I am a video game player. There is no denying that. But I am also a father. So finding balance between family obligations and video games can be daunting at times. So I allow myself to buy one video game — at full retail price — a year. Well one year, I decided that the game I wanted was Street Fighter IV. I’ve been a big SF fan since SFII. My cousins and I would play that game to death in my uncle’s living room to the point that we were banished from the T.V.
I was extremely surprised that there was a character of Mexican heritage in the game, so that was another incentive for purchasing it. When I chose El Fuerte as my character, I was surprised that, well, he was shorter then Blanka, his quest is to find good recipes, really has no projectile moves, and, let’s be real, resembles a rejected understudy to Rey Mysterio Jr.
In honor of the Nerds of Color Lit Week, I wanted to share a piece called “Supa Soul Sista.” I wrote and performed it with Turiya Autry and our poetry duo Good Sista/Bad Sista a few years ago.
We wrote it because we are both unabashed nerds. And we are also both Black feminist poets, professors and activist/organizers. As many folks reading this blog know, this mix can cause a bigger explosion than a warp core breach in the matter/anti-matter containment unit on the Starship Enterprise. Often there are no images of anyone who looks like us in comics or in sci-fi, and those folks who do are not authentic representations, but are often more ideas of what white male writers think Black women are.
Recently, a perennial discussion about diversity, or lack thereof, amongst writers of speculative fiction, and their characters, storylines, settings, and perspectives, blew up on the Internet, resulting in the hashtag #DiversityinSFF
During an interview in the 1980s, Black female science fiction writer Octavia Butler was asked her how it felt to be THE Black female science fiction writer. And Octavia replied she never wanted that title. She said she wanted to be one of hundreds of Black female sci-fi writers. She said she wanted thousands of folks writing sci-fi and writing themselves into the future.
The Nerds of Color collective is proud to be host to such an amazing group of talented creators, for not only are we fans, but among us are writers, artists, and musicians who distill their love for genre culture into new creations, continuing the dialogue and moving the culture forward. Today, as we close out #LitWeekNOC, our week-long look at issues of diversity in written speculative fiction, we want to recognize our talented colleagues. So go read these books!
“The difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well-educated – is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations – in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.” — Constable Moore, The Diamond Age
Neal Stephenson’s 1995 science fiction classic, The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, blew me away when I first read it as an idealistic NOC-in-training. I interpreted it as a heartwarming coming-of-age story about a down-and-out little girl named Nell who stumbled upon a copy of the Primer, a multi-disciplinary interactive textbook designed to train an upper-class girl to adulthood. She saves herself and the world through what she learns from the Primer. Girl power! The end!
It turns out, upon a recent re-reading, that I failed to recognize about ten other layers of the onion, all of them much heavier than the idea of an interactive book for girls. There is Stephenson’s grim portrayal of the future of China, for one, as well as his prediction that the boundary lines between people will not be drawn on a geographic plane, but rather by culture, and people will form tribes based on race, religion, or other creeds.
The flip side of the discussion of opening up the speculative fiction genres to more writers of color telling stories about characters of color is the phenomenon of white writers employing characters of color. Such works are not automatically or inherently problematic when done sensitively and skillfully; indeed, the diversification of the worlds of white creators to reflect the real diversity of our own is necessary. Speculative fiction abounds with examples both bad, like the racial allegories of Tolkien‘s Middle Earth, and good, like Le Guin’s Earthsea series, Stephenson’s Snow Crash, or Gaiman’s Anansi Boys.
In the book, Tim writes a series of poems from the perspective of Blade, the Marvel Comics vampire hunter made famous by a series of movies starring Wesley Snipes.
For Lit Week, I asked Tim if we could publish one of the “Blade” poems here on The Nerds of Color. After the jump, you’ll find the first poem in the book’s series of five. The other poems are titled “Blade, Historical,” “Blade, Unplugged,” “Blade, Unsympathetic,” and “Blade, Epiphany.” So, if you haven’t already, go out and get a copy of Fast Animal right now — and hell, all of Tim’s other books of poetry. You won’t be sorry.
