Monday, April 14, 2014
How I think about science fiction now
By Briana Whiteside
Two years ago, before I read Octavia Butler, I didn’t think that I would be interested in science fiction. When I heard sci-fi, I automatically thought of Star Wars and Star Trek.
Now, I cannot imagine reading African American literature without considering the parallels presented in science fiction. Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979) was the first book I read as an introduction to speculative fiction. While it is not her best work, it is definitely her most well-known. Since then, I’ve read stories by Samuel Delaney, Erna Brodber, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due.
I have discovered that the sci-fi written by black authors is in conversation with black writers associated with canonical African American literature. Speculative fiction provides readers with more ways of envisioning stories. For instance, I have noticed that Toni Morrison’s “ghost story” Beloved (1987) has similarities with Butler’s Kindred (1979) in regards to reincarnation and time travel.
Although, Af-Am lit and sci-fi have been treated as separate genres or fields, writers are often straddling the fence between the two. Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (2011), Phyllis Alesia Perry’s Stigmata (1999), Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters (1980), and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977), all use elements of the supernatural as central plots within their narratives.
I no longer treat sci-fi as a subgenre to African American literature, but as a sister genre that can enliven African American literary studies in the 21st century.
Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.