February is Black History Month, offering us a chance to examine the contributions and struggles of African-Americans to the American and indeed world historical record. “Struggle” and “Contribution” are accurate if badly understated descriptions of the journey the black author has had to navigate towards success and recognition. One blog cannot capture all of that, but at least we can shine a light, however briefly, on that momentous journey and some of its participants.
One month cannot hope to bring justice to the contribution of an entire continent and its descendants, however well meaning the intentions of those involved. These words won’t even scratch the surface of what we as SF readers do not know about Black Science Fiction and those writing it. What we can do however, is turn you onto some crumbs laid by those better qualified to speak on the subject and entice you to allow your imagination to be caught up in these fantastic tales written by talented writers. At JordanCon we will have a panel on this very subject that I encourage you to attend.
If you were looking for a place to start, then might I suggest Nisi Shawl’s excellent series on TOR.com, aptly titled The History of Black Science Fiction. Begun (I believe) in December of 2016, the monthly installments, it talks about books that Ms. Shawl outlined in her article “A Crash Course in the History of Science Fiction“. You will find a grand collection of speculative fiction pieces that outline the long history of Black Science Fiction, but does so with a great deal of heart and soul. There are many names there you will not recognize, giving you the opportunity to discover new authors, both living and passed. I personally have added Nisi Shawl’s Everfair to my own Wish List and will be picking it up soon.
I only came upon the works of Octavia E. Butler a few years ago, for which one of our author GoH rightly admonished me. I realized I had not been looking hard enough or thorough enough in my own journey through Science Fiction and had been neglecting many writers who could have filled my shelves. That is changing, but Octavia Butler holds a special place for me in that she is the only author to make me cry while reading one of her stories. Both Butler and Samuel R. Delany are Masters of SF and no matter how much we praise them, it is not nearly enough given their level of talent as story tellers.
But the problem is that Butler and Delany are (relatively speaking) know names in SF. Their works combined do not even touch the surface of the volumes of Science Fiction by and for black authors. N.K. Jemisin’sHow Long Until Black Future Month? asks a provocative question with its title as it suggests that our current visions of the future or worlds far, far away do not always include people of color and the powerful cultures that birthed them. The Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor certainly provides one answer to the question, but there is so much more to do and so many voices waiting to be discovered.
A friend on Facebook challenged his friends to shout out the names of black authors this month. That post inspired this blog, but I do not know personally any of the authors I have talked about so far. To correct that let me point you to another book on my list that does include two authors I know through JordanCon as they have been guests in the past and I hope will continue to grace our convention in the future. Gerald L. Coleman and Milton J. Davis are great authors who along with eight others bring stories of the Dark Universe: Bright Empire to life. When you see them at JordanCon be sure to say hello!
It might seem logical that readers who enjoy fantasy would enjoy science fiction as well, since they are put together in most books stores for a reason. One is just a mirror of the other, with magic or technology being the primary difference in the two genres. They even mix together in space fantasy and steampunk, so what all the headache?
Truth is, the fantasy reader and science fiction reader are not necessarily the same person. While many folks enjoy both genres in other ways, films for instance, somewhat rarer is the reader who enjoys both. There are significant differences between the two genres and writing style may also play a part.
I enjoy both myself, though I prefer science fiction by a small margin because I find the questions SF asks to be more relevant in our modern world. I also think there is an inherent hope in SF, especially today: that we will be around in a thousand years to answer the questions we have asked today.
Bouncing off a Book
If someone who was not familiar with The Wheel of Time, but was a SF fan asked me to describe the series, I would say something like “Well, Paul Atreides goes on a quest to lock away the evil planet thing from Fifth Element.” It is not entirely accurate of course, but I would be speaking a language they understood. Conversely, I might use examples from TWoT to entice a fantasy reader to give DUNE a try.
Ironically, I hear the same thing about both Dune and The Eye of World when someone says they couldn’t finish the book, often followed by someone responding “you have to push through it.” I imagine this is true of a large number of books and genres one might want to try and get into but be afraid to try. As readers we enjoy our comfort zones and our reading budgets are not unlimited, though we wish they were.
Science Fiction Has a Place for Everyone
It may seem intimidating to try and dive into SF, but I assure you there are so many great stories out there that you can try. Everything from short to stories to epic series is available, to suit whatever your taste is. It is not all robots or spaceships or social SF. It is not all space opera or military SF.
This is one reason that this year, we will have our Dune for the Wheel of Time Fan, panel. Our guest panelists are going to be a great resource to explain why diving into this series might be the place to start. I hope you join us Saturday afternoon for what I guarantee will be a great and informative time.
After a few weeks away charging our proton guns and psionic powers, the Weirdsday Blog is back. We hope the holidays, however you celebrate them, were good ones. Now it is time to dive into our preview of the the Science Fiction track for 2019. First of course, our Quick Hits
I cannot remember if this has been official yet, but I guess I am making it official. We are now the Science Fiction track. Unofficially you can use Rivets & Robots (or Robots & Rivets) if you wish, but officially we are just Sci Fi.
Ancillary Read Along
There will be another Ancillary Justice Read Along blog this Friday. It will just be there to catch folks up and get them ready for the next week’s Ancillary Read Along. So catch up and be ready!
The Friday Fandom Smackdown
This will be our fourth year of the Fandom Smackdown and after some discussion, we have decided to make a few changes. Instead of listing those changes, let’s just talk about the basic rules.
There will be six categories, covering six different Fandoms.
There will be six teams of five players.
All players will get a ribbon saying “Laid the Smack!”
First & Second Place teams get medals
General Trivia worth a set number of points.
Each team gets the right to choose a question. If they cannot answer or get it wrong, other teams can get points for answering it.
