Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Blackness (or "Lackness") of Space

Many people have questioned why I, a black man, picked science fiction as a genre to ply my writing talents.

After all, in the long history of science fiction from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells up to the likes of David Weber, you can count the major black science fiction writers on one hand.

In fact, let’s try it:

1)     GeorgeSchuyler 
2)     Samuel R.Delany 
3)     Octavia Butler  
4)     Steven Barnes 
5)     John Faucette 

Note: Nos. 1, 3 and 5 are dead.

You can throw in a few more names that have dabbled in science fiction once or twice or are trying to get into the game such as Tananarive Due (Barnes’ wife); Walter Mosley, who took time off from Easy Rawlins to pen Futureland and The Wave; comic book writer Kevin Grevioux; Nnedi Okorafor; Billy Dee Williams, and, of course, yours truly.

When you see such a short list, it makes you wonder why any self-respecting African-American would take up anything in this genre. Maybe because being tossed a bone called Lando Calrissian wasn’t enough. Or maybe because I’m still pissed that all the black guys who survived Lucifer’s Hammer became marauding cannibals (except the one token black guy among the heroic white people). Ironically, Barnes got his start by co-writing with that novel’s authors.

Anyway, I write in the genre because I like it. Yeah, it’s racist at times and sometimes just plain vanilla (like NASA until Guion Bluford came along). But, it has its merits and appeal.

That was all that was needed for an eager 10-year old kid who took to writing because of the schlock movies on Creature Double Feature. Writing turned out to be tougher than I thought, as evidenced by this exciting dialogue: “Left right rudder! Left right rudder, aye, sir!” (that might have been the day I mixed Pop Rocks and pixie sticks with Coca-Cola and Tang).

Thank goodness for the grand masters of the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

When I first went to the West Medford (Mass.) Public Library in my elementary school years, I started reading hot rod books and mysteries. You see, we had yearly fundraisers to battle muscular dystrophy by getting people to sponsor us for each book we read. I usually averaged 30-35 books during the read-a-thon. (By the way, every kid participated and their parents helped out).

After tiring of the juvenile delinquent hot rod books, I wanted something new and Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel fit the bill. The cover art caught my eye (future writers, please pay attention to your cover art).

Once I read the book, it blew me away. I had to get more and, when West Medford public library couldn’t help me, I hoofed it five miles to the main Medford public library. I got what I needed -- Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard, Lester Del Rey, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, A.E. Van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson.

Science fiction stimulates my creative nature. I’ve got all these fantastic ideas in my head. Some of them are probably crazy but it’s my job as a science fiction writer to put these ideas out to the public.

Many of society’s most useful inventions came from the minds of science fiction writers. Here’s a brief list of inventions from science fiction stories that became reality: Water beds, mobile phones, iPads/tablets, teleconferencing, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, robots, TV newscasts, satellites, automatic doors, escalators, lasers, tasers, voicemail, the Internet, radar, and nuclear weapons.

A flying pinto? Really?
Much better.
Heck, we even have flying cars now.

And science fiction has been a great predictor of the future. George Orwell might have been off by about two decades but is there anyone who doesn’t think we’ve entered the age of Big Brother, with the Patriot Act, legal invasions of privacy, hacking, wiretaps and security cameras everywhere?

Considering the hate dominating the comments section of Yahoo! news, someone has to predict a brighter future.

I’d like to contribute to this illustrious list of inventions and predictions. And someone needs to remind readers that black people do exist in the science fiction world. We have made a significant contribution to American society. Without us, there might be no traffic lights, gas masks, plasma, subways or farm equipment. I have no doubt that African-Americans can contribute to the future as well.

That means someone has to insert that voice into the future.

God willing and the river don’t rise (any higher), I’ll do just that.


  1. If a story needs telling, does it really matter who tells it? I would never let race ruin a good read. You're just depriving yourself otherwise. Congratulations on your achievements so far...

  2. Thanks for commenting. I agree, but you have to admit that life does intrude upon everything we do. For example, in the science fiction classic "Forbidden Planet" (with Leslie Nielsen of all people), the cruiser is in the 23rd century yet has an all-white crew. Why? Because producers did not want to offend audiences in pre-Civil Rights America by implying that Anne Francis lusted after minorities.

    Even the original "Star Trek," with its integrated crew still had a ways to go (anyone remember a Latino or Native American regular in the cast? Come to think of it, I don't remember Latinos in "Next Generation" or "Deep Space Nine" either).

    I just want to make sure different voices are heard.