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?

Spiritual fiction

A short list of fantasy / science fiction / speculative fiction where faith is a major element.

Bowker, Richard – Forbidden Sanctuary
Cogswell, Theodore – Spock, Messiah!
Del Rey, Lester – The Eleventh Commandment
Easton, M. Coleman – Iskiir
Elgin, Suzette Haden – Star Anchored, Star Angered
Farmer, Philip Jose – The Stone God Awakens
Foster, Alan Dean – Cyber Way
Grabien, Deborah – Plainsong
Kemelman, Harry – Friday the Rabbi Slept Late
L’Engle, Madeleine – The Wrinkle in Time series

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.