The Droids You’re Looking For: The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay I wrote called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on eighteen of the 42 works mentioned. As their nineteenth post in the series they published LaShawn Wanak’s essay on my story collection Filter House. In this twentieth column I’m back again, writing this time about Kenyan-Canadian author Minister Faust’s 2004 tour de force The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad.

ANCIENT AND EDGY

Though Faust later won the Carl Brandon Society’s Kindred Award for his second novel, From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain (reprinted as Shrinking the Heroes), his debut novel is also quite noteworthy, both for its ambition and for its Afrocentric focus (predating the stupendously successful movie Black Panther’s depiction of Wakanda by years). The book’s narrative ...

What Men Have Put Asunder: Pauline Hopkins’ Of One Blood

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay I wrote called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then, Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on seventeen of the 42 works mentioned. In this eighteenth column I write about a few aspects of a science fiction novel by nineteenth-and-early-twentieth century author Pauline Hopkins, titled Of One Blood.

 

MERGING STREAMS

Over the winter of 1902 to 1903, The Colored American Magazine (which Hopkins edited) published chapters of a work blending two popular late-Victorian literary forms: “society” novels of the doings of the upper classes and lost world adventures. Though really a “problem” book, Of One Blood begins more or less in the style of the first. A Boston medical student falls in love with the (white-appearing) soloist of a touring (“colored”) choir, proposes marriage, and is accepted—but ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Mightier than the Gun: Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay I wrote called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then, Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on sixteen of the 42 works mentioned. In this seventeenth column I write about Nalo Hopkinson’s second novel, Midnight Robber.

 

STOLEN SWEETNESS

Using variant speech patterns—the multiple patois of the many different Caribbean islands in her background—Hopkinson creates a honeyed symphony of words redolent of the newly settled world of Toussaint’s imported Island culture. Days after finishing the book, its phrases still ring in my mind: “Born bassourdie…What a way things does grow…Music too sweet!” As the prefacing poem by David Findlay declares, for colonized peoples, telling stories in any form of English is a way of appropriating one of our colonizers’ primary tools of oppression. Telling stories that deprivilege the status quo ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Kings and Judges: Balogun Ojetade’s Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then, Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on fifteen of the 42 works mentioned. In this sixteenth column I write about 2011’s steampunk/alternate history/horror novel Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1: Kings and Book 2: Judges), by Balogun Ojetade.

 

SHORT AND SHARP

Despite the dauntingly long title, Moses is no interminable historical treatise. It’s a fast-paced adventure, and at 174 pages, a nicely compact paperback with the weight and feel of a fat-spined graphic novel. Ojetade begins the book with heroine Harriet’s single-handed raid on a den of slavers and child abusers, and she barely rests between her numerous other exploits. Battling a body-swapping demon, pursued by an armed battalion of animated mounds of earth, Harriet relies ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Uses of Enchantment: Tananarive Due’s The Good House

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” In the two years since, Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on fourteen of the 42 works mentioned. The original “Crash Course” listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but the essays skip around. In this fifteenth column I write about The Good House, a 2003 novel by the brilliant and brave award-winner Tananarive Due.

 

OUR LONG NIGHTMARE

Daughter of civil rights activists, wife of another amazing African American author covered in my Crash Course (Steven Barnes), a formally trained and formerly practicing journalist, and holder of an endowed chair at Spelman College, Due has been around a few blocks a few times and seen a few issues in need of exploration. In The Good House she tackles the ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Sense from Senselessness: Kai Ashante Wilson’s “The Devil in America”

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” In the two years since, Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on thirteen of the 42 works mentioned. The original “Crash Course” listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but the essays skip around. In this fourteenth column I write about “The Devil in America,” one of the first professionally published stories by rising star Kai Ashante Wilson.

 

A ROUGH ONE

Using a nontraditional format, Wilson begins his story about an imagined nineteenth-century tragedy with a twentieth-century father’s reflections on real life anti-black violence in his own time. Just the victims’ names—Emmett Till, Amadou Diallo, Arthur McDuffie—evoke unavoidable brutality, the sort of waking nightmare that many an African American knows lies just below the surface ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Divine Effort: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on twelve of the 42 works mentioned. The original “Crash Course” listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but the essays skip around. This thirteenth column’s about Redemption in Indigo, Afro-Caribbean author and academic Karen Lord’s first novel.

