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?

The cuckoo

They studied the population carefully. Select only the isolated ones, the weak ones as hosts. Select the ones who have low self-esteem, who feel grateful for any attention, even if it was from an “other”, an alien, an outsider. Humans need attention from others like flowers need rain. Not enough and they fail to thrive.
They studied the native large wild cats too, saw how they would select the weakest of the herd, separate it from the pack. This was who they would use – not the strongest. No, that was dangerous. It was too much risk, too much effort. Playing this invasion on the quiet was the best course, they realized – no need to show your hand. You might get shown the door, and in this case it meant not just homeless but permanently without a planet.
This was a one-way trip for many of the Xohni, and they knew it from the beginning. Outnumbered and running low on resources, they left their besieged planet decades ago. The invaders let some go voluntarily into the transport ships, packed together like sardines, feet to head, barely room enough to scratch an itch. Some were given up by their own kinsman – the misfits, the outlaws, the ne’er-do-wells, to be sold at auction like so much cattle. No matter however they ended up on Earth – voluntarily or not, they had to adapt to their greatly reduced circumstances. They had to breed, and fast. They barely had enough resources to shelter and feed themselves, however. There was no room on the ships to bring more than the basics for even those who went willingly. Those who were given up by their kinsman had less than that.
There was no time to set up homes with nurseries, no time to raise their offspring. If they’d taken the time, they wouldn’t stand a chance of recovering their home world. Many held out hope that they could return, somehow, some when, and rebuild their smoking husks of cities, razed to the ground by the faceless invaders. They needed to breed, to create troops from their own flesh, to be able to do this.
So the men found the softhearted ones, the quiet ones. The ones who were a little or a lot overweight. The poor ones, the less than clever ones. The host wasn’t important. Their DNA would not contribute in the slightest to this process. They were unknowingly broodmares, surrogates only. They would carry a child in their bodies but it would not be theirs. The alien men would mate with one of their own women before this event, and like the seahorse, would carry the fertilized eggs within himself. Up to a year could go by before they had to find a cow, as they termed the unsuspecting human women. Meanwhile, the embryo waited, not dividing, not growing, in their father’s womb sacs.
Once a cow had been located, it was quick work to charm her just enough to take her to bed and deposit his precious cargo inside her. Pregnancy was guaranteed. It didn’t matter if she was ovulating or not, on the pill or not. Her fertility was not in question because her eggs never came into the equation. What was deposited in her womb was already fertilized, already alive, and already stronger than anything she might have provided. These alien offspring were engineered to grow faster and larger than any human baby ever did. They were more aggressive, louder, more belligerent too. There was no debate that they were different, for sure. Everyone knew it, but none were willing to talk about it openly.
Teachers and pediatricians chalked the differences up to the fact that they were raised by single mothers, because they all were. The alien fathers never stayed around to raise their children. That would slow them down, take up too much time, and require resources they didn’t have. They left town the same day they talked their hapless targets into going to bed with them. Once fertilization was over, they had no need of them. It was time to find another cow. The fathers only came back at the time of the child’s maturity.
In this way, it was all too easy to double their population just a few years after landfall. Sure, the offspring were young, but they were strong. Native Xohni customarily went into the army at age 12. It was their coming-of-age ritual. While some cultures would have a party or give the child a new name to mark the crossing of maturity’s threshold, the Xohni went to the battlefield, and did so joyfully. Violence was as much a part of them as hair or eye color. It wasn’t a choice. Those who tried to suppress their violence by attempting to continue their education or by choosing to marry a human were shamed by their family and peers.
The fathers came back years later to claim their children. The cows were grateful for any attention, even though it wasn’t positive. They gave the boys guns to play with, and gave the girls baby-dolls. They knew that whatever you give a child as a toy becomes who they are. They needed the boys to be soldiers and the girls to continue providing eggs. This was the only way there was any hope for the reconquest of their world.
But it took too long. The invaders were too good at their job. The world was decimated by the invaders – cities were destroyed, land was salted. The Xohni continued anyway. Their aberration became normal on Earth by sheer volume alone, and they blended in as well as they could. Why would they care that their children were so different from those of the natives? They were strange looking, violent, and unable (or unwilling) to speak the local language properly. They had to rethink their plan. Perhaps in a matter of years they might alter the fabric of society enough to make Earth their permanent home instead of just a temporary base. Perhaps by then their deficits would be seen as credits in a society that had come to praise the lowest common denominator in a perverse effort to shrug off elitism.

