What should black science fiction look like?

Does it look like this…? Image Credit: Chronicles of Harriet.com “Aquanauts”


I ask the question only because I do wonder.

As someone who has been a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy and horror ever since I was old enough to turn a page (and keep the light on), I never even considered the fact as a kid that there were hardly ever – as in never – any black characters in all those books I was reading about life on other planets and in other dimensions. Whether it was H.G. Wells, Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, or (insert just about any other sci fi author here), I was way too caught up in the story to even give it much thought. Plus I was raised in (very white) Denver, and not exactly on the black side of town, so I didn’t always notice certain things that perhaps I should have.

But as I got older and my life began to extend beyond the bubble to the denser areas of the forest where the thorns of real life specialize in drawing blood, my eyes were gradually forced open. Kind of like the guy from that one really strange scene in “A Clockwork Orange.” Well, OK, I know. There were a lot of really strange scenes in Clockwork, but I think you know the one I’m talking about. Yeah. This one.

Certainly not this…

When I was child I read sci fi as a child, but when I grew up, I still read sci fi like a child, only a child who had spent more time out of doors.

I still love Heinlein, Wells, and all the guys. But seeing the addition of Walter Moseley, Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, and so many others to the ranks of dark-skinned star travelers has been to see science fiction living up to – and growing into – its full potential as a genre. The best of early (well-known) science fiction and fantasy, from Star Trek and the Twilight Zone and beyond, has frequently tackled issues about the ‘other’. Strained race relations and discrimination were always hinted at, but you had to pay attention. But if you go back to the 1800s, there were actually African American writers directly tackling the problem through science fiction. Check this out from Wikipedia:

In 1859, Martin Delany (1812–1885), one of the foremost U.S. black political leaders, began publishing Blake, or the Huts of America as a serial in the Anglo-American Magazine. The subject of the novel is a successful slave revolt in the Southern states and the founding of a new black country in Cuba. Samuel R. Delany described it as “about as close to an SF-style alternate history novel as you can get.”[2] The serialization ended prematurely, but the entire novel was eventually published in serial form in the Weekly Anglo-African, in weekly installments from November 1861 to May 1862.[3]

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932) was a noted writer of folkloric hoodoo stories. His collection The Conjure Woman (1899) is the first known speculative fiction collection written by a person of color. The 1892 novel Iola Leroy by Frances Harper (1825–1911), the leading black woman poet of the 19th century, has been described as the first piece of African-American utopian fiction on account of its vision of a peaceful and equal polity of men and women, whites and former slaves. In contrast, the 1899 novel Imperium in Imperio by Sutton Griggs (1872–1933) ends with preparations for a violent takeover of Texas for African Americans by a secret black government.[2]

Looks like we’ve been walking among the stars for quite awhile. Makes me feel right at home there…

This is being cross-posted in Detroit Ink Publishing



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About the author
Writer and musician.



2015-02-28 05:58:21 Reply

retro-future history? MLK and MX could have read it.

Black Man’s Burden (1961) by Mack Reynolds

Border, Breed Nor Birth (1963) by Mack Reynolds

salim washington

2015-02-28 12:37:58 Reply

yeah, man, i am with you. i think Octavia Butler is my favorite. I believe I have read everything she has published, but in some ways perhaps Sam Delaney is the more accomplished writer. I ended up writing an article on his use of music in science fiction (along with Henry Dumas). And then there’s Kieth Owens…


    2015-02-28 20:40:45 Reply

    Hey Salim! Thanks for checking in and for your comments. So who’s this Keith Owens guy…?


2015-02-28 21:44:36 Reply

How much SCIENCE is in the works of Butler and Delaney? How many sci-fi readers care about science these days? It was probably Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust that made me choose electrical engineering for college than any other single book.


    2015-02-28 22:17:27 Reply

    I definitely understand your point, to be sure. I would argue, however, that there are more subgenres in science fiction now than there used to be. While some are extremely opposed to this, I think it has opened scoff up and strengthened the genre as a whole. Plus there are still the hardcore science fiction writers who continue to adhere to a science-heavy criteria in their stories. I guess I’m saying I don’t think a writer of scoff should have to have an advanced degree in science to write a good science fiction tale. Stories like HG Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau” come to mind. One of my favorite scoff books of all time, this was based more in Wells’ imagination than anywhere else. Same with Jules Verne.

    Anyway, my thoughts. Thanks for stopping by.


2015-02-28 23:17:40 Reply

Jules Verne did not think much of H. G. Wells:



Wells may have gotten the science completely wrong but he was the first to come up with “Atomic Bomb”. Would the consequences have been much different if the bomb really worked the way Wells said.

My point is that technology does work in certain ways. And the future of society depends on what we collectively do with that technology. If people don’t know it then they will be screwed by the people who do.

The history of the last 500 years is a record of who had the technology and who didn’t. If my gamma ray laser has more range and accuracy than someone’s machine gun then what do I care if he is a racist? Making science interesting is useful in itself. The schools run by these palefaces can make the most interesting things totally boring.

But back in the 60s and 70s the wealthiest people in the country could not have bought the computing power we have now. So why can’t we use these computers for educational purposes and ignore the sabotaged schools? What books do Black teachers suggest to Black kids?

A couple of weeks ago I asked a Black high school math teacher what causes winter and summer. He got it wrong.


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