Saturday, October 4, 2014

Book Review: Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler; foreword by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley tell us, "Unexpected Stories reveals the themes that would become Butler's  lexicon: the complicating mysteries we assign to poet, race and gender. Octavia Butler wrote these two stories, "A Necessary Being" and "Childfinder", early on in her journey from reader to writer, from fiction to unassailable reality. She is working out in these two very different stories the purpose she would refine with every book, every series, every word she subsequently wrote."

I am a big fan of Octavia Butler. Some of her works, I consider outstanding. Yet, there are books and stories that I find baffling (maybe as I get older, the messages will become clearer).

Unexpected Stories is an ebook consisting of two stories that were written very early in her career.

"A Necessary Being" is so relevant today that it is truly frightening.  An alien society places all of its hopes and governance on having a special and rare individual to rule them.  However, the people must physically cripple the selected individual so he can't run away and avoid his responsibilities. It made me consider the plight of the Presidency of the United States (or any great leader of a modern nation).  Octavia weaves an ornate tale where this superior being must suffer horrible torture for the good of the whole tribe. Ask President Obama about life as a President amongst people who naively love him or  mindlessly hate him, yet they all expect him to solve their problems.

"Childfinder" brings me back to Octavia's telepathic themes.  In a freaked-out world, people with special psychic abilities are hunted and collected for experimentation. This is probably where her Patternmaster (Patternist) series of novels began. As always, her precise writing and strong characters move the story emotionally. Yet, sligthtly disappointing to me, was its brevity and lack of conclusion; but it was still a good read and illuminating. The story builds the foundation for the tremendous novel "Wild Seed" which won huge accolades from the sci-fi community at-large.

As I said earlier, I am a big fan of Octavia B. She was a great writer.  We should honor her memory during Black Speculative Fiction Month October 2014 by reading her works.

October 2014 is Black Speculative Fiction Month, so tell everyone.  Visit your favorite online book dealer or go to your local bookstore. Buy something.  Read some of the great Black authors. Purchase books by emerging Speculative Fiction authors -- there are many who are very good but need your support.
If you are a writer, give us your best. Reveal the incredible people and worlds that you imagine. Dream the fantastic. Make us aware. Give us inspiration.
Reading and writing is what this month is all about. Get involved with Black Speculative Fiction Month. Spread the word. Start a movement.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Baddest Girls in Speculative Fiction

There are many, many bad girls who do good in speculative fiction. I will just mention a few and I welcome comments about other "bad girls" in science fiction, fantasy and horror.

The novels and short stories written by Octavia Butler overflow with the baddest (meaning good) girls. I could write a Ph.D. thesis on the portrayal of strong women in Butler's works.  If I had to choose one, it would  be Anyanwu in Wild Seed. Originally published in 1980, Anyanwu was a shape shifter, who watched over and protected her family for generation after generation. She could not die, but she frequently mourned the deaths of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great, great great and so-fourth. She celebrate births. She nurtured all of her children to help them achieve the best they could during their brief lives of only 40 to 70 years. Then, she met the ultimate bad boy, Doro, who also could not die. He lived for thousands of years. But that is another story.

In the TV sci-fi, FireFly, first mate Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) is a veteran "Browncoat" of the Unification War, a failed attempt by the outlying worlds to resist the Alliance's assertion of control. She is loyal to the captain of a ship of smugglers and has a husband, a dashing pilot, that she fiercely protects. In a bar fight, you want her by your side. When locked in a desperate space battle with hostile aliens, she will win. The TV series lasted only a few seasons and the following movie, "Serenity" was awesome; but the wild west in outer space meme was getting thin. However, we will always appreciate Zoe as the hard-fisted, tender hearted hero of the galaxy. She has a long list of credits including the campy, Cleopatra 2525 TV show which was fun to watch but sadly lacked any intellect. 

