Dystopia or Utopia – What’s your poison?

dystopia_by_shadow9020

I wrote an article a few months ago talking about using science fiction for social change and activism, Science Fiction and Social Awareness

Since then I have been reading a number of discussions talking about writers preferring to write dystopias rather than utopias.

David Brin would like to see more positive representations of the future and thinks Utopias need to make a comeback. He is not alone. A number of other famous scientists and science fiction writers are also in agreement about the idea of writing new books where utopias, positive futures where mankind is not only still around but thriving in positive ways as a necessary force to change the future. See: Project Hieroglyph

I know they are necessary but they are difficult to write and I suspect only the most gifted and optimistic writers should try. Here’s my reasoning:

Dystopia and Utopia have the same problem. They are talking about a period where what we know has evolved into what is now the order of things. Why is one more difficult to write than the other?

Utopia: a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions

The term Utopia was invented by Thomas More as the title of his Latin book De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia (circa 1516), known more commonly as Utopia. He created the word “utopia” to suggest two Greek neologisms simultaneously: outopia (no place) and eutopia (good place). More depicts a rationally organised society, through the narration of an explorer who discovers it — Raphael Hythlodaeus. Utopia is a republic where all property is held in common. In addition, it has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbours.

Generally speaking, utopias are generally societies whose author believes either perfect, or as perfect as can be attainable. Ernest Callenbach‘s Ecotopia is a contemporary example. This can cause some confusion, in that some works generally recognized as “utopian”, such as Plato’s Republic, can come across as much less than ideal to a modern reader. They are one of the smaller subsets of political science fiction, possibly because it is difficult to create dramatic tension in a world the author believes is perfect. –Wikipedia, Political ideas in science fiction

nausicaa_by_syntetyc-d582s57

My favorite eco-dystopia: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Dystopia: an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives

Dystopias are societies where the author illustrates the worst that can happen. Usually this encompasses extrapolating trends the author sees as dangerous. During the 20th century many examples were written in reaction to the rise of NazismCommunism and Religious Fundamentalism:

  • Double Helix Fall (1990) by Neil Ferguson portrays an America where a person’s social status is determined by their movements in the womb, an extension of the concept of original sin.

It is important to keep in mind that scenarios which some would describe as dystopic, others would describe as utopian. Norman Spinrad’s novel The Iron Dream was generally recognised to be a dystopian novel, but lauded by neo-Nazis as a utopia. –Wikipedia, Political ideas in science fiction

Janus-dimon21Janus-topia: A utopian society which is actually engaged in abusing and dehumanizing its citizens using social manipulations of one sort or another. (No, its not real, I just made it up to prove a point.) Janus was a two faced deity, looking forward and backward at the same time. I liken a Janus-topia to the idea that a society might be forward-thinking but using repressive, deviant or oppressive means to accomplish its goals rather than the forward sound ideals it may espouse in its public face.

Given these two simplified definitions, it is easy to see why Dystopias outnumber Utopias 10-to-1. Most readers (editors and agents) want stories where the conflict is easy to recognize, can be filled with intrepid adventurers who die at just the appropriate moment to tug at our heartstrings and make us believe we are experiencing a transformative event.

The problem of addressing a Utopia is by definition, it is already a perfect place, where we have to be willing to be patient, walk with the protagonists while they show you the dirty, hidden underbelly of the Utopia, where all is not what it seems. This is by far the harder row-to-hoe because writers are under fire to “show, don’t tell” or my other favorite “exposition is dead/death” so you must find a way to expose people to your Utopia without actually describing it in any detail that might bore our attention-addled readership.

Given these two conditions, there is not a question in my mind why we see Dystopias outnumbering Utopias. The curve to creation isn’t that difficult. Look at modern society, allow it to continue unabated and poof, Dystopia.

Welcome_To_Dystopia_by_crystalRyu

Try that with creating a Utopia, and you have to, by most reader’s perspectives alter the fabric of space-time to reach a place where Humanity, especially as we see it now, doing anything such as curing disease (do we do that anymore? Polio was the last one I can think of) getting rid of hunger worldwide, reversing our position on global climate change, reducing corporate power (is that even possible?) enhancing educational opportunities for everyone, ensuring any form of social parity, correcting enough social ills you would deign to call your world a Utopia.

As far as I can tell, no Utopia has ever survived for the same reason most Dystopias eventually get replaced by something else. Human nature is fickle. If society is actually working, we distrust it, and assume something must be rotten somewhere. If society is failing, human nature dictates at some point we fight back or get ground into the dust.

So the real question is, why aren’t we writing more books about correcting the reason we can’t have Utopias in the first place; the moral, social, mental, cultural, religious, failings of the Human race? If we could fix that, maybe people might believe Utopias, corrupted or otherwise, might be possible enough to write about and worthy enough to read through to see the underlying messages for what they are.

