Post-Read: Science Fiction Discourse by Black Writers: Reshaping the Genre and Society

1. Dery’s “Black to the Future” is an essay that analyzes the question as to why so few African Americans have pursued science fiction as a genre of literary writing. The essay discusses how science fiction is a pulp genre excluded out of the American literary canon, essentially equating to the secondary citizenship that Blacks have been compartmentalized into, excluding them out of mainstream America.The author poses the question as to whether science fiction is the appropriate genre to portray discourse in political, social, and economic injustices of Blacks, whether by the few Black science fiction writers or white science fiction writers.These afrofuturistic science fiction novels encompass Black tech characters portrayed through sometimes stereotypical lens, or politically and socially-woke black conscious themes that adhere to the social and political climate of the respected time, in hopes of creating more ideal and equitable realities. A few Black writers are interviewed who share their views on the topic, discussing Blacks’ master of the figurative with themes like the signifying monkey and call and response, as well as the inability for White science fiction writers to accurately depict a Black conscious novel, even within a science fiction novel, for possibility of themes being lost in translation or simply ambiguous. The interviewees, specifically Samuel Delany, also discuss gender and sexuality within science fiction literature.  

2. “Black to the Future” was written in 1994 in Durham, North Carolina. Though the essay was written a couple decades after the renowned Black Arts Movement, the influence is apparent within the science fiction discourse in relation to Black science fiction writers. I had previously read a piece of literature by the celebrated James Baldwin, where he discusses the disapproval of Black science fiction writers, due in large part to the historical position of Blacks in American society. Baldwin proposes that Blacks have been disenfranchised politically, socially, and particularly, academically, so science fiction is a genre much too ideal and, quite literally, fictional, for Black intellects to cater their time to; Blacks have already had a difficult time being taken seriously intellectually, and so all means of discourse should be focused on the political, social, and economic breakthrough of Blacks that evokes Black consciousness and freedom within every aspect of these realms. I have to agree with Baldwin solely for the sake of the time period in which the text was written. The twentieth century was a time of extreme peril and discontent for Blacks in America, with not one, but two reconstructed forms of oppression that proceeded slavery: the Jim Crow era and mass incarceration, both of which continued the subjugation of Blacks, compartmentalizing them into the chronic identity of second class citizens. I believe Black issues embedded in science fiction novels could be lost in translation, subtly glossing over the real societal issues that are penetrating every aspect of Black individuals’ lives. The important issues need a serious context and framework to offer a serious tone of discourse worthy of a critical analysis. However, from a twenty-first-century perspective, I believe that afrofuturism is a much needed topic within science fiction, because it can reach a wider range of audiences, given that science fiction does and has inspired real life events and movements. By planting the seed of ideal change in a fictional context, political and social changes can be evoked that shakes the infamous status quo.

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