Blue like sci-fi

From a visual conversation I had online about blue characters in sci-fi. Can you add to this?

From The Fifth Element –


From Avatar –


From Star Wars –


From X-men –


From Farscape –


And then the conversation veered off Sci-Fi to popular culture. I’m not even sure who this guy is.


From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory –


From Sesame Street.



So is there a comparable selection of monochromatic characters in other colors?  Please share!


Brown house

living arch




Joan hated the house. Hated the wood floors, the bare walls, the sheer curtains. Who needed all this light pouring in when there was nothing to look at? How many different shades of brown could there be? Everything was neutral, just like the inhabitants.

She’d spent a week with her in-laws and now knew the shape of her life. That dull heavy feeling in her stomach let her know that her worst fears would come true. Not soon, certainly, but surely. Within a handful of decades her husband would grow into the same sort of people he’d been raised by. There was no argument over nature versus nurture. He’d gotten a double dose. She was done for.

They’d not had a chance to meet each other’s family before they got married. Well, perhaps that isn’t fair to say. They didn’t make time. Perhaps they were so enraptured with each other that they didn’t want to allow anything to trespass onto their self-made island. Perhaps they felt they were old enough to not have to seek parental approval. Perhaps they forgot that such meetings work both ways, just like with a job interview. With both, it isn’t just the potential new member that gets looked over. S/he too has a chance to see if these people will be agreeable (or at least reasonable) to spend a lot of time with. Spending 40 hours a week together was one thing, while spending every major and minor holiday together was another. When you married, you spoke vows to that person, but the unspoken vows were to their family. So much for the idea that “a man shall leave his family and be united to his wife”. You never really left your family of origin.

It was a very long trip to Birmingham, Alabama from where they married. But then again, everything was a long way from Arctus 3. The planet was so newly discovered by Earth that the settlers hadn’t agreed upon a name yet, so it had a holding name, comprised of the name of the sun it rotated and how many orbital bodies back it was. It was kind of like how the indigenous peoples of America named their children – a holding name for starters, and then a new one when they showed who they really were. Nobody is who they are at first. You wouldn’t try to identify a flowering plant until it bloomed, would you? People and planets were the same in that regard.

Joan and Clifford had first saved up money for their wedding and then their trip back to Earth to meet the folks. They agreed to not make that the honeymoon. Something seemed wrong doing it that way, like getting a dishwashing machine for Mother’s Day. Honeymoons, like birthday gifts, should be enjoyable, not obligatory. There should be no hint of work involved. Meeting the in-laws was most certainly work.

So here it was, not quite a year after they had exchanged vows in the 24/7 Chapel of All Faiths in Homestead, Arctus 3 that they had made time to show each other off to friends and family back home. They managed to save up enough vacation time to be away for a month  – a week at his folks, a week at hers, and two weeks between to travel all over the country by car and jet rail, letting their eyes soak in all the greens and blues of the Earth before making it back to their new home. It was going to have to be at least a decade before they could return so they decided to make it worth their while.

They had met at that little Chapel, having both come separately to Homestead to seek their fortune. Just like in the gold rush towns of the Wild West, everybody and everyone came, hoping to find their future in this forlorn frontier. There wasn’t gold here, of course. People had gotten over their fascination with that meaningless metal three centuries back. It was too soft to build anything with. Sure it was good for electronics, but almost nobody used those gadgets anymore. Well, not anybody worth admitting you knew. Cultured people didn’t fall into that sort of addiction these days. When schoolchildren today were told that kids as young as six had been given smart phones and unlimited access to online games back then, they shook their heads with amazement the same way kids many hundreds of generations back were amazed that cocaine had been in sodas and opium was in over-the-counter preparations for malaise.

The Chapel had been the first place of worship that was built in Homestead by the settlers. It was assumed that other such sites had existed for the indigenous population, but there was no trace now, so they couldn’t be sure. The entire planet resembled one huge abandoned house where everyone had suddenly left one Saturday afternoon just after lunch. Dishes were in the drying rack, food was in the pantry, and clothes and suitcases were still in the closet. It appeared that they had all just walked away for a stroll and simply never came back.