Storm is my personal favorite among all fictional female heroes. Unfortunately, the cinematographic portrayal of Storm by Halle Barry (a great actor) was weak and underplayed. But in the comic book versions, Storm rocked the planet. For instance, read the story when she married Black Panther the king of an African and technologically advanced society. She protected a continent and became the leader of the X-Men.  But Storm is more than a mutant, she is an African Goddess with tremendous powers like Thor, the Thunder God. Storm was one of the first black comic book characters (1975), and the first black female to play either a major or supporting role in the big two comic book houses, Marvel Comics and DC Comics. If the big money, Hollywood assholes were smart and followed simple greed instead of racism and sexism, they would produce a big budget movie based on Storm, Ororo Munroe, an African superbeing. We are tired of Batman, Superman, Spiderman and Iron Man.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why We Need A Static Shock

When you Google the news, you discover that, indeed, the world is a very dangerous place. Diseases; multiple wars; blind racial/religious hatred; socially catastrophic and  environmentally destructive greed are daily headlines.  It is a mess. Yet, most of us choose to continue on with our lives; build families and try to improve our surroundings. We could  hide in silent desperation. Or, we could ball up our fists and narrow our eyes to focus on a winning goal.

Inspiration to take on overwhelming challenges comes from many sources. Speculative fiction -- which is an umbrella term for any artistic endeavor that presents unlimited possibilities -- can be our savior.

In recent world events, communities, nations and people of color have suffered disproportionately on planet Earth due to ill-thought economics, denied healthcare and lack of modern education. Those conditions can change to greatly benefit all of us -- rich, poor, educated or fearful.

We need more Black superheroes to encourage people of all colors to believe that anyone with ambition and preparation can save the day. We need more Static Shocks and Dwayne McDuffies from many ethnic backgrounds. Their lessons are important.

We can successfully and peacefully coexist with ourselves and our environment. We can expand into our universe.

We can dream big.


Dwayne Glenn McDuffie (February 20, 1962 – February 21, 2011) was an American writer of comic books and television, known for creating the animated television series Static Shock, writing and producing the animated series Justice League Unlimited and Ben 10, and co-founding the pioneering comic-book company Milestone Media. McDuffie earned three Eisner Award nominations for his work in comics. (Wikipedia)

For more about Black Superheroes go to

Saturday, August 2, 2014

AFRO Anime: The African Asian Connection

One of my favorite actors is Samuel L. Jackson.  He can drop the "M-F' bomb like no one else on the planet. But he also has been in involved in projects that need to have a recurring shootout. If you missed it, be sure to take a look at "AFRO Samurai". An award winning animation that combines Rap, comedy, bloody sword play and Japanese-style anime in one glorious package.

This is not Sailor Moon nor Pokemon. The story and graphics are vicious and thought provoking.  Two cultures are combined: Feudal Japan and modern hip hop tech. Cellphones against Ninja swords. Visually stunning, Google it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

1st Black Sci-Fi Movie Is a Winner

What was the first science fiction movie featuring an all Black cast?  Was it a success? How talented were the filmmaker and actors working on a very low-budget film before 4-color cinematography was perfected?

The special effects may seem awful; an actor in a rubbery monster costume. No CGI. No 3-D. Music from wax disks decoded by a steel needle.

Why did the Black characters sing and dance, while unaware of the approaching African monster who had been set loose on American soil?  Did "Feets git moving" fulfill popular expectations?

Don't worry. "Race" movies had a purposeful place in America's diverse social fabric. It was a necessity that created opportunities to build a stronger, more reasonable society.

This relatively unknown, yet very important 1940s speculative fiction film probably was never shown in segregated movie theaters that were located down south, up north and way west. Possibly, its exposure in the few venues available did inspire people to believe in cultural heroism and a new society to come.  Civil Rights. Black Power. Equal Economic Opportunities. The Presidency.

It is a fairly predictable sci-fi flick. Boy marries girl. Hideous monster kidnaps girl. Boy overcomes monster and rescues his sweetheart. Yet, probing deeper, you see more when you open your eyes.