 

SENEGALESE SCIENCE

Combining her passions—one of Lord’s degrees is in science and the other in the sociology of religion—Redemption retells a series of Senegalese folktales as part of its longer exploration of chaos and time. Paama, wife of the epic glutton Ansige, attracts the favorable attention of certain nonhuman entities, who bestow on her the power of actualizing less-than-likely events. These entities are known to Paama and her countrymen as djombi, for ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Old and Cold: “The Space Traders” by Derrick Bell

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on eleven of the 42 works mentioned. The original “Crash Course” listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but the essays skip around a bit. This twelfth column is devoted to “The Space Traders,” activist and law professor Derrick Bell’s story of aliens swapping their advanced technology for the guaranteed delivery to them of all African Americans.

WAIT, WHAT?

That’s right. These aliens are slave traders. Or they seem to want to be. They land on the first of January and make their offer: gold, environmental remediation, and cheap, clean nuclear power in exchange for “every American categorized as black on birth certificate or other official identification.” The offer’s good, ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Hope and Vengeance in Post-Apocalyptic Sudan: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on ten of the 42 works mentioned. The original “Crash Course” listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but the essays skip around a bit. This eleventh column is devoted to Who Fears Death, Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor’s stunning novel of a post-apocalyptic Sudan.

SEEDS OF RETRIBUTION

Okorafor’s protagonist, fiery-tempered Onyesonwu, is the daughter of genocide. Her father is Daib, a pale-skinned sorcerer who brutally rapes her dark-skinned mother, Najeeba. Daib glories openly in his crime and even films it, because he’s sure the resulting pregnancy will provide him with a son to wield as a tool against Najeeba’s people, the Okeke, who are deemed by his people, the Nuru, to be ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: The Spook Who Sat by the Door, by Sam Greenlee

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. The original essay listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but these essays skip around a bit. A year before the Broadway premiere of the Lorraine Hansberry play discussed here in May, Les Blancs, British press Allison & Busby published Sam Greenlee’s novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Eventually Bantam published a paperback version in the U.S., but though that went into over a dozen printings and the book was later made into a movie, Spook has remained a so-called cult classic since its initial appearance on the literary scene. The “cult” to which its popularity is limited is apparently that of ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: The Spook Who Sat by the Door, by Sam Greenlee

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. The original essay listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but these essays skip around a bit. A year before the Broadway premiere of the Lorraine Hansberry play discussed here in May, Les Blancs, British press Allison & Busby published Sam Greenlee’s novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Eventually Bantam published a paperback version in the U.S., but though that went into over a dozen printings and the book was later made into a movie, Spook has remained a so-called cult classic since its initial appearance on the literary scene. The “cult” to which its popularity is limited is apparently that of ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: The Spook Who Sat by the Door, by Sam Greenlee

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. The original essay listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but these essays skip around a bit. A year before the Broadway premiere of the Lorraine Hansberry play discussed here in May, Les Blancs, British press Allison & Busby published Sam Greenlee’s novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Eventually Bantam published a paperback version in the U.S., but though that went into over a dozen printings and the book was later made into a movie, Spook has remained a so-called cult classic since its initial appearance on the literary scene. The “cult” to which its popularity is limited is apparently that of ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, by Virginia Hamilton

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. This column’s subject, Virginia Hamilton’s The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, is a children’s novel about a child goddess come to Earth. From her heavenly home on top of Mount Highness in Kenya, Pretty Pearl journeys to America beside her brother John de Conquer. Their plan is to investigate the cruelties of chattel slavery. In the form of albatrosses they follow a slave ship to Georgia, but on landing they lie down in the red clay rather than jump right into interfering. Interference has a habit of backfiring, the grown-up god informs his little sister. But divine time runs differently than human time. The siblings take a ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. This one’s about Les Blancs, Lorraine Hansberry’s last play.  

WHERE IT FITS IN THE OEUVRE

First produced in 1970, a little over five years after the author died of cancer at the age of 34, Les Blancs never achieved the acclaim of Hansberry’s massively successful Broadway play A Raisin in the Sun, nor that of the Off-Broadway dramatic adaptation her widower Robert Nemiroff patched together from her notes and autobiographical writings, To Be Young, Gifted and Black. But though it remained unfinished at the time of her death, she considered Les Blancs her most important work.  

