Space race

I’ve been reading and watching a great deal of science fiction recently. It’s an important genre, rarely accorded the respect it deserves. Octavia Butler’s thoughts are a helpful primer:

So, then, I write science fiction and fantasy for a living. As far as I know I’m still the only Black woman who does this. When I began to do a little public speaking, one of the questions I heard most often was, “What good is science fiction to Black people?” I was usually asked this by a Black person. I gave bits and pieces of answers that didn’t satisfy me and that probably didn’t satisfy my questioners. I resented the question. Why should I have to justify my profession to anyone?

But the answer to that was obvious. There was exactly one other Black science-fiction writer working successfully when I sold my first novel: Samuel R Delany, Jr. Now there are four of us. Delany, Steven Barnes, Charles R Saunders and me. Why? Lack of interest? Lack of confidence? A young Black woman once said to me, “I always wanted to write science fiction, but I didn’t think there were any Black women doing it.” Doubts show themselves in all sorts of ways. But still I’m asked, what good is science fiction to Black people?

What good is any form of literature to Black people?

What good is science fiction’s thinking about the present, the future, and the past? What good is its tendency to warn or to consider alternative ways of thinking and doing? What good is its examination of the possible effects of science and technology, or social organization and political direction? At its best, science fiction stimulates imagination and creativity. It gets reader and writer off the beaten track, of the narrow, narrow footpath of what “everyone” is saying, doing, thinking – whoever “everyone” happens to be this year.

And what good is all this to Black people?

From Octavia Butler’s, Positive Obsession.


I’ve just noticed that Norm has outed himself as a fan of science fiction. But he doesn’t seem to like the term “sci-fi”, and he doesn’t seem to be alone. While I’m pleased that Norm’s Family, I confess to not giving a toss about whether folk speak of “SF” or “sci-fi”. Then again, I’ve no strong feelings about the other SF: I learned early that you’re not supposed to call San Francisco anything other than “San Francisco” or “The City”. Bollocks to that. On both fronts, I think, these linguistic foibles are nothing but snobbery.

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