I am a writer of multicultural science fiction and fantasy. When you read my work, you will find a variety of heroes and villains in all shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs, species, genomes, families and phyla. I will employ machines, aliens, bacteria, creatures on the edge of life as we know it, because I believe science fiction should promote ideas. It should address the realm of possibilities. It should question the nature of existence, the fundamental underpinnings of reality as a whole.
When I look at what is being written today, it is design to promote a particular point of view. It is meant to appeal to marketing demographics, it is designed to support and build a market share. It may or may not have new ideas, it may or may not recycle well-worn, well-used tropes. Those are inconsequential to me. Not because I don’t want to sell books. I do. What I believe is the essence of science fiction is to question the status quo. That is where books like Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-four came from. When science fiction has fallen to being a tool of major media, it has fallen very low, when once upon a time, science fiction was one of the greatest forms of counter-culture out there.
So, what is the role of People of Color in science fiction? I have written on this idea before. We have to teach our children how to be storytellers and I still believe we can create a new group of writers, but we have to inspire them early. Our role is the same as anyone who is creating science fiction today. To tell moving, fascinating, mind-expanding, society-questioning, sometimes traumatizing tales of wonder. If you leave a story and it does not make you think, does not make you yearn for a visit to that world or repel you as a world you never ever want to wake up and find yourself in, it did not do its job. And if you should find yourself in a world of your nightmare, would you even recognize it? That is the role of science fiction and it doesn’t matter who is telling that story.
Unless it does.
Such a contrary statement deserves an explanation. Let me put on my other hat. Science and business have come to a conclusion about the nature of successful organisms and successful businesses. An idea that disturbed the very foundation of both science and society.
Diversity is good for nature and for business. In plants and animals, sexual reproduction came about as a way of diversifying genetic materials to allow for greater diversity. Such diversity was necessary to prevent a disease or pathogen from destroying a plant or animal whose genes were the same as their previous generations. Plants or animals that reproduce asexually by budding, for example, have the same genes as their parent organism. And their grandparent, etcetera. This means all it takes is one disease that focuses on the genetic material of that species and it is extinct. Sexually transmitted characteristics, derived by members of a species whose living conditions may have varied significantly offer a wider array of potential characteristics which may allow greater diversity of the species and resistance to a pathogen.
Big business has resisted diversity, promoting the idea of homo-social development being the best thing for organizations. The idea that an organization founded and maintained by people who share cultural characteristics has been a mainstay of big business for nearly one hundred years. Homo-social organizations were supposed to be more effective, more teamwork oriented, and more productive than any other kind of business model.
Until it was proven that it wasn’t.
It has now been shown that big businesses that use the homo-social model lack the ability to change their minds about a particular thing, lack the ability to promote useful and productive conflict, and lack a diversity of thought brought about by living and growing up in diverse cultural experiences. Organizations that harness diversity have been proven to be more agile, more adaptable, more innovative and ultimately more effective.
Science fiction is unfortunately a homo-social type of genre. It has been primarily promoted by, directed by, lead by, and consumed by mostly White men. As a result, the protagonist of such works have been White men. These Alpha males have strode across continents (Tarzan, Doc Savage), traveled though exotic realms, (Neutron Star, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea) mastered weapons (The Shadow, The Destroyer), conquered alien worlds (Man Plus, Star Wars), bedded exotic females of dozens of worlds (Star Trek), destroyed worlds, and crossed galaxies (The Lensmen), rewritten entire universes (Saga of the Well World) and mastered forces including Time itself (The Time Machine). It so prevalent a meme, that it is almost impossible for anyone to believe in a thing a White man can’t do.
And that is the power of Myth. It is designed to make you believe in something larger than you. And this is where People of Color need to step up.
Our myths have been relegated to the back burners of history. Their shadows make an appearance in modern mythologies: Gilgamesh, Tiamat, Hercules, King Solomon, Babylon, Chichen Itza, the Dogon, Ra, Osirus, but the sources are always obscured, their gift to modern stories are always hidden away.
John of Salisbury wrote a treatise on logic called Metalogicon, written in Latin in 1159. He used a phrase that has been adapted and modified and because of its wisdom we use it today. It applies with our contributions to science fiction even before it existed. We helped to create the science and the fiction that has stood the test of time and those ideas contribute to the science fiction mythos even now.
He said: “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”
I do not believe that we have any particular need to prove ourselves in this genre of writing. We have an obligation, however to contribute to the creation of mythic ideas, both scientific and fictional, that our children can look at and say, I want to be a warrior of wisdom like Dillon, black mercenary soldier of fortune created by Derrick Ferguson. I want them to say, I want to be an explorer like Changa of Milton Davis’ Changa’s Safari. I want them to be able to say these things and have them impart the same meaning that it does when a kid says, I want to grow up and be Captain Kirk and you know what he means when he says it. No, not that part. The other part: the explorer, the traveler, the leader of men and women in an future we all hoped would come true, but at the moment doesn’t look promising.
We want to create myths, not just stories. We want to alter reality in a way that once done, no one can remember what went before. All they remember is, it was less than we have now.
Part of a series of essays on: The State of Black Science Fiction
Thaddeus Howze Atreides
with her partner and five dogs. She is one of the Poetic Muselings. Their poetry anthology, Lifelines http://tinyurl.com/LifelinesPoetry/is available from Amazon.com Her book, “Relocated,” will be available from MuseItUp Publishing in July, 2012. The Angry Little Boy,” will be published by 4RV publishing in early 2013. You may visit her website, http://www.margaretfieland.com.
Love this site. I am so happy to know Octavia Butler lives!!!!!!!!!!
Your point about SF’s role questioning the status quo is very good. I would maybe add a note about the “New Wave” writers back in the 60s and 70s, who also felt very strongly about this. Their goal was to break the rules, and establish SF on par with literature. Some of it truly is. However, I’d say Star Wars/Trek and the bulk of what’s published today focuses on profits. It’s a shame.
Your point about the current state of a lot of sci fi is well taken — and that is part of the reason I stopped reading much of it in the past ten years or so. We owe it to ourselves and others to promote voices of genuine diversity, voices that will make us think and see the world in new ways. The sci fi I read growing up — from age 10, which was in 1956 — in my teens and twenties — was truly amazing, and remains so today. Sci fi/fantasy wasn’t big business then, and I believe it left more room for publishers to take a chance on writers who might not have been expected to have mass appeal.
Oh, yes… Derrick’s character – Dillion is cool. And he’s a cool brother as well.