There was no majority faith tradition represented with the settlers, and in an effort to foster a harmony which had been elusive on Earth and other planets, they chose to pool their resources and create one building for those of all faith traditions. Sometimes they had group worship events, and sometimes they met separately such as the Muslims on Friday, the Jews on Saturdays, and most Christians on Sundays, for instance. The rest of the week the place was a hub of activity for all the faiths to practice the tenants they all held dear – a food kitchen for the hungry, a clothes bank for the needy, and a center of learning, sharing, and understanding for all. It was not uncommon to find children of every tradition playing together outside in the 40 acre park the Chapel had chosen when the settlers had agreed upon a building site. Only 1 acre was allowed for buildings – the rest was to be perpetually preserved as a nature sanctuary. The pagans, Wiccans, and atheists were especially pleased by this. There was also a farm on that one acre, where the Chapel grew its own food.

It had been difficult at first for the settlers. Nothing grew on Arctus 3 that they were used to. They had brought seeds and starter plants from Earth to produce their own food, but none of it would grow in the acidic soil or under the glare of the red giant star at the center of that solar system. Arctus made all plant life on its now third planet appear in reds, pinks, and oranges, with magentas and deep purples making an appearance in what passed for its autumn season. The settlers resorted to eating their travel rations a few weeks longer than they intended until the survey team’s scientists could analyze the local flora to determine if it would be safe for humans to consume. While it was safe, on the whole it wasn’t very palatable. Most vegetables had the taste and texture of cardboard or Styrofoam, at least for the first month of consumption. After then, either you got used to it, or enough of it was in you that it changed you so that it actually started to taste good. Nobody was really sure what was the truth.

The philosophers thought that it was a defense mechanism of the planet, to keep the local produce from being consumed. Who would want to stay in a place where the food was terrible? It was as if the planet was trying to keep travelers away, showing its inhospitable side. Perhaps it was like parents who downsized after children moved out, hoping that they’d never come back to stay, or even visit for very long.

But something changed after a month of eating the  indigenous food. It was as if the people themselves changed, transformed. Perhaps it was that they became part of the environment, so that it no longer seemed foreign, because they were no longer foreign. Return visits back to their home planets then became difficult. If away from Arctus 3 for more than a week they had to undergo the acclimatization process all over again.

Most settlers saw their trip to Arctus 3 as one way. Not just because of the food issue or the distance and cost to get there. It was a chance to start over with a clean slate. The majority had felt out of place on their home planets, so felt no need to go back. They’d shaken the dust off their feet from those who persisted with their perverse cravings for anything and everything that caused them to feel unwell in body, mind, and spirit.

Joan had come to help start up the postal system here, while Clifford was a language teacher. They’d met because of the natural overlap of their professions. Clifford often had his students practice their letter writing skills by sending letters to people within Homestead or in any of the other nearby settlements. With so many people moving here from all over the galaxy, they all had to work hard on learning three different languages so they could make themselves understood. The founders had modeled this after the state of Israel that overcame the polyglot cacophony it experienced upon the rapid settlement of so many Jews from all over Europe after the last World War by teaching everyone a language none of that generation had ever used for communication before. Hebrew had been an everyday language for thousands of years, but after the Diaspora, it had only been used for worship.

In a similar way, everyone who immigrated to Arctus 3 had to learn Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic. They were allowed (and in fact encouraged) to learn at least two other languages. It was very common to hear people speaking blends of these languages – words, syntax, or idioms – to get across their meaning. Sometimes one language simply doesn’t have enough words to express how you feel. Sometimes the other person hasn’t learned the word you want to use. There had been an attempt to create a whole separate language to fill the communication needs of so many people from so many different places. In the end it was decided that too much time would have been wasted trying to develop it. The need for communication was immediate, and this patchwork of languages actually had a sort of charm to it.

The postal system was a real necessity here, as it was how people communicated when not in person. The founders of the settlement had decided to forgo electronic technology of all sorts to create community. They learned from the collapse of society in 21st-century America. Everyone spent so much time interacting with electronic devices than each other that they forgot how to live as human beings. The devices no longer served, but enslaved. Their children preferred to text their conversations rather than talk with each other. Not only did conversation skills degenerate, literacy became nonexistent. Spelling was arbitrary, and nobody had the patience or desire to read anything that took longer than 30 seconds or didn’t have animations or sound effects.