As the father of two daughters of color, finding reading material and other media that both reflect back at them and reflect the wider, diverse world of which they are a part is important to me. The discussion around what kind of stories get told about what kind of characters and who gets to tell them is, sadly, not relegated to the realm of speculative fiction literature or literary fiction. The dismal state of affairs in the world of children’s literature was recently put in stark relief by the good people at Lee and Low Books, whose tagline is “About Everyone. For Everyone.”
I’m listening to the last of the Chaos Walking series from author Patrick Ness. The series is a trilogy which begins with The Knife of Never Letting Go, continues with The Ask and the Answer, and concludes with the final book, Monsters of Men.
We begin with meeting Todd, the youngest boy of Prentisstown, a settlement on New World where men have “Noise,” which are thoughts, both truth and lies, made real. An uncontrollable curse, that was a “gift” of the new world the settlers found when they landed years ago. In Prentisstown, there are no women. None. Something happened years ago. A War. A war fought between the men on New World and the indigenous people called the Spackle. Like all wars, there is cost. Great cost, and in this war, the cost was women.
Years ago, before we knew what shape Secret Identities was going to take, I asked my friend and former professor, the poet Luisa Igloria, to submit a poem about Asian Americans and superheroes. She sent me this beautiful persona poem from the point of view of Dolly Arro, the nurse who cared for Christopher Reeve for so many years until he died in 2004.
Though we ended up not using it in Secret Identities, Luisa eventually published the poem in the online literary magazine SWEET in 2008. I’ve asked Luisa if we could reprint her poem here on The Nerds of Color for Lit Week. The poem is after the jump, and Luisa’s new book, The Saints of Streets, is available now.
While I read often, I rarely read quickly. I am jealous of my friends who can devour books. I am not that way and am awfully indecisive. My reading habit is to start six or seven books hopping between each and hoping one amongst all of them will stick. And even then, sometimes none of them do. But I’m happy to report that Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King were books that I devoured.
This is all to say that I enjoyed those books immensely. And yet one minor passage midway through The Magician King gives me pause and illustrates why I am — in the end and inescapably — a Nerd of Color. Like most things, it has to do with penis, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The #DiversityInSFF hashtag gave a solid signal boost to the longstanding, often-ignored, ever-trolled, much-needed convos about race and gender, privilege and science fiction/fantasy that have been going on since the dawn of time. For a few weeks twitter was all aflame with debates, links and related shenanigans. We have these convos, increasingly in depth, at cons and across the blogosphere. Backlash against those who speak out has come in the form of death and rape threats, hate mail, doubling down on sexist/racist/homophobic/ableist material, and mind-numbingly nonsensical counterarguments. And, of course, comments sections. Still, we move forward, take breaks to recuperate and then move forward some more towards a vision of SF/F that isn’t just another white male savior fantasies, a diversity that’s more than fake smiling multicolored dress up dolls.
This month Rose Fox and I have been wrapping up the selection process for Long Hidden, an anthology of speculative fiction from the margins of history. It’s busied me up and kept me from banging my head against the keyboard trying to piece together a coherent response to some never-ending fuckery and maybe that’s a good thing. My words are coming, but sometimes the best counterattack is to simply reroute the conversation to creativity, to create something new, a new space for voices that don’t get play in mainstream venues.
Read on to find some links to recent conversations about race and SF/F:
While this blog regularly gives voice(s) to the perspectives of self-proclaimed nerds of color on speculative media cinematic, televisual, animated, illustrated, and digitally interactive, we can’t forget that the pop-cultural expanse of fantastic worlds and stories we subsume under the rubrics of science fiction and fantasy, or speculative fiction more inclusively, or even nerd or geek culture more broadly, have their roots in the written. And so, this week on The Nerds of Color, we celebrate the written word. Literature. Books.