Genre literature has power. Mainstream science fiction, historically, has a representation problem. (Why are there no black people in the future? Or, better yet, why is there only one black person in the future?! Did LGBTQ people disappear, too?) Where does that leave us? When I see a white-dominated cast in a sci-fi movie, or read a novel laced with not-so-subtle homophobia, it’s hard for me to believe that our imaginations cannot see beyond the basic power structures influencing our lives today and create something new. That’s why I’m intrigued by African sci-fi and Afrofuturism. I’ve included essays about women in sci-fi, as well as queer representation in the genre, because it’s a thrill to see traditionally marginalized groups take on a genre that has so much to offer them. Sci-fi should be for everyone.
1. “Women Rise in Sci Fi (Again).” (Rose Eveleth, The Atlantic, November 2014)
Women have been writing sci-fi for hundreds of years. Maybe you haven’t been paying attention.
2. “Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing.” (Daniel José Older, BuzzFeed Books, August 2014)
Writers of color are prevalent, and their books will sell, despite what White Publishing tells them. How? As Daniel José Older puts it in this phenomenal essay, “The question industry professionals need to ask themselves is: ‘How can I use my position to help create a literary world that is diverse, equitable, and doesn’t just represent the same segment of society it always has since its inception? What concrete actions can I take to make actual change and move beyond the tired conversation we’ve been having for decades?’… It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines.”
3. “The Future of Gender is the Present for Trans* Characters in SciFi Novels.” (Cheryl Morgan, Autostraddle, April 2013)
Cheryl Morgan analyzes the varied treatment of non-binary people in contemporary sci-fi. While most sci-fi writers operate within a world in which one sex is dominant, several authors have sought to go beyond that paradigm and explore societies that value and even prefer non-binary individuals. Morgan is extremely well-versed in sci-fi, which makes this piece immensely readable; she is a talented author, publisher and podcaster in her own right.
4. “Dismantling the Echo Chamber: On African SF.” (Andrea Hairston, LARB, January 2014)
This essay is technically a review of Paradoxa: Africa SF, an anthology of literary criticism about the purpose, potential and pratfalls of African science fiction; Andrea Hairston’s gripping essay is a wonderful introduction to African science fiction and speculative fiction. She explains that the genre—consciously or unconsciously—seeks to dismantle systematic oppression. Hairston avoids the meandering language of dense academic theory, though she is an academic, but she never panders to the reader. One of my favorite lines: “Black to the future was/is a radical, dangerous, and daring dream—an impossibility. Science fiction and fantasy (sf&f) is a rehearsal of the impossible, an ideal realm for redefinition and reinvention. For Africans and their descendants in the diaspora, decolonizing our mind/body/spirits was/is an on-going sf&f project. Freedom is a Magic If.”
5. “Science Fiction’s Queer Problem.” (Oliver Keane, Medium, July 2013)
Often, queer relationships are written off as too controversial or even boring for sci-fi’s perceived audience of straight white dudes. While I’m not sure it’s the reader’s responsibility to pressure network execs or publishing houses to include more LGBTQ representation, as Oliver Keane suggests, he makes several articulate points about the dearth of diversity in the “future,” using Star Trek: The Next Generation and other popular television shows as examples.
6. “Interview with Ytasha Womack on Afrofuturism and the World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy.” (Alley Pezanoski, Bitch, November 2013)
From Michael Jackson to African mythology, “Afrofuturism is vast,” and frankly fascinating. If you’re “a musician, a deejay, an installation artist, a comics illustrator, a writer, a theorist, an activist, a history buff, an educator, a cosplay lover, a scientist, a science fiction fan, or … one who cares about their communities,” then there’s a chapter in Ytasha Womack’s Afrofuturism for you.
P.S. Looking for gifts to give to your friends? Check out Five Black Sci-Fi Writers You Should Know, courtesy of Bitch, and present your friends with excellent books. (Actually, you might want to open your Goodreads account while you read each of these essays, because they’re full of recommendations.)