These are the fandoms that will be battling it out this year. Anything is game from their canon or canon-adjacent sources.
The Dungeons & The Dragons – And before someone points out that D&D is “fantasy”, S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks establishes that D&D exists in a SF universe (spoilers: there is a space ship). In addition the space fantasy boxed set for 2nd Edition AD&D, Spelljammer, is well, space fantasy. So it fits perfectly in our track.
Next week, we take a deeper look into some of our panels.
Welcome to the Weirdsday Blog! Officially November is our Military SF month and we’re talking a little about the history of Military SF and its influence on our culture and the genre. Some of you may already be fans and some of you are not, but I hope you find yourself seeking out some Military SF to give it a try.
Military SF has been around almost as long as the sub-genre itself. A familiar name wrote some of the earliest works that hold some aspects of Military SF. H.G. Wells wrote two stories of note, one of them The Land Ironclads you may not have heard of, but the second, The War of the The Worlds, I suspect that you have. At least if you have been reading the blog!
These are not jingoistic pro-war works, but thoughtful stories about war and society and the people living through them. In particular these are themes that often arise in Military SF, including in works of today.
One of the most (some say the most) important and certainly highly controversial pre-Vietnam era Military SF novel is Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I suspect many people misunderstand the novel, but those who have read it either love it or think poorly of Heinlein’s politics. Regardless, Starship Troopers sets a tone that will transcend many years and generations of writers, with more than a few taking a stab at writing spiritual successors. For example, Old Man’s War by John Sclazi would be considered one of these as would John Steakley’s Armor.
After Vietnam the sub-genre changed. Authors who had been through the horrors of the Vietnam War were writing stories that looked at war in general a little differently. Some great examples of this are Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammer series. Of course Vietnam influenced more than just Military SF and more than a few veterans (including Robert Jordan) wrote fantasy literature as well.
Military Space Opera
Military SF touches all the various sub-genres of mainstream SF, including Space Opera. Several of these series are very popular with readers. David Weber’s Honor Harrington tells the tale of a Royal Manticore captain, Honor Harrington, as she navigates battles both physical and political. This has spawned a huge fandom dedicated to the series. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga is also very popular and follows the exploits of Mile Vorkosigan and his relations. Of course there are many other series that appeal to those who enjoy a good Space Opera.
We encourage you to seek out some Military SF that suits your taste and share it with others. There is something out there for everyone.
No Ancillary Read Along this week, but we have a surprise in store for the next installment.
With guests chosen, we will begin to talk about the panels we have planned for JordanCon 11. Stay tuned!
Lots of information put forth in these two chapters. They are not info dumps, not exactly and the information itself seems important. We are learning more about why Breq has come to the wold Nilt and more about both her own past and that of Seivarden. The delivery of this information cuts back and forth quite a bit and I found myself looking back (and listening back) to make sure I knew which character was which. The ancillaries, which I think I can safely say are dead people or nearly dead people made part of a single entity, an AI, also make things a bit confusing at times. However, confusions aside the story itself is interesting and I am enjoying Breq’s point of view. I also am a fan of deliberate pacing and the pacing in Ancillary Justice continues to be very deliberate.
A final overall thought. The Radch language seems to lack certain basic concepts, which are too convenient to be coincidence. It will be interesting to see if this is addressed.
In chapter 3 the focus is mostly on Breq and Seivarden trying to find someone. We learn that this doctor (Strigan) is a collector and was assigned to the station of Dras Annia before up and leaving. Breq is pursuing Strigan for some reason that has yet to be revealed. During this pursuit, Breq runs afoul of the locals yet again and this time we see how ruthless and efficient an ancillary can be. Breq dispatches the flyer merchant and her three companions with relative ease and then takes their flyer. We have yet to see if that will cause issues down the line. Eventually Breq and Seivarden come to Strigan’s cabin but find that Strigan has fled ahead of Breq.
Chapter four reveals more about the Radch and its brutal uses of force. This is mostly a flashback chapter, telling the story of Breq in her earlier life as an ancillary. We learn something about the religious beliefs of the Radch, who are polytheists, and the relationship between two groups of people on Shis’urna. The Tanmind and Orsinians have an uneasy (at best) relationship. There appears to be a great deal of resentment by both groups and Lt. Awn seems to favor the Orsinians, the lower class. An interesting tension is developing, with the being that will be Breq just watching dispassionately.
Why is Breq pursuing Strigan?
Will we learn where Sievarden has been for the last thousand years?
How will the tension between the Tanmind and Orsinians affect the Radch occupation.
In this week’s blog we see the end of SF Horror month and take a look into our scanners for what is coming in November.
The Game is the Thing
Gaming is a relatively new medium for delivering SF Horror content. Well if you consider thirty+ years or so to be “new”. More than a few table top and video games combine science fiction and horror in their story lines. The table top rpg Eclipse Phase is a more recent example, but one of the best known is Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. Call of Cthulhu taps into the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft.
Video games can deliver a great horror experience. One of my favorites was System Shock 2. You should play it with the lights off and your headphones on. That is the best way to get the experience. Another personal favorite is Dead Space, which had a few animated films and a couple sequels. These few games are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to SF Horror games.
Military SF November
One hundred years what can arguably said was the most destructive war in human history ended. Even today the human race is still feeling the effects of The Great War, also known as World War One. War and the effects of war on soldiers and civilians has spawned a great deal of sf literature and entertainment. We will talk about Military SF in November, from many different points of view and with an eye towards treating the subject with the sensitivity it requires.
The Ancillary Read Along will be posted as its own blog entry today, but the discussion will still take place on the JordanCon group on Facebook