A Black man faces extreme economic disadvantages in a world set against him.  Despite the odds, he saves his woman from poverty and offers her a good life. Of course, the opposite could have happened at any moment -- the woman could have created economic prosperity, or both woman and man could have been eaten by a savage monster called America.

That is why tickets and popcorn and large sodas were sold to crowds of people on Saturday afternoons.  We saw our personal demons on the big screen; fought them and hopefully won -- that emotional energy carried over into our day-to-day lives. We became heroes. We were given dreams.

'Nuff said.  Watch.  (Thanks go to Wikipedia and YouTube)

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Letter to My Great, Great, Great Grand Kids

Dear Great, Great, Great Grand Kids:

I suspect that more than likely in your world, letter writing and reading flimsy paper documents may be considered old-fashioned and painfully slow (I’m guessing that you are using digital mind transmissions or some other interplanetary techno-magic to communicate with one another) but I hope you’ll take a moment to put away your quantum nano-computers to cherish the feel of real paper this letter was written on. 

Please allow these carefully typed words to pass leisurely at a mere mortal’s pace.
Sometimes, the young take lightly when forced to listen to elders who drift back on the outgoing tide of ancient history; but the ocean flows in both directions. In order to have a more perfect future and a tolerable present, we may need to understand the wisdom and eccentricities as well as self-sacrifice and vicious gluttony of our ancestors.

Thus, these are some of my observations.

The human animal will always be clannish and slow to accept members from a different tribe of
thought. The war between men and women may expand to include newly recognized genders; but regardless of the battle lines, the species will never stop procreation. How we worship and pray has seen many transformations; if you still believe in God, then you know there is only one God who chooses to appear in different forms to different people but offering the same message: it is not the text of the holy book that matters but the actions of the believers that is most significant. If we don’t help one another, then we all suffer. The notion that only one special group or culture or human race has the singular connection to the Almighty is most assuredly false.

In fact, the whole notion of human “races” should be totally obsolete and frowned upon as a completely useless definition of the human animal. You can not define a person by their skin, hair, eyes, or speech. There are no human races; there is no African, no Oriental, no Caucasian; there is only humanity. Yet, even though we should never define ourselves using out-of-date racial terminology, “racism” does exist. Racism is the outcome whenever one group seeks to exploit or harm another group.

It makes no sense to hurt each other. We are all one kind. We must coexist intimately or die out completely as a biological species.

We also must coexist with the earth. The air we breath, water we drink, and food we consume are all part of a sacred chain of survival. People, as well as animals and plants all belong to each other and to the planet and the universe that spawned us. Yes, we are children of the universe. The atoms of your body or from a mountain were both created in a Supernova explosion that occurred billions of years ago in a distant part of our galaxy. The atoms and molecules and biological manifestations of everything we call life are constantly in motion and change.

In your history books, you may come across an historical reference to the Internet/World Wide Web. This electronic network was the first tool of its kind to allow humans to take the crucial step to break through barriers that have caused human strife for centuries and to change for the better our existence. Digital communications -- especially what we called “virtual worlds” -- helped coalesce the various factions of humanity into a linked global village. There was once a real threat of a digital divide to further separate affluent populations from poor ones, educated individuals from the intellectually naive, old and young. But as the rampant and profit-driven commercialism as well as crass materialism slowed and more socially conscious net innovators emerged offering free transfer of knowledge, the net became an essential key to greater prosperity for larger segments of the human society.

Most important, we saw the beginning of the end of global warfare. No more war. Thanks to your parents (my generation’s offspring), large scale weapons manufacturing was banned totally. Even the so-called secret factories were exposed and dismantled by people who believed that no human should ever kill another for purely monetary gains or land grabs or water rights.

There has been tremendous technological, social, and political advances during the period between my generation to yours. I know there is still a lot to do to help all of humanity and earth kind to survive. I firmly believe that you will continue to build on the successes of your forebears. Good luck and remember to occasionally take a look at the history books and family genealogy databases to reaffirm our evolution as a society and celebrate the foresight of your elders.