There were telephones on Arctus 3, of course. They were voice only – no 3D hologram viddies here – and for emergency use only. If you wanted to meet up with someone, it involved making an appointment or waiting for a letter to get to them and their reply back.

It took a bit of adjusting to this vastly slower pace, but all the settlers knew what awaited them here. It wasn’t a surprise, but a welcome relief from the hullabaloo of what they were escaping from. Within a month, every settler’s blood pressure returned to normal and their stress dropped off to nothing, because there was no longer the need to keep pretending that life operated at such a frenetic pace.

There were no mental health facilities on Arctus 3. There was no need. After the initial disorienting acclimation, the planet’s pace coupled with the intentional and mindful choices of the settlers eased out any reason for stress.

Joan was still concerned. Stripping life down to the bare bones was part of the appeal of Homestead, but Clifford’s parents were at the extreme. Perhaps this was the draw for him. He was raised in an environment much like Homestead before anyone had even thought of it. It wasn’t a stretch for him to adjust to the vastly slower pace there, because “there” was a lot like his “then”. However, this was going too far. Perhaps he was going to become an extremist, refusing to buy anything other than the bare necessities. Those people existed on Homestead, but nobody really talked about it. Most figured it was a self-righting phase, where they careened from one extreme to another and eventually found equilibrium.

Sure, Clifford tolerated her dabbling with art now, but would that hold true a decade from now? She liked to do art-crafts which were seen by some as not suitable for a woman since the revolution in the mid 20th century. Women had risen up and declared themselves free from all feminine things, no longer relegated to playing with dolls and toy kitchen sets as children, no longer expected to be teachers or nurses and not inventors or doctors. No, all traditional female roles were abandoned and that supposed liberation. The only problem was that everything turned upside down. No longer would girls be mocked for playing with trucks. Instead they were mocked for wearing makeup and wanting to shave their legs. No longer were women discouraged from being engineers or architects. Instead they were discouraged from wanting to be housewives. The pendulum went too far, and it had never really come back.

Joan did her needlepoint in secret, just like her mother did, and just like her mother did. She painted openly, as that was one of the few arts still allowed to women, seen as non-gender specific. She even had half a dozen of her paintings on display for sale in the Homestead town hall. They were unofficially for sale, with no prices posted but given out upon request. On the surface it looked a bit like an art museum, but in reality it worked like a consignment shop. The fact that everything was for sale was one of the worst kept secrets there, but it amused everyone to keep up the façade.

But if things went the way she feared, she’d soon have to quit painting. Was her new husband just biding his time before he told her how he really felt? Was he already upset about her art? She suddenly realized that he would only allow three of her paintings on the walls of their small apartment. He said that any more would be clutter, so she’d taken to rotating them out. Some she sold. Some she gave away as presents. At one point when money was tight she even painted over a few of them because she had new ideas but no new canvases. She thought that one day when she was famous, someone could scan these canvases and recover the older work.

And then she thought more about it. Wasn’t that what she was doing now, with herself? Painting over who she was?

She had to figure something out, and soon, or otherwise she’d disappear, just like those paintings. She thought more about it and realized that she’d treated her paintings with the same attention and care she’d shown to herself, which sadly wasn’t much. Giving away her paintings was like giving away herself. Even selling them was bad because she always set the prices very low; sometimes it was just the cost of the materials. She’d always justified it to herself saying she was just a beginner even though she’d made art for at least a dozen years.

Then she thought more about it. There were plenty of people who commanded very high prices for art that she saw as less sophisticated, less skilled than hers. She remembered hearing about an artist in America in the 20th century who simply threw paint at the canvas and charged many thousands of dollars for it. It was time for her to start asking and expecting more.

Clifford wouldn’t like it, she was sure, but there was no reason she should always be the uncomfortable one. Ideally they’d both be happy, but happiness always comes with compromise. For too long, Joan felt she was always the one who had to move when push came to shove. She was forever making peace by letting others have their way.

This was why she started painting so many years ago. She could express herself without ruffling any feathers. It was as if everyone was speaking English and she decided to speak Welsh. They’d never know if she was agreeing with them or not. The sad part is that they never even noticed she wasn’t communicating either, not really. Once she had decided to be silent for a week as a test. Her family never even asked her if anything was wrong. They were so used to overlooking her that she was the only one who noticed that the week was different.