HOW TO TELL IT’S FANTASTIC

...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: Samuel R. Delany’s The Jewels of Aptor

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. This month’s installment is a call for the appreciation of Samuel R. Delany’s first published novel, The Jewels of Aptor. Written in Delany’s teens, Aptor was first published as an Ace Double in 1962, when the author was twenty. But that version had been shortened to fit the Ace Double format; for its 1968 solo edition fifteen cut pages were restored.  

WHAT HAPPENS

Poet and student Geo seeks summer employment on a ship with his friend Urson and a four-armed, tongueless thief they call Snake. The ship is bound on an occult mission under the orders of a woman claiming to be the Goddess Argo incarnate. The ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Comet”

"The Comet" W.E.B. Du Bois Our focus this column is on “The Comet,” a science fiction short story by W.E.B. Du Bois. Yes, as I note in the original Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction, that W.E.B. Du Bois: the well-known and recently misspelled critical thinker and race theorist. “The Comet” was first published in 1920 as the final chapter of his autobiographical collection of poems and essays Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil. Though nowhere near as influential as Du Bois’ monumental The Souls of Black Folk, Darkwater was popular and well-received. But by the time, almost a century later, that author and editor and Sheree Renee Thomas was compiling her own groundbreaking book, the anthology Dark Matter 1, she found this early and prominent work of science fiction languishing in completely undeserved obscurity.  

WHAT HAPPENS

In early twentieth-century Manhattan, bank employee ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

More than Nothing

nevertheless_filosofia

On International Women’s Day, several of the best writers in SF/F today reveal new stories inspired by the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted”, raising their voice in response to a phrase originally meant to silence.

The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the day of March 8th. They are collected here.

 

More than Nothing

 

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted in singing her pagan prayers.

Pines cast feathery shadows on the brightness far below. Smoothing her polka dot apron over her fresh-pressed jeans, Cora parted her full lips. Ready to pour from them a wordless yearning she’d never been taught. Liquid like the lake, golden like the light of the setting sun, calling—

“Cora!” Pastor Rose slashed through the gathering evening with his voice. “You finished washin them spoons for ice cream?”

He’d married her twin Nora, but he acted like ...

Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett

elysium-bookcover I don’t want to inflict vertigo on you, but in this installment of a deeper dive into my Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction we fly from the far past of 1887 and “The Goophered Grapevine,” to a novel of the nearly now. Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett could be categorized as the hardest of hardcore science fiction: aliens, spaceships, supercomputers–it has them all. Yet the lasting impression left by this brief but monumental 2014 novel is one of ethereality. Empires fall, towers melt into the air, and in the end only the most beautiful of ephemera abide: love and stories.  

WHAT GOES ON

In a series of vignettes separated by ones and zeros and DOS-looking command strings, a protagonist named variously Adrian and Adrianne, of shifting gender and age, loses and finds and loses again the person they love. This loved one, whose ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: “The Goophered Grapevine” by Charles W. Chestnutt

winslowhomer-dressingcarnival As I explained in this column’s first installment, this series is an expansion of my Fantastic Stories of the Imagination article titled “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” This new column delves more deeply into each of the 42 titles on that list. Deciding not to do that in forward or reverse chronological order, I began with Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day (1988) because of the special place it holds in my heart. Now I’m going to look even deeper into the past and switch things up to talk about “The Goophered Grapevine” by Charles W. Chesnutt, a 19th-century story that deserves our attention because of its brainy convolutions.

WHAT HAPPENS

Though it’s relatively short at 4700 words, “Grapevine” contains twists and turns enough for a much longer work. It begins with the account of a presumably white northerner who meets a “venerable-looking ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: “The Goophered Grapevine” by Charles W. Chestnutt

winslowhomer-dressingcarnival As I explained in this column’s first installment, this series is an expansion of my Fantastic Stories of the Imagination article titled “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” This new column delves more deeply into each of the 42 titles on that list. Deciding not to do that in forward or reverse chronological order, I began with Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day (1988) because of the special place it holds in my heart. Now I’m going to look even deeper into the past and switch things up to talk about “The Goophered Grapevine” by Charles W. Chesnutt, a 19th-century story that deserves our attention because of its brainy convolutions.

WHAT HAPPENS

Though it’s relatively short at 4700 words, “Grapevine” contains twists and turns enough for a much longer work. It begins with the account of a presumably white northerner who meets a “venerable-looking ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl