had all, independently, come to the conclusion that this day was too special to have only once a year.

Some had started with the idea of celebrating Christmas for the 12 days, right up to Epiphany. That tradition had faded out of practice but the clue remained in the Carol, or in the Catholic observance of Three Kings Day. What had been lost was found again.

Other had celebrated Christmas in July, watching Hallmark holiday specials and having a grand dinner with all the trimmings. Others had a special dinner with family and took the whole day off to rest and rejoice once a week.

But for some, these make-do attempts weren’t enough. They wanted Christmas every day. It wasn’t the presents they wanted, but the presence. They had come to recognize that Christmas was its own entity, a very force in itself. It was if a certain Someone was in the room, but they just couldn’t be seen. Neither old nor young, male nor female – this presence was eternal, and available to all who made a place for it in their homes.

It was why Advent was such a powerful time. It was a preparing, a setting-aside, a making-space. In Advent, you didn’t just prepare gifts or food or clean your home or pack to go visiting family (blood or otherwise). In Advent you made a space for this Someone to live in your heart. It took a month for most to clear away the cobwebs, to gear down from a workaday life of getting and spending. They were so used to a life of lack and want and ignorance that it took all that time to settle into the new pattern that this Someone offered, a pattern of wholeness, of contentment.

For the residents of this town, one day of this feeling wasn’t enough. One by one they moved here, having heard of this place through rumors and whispers.

There was no industry here for people to travel to – no shops or businesses. Everyone had the day off. Nobody wanted for anything. There was always enough food, always enough craft supplies, always enough books. Nobody finished anything in Christmas town and nobody felt bad about it. There was always the next day and never a rush.

For you see, Christmas town was in a temporal bubble. It really was Christmas every day here. They weren’t just pretending. Food never went bad because it never got old. It simply transformed at the stroke of midnight into fresh groceries again, so they could enjoy the pleasure of filling the house with all those delightful aromas from cooking a Christmas meal.

People didn’t age here either. Children were always youthful and agile, elders were always mirthful and spry. Each enjoyed the company of the other, and the Christmas Eve bedtime stories never got old.

However, the people who lived here never realized that it was always the same. They too reset at the stroke of midnight, also becoming new again. They never aged, never counted the days since they had moved to this unusual town. How could they? It was all the same, an unchanging day of joy repeated ad infinitum.

(Written around Christmas 2019)

Smile

Funny, the people who smile

with their mouths and not their eyes

who smile when facing me

but drop to a scowl when they turn away.

Maybe it would be better

if they just stopped pretending

to be happy to see me, or just happy at all

maybe their smiles would be real

if they learned it was safe to smile

when they meant it

and not just all the time

like how we say “fine”

when asked “how are you”

like it is some glue

that holds this whole stupid fake society together

e pluribus unum

out of many different experiences we somehow

shoehorn all our reactions and interactions

into one great big play

where we act out what it means

to be human

without ever meaning anything real

at all.

Bear Hug

George had raised bears his whole life, but this one was different. He never named the bears actual names – this one was called 15767, or “15” for short. The numbers were some arcane blend of the birthdate, breed, and sex of the bear, a special code that made sense only to George and the people who worked for him.

15 was trying to kill George, but to the photographer it looked like playing. At first George thought 15 was playing too, but he quickly realized things have gone south when 15 started bouncing up and down on his head. This wasn’t a game anymore, but he couldn’t let on to the photographer. Not only was his pride in jeopardy, his entire career was on the line.

The photographer was there for the ad campaign for his business – Bear Protection Services. He needed to get more people to buy his trained bears for their home protection. “Have a bear outside? No burglars inside!” was their motto. The idea was that you’d get a bear to prowl around your property and it would maul anybody who tried to get into your house without your permission. There was a month-long acclimatization period to get the bear to recognize the homeowner and his family. It wouldn’t do to have one of George’s bears kill a client.

But that was exactly what was happening right now. George was getting mauled. The bear was using every move he’d reinforced. It wasn’t like you could teach a bear to do anything that wasn’t in its nature. You just used the parts of its nature that benefited you and reinforce them with treats. But that was part of the trouble. You couldn’t get a bear to stop doing something you didn’t want him to do. Yelling at it or hitting it on the nose just made it angry, and an angry bear was an unpredictable bear.

15 was very angry right now; George could see it in his eyes. They were darker than normal, with no catchlight. It was as if the light had gone out of his soul. Not like there had been a lot of light in this bear to begin with. His temperament was what made him interesting to George. But that very temperament might mean his death.