Messages about us and our relationships to each other and the Universe at large. This is where Janus-topias come in. So many of our works that describe utopian societies are actually Janus-topias, two faced worlds where we believe we are living well to find out we are not. Most of our works which postulate a possible Utopia are really Janus-topias.

Utopia is not a place where stories are easily written, by definition, if you made a real Utopia, where would the conflict arise? What we are really hoping for are clever Janus-topias which hide their flaws well, are interesting enough to pay attention to, and when their flaws are revealed, we learn something about ourselves in the process.

Death to Utopia! Not enough happens there.

But the route to Utopia is rife with storytelling possibilities…

cities_of_the_future_by_jonasdero-d5jkvqs

Why does writing a novel always feel like the first time?

4ffa7d27c02a9

BECAUSE IT IS.

Each novel is a completely unique experience, even if you are working with characters you are familiar with and whose histories are known to you. Each time you sit down to create with them, you are creating them three times. Once in your vision of what you want the story to be, that nebulous cloud of potential realities which you hone down to just one or two when you create…

Your outline: the document which coalesces what your protagonists want and how your antagonists work against those goals. How those two or more streams of potential realities come together in a cataclysmic explosion of…

Prose. The final choices you make when you put your pen to paper, finger to keyboard, voice to recorder and create the final work; where the decisions are made, the deeds are done darkly, the antagonist has the upper hand until the protagonist chooses more wisely or has aid from an unexpected source or finds renewal in an emotional moment.

This is a complex and peril-ridden process, filled with emotional anxiety, mostly yours, that it will be good enough to publish, good enough for my agent, good enough for the best-sellers list, good enough to spend my life’s blood on…good enough to spend my only non-renewable resource, TIME in a way to create a monument to a moment in my life.

That is a lot of pressure. So, yes, every time you write a novel, there is a sliver in time and space that shudders until you create and finalize the reality you are thinking about.

Indeed, every time is exactly like the first time, if you are doing it right. It should cause you a bit of fear, but it should also exhilarate you as you part the curtains to another reality and create/share it with the world, a thing that is uniquely…

YOU.

It is easy to feel you are not enough, not strong enough, not good enough, not bold enough. Don’t let that stop you. Remember: Most of what we know in the world today was created by someone who was not an expert in their field. And until the last century, expertise was a relative thing. But most importantly, you have the ability to be as good as you want to be by doing what you think you want.

If you desire to be a writer, then write. Everything else follows the intent of your will.

manifesto4

What do you do to nourish your muse?

My Muse - parsakoira

A bit of consistency is best for a muse and her subject. So I try to start my day at the same time, as early as she can kick me out of bed. If time permits, something to break the fast of the night’s repose, healthy if possible, fruit, cereal or dare I admit to it, the candy of meats, bacon. If I am really lucky, my wife makes one of those banana/fruit/flaxseed/protein powder drinks she loves. When I am unlucky, the recipe includes kale (ugh).

A brisk regimen of blood flowing cardiovascular activity to increase the muse’s serotonin levels boosting creativity. For exercise to truly benefit a muse, it need be a regular thing, a long term gift to both you and your muse. A healthy muse is a wealthy muse. My muse admits to not enjoying regular exercise.

I admit my muse did once have a caffeine habit as the wicked drug can force open the doors of creativity, but the cost was a nervous eye twitch that was quite unbecoming to everyone who knew us. We have now dropped to one cup, in the morning after our exercise and breakfast.

But for a muse to truly be creatively inspiring more than just exercise is needed. A muse thrives on experiences, the more diverse, the better. A muse does not thrive sitting at home watching the telly. No, if anything the telly saps a muse of creativity, exposing it to the idea the blandishments of modern media are to be the accepted form all creativity must take; be safe, be friendly, be predictable, be violent, be dangerous, ensure a happy ending when all is said and done.

As if life were so predictable.

Go outside, meet your neighbors, ride mass transit, yes, mass transit, for a wealth of stories await you if you can simply look, listen, imagine and believe. Driving is a solitary prison disconnecting you from stories not introducing you to them. Jump from a plane, ride a cross continental train, ride a ship, do all of these things, so you might experience the world from a perspective different than yours.

See the night sky at sea. Be amazed at all the stars you didn’t know were there. Introduce yourself to the Milky Way. It will speak back to you. Plummet to the ground at 32 feet per second, per second, feel you heart rise into your mouth, know fear. Makes your writing about it more real. Go to a play. Feel language in a way you don’t normally use. Let it roll over you, through you. This feeds your muse like nothing else.

A muse secretly craves facts, despite their artistic bent. My muse reads over my shoulder marveling at the same things I do, often finding ways of using things I read in a fashion I hadn’t thought of. Technically, that’s her job. Reading the news, reading the tabloids (not too often) reading the crackpots (so many interesting theories its hard sometimes to remember they are crackpots).

