The State of Black Speculative Fiction

I am excited to participate in a seven-week online event celebrating the State of Black Science Fiction 2012. Each participating writer will blog once a week on a common topic. Today’s is “The State of Black Science Fiction.”

There will also be giveaways. Our first giveaway will take place on Monday, February 6, 2012. Each time one of my blog readers leaves a comment here or on my Facebook page (my handle is madcapmaggie), they will be entered for a chance to win.

I will be giving away a signed copy of the Poetic Muselings anthology, Lifelines. The winner will be announced on February 6th. And you can go on over to another author’s blog for a chance to win there, too.

And now on to The State of Black Speculative Fiction

I have been reading science fiction for a long time. I’m 65 now, and I was already a fan when I selected Robert A. Heinlein’s “Farmer in the Sky” for my tenth birthday. I read Samuel Delaney’s “Dhalgren” when it first came out. I’ve read reams of Octavia Butler and smaller amounts of Steven Barnes, Sheree Thomas, Walter Mosley and Nalo Hopkinson. I’ve sampled Charles Saunders and Tananarive Due. Still, in my opinion, we need more black writers, more readers, and better press.

My first love is poetry, and I’ve read a lot of poetry by black authors. I have a book of poetry by Rita Dove and another by Michael S. Harper on my nightstand. Gwendolyn Brooks is another favorite. A mention of Robert Hayden’s poem about Frederic Douglas made it into a poem of mine. Somewhere in my mess of books is an anthology. And I borrowed another from my local library. My local library is small and old. It’s so out of date that our town is building another.

Just for grins, I searched on Amazon for “African American poetry anthologies” (1244 results) versus “African American science fiction anthologies.” (174 results).

That’s sad. If any of my readers is interested in a list of Black poets, email me – or check one of the many anthologies out of the library and start reading. Your librarian can probably furnish you with a list of names with no difficulty.

If you’re interested in Black speculative fiction, you won’t be so lucky. Of the three librarian at my local library, only one, in her 20’s, had read any at all. The other two were both, I think, over 50, were at a loss. Neither was a fan of speculative fiction, much less heard of Black writers.

I didn’t fare much better at my local Barnes and Noble. There was indeed a novel by Walter Mosley on display, but it was one of his mysteries. The only Samuel Delaney they had was a single copy of Dhalgren, and they had nothing by Charles Saunders, Tananarive Due, or Steven Barnes. I would have found this much more frustrating if I hadn’t just borrowed several novels by Steven Barnes from my local library using inter-library loan.

What about Black characters by white sci fi authors? The only one who leaps to mind is Robert A. Heinlein. The main character in Tunnel in the Sky, Rod Walker, is black, as are a couple of the other characters. And Sergeant Jelal in Starship Troopers is black as well — a fact Heinlein, who loved to jolt readers out of their comfort zone, doesn’t reveal until half-way through the book, well after readers have had time to form an opinion about the character. Tunnel in the Sky, by the way, was written in 1955, and Starship Troopers in 1959.

As to me, I’m tired of the good guys always being white. That was a big part of the reason the alien Aleyni, my main character, Raketh Frey, and his father in my upcoming novel, “Relocated,” are all black. Another character who proves sympathetic, Major Brad Reynolds, is of mixed Native American heritage. The bad guys are white, and yes, it was a deliberate choice.

I’d like to see readers, regardless of race, be more open to reading about multi-ethnic characters, and I’d like to see more writers putting them in their fiction. I wish more we had more Black writers of speculative fiction, and more white writers with who are willing to take a risk and include Black characters in theirs.

Call me naive, but in my opinion, “I didn’t think about the race of my character,” is a cop-out. We live in a race-conscious world, a world that still marginalizes Blacks. I don’t want to see that continued into our vision of the future.

Do leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Lifelines. Who is your favorite Black poet? Who is your favorite Black speculative fiction author?

And be sure to check out my awesome fellow bloggers and support them by buying their novels. And keep reading.

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

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 or her website 

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: and 

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 is available from  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, 

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: and

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:

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: or

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,

Nicole Sconiers, Authoris 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:

Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed. is owner & operator of, & Visit him:






20 thoughts on “The State of Black Speculative Fiction

  1. Jean

    Love your post. So very true. As a Caucasian female I’m cautious. Only because I don’t want to get it wrong and offend. So I become careful about writing from male perspectives as well as from the perspective of other races. We see life from our own experiences and while I wish to be more diverse, I struggle with not knowing what I don’t know.


  2. Laurie

    Loved your post! I’ve been a Sci-fi fan all my life, too. I agree that we need more books with minorities. I find when I’m reading that when I like a character and get into the story, I stop thinking about color. I think it’s great that your bad guys in your new novel are white while the protagonists are multi-cultural….Love That!


  3. Anna Taylor Sweringen

    My favorite Black poet is Langston Hughes. My favorite Black speculative fiction writer is Octavia Butler. Thanks so much for this post.


  4. L. M. Davis

    Enjoyed your post. I definitely think that we need to grow both in terms of writers and audiences. What I especially like is the context that you offer. Black spec fic is not a new thing; people of color have been writing spec fic for generations. I think that it is crucial to claim that history because then we have a different frame of reference for black writers and readers that love the genre now.

    Also, definitely agree about people moving beyond the characters that look like them in their reading. I wrote a little about that in this blog:


  5. Margaret Fieland

    Thanks for the link. I enjoyed your post.

    I agree that kids can move beyond “looks like me” when reading fiction and identifying with the characters. I read reams of Heinlein as a kid, and most of the main characters were male. That never stopped me from identifying with them. I was a bookish, geeky tomboy, good at math and science like a lot of Heinlein’s characters. It never even occured to me not to identify with them simply because they happened to be boys.


