Monday, December 31, 2012

AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers

I constantly hunt for collections of speculative short stories featuring themes and characters with an Africa flavor. I was excited to discover AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers edited by Ivor W. Hartmann.  AfroSF presents 22 noteworthy and emerging authors who are Africans living on the continent and throughout the world. I have read or been involved with other sci-fi collections such as Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction (Black Science Fiction Society); Dark Matter: Reading the Bones edited by Sheree R. Thomas; and The Darker Mask: Heroes from the Shadows edited by Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers. I've published my own anthology (AFRO Sci-Fi) that features my stories. I like sci-fi anthologies, a lot. 

AfroSF as with all anthologies has literary high plateaus, mediocre valleys and dismal pits. Most readers will find at least one or two stories that they will thoroughly enjoy and be enlightened by and perhaps even be moved emotionally to tears. There are midrange stories that despite flaws are still worth the time to read and ponder.  And, some stories will make you wonder, how in heavens did the manuscript get past the editors.  

My biggest concern is the price of the e-book: I paid a whopping $9.99 for the Kindle edition! In reality, this is far too much money for a digital volume of this scope (apparently, the U.S. Justice Department agrees with me). However, my curiosity overcame my fiscal sensibilities.  I wanted to read purely “African” science fiction; and embrace the hopes, fears and view-of-the-future by writers who intimately are aware of the 54 individual nations and thousands of social cultures in Africa.

“Home Affairs” by Sarah Lotz is set in an African dystopian where robots are the face of the government that most people interact with. A slight computer error can cause a catastrophic loss of your personal and national identity. It is a thought-provoking piece that is probably closer to reality than we would like to admit. “The Rare Earth” by Biram Mboob is an excellent piece set in a future Africa ruthlessly controlled by global corporations, hi-tech gangs, and a self-proclaimed messiah who uses stolen technology to produce religious miracles. 

There are other stories offering killer drones, spaceships, political and technological conflict that I found interesting. However, many of the contributors are young writers and not conversant with concepts such as FTL and other sci-fi hardware. For instance, traveling to the edge of the Earth solar system in a chemical-powered rocket would take more than a few months such as depicted in "Heresy" by Mandisi Nkomo. The NASA Voyager space crafts, the fastest human-made machines ever, have been traveling for more than three decades just to reach the fringes of the solar system boundaries. The science in science fiction should be plausible or at least current with existing tech. 

The real power of AfroSF flows from the exploration of everyday human problems in futuristic settings. Situations involve oppressive government, newly incurable diseases, innovative expressions of sexuality, foreign nations occupying huge tracts of native lands, corporate greed, global climate change and religious fanaticism. These are relevant issues for Africans today and tomorrow. Many of the writers in AfroSF strove to investigate the crucial element of sci-fi by asking, “What if Africa was . . .?”

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sci-Fi Can Close the Black Tech Gap

The Great Recession is fading into the pages of history,  mainstream America is rising from the ashes. However, the revival of the Black community will be a much more difficult task; full recovery may depend upon science fiction.

The growth of our economy is directly related to technological innovation.  For example, the Internet has turned barefooted entrepreneurs into overnight billionaires. E-commerce is booming. Smartphones and "apps" are transforming the way we communicate, sell and buy. More astounding inventions are soon to come.  What was fantasy yesterday is becoming science fact, today. Autonomous cars will replace taxi drivers. Factories will be completely controlled by robots. The tourist industry will be literary out of this world. Home schooling will include getting a university degree while sitting on the edge of your sofa bed. We will have to adapt daily if we want to thrive in the 21st century. But where do we get the tools to rebuild an entire community in this new age?  We can start by reading more science fiction.

I and many of my Black Science Fiction Society colleagues are seeing an impressive surge among African Americans who are buying sci-fi (also called speculative fiction) paperbacks and e-books.  Speculative fiction brings a sense of wonder and motivation to young and old readers. Sci-fi celebrates the successes of Black astronauts, scientists, engineers and innovators engrossed in 21st century activities.  Spec-Fic can provide a practical path to new career choices, and help to close any tech gap that might threaten the Black community. In the chapters of any well-conceived speculative fiction tale are visions of prosperity and personal fulfillment that Black populaces can eagerly embrace.

Recently reelected President Obama acknowledges that the dynamics of America have changed. Employment opportunities that dried up during the Great Recession are gone forever. The World Future Society likewise predicts that, "Many recently lost jobs may never come back. Rather than worry about unemployment, however, tomorrow’s workers will focus on developing a variety of skills that could keep them working productively and continuously, whether they have jobs or not." Science fiction stories are a treasure chest of ideas to enhance our lifestyles.

Urban novels and hip hop fiction gave the publishing industry profitable inroads to literary enthusiasts of African heritage. It helped to ignite a reading frenzy. Booksellers and public libraries stocked their shelves and databases with publications that offered gritty tales of dark mean streets filled with outrageous, streetwise gangsters and sly, mini-skirted vixens. But another wave is on the horizon; a rising tide of titles that offer hi-tech space ships, super soldiers, and savvy world geniuses.

These fantasies can become realities with a little hard work. 

Buy more Black Sci-Fi. It will change your life.

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