She’d hoped things would be different when she married, like starting fresh with a clean canvas. They could paint whatever picture they wanted together. The trouble was that she’d not realized that just because the other person is different, you are still the same. No matter where you go, there you are.

Divorce wasn’t an option on Arctus 3. When you married here, you married for life. This wasn’t a religious decree, because all religions had gotten out of the marriage business centuries back. Rather than being expected by law to marry couples whose values didn’t align with theirs, they all relinquished performing marriages to the government, who was happy to marry anyone over the age of 21 who had enough money for the fee.

To avoid the unpleasantness associated with divorce (sadly just as likely if you had married in a church) the government  insisted on a six month long premarital counseling course, which necessitated a psych evaluation, credit check, three letters of reference, criminal background check, and an extensive class on parenting skills. If the government and the couple agreed that marriage was a good option after all of this they sealed the deal in a simple no-fault ceremony that was a binding contract. Sure, some still got married in a religious building, for old time’s sake or to appease their more parents, but the former grand fetes were a thing of the past, now forbidden by sumptuary laws.

Rather than poor couples feeling left out, or middle-class couples going into debt to prove they weren’t poor, everybody’s wedding looked more or less the same. It made things saner.  Couples had more money to start their new lives with, rather than starting out in debt.

Even death was equalized. Once people saw how freeing it was to not have to keep up with the Jonesevitches when it came to paying for a wedding, they started to look at everything differently. Religion got out of the burying business shortly after they got out of the marrying business. The councils started to regulate the funeral industry and immediately started to question the wild and extravagant expenses that it had insisted upon. With the monopoly crushed, people finally had real choices.

Weddings and funerals are more closely connected than most people realize. Both services are about 20 minutes long. What you are in is inordinately more costly than the length of time it is seen. Why should a wedding dress or a coffin cost a year’s salary, when both are viewed for at most an hour, and then never seen again?

The ground was too hard for burial on Arctus 3 so nobody got buried there anyway. Some practiced Tibetan or Zoroastrian style “air burial”, leaving the body for the wild animals to consume. Some built funeral pyres and set their loved ones bodies ablaze. Nobody suffered under the delusion that the body was going to be used again. In most cases that would have been a horror beyond mentioning, what with how they died. Who wants to resurrect with a body eaten up by disease or decay, or one mutilated by accident or war?

Part of getting married here was filling out a will and writing down funeral plans and setting up a savings account. Nothing was left to chance. Far too many in the past had said they’ll “do it later” – and later came sooner than they’d realized. They thought that by postponing making funeral plans for themselves, they were postponing death itself. Making each partner fill out these forms was another method of weeding out those who were not quite ready to marry. What with the extreme difficulty in getting a divorce, it was important to do this right. Sometimes another year of waiting was enough to allow one or both partners to mature. Sometimes it allowed an opportunity to reflect upon the pairing and decide if it was really viable. Sometimes what seems like forever at 23 looks like “what was I thinking” at 43.

(Background information – I have a collection of pictures from my grandparent’s old house and from the house I grew up in. I have been going through them and using them as journal prompts to work on my past, to dig up the roots and examine them. This is a very hard but important process and essential to my healing. I do not post those writings, as they are too personal, too visceral, too intimate. I was going to do that with this picture, but I started to wonder why I felt it was OK for me to make up fictional stories about pictures that I had no information on, but I felt that I had to write truth about pictures of places or people I knew. So this time I started to write a story instead. This picture is the front door of my paternal grandparents’ house, seen from the inside. The photo was taken by a realtor many years after it had been sold by my family after my grandparents had died/gone to a nursing home).

I broke up the story into small parts. I started writing it on vacation and did not realize it was going to be so long. I had to skip ahead pages to keep writing, as I wanted to write down other things from the trip as well.