Fortunately George had years of martial arts training and even more years of backalley brawls behind him. He knew how to kick out from under an attacker, even one who outweighed him by at least 300 pounds. Of course, the first rule was never to let your opponent put you in such a position in the first place, but sometimes that couldn’t be helped. He had planned to let the bear pretend to maul him as an example of what the company’s trained bears could do for their clients. It all started off well. But then everything shifted and got real, very fast.

Now, 15 wasn’t exactly the friendliest bear George had ever worked with. It was a hard balance to work out. Too friendly and the bear wouldn’t attack the assailant. Too mean and he attacked the family. The sweet spot was somewhere in the middle, but that was difficult to gauge with bears. It wasn’t like you could put them through the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram. George had found some small success in going by the bear’s horoscope, but he never told that to clients. He had a reputation to uphold.

He finally managed to get out from under the bear thanks to a streetfighting move he’d learned in Pittsburgh. If that hadn’t worked he would have resorted to putting his fist in the bear’s mouth to make it gag. He didn’t want to do that in sight of the photographer for fear of seeming to abuse it, but he was desperate. It wouldn’t do to let the bear win this fight, or else it would have been the end of his business, and of George.

(Written 11/5/19)

The elephant in the room.

The day came when finally nobody was responsible for their actions. It was law. You could now sue your parents for not teaching you how to eat healthy and exercise. Your obesity was no longer your fault. You could sue your classmates in elementary school for making fun of your weight by calling you “Porky” or “Blobbo”, instead of pretending you didn’t take up two chairs. Whether people acted or not made no difference. You could blame them for your obesity, saying that they made a bad situation worse or that they didn’t show you a better way.

“Fat shaming” was now an offense punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both. There was no need for a trial, since enduring that would cause more stress for the larger person, and probably lead to more stress eating of comfort foods. It wouldn’t do to have the situation escalated to the point that the judge, jury and attorneys all ended up in jail too.

So nobody said anything, because the fine for sins of omission were worse than the punishment for sins of commission. So the chairs in doctor’s waiting rooms got wider andstouter to support the people who were wider and stouter.

Half of Americans were on medicine for diabetes or cholesterol, or both. They even managed to lobby to get the medicines for free, saying it wasn’t fair to punish them for diseases that came with being obese. The two went together like steak and potatoes. And speaking of food, the newly formed  Big Americans organization was also lobbying for special food stamps for all their members so they didn’t have to pay so much for their drug of choice. So far it hadn’t been approved, but they hadn’t given up.

Gyms went out of business or cut their hours way back because they couldn’t afford to stay open. No longer was it fashionable to be slim and have visible muscles. Likewise, all clothing manufacturers were expected to make outfits up to 20 XL available in the stores. Nobody was that large, yet, but it was deemed wise to be safe just in case. Most of the people who were over 10 XL couldn’t walk into a store anyway because their knees and hips couldn’t handle the strain, but sometimes they used to scooter or had a special robotic exoskeleton they wore to assist their bodies. These exoskeletons were first made for people who had been in accidents and were unable to walk, but it wasn’t long before Big Americans saw how useful they would be to their members.

Yes, now is the best time to be alive. You could eat all you wanted, never walk further than you wanted, get everything delivered, and blame everyone else on your condition. In fact, you could quit your job and get paid to stay home, and nobody would dare to say anything at all, until you became the elephant in the room.

(Written October  29, 2019)

Sister trouble

He thought he had the upper hand. He had the gun, after all. He was only eight years old, but he had been trained all too well by his father and uncles. Women were to obey men, no matter what. If they didn’t, they had to be forced to, or killed.

His elders hadn’t told him exactly when he need this knowledge, but he figured now was as good as any. His younger sister was annoyingly taller than he was, and annoyingly got better grades to0. Their parents seemed to like her better, as well. He was sure it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that she never caused any trouble, never talked back, always gave more than she took. Because if any of that were the case, then he’d have to change his own behavior and that wasn’t going to happen.

So he decided today was the day he would make his sister pay for his mistreatment. She had to understand that he was in charge, simply because he was male and he was older than her. Somehow talent and ability were irrelevant. Somehow the fact that their parents were actually in charge escaped him too. Now was the time to assert his dominance, and if she didn’t accept it, he’d be forced to kill her. It was for her own good, after all. If she wouldn’t submit to her brother, then how would she act around her future boyfriends? Best to get that train headed in the right direction early or else there was no telling what trouble could happen. It would be an embarrassment to the family name.

Little Susie smiled at Bobby when he pulled out the gun that Sunday afternoon in their backyard. She’d just gotten through cleaning out the birdcage for Mr. Peepers, their three-year-old budgie. She was the primary caretaker of the bird, even though it was Bobby who’d demanded the pet. After a week of owning it, when the novelty wore off, their parents realized he wasn’t taking care of the bird so they assigned the chore to her. For some unknown reason they didn’t insist on Bobby picking up the slack. It was his pet, after all, the one he’d begged and pleaded for all those months. They could have told him he’d have to care for it or they’d give it away to another family, but that never crossed their minds.