  6. claudia celestial girl

    Love your post! Will try to follow the tour. I know of one black steampunk piece by an author, and another, working author of color, who coined the term ‘cotton-gin’ punk. I’ve written one that recently got accepted for an anthology. Those are the only I know of in the speculative genre of steampunk! (grins). I also wanted to mention that there’s a steampunk website for people of color called ‘Silver Goggles’ – because the so-called steampunk age usually skips over the fact that slavery and exploitation was rampant at that time. I’m also trying to write science-learning books with a multi-cultural emphasis.

    One important point about ‘not seeing color’ — this seems to be a lesson learned by white people from the civil rights movement – that ‘color’ doesn’t exist. Of course what this means is that true diversity is ignored in favor of characters who seem ‘white’ even if they have different skin colors. I think many of us felt that the real lesson of the civil rights movement is that all colors are equal under God. Not that there is no color!

    Here are the references for the sites I mentioned above:
    1.) the term ‘cotton-gin punk’

    2.) The Effluent Engine (a steampunk Haiti short story by author N.K. Jemisin):

    3.) Silver Goggles (Worn by the steampunk postcolonialist when engaging with issues of race, representation, diversity, and other such exciting adventures as one might find in a Scientific Romance):

    you can find my Haitian steampunk story soon at http://www.redphoenixbooks. Sorry for the plug.


  7. Administrator Post author

    Oh, plugs greatly appreciated — I’m always on the lookout for new reading material — and many thanks for the links.

    I thoroughly agree with your comment about the civil rights movement. All colors are indeed equal under God, but we’re cheating ourselves if we ignore real differences.

    Good luck with the science learning books. I have a BA in mathematics and an MS in computer science. I also have a collection of poems about mathematics that I’ve been rather lazy about whipping into shape and attempting to find a home for. Some have been published, but I’d love to be able to publish them as a collection at some point.


  8. Jessa Slade

    I had no idea what color Octavia Butler was when I first read her books. I didn’t know Samuel Delaney was black until I read this post (although the image from DHALGREN of the sun rising and setting in the same place has stuck with me since I read it as a kid). Should we have more variety in the viewpoints of our fiction? Always! Encouraging a multiplicity of experiences is all for the good. And I agree that for writers, thinking “post-racially” is a cop-out; it’s a writer’s job to know why any given character is the way she is, including why she’s black or white or alien.

    But in the end, to me as a reader, the color/gender/# of appendages of the author or character will always matter less than the content of the story. Thank you, Dr. King 🙂

    That said, if you haven’t read N. K. Jemisin, quick, go get her stories! Not because of her skin but because her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms books are awe-mazing.


  9. Administrator Post author

    Thanks for the recommendation — I’ll try interlibrary loan. I’d run right to the bookstore, except that recent experience has convinced me it’s a losing proposition :-(.


  10. Nicole

    Great post. This line struck me: “I wish more we had more Black writers of speculative fiction, and more white writers who are willing to take a risk and include Black characters in theirs.”

    I’ve found an amazing community of black spec fiction writers on the online forum Black Science Fiction Society The writers are out there; unfortunately, they don’t have the same access to mainstream publishing opportunities as their white counterparts. Even within the black literary community, writers of spec fiction/sci-fi are often seen as “alternative” or not as valid as writers of realism. That’s why I’m thankful for the indie authors who are struggling to make their voices heard.

    @Claudia. Thanks for those links! Checking them out now.


  11. Kathryn Scannell

    First, let me echo the recommendations for N. K. Jemisin. Her novels are wonderful, and I was fortunate enough to hear her speak on a couple of panels at Readercon a couple of years ago. She’s an amazing lady, and gave me a lot of food for thought on issues of people of color in speculative fiction (many of the same issues apply to Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic groups as well).


  12. L. M. Davis


    I think that there is an expectation that people of color will make that leap, but somehow, traditional, “mainstream”…whatever…publishers do not believe that white people are interested in or receptive to stories written from the perspectives of people of color. That is the only way to justify the notion that there is no audience for fantasy by people of color when there is such a huge audience for fantasy/spec fic in general.

    Perhaps that was once the case, but I am not sure how true that is these days. I have had a very diverse readership for my first book with really positive responses across the board. We have to change the narrative about the place of black spec fic in the larger world of speculative writing and we have to be very conscientious about that project.


  13. Margaret Fieland

    I thoroughly agree — and that’s a part of the reason I find the lack of books by Black writers at my local Barnes and Noble to be so frustrating — the first is personal, of course — I hate to have to wait to get my order in the mail — and the second speaks to reaching out for a wider readership.


  14. Jarvis "J. Bernard" Sheffield

    Margaret my hat is off to you for participating in this blog discussion. It is high time that people of different races open their minds to their fellow Americans or fellow human beings that don’t look like them. God created all of us in his image and we should treat each other as such. Good scifi is good scifi no matter what you look like. Kudos!


  15. Pingback: The State of Black Science Fiction in 2012 « Aker: Futuristically Ancient

  16. Paul West

    On the second day of Black History Month, You might want to consider featuring First Cause: A Novel About Human Possibility on your website.

    The author (yours truly) is a Caribbean-American New Yorker. The main protagonist, Adam Grey, is Caribbean-American, and one of the central themes in the book is that human advancement would involve the species’ gradual browning and the eradication of its imaginary boundaries.

    Moreover, it’s a compelling, page-turning read, and hopefully will provide food for thought on other topics of interest to the human condition.

    For your Kindle device, you can pick it up on Amazon here:

    And for different formats, you can get it on Smashwords here:

    I’d be happy to answer any questions you have, and I would love to appear on your site. Thank you for your time!



  17. Erick

    Great post. One black sci-fi protagonist that comes to mind (his father is African-American, his mother is Korean) is the character, Hiro Protagonist in “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson.



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