Six categories – story

Jamilla and Dante’s podcraft was hurtling towards the surface of the planet at an unhealthy rate. Their honeymoon was about to be cut short due to a terminal case of gravity. Little did they know that they had a lot more detective work to do. They simply thought they were about to provide a lot more work for their office.
They had headed to Altair 5 as a cover anyway. Too many other podcrafts had gone down unexpectedly in the past month to be a coincidence. They knew from their many years of working for the office of Judge Jones Malone that sometimes the best way to solve a crime was to become part of it.
They were peacekeepers, both of them, but they were also in love. Dante had noticed Jamilla first. She’d sashayed into Judge Malone’s office that dusty August afternoon, plaspapers in hand, looking for a job as a detective. Her mechanical horse Rusty Nut was tethered up just outside, refueling at the energy trough. Dante thought she sure filled out her crimson chaps well. The fringe swayed in a way that made him look at her a bit longer than he thought he was supposed to.
But there wasn’t time for such memories now. The planet that they had looked forward to spending some quality time on was coming up far faster than they liked, and there wasn’t anybody else on board to help. It was up to them.
And the angels.
In the middle of the cramped podcraft, filled with everything they’d need for a vacation that also was a cover for an investigation, Jamilla put her hands together. She prayed like she always prayed, out loud, unscripted. She prayed to God, the Creator, the Source of all. She prayed to the same God who parted the sea so the Israelites could escape from their enemies. Even though there was no sea this time, the danger was the same. She had no idea what God could do in this situation, but she knew that God could do anything, and hey, it couldn’t hurt to ask.
And the angels came, four hundred of them strong. They came out of nowhere and they surrounded the craft, lifting, buoying it up. Some of them held it on their winged shoulders. Some of them fluttered their wings nearby to keep the ship cool from the reentry. They came, gloriously, triumphantly, majestically.
They were invisible as always to everybody but Jamilla. She could see them from the podcraft’s port window, crowding together. The spaceport tower controllers were oblivious to what was going on. They just thought that the ship had suddenly righted itself. All they knew was that they were going to have a lot less paperwork to fill out now.
(This is what happened when I tried to combine as many categories as I could. I ended up with African American, Mystery, Romance, Christian, Western, and Science Fiction. If you tried to put all those stickers on the spine of one book, you’d never see the author or title. )

Sci-Fi Girls

There aren’t a lot of women in science fiction and fantasy books. When there are women they generally need to be rescued. They are passive. They are helpless. They are there to make the hero look necessary. They are there for the hero to show he is a hero.

Maybe this is why so few women read science fiction and fantasy. People like to see themselves in what they read. If you want to learn about someone’s character or his opinion of himself, ask him about his favorite book or movie. The main character in that book is who he identifies with. Either he thinks he is like that person, or he would like to be like that person.

For full disclosure, I really like “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Hobbit”. The main character in both finds her/him-self in a strange land with no idea how to navigate it. There are some accessory characters, but the main character is the one who finds the way through the land and solves the problem essentially alone. Make of that what you will.

It is hard to want to identify with a lot of women in science fiction and fantasy, which Neil Gaiman renames “speculative fiction”. For simplicity, I’m just going to shorten it to S/F. Like regular fiction, women generally don’t have strong roles. Just like in standard romance books, women are passive agents. They are there for a man to rescue them. In non S/F romances, women need a man to rescue them from being single. In S/F books, whether they are romances or not, women still need men to rescue them, but it is usually from some monster or alien terrain.

Perhaps the two are the same. Perhaps women are being taught that being single is scary, and on par with being attacked by monsters and having to forage food for yourself out on some planet with three suns and a strange idea of gravity.

When I started reading S/F, I got into it because of Madeline L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time” series and Anne McCaffrey’s “Pern” series. These books featured strong characters of both genders. Nobody needed to be rescued. The female and male characters were both quite competent and worked together to solve whatever adversity was presented to them. I’m not sure if these books shaped my views on gender equality, or if I sought them out because they agreed with my already-established views.

But look at the big S/F series. Star Wars. Dune. Harry Potter. There are very few female characters. They are sometimes competent, but they are overshadowed by the men.

I like reading Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” series a lot. There are an equal amount of strong characters. Nobody needs to be rescued. Granny Weatherwax is just as competent as Commander Sam Vimes, and just as respected. Both are very capable in their fields.

Perhaps this is why there are few women who go to S/F conventions and go into comic book stores. The numbers are changing, but when I first started going to conventions it wasn’t a safe place to be female. There were a lot of socially awkward guys. The stereotype of S/F geek guy has to come from somewhere. Sadly, it was true, a lot. They would wear all black. They would talk about themselves a lot. They would smell a little funky. They spent a lot of time identifying with a hero that rescued the girl.

They simply didn’t know what to do with a woman who didn’t need to be rescued.