Most of all, read the classics. Yes, some are SO dull. My muse falls asleep when I read some of them. But they are not for her anyway. They are for me. Jack London reminds me to connect to nature. HP Lovecraft connects me to fear. Edgar Allen Poe connects me to the monstrosity of the human condition. Machiavelli connects me to the intellectual craft of human manipulation. You may never use any of these. But it helps as a writer, to know how far human beings have come, will go, and have gone if you want to write about characters you or anyone else will give a damn about.

Most of all, engage your muse in fun. This mean getting away from writing and having a good time. Muses need fun to unleash their creativity by connecting ideas from all of your experiences, your reading, your writing, your life, your loves, your beliefs and most importantly your connection to the Universe where ideas abound, awaiting you and your muse to reach into that realm of Logos, that place of perfection and find your stories aborning.

Your muse and you are one, inseparable; to follow your muse, you must first lead her to your inspirations.

What do you do to nourish your muse? © Thaddeus Howze 2012. All Rights Reserved

Painting: My Muse, © Deviant ARTist: parsakoira

Black History Month sends the wrong message

Normally I pay as little attention to Black History Month as possible. Why? It sends the wrong message. The message it sends is that for only 28 days of the year, in the shortest month of the year, we will take notice of an unsung group of Americans we do everything in our power to pretend the rest of the year, they do not exist, do not contribute anything viable to the American experience and if they vanished tomorrow, the only thing that would happen is the nation would breathe a collective sigh of relief, before they returned to finding the next cultural boogeyman to vilify.

And that, my friends, is the wrong message.

You see, Black History IS American History. We have been in this nation as long as any group of people to have ever lived here save the Native Americans. We have had as much to do with the establishment of this nation, its agriculture (unfortunately, as slaves of that industry) its transportation (the railroads and exploration of the West) its science, politics, religion, music, sports, entertainment, well, pretty much anything that has been done in this nation has been led by, created with the help of, designed with the support of or simply created from whole cloth by People of Color.

And that does not jibe with the monomyth of White Supremacy and its playmate, Cultural Superiority. America likes to believe it has exported its culture to the world; democracy, fair play, capitalism are all Great American Exports. And in some ways, those things may not have been invented here, but we (Americans) redefined them, repackaged them and now they are desired by the world at large.
But America does not drink the Kool-aid it sells to the world. This is a nation still divided primarily by money. Old money. Money that can trace its ancestry (such as it is) back to the days of Chattel-Agricultural Slavery and the Robber Barons of the American Railroad. For a part of American culture that had such long lived and powerful roots, slavery does not seem to have had any advocates nor beneficiaries, if modern culture is to be believed. No one’s family seems to have benefited from slavery. Nor does anyone know of any families that ever held slaves. “No sir, not me, my family never owned any slaves,” or so the expression goes.

Let’s keep it real folks, many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. They did it and like many who did, they grew wealthy. So if you want to figure out who held slaves, go back in history and follow the money. Likely, where money has accumulated, slavery or crimes like it held sway to develop that wealth. The old expression goes “You can find out how a man grew wealthy only if you can find the bodies he had to bury to get there.”  Now I don’t hold a grudge. Not a serious one, anyway. Slavery has been a human experience probably since we started walking upright.

The crux of the issue is this: How long can a nation stay divided, by the people in power, who use their wealth and influence to dominate society, to create false divisions (artificial boundaries where people fight over things that objectively have no real value whatsoever) and sow moral dissent in an effort to say in power? I ask this question because I realized that being Black was never going to change for me. I would never wake up one day and be White. So any stigma generated by my blackness, did not come from me. It comes from the person who holds the stigma. So if I find myself unable to find work because of the social conditioning that says: “Black men are lazy, shiftless and do as little as possible for themselves or their families, so you shouldn’t give them jobs…” even if I worked harder than a three-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, the stigma and joblessness stays with me, being reinforced because no one will give me a job, thus perpetuating the myth now becoming reality.

Let me say it again: The stigma is not mine. I did not create it. I did not perpetuate it. I don’t lay it upon me. I am simply forced to bear it. The society that promoted it is at fault for its continued perpetuation.

But let me ask you a question: If this nation were truly as egalitarian, as supportive, as merit driven, as opportunity-oriented as the spin doctors would have you believe, would there be this major political trend toward crushing unions, a thirty year history of purposeful stagnated wages, allowing the rich to grow fabulously wealthy by increasing the price of everything while diminishing your ability to buy it; an education system that has been allowed to grow enfeebled and unable to cope with the rapid pace of technical change in the world today? Would there be an ecological bankruptcy that simply denies that creating billions of automobiles, computers, cell phones, supermarket items, thousands of fast food restaurants where we harvest millions of organisms every year just to feed the developed world and pretend it has no effect on the world or the people living on it? What about drilling holes in the Earth to harvest hydrocarbons whose main purpose is to be sold by the highest bidder to the poorest people just to keep them in a form of economically-driven indentured servitude? What about the fact the American population is slowly growing less mentally capable, whose physical health is continuing to diminish despite having the most sophisticated medical technology in the world, all the while people are less happy, less motivated, more stressed, more suicidal and now have a quality of life that for the first time in fifty years, will not be higher than the previous generation? This is a culture which appears to be slowly self destructing.

How could such a nation exist and call itself enlightened? More over how could such a nation consider itself a paragon in the darkness that is life on Earth?

The answer: It can’t.

So, I have many years ago decided that the system of things being done in the world today are not being done in my name. I refuse to buy anything made in a sweatshop (if I know about it. I endeavor to know.) I wear nothing with a logo or a brand name, because no one is paying me to further their cause before I further my own. (No, I don’t own any iTechnology and I once loved Apple as a company, but their recent behavior has made me question all things computer-related.) I watch as little modern media as possible. It paints a negative image of People of Color, if they even exist at all. I do not watch nor support major sporting teams. If you knew how much money is spent and how little of it goes to the people who make it actually possible, you wouldn’t either. I devote my time to my family, educating myself and my community about what we can do to survive effectively, humanely, and to be a benefit to my world, rather than a drain on it.

You see it is about choice. You can decide you want to spend your life asleep at the wheel, Facebooking (or your social media of choice) your life away, taking pictures of yourself from arm’s length, talking about where you are, and what you are doing, learning about the sleeping habits of the inhabitants of Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives of (insert pitiful city here), or you can go out and learn a new language, meet new people, write a book, teach a person to read, inspire a child to greatness, help an old person who may not get around as well as they used to, volunteer yourself to a cause greater than yourself, read a book and enhance your brain, share that book and maybe you can shape the world.

The Public Good is Dead. It has been replaced by the Corporate Quarterly Report. Everything that matters from the gasoline in your car, to the politicians in your local office is now determined by the power of corporations all over the nation. If it does not expand the next quarter’s profits, it has no value and the human elements of our culture are being replaced by jurisprudence that boggles the mind. See the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Committee rulings basically giving corporations the power to spend unlimited money on elections. Don’t take my word for it. Read it yourself.

When you get tired of watching corporations turn your world into a steaming pile of shyte, you can decide how to make them go away. Stop buying things you don’t need, to fund a never-ending cycle of boom and bust that only benefits big business, because only they have enough money to bet on both sides of the equation. If there is money to be made, they will make money selling the product, or they will make money cleaning up after the mess. No jail time will be had for any involved. As any of our major banking establishments after the 2008 financial collapse. Over 5000 protesters of the collapse in the Occupy Movement have been to jail. Not a single banker graces a cell yet. Seems equitable and fair, doesn’t it. Stop taking their crap. Stop participating in your own destruction.

So what does this rant have to do with Black History Month? Nothing. Not a damn thing. That is the point. Republicans keep harping on how President Obama is the Welfare President, and we have angry Black Politicians like Representive West in Florida saying that Obama is inflating the numbers for the unemployment of Black Men. And yet we are vilifying people who are on foodstamps which are at an all time high of 41 million people. This nation has political leaders who have done little to help President Obama since he has been in office and this is because he is a Black President. How does this ranting against the president help the nation? How did the promise of the Republican Party to make him a one term president really help anyone? Why would they even say this? It’s a Black thing. Not playing the race card, I am watching the Race Poker Championship and Obama isn’t dealing. He isn’t even wanted at the game.

Yes, I said what no one would dare to say in polite company. The Republicans (and a few Democrats) are obstructing his work, not because it does not meet with politics as we know it, because let’s face it, it does. His ideas, strange as it sounds have been the ideas of his political enemies (sometimes he has been so bold as to offer them things they had asked for a few weeks earlier) but they are too blind with their rage to see it. They will find their rage is directing Obama to a second term because they can’t get over themselves. So I have to laugh because Obama is using their rage to his advantage.

So when I look at Black History Month I have to realize, that the reason its only 28 days long is because the Whites that brought People of Color here all those years ago, did what they did because without People of Color, they would not have been able to be and do the amazing things that have been done in America. The wealth from centuries of paying no wages, has allowed this nation to grow and prosper in ways the founding fathers never realized. And I think strangely enough, only thirty or forty years ago, big business has relearned and reinvented this idea. Corporate America has been heading toward having people work for less and having fewer choices until there is virtually an entire slave caste again. I expect to see a piece of legislation called the Slavery Restoration Act, any day now and I am certain our politicians, back by big corporations, can make a case for it.

But imagine their secret shame when they have to acknowledge every day, that they owe their entire nation to People of Color whose sacrifices they are sanitizing from history every day, has allowed them to come to fabulous wealth and power and influence, but they must spend every day of that existence, every penny of that wealth, lobbying, brainwashing, blinding, controlling and manipulating everyone around them, because if anyone really knew what was being done, they might just tear it all down and replace it with what America said it wanted to be.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of our teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Every month is Black History Month. Without our ancestors work, yes, the work you could not do, you would have nothing.  Yes, I am talking to you. You know who you are. Without the brilliance of those people, who struggled, who fought, who ran, who lived and died under the lash, your America would not exist. You fear the day we should ever learn of our true power. The power that create George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, Emmett Till, Madame Walker, Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, Mae Jemison, Micheal Eric Dyson, Octavia Butler, and Neil Degrasse Tyson who managed to overcome despite all of the obstructions placed before them.

What if all People of Color realized of what great stock they are derived from and what they are truly capable of? Our superstars transformed all music, science, mathematics, business, engineering and sports. And they did these things unsupported by the bulk of our community. Each only had a tiny handful of people who nurtured their talent to its ultimate form. Imagine what we could do if we worked collectively together, despite the machinations of the Econo-Socio-political Machine, toward that goal if we just put forth into practice the idea: “that the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

Then there would be no need for Black History Month. It would just be History. What a great nation we would truly be.

Goodnight everybody, don’t forget to tip your waitress on the way out.

Is it important to show People of Color in science fiction?

Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko, Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

The simple answer to this question is yes. Despite the homo-social tendencies of the science fiction media (books, movies, comics, and television) which are then marketed to sub-cultures, People of Color not only exist but make up the bulk of the human experience, despite what you may see in modern media.

Let’s put this another way. Projected into the future, our modern society would likely be much more colorful than predicted by Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek with a far greater distribution of People of Color onboard the less politically-correct Enterprise of the Future. And before I get rants from Trekkers (Trekkies), I have much respect for Star Trek. The show at least tried to present people of color somehow making it to the future as something other than a snack for the monster of the week or as space janitors.

If Trek truly represented our modern world thrown forward, we would likely have seen more people of color in command positions, more Indians, more Chinese, simply because, allowing for three hundred years, we would expect much of our current world’s cultural disparity to have been ironed out, replaced with people doing the job because they were capable, not because it was expected we would see only Caucasians in positions of power because they were funding the show, viewing the show, or producing the show. When seen in the light of marketing, Star Trek still promoted the idea of the supremacy of the Caucasian heroic model endemic of modern science fiction. (To be fair, it did improve with age, allowing women to command ships and even to put a Black Man in command. Took nearly three decades, first Star Trek debuts in 1966, Commander Sisko appears on DS9 as a regular in a command role in 1993.)

Cover for Son of Heaven, a book from the Chung Kuo series.

Perhaps if we were to be more honest, the future might look a lot more like a book series called Chung Kuo, that posits an eventual domination of China and other Asian cultures completely taking control of the human experience through both a rigorous development of their human potential and the downfall of a decadent Western Civilization. Truth be told, that, at the moment, seems to be a much more likely model. It is a brilliant series of books to read. (Yes, it was very long, with quite a few characters, but if you like political science fiction, you will love Chung Kuo.)

It is important to show People of Color in our science fiction because we are here. On Earth. Right now.

We did not vanish into obscurity in the past, nor will we disappear from it in the future. Like it or not, the future of the world, much like the past of the world, will be defined by People of Color. The question might really be: Why can’t everyone have an equal opportunity to make it into the future, have an equal opportunity to be heroic or cowardly, genius or idiot, socially well adapted or psychopathic and maladjusted with equal frequency in our media?

We know the real reason already. The Heroic Myth has been co-opted to not allow Heroes of Color. Yes, I said it. What are you going to do about it?

That’s what I thought. Nothing. Ask modern publishers or movie-makers. They reply with:

“It’s too dangerous. They’re not marketable. We won’t be able to sell that. Who ever heard of a powerful Black male superhero. No one would believe it. If you made the lead character, White, I could move that for you. No one wants to read about Heroes of Color. Can you be more black? You can’t sell that here. Mexicans can’t be heroes. Only Asians do kung-fu. Who wants to see a movie about Native Americans? Stereotypes are easier to write about. You have to have a Caucasian on the cover. Movies with all Black casts can’t make back their money. We can only sell movies about native people with a Caucasian lead.”

All sound familiar? Oh, they might not if you haven’t ever tried to do anything with a Person of Color in it. But if you have, you will know the sound of one or all of these refrains.

Listen. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound you heard when that statue of Lenin was being torn down. It’s the same sound you heard when they tore down the Berlin Wall. The same one you heard in Egypt, and in Greece and in Spain, in 2011. It’s the same one you heard when people Occupied the United States in protest.

You might not be familiar with it. It is the sound of revolution.

It is the sound of people having enough. Their rage with being put on the side of history. People are not condiments. You do not use them to flavor YOUR life. They are not meant to add color to your media, the same way you might add a purple cabbage to your green salad. People of Color are life itself.

Sanaa Latham as Alexa Woods in AVP

Your media may deny it. But Nollywood knows better. So does Bollywood. How are those newspapers selling these days? How about those publishing houses? Comics? The comic and print industries are scrambling like insects during a fumigation. Your model of exclusion is ending. People want to be heard. People want to be acknowledged. People want to be Heroes. People of Color want to live to the end of the movie. The People want to be Seen. Admired. Loved. Respected. Acknowledged. For their contributions, for their histories, for their suffering, for their triumphs, but more than anything for their Humanity.