Best Wishes,

Great, Great, Grand Dad
Stafford Levon Battle
December 8, 2008

(Letter to Grand Kids first appeared in How We Love: Letters and Lessons for the Next Generation edited by Karyn Langhorne Folan, Wendy Coakley-Thomspon, and Tamara E. Bowie. Capital Bookfest, 2008)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Educating with Science Fiction

What if . . . teachers used science fiction to describe the universe.

Just when I thought I had found the last web page of the Internet, I discovered an interesting and informative site. It offers resources for teachers to encourage their students to explore science using sci-fi books and movies.

Science Fiction can play a very important  role in education -- not just in early education (k-12) but also lifelong. There is growing friction between science fact and science denial. Setting aside the frustrations of convincing irrational skeptics of climate change, there is a dangerous block of leaders who would gladly burn all books except the Bible.

My suggestion is to not waste time with people who bury their heads in the sand for profit or sheer stubbornness; use entertainment to encourage the curious to explore science and become better educated. The debate with "science" deniers is over.

There are many good sites that offers information about using speculative fiction to teach science. Start with:

Also have a little fun with The Physics of Star Trek written by Lawrence M. Krauss.  Re-discover the fantastic sci-fi devices that we now use daily. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

At Rest

A new flash fiction that I wrote. I hope you enjoy it. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Big Solar is Bad

The Good News

There was a plan to build thousands of solar collectors in the arid lands of northern Africa, generate electricity for Europe and ruin an eco system that could affect our entire planet. A few billionaire playboys would have become richer; international bankers could have  skimmed millions of dollars in profits from clandestine interactions; local villagers would have lost everything and our global climate would have rushed closer  to destruction. It almost succeeded. The project was called the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII). It failed. Lucky for us. 

Solar energy has been touted by proponents as the next major technological advance to protect the world from pollution and satisfy our hunger for electricity. We have been promised  that generating power from the sun was clean and effortless – as long as the sun is shining. The sun always shines someplace in the world especially in the desert -- where nothing lives. But the desert thrives with life.

So, instead of building small footprint solar panels, international corporations have hijacked a green industry and turned it dirty coal black. Corporate plans could cause environmental destruction on a scale that would shame the greediest billionaire. "Big Solar" seeks to imitate Big Oil. Some industrialists  seek to concentrate the generation of energy in the hands of a few for profit and not the benefit of society as a whole. Solar panels can be placed on every house, building and road. We don't need to destroy a wilderness. Try living off the grid.

Better News

Solar can be a personal affair. Every home can generate the electricity it needs; every community can store the power to keep schools running, traffic lights operating. Our food will stay frozen.

Now, environmentalists must not only save the rainforest from devastation, people must link hands to save the deserts, the wetlands, the glaciers, and our urban centers. 

Note: Not all Corporations are bad. Some actually do good and advance our civilization. But we must keep watch.

More about this will come later. . . .

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why We Need More Black Authors

During Black History Month, You Should be Reading Black Authors

Reading is not only fundamental, it is crucial to our lives. When we read, we learn and we expand our horizons. And, we should be learning throughout our entire lives. It is a sad commentary when you ask a friend, co-worker or relative what have they have read recently what websites do they follow and they can't answer the question.

We must read. By reading we discover our history, we have a better understanding of current events and get a glimpse of how to mold our future. Writers of African descent bring much to us in their books. 

Africa is where learning and books began. White historians have long proclaimed that African culture was based on the oral tradition; stories were passed along during camp fires. However, the truth is that Africa had great libraries and cities where scholars gathered to study medicine, astronomy, mathematics, engineering and other sciences. Visit the Tombocutou Manuscripts Project to discover more.

During February, 2014 Black History Month, expand your horizons.Support AFROCentric writers. Read and purchase their books. Give honest reviews online. If you are a writer, publish independently. Promote and make people aware your books.

We desperately need more Black writers. The National Black Book Festival is a good start. In this age of information overload, it is important that Black people tell their own stories. 

Big money will commit billions of dollars to persuade you to vote Republican and against your own best interests. But independent authors will give you a different prospective. 

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