Octavia E. Butler, one of the first African American science fiction authors to attract mainstream literary acclaim and the first writer in this genre to receive the MacArthur Fellowship (or the Genius Grant”), died in 2006 at the age of 58. In 2010 she was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.Today Open Road Integrated Media, Butler’s digital publisher, announced that it will publish two previously unpublished stories by the Hugo and Nebula-Award winning writer as an ebook.
Good news for Octavia Butler fans!
be still my heart
Does sci-fi have a race problem? If you’re The Atlantic, the answer is yes - yesterday, the magazine’s website ran this piece, wherein writer Noah Berlatsky argues that there are essentially four ways in which sci-fi handles race: metaphor, tokenism, diversity, and explicit narrative. It’s ambitious to try to construct a definitive thesis about an entire genre’s handling of race, especially a genre as diverse as sci-fi, and judging by the article’s mammoth comment section, which is basically like 500-plus comments by Roman DeBeers, Berlatsky has touched a nerve. I don’t want to tear him down here, but I do want to note one fundamental flaw in his thesis: it works from the assumption that all sci-fi starts from an essentially white male point of view and then either does or doesn’t address race. The problem with this approach is that it perpetuates the marginalization of sci-fi that doesn’t come from that point of view.
The genre has no problem imagining a future full of spaceships and aliens. A racially integrated society, though?
Here’s an extract from the 1992 documentary, Black Sci-Fi, produced and directed by Terrence Francis for Moonlight Films and broadcast on BBC2 as part of the Birthrights series. The documentary focuses on Black science fiction in literature, film and television and features interviews with Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Mike Sergeant, Steven Barnes and Nichelle Nichols. Three parts are included in this extract. In the first, Octavia Butler discusses “how her interest in science fiction developed and the genre’s potential for exploring new ideas and ways of being”. In the second part, Samuel R. Delany, Mike Sergeant and Steven Barnes discuss “the stereotypical portrayal of black characters in science fiction literature and cinema, including the predictable fate of Paul Winfield in films like Damnation Alley, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and The Terminator“. And in the thirs part, Nichelle Nichols discusses the significance of her character, Uhura, in Star Trek and Steven Barnes and Mike Sergeant consider how attitudes towards race and skin colour might develop in the (far) future.
Believing that tools of self-determination lie within creative practices, The Laundromat Project uses the space of local coin-ops to provide communities of color living on modest incomes with broad access to visual art as a tool of personal and social transformation.
Over the course of several weeks, artists Sukjong Hong & Kameelah Rasheed exchanged email fragments, excerpts and other process notes on time-traveling Harriet Tubman, redaction, productive haunting, chopping and screwing time, the archive as a site of power, and the possibilities of science fiction for marginalized communities.
The term “Afrofuturism” is normally attributed to Mark Dery, coined in an interview with Samuel Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose that appeared in South Atlantic Quarterly in 1993, but even without this term to hand, Mark Sinker was outlining a specifically black sf in the pages of The Wire the year before. To many readers of SFS, Sinker’s pantheon of black sf—which included Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler, as well as Sun Ra, Public Enemy, John Coltrane, Anthony Braxton, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Jimi Hendrix, Afrika Bambaataa, Ishmael Reed, and Earth Wind and Fire—might not sound much like the sf we know. But sf is “a point of cultural departure” for all of these writers and musicians, because “it allows for a series of worst-case futures—of hells-on-Earth and being in them—which are woven into every kind of everyday present reality” (“Loving the Alien”). The “central fact” of the black sf they produce “is an acknowledgement that Apocalypse already happened,” that, in Public Enemy’s words, “Armageddon been in effect.”
Taking in contemporary music and sf, Sinker positions hip-hop in “the grand syncretic tradition of bebop, not ashamed to acknowledge that technological means and initial building material are always simply what falls to hand: but that meaning is nonetheless a matter of energetic and visionary redeployment, not who first owned or made this or that fragment” (“Loving the Alien”). Although cyberpunk has typically been discussed in terms of European avant-garde detournement or Burroughsian cut-up, its parallels and affinities with bebop and hip-hop3 have generally gone unacknowledged. Sinker does more than merely point to this omission, however. Just as Thomas Foster argues that cyberpunk “didn’t so much die as experience a sea change into a more generalized cultural formation” (xiv), so Sinker suggests that the black, urban, proletarian experience central to the development of these musical forms speaks directly to the experience of the global underclass created by the intertwined logics of capital, Empire, and race: more-or-less concomitant with the growth of hip-hop, cyberpunk, the “radical leading edge” of “white SF,” was “arguing that the planet, already turned Black, must embrace rather than resist this [relationship to technology]: that … only ways of technological interaction inherited from the jazz and now the rap avant garde can reintegrate humanity with the runaway machine age.”"
John Akomfrah, director of Seven Songs of Malcolm X, returns with an engaging and searing examination of the hitherto unexplored relationships between Pan-African culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel, and rapidly progressing computer technology.
This cinematic essay posits science fiction (with tropes such as alien abduction, estrangement, and genetic engineering) as a metaphor for the Pan-African experience of forced displacement, cultural alienation, and otherness.
Akomfrah’s analysis is rooted in an exploration of the cultural works of Pan-African artists, such as funkmaster George Clinton and his Mothership Connection, Sun Ra’s use of extraterrestrial iconography, and the very explicit connection drawn between these issues in the writings of black science fiction authors Samuel R. Delaney and Octavia Butler.
Philadelphia public interest attorney, author, and Creative Director of AfroFuturist Affair Rasheedah Phillips speaks about the organization’s upcoming Annual Charity & Costume Ball and Afrofuturism as a medium for social commentary
Check out our interview with The Nobantu Project! The Nobantu Project is a dynamic magazine project highlighting the art and life of the African Diaspora and Africa while exchanging with other stories and experiences from around the globe.
October has been dubbed African American Speculative Fiction Month by a group of online enthusiasts.