We are as People of Color, writers of Color, science fiction authors, are fighting to acknowledge we Exist. We will be here in the future, in whatever form that future takes. That the future will depend on us as much as it will depend on (insert Caucasian hero here) to save the day. Hannibal turned the tide of battle, China had a history and culture that has lasted 3000 years unconquered by outside forces, the Mayans created one of the most accurate calendars on Earth, Egypt was one of the greatest hubs of science, trade and commerce on the African continent and the world. Like it the world now depends on the people of Chile to grow food, or the South American nations to protect the Amazon as one of the last storehouses of the world’s bio-diversity. Our future will also depend on People of Color.

People of Color are not an afterthought in the novels of Caucasian writers. We are shaping the world.

There are 800 million people living in the nation of India. There are at least 1000 million (1+billion) people living in China. 500 million living in Africa, 500 million or more in South and Central America. People of Color are not going to go away. As knowledge is democratized, so will opportunity spread. So will innovations, creativity, productivity. One day, the West’s ability to create and dominate the world, may be surpassed in one of these nations. People forget the United States rose to power in a near socio-political vacuum. The world was in a terrible state of repair after World War II, there was no real competition then.

Pay attention. That has ended.

Those nations have recovered. Each of them filled with people who want to see themselves portrayed as heroes. Filled with the same drive and ambition we possessed in the West. See Singapore, Beijing, Taipei, Japan as examples of the masterful harnessing of human potential. The West should be quaking in its cowboy boots. But it won’t. Its belief in Western Superiority is complete and less and less valid in a world filled with motivated People of Color.

Let’s close with a chilling quote from the masters of assimilation: “We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” This is the future of the West. Cold. Mechanical. Clockwork. We are all cogs in the machine. Know your place. Surrender your individuality. Serve the machine and its hidden masters.

I do not accept this.

People of Color exist despite the pretense in Western media that we do not. And if the West is not careful, it may find history will mark the passing of White Supremacy and its Western pathology of deleting People of color from history with tales of fiction about the Caucasians who could not adapt to the reality of their eventual blending and dissolution back into the melting pot that are People of Color.

We better hope those motivated People of Color where ever they may be find a way to change our future. The world as we know it, is looking pretty grim. We need new thinking to have a future at all.

People of Color, write your revolution. Save our Future. Resistance is never futile. Fight for every word.

Thaddeus Howze Atreides
@ebonstorm (twitter)
@ebonstorm@gmail.com

Thaddeus Howze, Authoris a veteran of the IT and Communications industry with over 26 years of experience retooling computers to best serve human needs. Unknown to humanity, our computers have another agenda. Thaddeus recently released his first collection of short stories, Hayward Reach. In a coded format, he has secretly informed Humanity of the impending computerized apocalypse. You can read parts of the code here: https://ebonstorm.wordpress.com or http://ebonstorm.weebly.com

Part of a series of essays on: The State of Black Science Fiction.
Check out the other members of this Online Black History Month Event

Winston Blakely, Artist/Writer – is a Fine Arts/Comic Book artist, having a career spanning 20 years, whose achievements have included working for Valiant Comics and Rich Buckler’s Visage Studios. He is also the creator of Little Miss Strange, the world’s first black alien sorceress and the all- genre anthology entitled – Immortal Fantasy. Both graphic albums are available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online book store outlets. Visit him: http://blakelyworks.blogspot.com/ or http://blakelyworkstudio.weebly.com/

L. M. Davis, Author – began her love affair with fantasy in the second grade.  Her first novel, Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, was released in 2010, and the follow-up Posers: A Shifters Novel will be released this spring. For more information visit her blog: http://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/ or her website www.shiftersnovelseries.com.

Milton Davis, Author – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com and www.wagadu.ning.com.

Margaret Fieland, Author – lives and writes in the suburbs west of Boston, MA 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.

Valjeanne Jeffers, Author – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls. Her fourth and fifth novels: Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork will be released this spring. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/

Alicia McCalla, Author – writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy, and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free will be available February 1, 2012. The Breaking Free theme song created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on itunes and Amazon. Visit her at: www.aliciamccalla.com

Carole McDonnell, Author – She writes Christian, speculative fiction, and multicultural stories. Her first novel is Wind Follower. Her short fiction has appeared in many anthologies and have been collected in an ebook, Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction. Visit Carole: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/ or http://writersofcolorblogtour.blogspot.com/

Balogun Ojetade, Author – of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: TheChronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steampunk) and the feature film, “A Single Link”. Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/

Rasheedah Phillips, Author – is the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair in Philly. She plans to debut her first spec/sci-fic novel Recurrence Plot in Spring 2012. You may catch her ruminating from time to time on her blog, AstroMythoLosophy.com.