This injustice never crossed Bobby’s mind either. It told him he could do whatever he wanted with no repercussions. If only their parents could have looked into the future and seen how this lesson would warp him, resulting in a string of divorces and bankruptcies and get-rich-quick schemes that never quite seemed to work.

That Sunday was the final straw. Susie had gotten a gold star in Sunday school, while he got nothing. He’d not done the worksheet, so of course he got nothing, but the truth didn’t phase him. He was angry at her because he hadn’t gotten a gold star and she had.

So when he pulled a gun on her, she wasn’t surprised. She laughed at him, as she had learned to do. It wouldn’t do to get upset or frightened. That was what he wanted after all. Or so she thought. This time, he didn’t want the upper hand. He wanted all the cards. He wanted her dead. Only then will he reign supreme. No more being compared to his sister, always unfavorably. There would be no more competition because there would be no more her. Today was the day where he would prove he was better than her once and for all and no longer would he have to look at her smirk.

And then it happened. He pulled the trigger. And just like that she was dead. For once in his life he’d done something right the first time instead of halfway. There was no trip to the emergency room here. This was a one-way trip to the morgue.

Bobby thought all his troubles were over. Turns out they had just begun. Of course he had to go through counseling. Jail wasn’t even considered, since he was so young and the family assumed it was an accident since he was so feckless in every other situation. There was no way this was intentional in their minds – he wasn’t clever or determined enough.

But even though he was never punished physically he was punished metaphysically. Susie came back, but only for him. She first appeared in his dreams, with the same gunshot wound to the chest that had killed her. He could see right through her. Every night she appeared, and every night she looked a little more sallow, the blood around the wound a little more crusty and black. He never told anyone about this. On the year anniversary of her death she began to appear in front of him while he was awake as well, but only he could see her. She never left his side. Instead of being rid of her, he saw her more in death than he ever had in life. He ended up having to be institutionalized. Everyone felt sorry for him. Well, everyone except Susie, who knew better.

(Finished October 28, 2019)

The league ladies

The ladies of the 32nd St. Temperance League knew it was time to do something. No longer could they trust in just leading by example, it was time to take their show on the road. People weren’t taking charge of their lives, weren’t connecting the dots. They knew better, but they didn’t act better.

Simply calling people out on unhealthy actions didn’t work and they knew it. They’d not participated in such activities themselves, but they’d watched and learned. It was helpful that others had made their mistakes for them.

But this was their flaw, or even their Catch-22. They didn’t know what it was like to feel the temptation and not yield to it, or more – to yield and then learn how to recover. It was easy to tell folks to stay on the straight and narrow if you’ve never strayed. But it meant more if you’d wandered off the path, got lost, and then found your way back. Who wanted a tour guide who had never visited the country they were touting?

But there was the rub – people didn’t trust people who had taken a trip through crazy-land. Whether it was just garden-variety mental illness or that with a side of substance abuse, they didn’t feel easy around those folks, even if they’d recovered. There was always an unspoken fear they’d relapse. It was the same old problem that had plagued Mary Magdalene – the woman who had seven demons cast out of her. Everybody focused on the past – that she used to have seven demons tormenting her – and not the present – they are gone. Her present wholeness was discounted while her past troubles were highlighted.

It wasn’t fair, but it was human nature, and these ladies needed every advantage they could, no matter how unreasonable. Because it was serious now, no time for talk. Lives were on the line. The only trouble was nobody knew. It was just like with Noah, building an ark in dry weather, on dry land. People mocked him the same way they mocked these ladies. It didn’t deter them. They had to share their message but the people didn’t have to listen.

That was the deal. In fact, nobody had to be rescued at all. Nobody had to be saved. The ladies had to tell the story, but the people didn’t have to listen. It was hard, of course, knowing so many folks would perish in the upcoming tribulation, but that couldn’t be helped. In fact, that was part of the test. If they were mature enough to heed the instructions and follow them, they were ready for the evolution. Otherwise? Who needed them? Layabouts and slackers who refused to be responsible for their lives didn’t need to be rescued. Everybody as a whole was better off without them. The tribulation (nobody was sure whether it was going to be with a bang or a whisper) would weed out the blamers, the entitled, the arrogant. All those who expected others to take care of them – or blamed others for their situation – would be wiped off the map.

For the ladies, that day needed to come soon. They were exhausted with the laziness that surrounded them.

(Written early October 2019)