Nicole Sconiers, Author – is also a screenwriter living in the sunny jungle of L.A. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she recently published Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. Visit her: http://nicolesconiers.com/index.html

Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed. – is owner & operator of TheDigitalBrothers.com, BlackScienceFictionSociety.com & BlackCommunityEntertainment.com. Visit him: http://www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com/profiles/blog/list?user=2stjwb1h216fd


People of Color in Science Fiction

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
@ebonstorm (twitter)
@ebonstorm@gmail.com
 

Check out the other members of this Online Black History Month Event

 

Winston Blakely, Artist/Writer— is a Fine Arts/Comic Book artist, having a career spanning 20 years, whose achievements have included working for Valiant Comics and Rich Buckler’s Visage Studios. He is also the creator of Little Miss Strange, the world’s firstblack alien sorceress and the all- genre anthology entitled – Immortal Fantasy.  Both graphic albums are available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online book store outlets. Visit him:   http://blakelyworks.blogspot.com/ or http://blakelyworkstudio.weebly.com/

 

L. M. Davis, Author–began her love affair with fantasy in the second grade.  Her first novel, Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, was released in 2010, and the follow-up Posers:  A Shifters Novel will be released this spring.  For more information visit her bloghttp://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/ or her website www.shiftersnovelseries.com.

Milton Davis, Author – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com andwww.wagadu.ning.com.

 

Margaret Fieland, Author— lives  and writes in the suburbs west of Boston, MA
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.

 

Valjeanne Jeffers, Author — is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls. Her fourth and fifth novels: Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork will be released this spring. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/

 

Alicia McCalla, Author—writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy, and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free will be available February 1, 2012. The Breaking Free theme song created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on itunes and Amazon. Visit her at: www.aliciamccalla.com

 

Carole McDonnell, Author–She writes Christian, speculative fiction, and multicultural stories. Her first novel is Wind Follower. Her short fiction has appeared in many anthologies and have been collected in an ebook, Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction.  Visit Carole: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/  or http://writersofcolorblogtour.blogspot.com/

 

Balogun Ojetade, Author—of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: TheChronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steampunk) and the feature film, “A Single Link”. Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/

 

Rasheedah Phillips, Author–is the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair in Philly. She plans to debut her first spec/sci-fic novel Recurrence Plot in Spring 2012. You may catch her ruminating from time to time on her blog, AstroMythoLosophy.com.

 

Nicole Sconiers, Author-is also a screenwriter living in the sunny jungle of L.A. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she recently published Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage.  Visit her:http://nicolesconiers.com/index.html 

 

Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed. is owner & operator of TheDigitalBrothers.com, BlackScienceFictionSociety.com & BlackCommunityEntertainment.com. Visit him:  http://www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com/profiles/blog/list?user=2stjwb1h216fd

 

Thaddeus Howze, Author – is a veteran of the IT and Communications industry with over 26 years of experience retooling computers to best serve human needs. Unknown to humanity, our computers have another agenda. Thaddeus recently released his first collection of short stories, Hayward Reach. In a coded format, he has secretly informed Humanity of the impending computerized apocalypse. You can read parts of the code here: https://ebonstorm.wordpress.com or  http://ebonstorm.weebly.com

Gasoline in E-Minor

KaizenVerdant-rz-2009.jpg

Have you ever experienced a moment of quiet rage? One of those things that sneaks up on you and suddenly you find yourself shaking and wondering how something like this could happen?

I was heading to a petrol station to fill up my wife’s car. She works, and I don’t and that is another story for another time. Tonight’s tale deals with what happened when I got there. I was pulling into the station, at night, late at night and against my better judgment. I don’t live in a particularly dangerous neighborhood, but as any city dweller can tell you, crime is mobile.

I take the proper precautions as I get out of my vehicle. Check around me, two people in station, filling their vehicles, trying to look bored and nonchalant; so not working. They want to leap into their cars and drive away as fast as they are able but they don’t want to LOOK like that.

No obvious foot traffic. Check. Sign on the window says “open 24 hours.” Check. Car in park. Lights off. Check. Clearance on driver’s side. Check. Pump active. Check. Get out of car. Look confident. Glance around. Take in the lay of the land, and project power. Check.

As I am going through this checklist, I notice a man sitting on a the hood of a small SUV or covered flatbed truck. He is a tall man, kind of lean, unshaven, looks to be about fifty or so. He is holding a bright red gas can. His head is dipped forward as if he is engaged in some inner dialog.

As I am moving toward the front door of the gas station storefront, he sees me and jumps up. “Hey brother, could you spare some gas, a couple, maybe three gallons?” His voice is clear, he does not mumble, he does not sound intoxicated. He sounds like a man who is not used to asking for anything.

Not seeking confrontation, I scurry inside. I try not to look at the man but my inner Observer, something from my days as military personnel, objectively, dispassionately, gathers all of this information. I notice there is a woman sitting in the car behind him. She too appears to be about fifty years old. But it was not just the woman that I noticed. Behind her, I see materials that might be house furnishings; things that looked as if they were moving. I continue inside.

Now, my inner Observer challenges me. You can’t unsee that. “Can I get twenty dollars on six, please.”

“Will that be credit or ATM?” says the Persian gentleman behind the counter, wearing a crisp and new shirt and a mild musky cologne. His smile seems genuine and his tone friendly.

Don’t ignore me. You saw the man, you saw the woman, you saw their car. They have food wrappers on their dash and furniture in the back of their car. Observe, report, analyse. “Yes, that will be ATM.”

Did I mention I was an autistic? I have conversations with myself all the time. So don’t think I am crazy or become upset. This is normal for me. Anyway…

“What is the price of your gas here?” I asked the nice attendant. Yes, I drove past the sign coming in but unfortunately, that is something I have a mental block against, living in California. You just buy the gas, you don’t really want to know what it costs. It always costs a dollar more than anywhere else in the nation.

You have acknowledged his existence and have made a decision. Why prevaricate? You are going to spend enough to get three gallons of gasoline, enough to fill up that red container. Do it! How could you stand there, they are living out of their damn car…

Enough!

The Observer falls silent, his work done.

The attendant does not know what the price of the gas here is, which is not really surprising since he probably does not get paid enough for it to matter to him, either. At that point, I did not care what it cost. I walk to the door and wave to the man. Seeing me, he waves back and moves toward the pump next to my car.

I am self-conscious. I do not know why.

“Ten dollars on pump six, please.” The station agent looks at me quizzically since I just bought gasoline for pump five. He assumes I have made a mistake and looks out the window.

“Are you sure, sir?”

“Yes, I am buying it for that man right there.” I use the tone of command, to let him know I am aware of what I am doing and will only require his cooperation at this point. He complies.

When I walk out the store. The man is pumping his gas and as I approach him, he says to me “God Bless you, brother.” His voice is rich with emotional undertones and I am again unnerved. I am not a religious man, so his benedictions made me uncomfortable. I did not do it for God. I did it for… Who did I do it for? The Observer wisely stays silent.

“No problem. Will that get you where you need to be?” trying to sound casual.

He out-casuals me with “Hope so.”

As I get ready to pump my gas, he stops me. “My can is full. Let’s put the rest in yours. Don’t hang your pump up, I’m just going to finish what’s on this one. He smiles as he pumps the rest of the gas into my tank and then picks up his gas can and says “Thanks, again.”

I fill my tank. My thoughts are racing and the first thing that comes to me is, that could be me in a few months. I have no job and no income. For me unemployment ended this month. But this fellow looks like he has been living in his car for some time. I began to feel that burning, that anger, that frustration stirring in my chest, the feeling I spend my days suppressing and my nights sweating.

As I finish, I look over at their white flatbed, and the woman, possibly his wife, looks at me and waves. I wave back. I thought I would feel good doing this deed. No I didn’t. I thought I would absolve myself of any guilt I felt watching this man sit here at this station, waiting for some salvation, some humanity in an age where human kindness is in short supply, where no one but the rich or the lucky have money or a job. A man in a number of months who may be me. I wanted to do more for them.

But then I thought about it. I did not actually have any money with me, and I was doing something spending what I did not actually have. (My money was actually the stipend my wife gives me for doing housework during the week while I look for work.) I mostly don’t spend it. I found that as long as I don’t leave home, I don’t actually need money. And if I don’t carry cash, I absolutely won’t buy anything I don’t need. I had to settle myself with having done what I could do. I had been as much of a friend as I could afford to be.

As I was contemplating the feelings I was having, I realized what it was. I was in pain. I was uncomfortable. I was saddened and distressed by seeing these two people, forced by circumstances unknown to me, to be living in their vehicle. And for a moment, I was overwhelmed by that feeling. I normally pride myself on my dispassion. My ability to observe, with detachment.

The Observer, the part of my rational mind that sits outside of what I call me, remembers something I heard Jim Morrison say at an interview: “People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”

Sometimes I hate the Observer. It is the part of me that makes me participate in all things human, even when I do not want to. Mostly, I don’t want to. My pain is uncomfortable, but for the first time in weeks, I am outside of myself; outside of my selfish desire to wallow in my misery, feeling sorry for myself. I had a chance to find myself again. To renew my opportunities, to find work worthy of my ability. It was not too late. I still had my home, my family, I still had some time.

As I pull away from the station, I pass the man putting his gas into his car, his actions precise and careful. He sees me as I drive by. He and his wife wave at me again, and I wave back. There was something in my eye and I needed to wipe it away.

At 11:35, August 25, 2010, two strangers passed in the night. One in need of a friend; the other, a friend, in need. We worked it out.

God Bless.

Gasoline in E-Minor © 2010, All Rights Reserved