Black Speculative Tech – Uses of Technology in Black Science Fiction, Part 2

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Blogger Sherese Francis of submitted several other examples of Black technological development and ingenuity as illustrated in fiction. Using the concept of electricity to analyze Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Francis concludes that the narrator of the book is able to secretly take electric power away from white capitalist-centered spaces like Monopolated Light and Power Company. In her essay, The Legba Circuit, she briefly suggests that the narrator invented a kind of “socio-transformer” that allowed him to convert the energy used for white capitalist-centered society and redirect it to his hole to give a spotlight to black-centered history and culture. Francis also notes several instances of speculative futuristic and ancient tech in an early draft of Tade Thompson’s short story Bicycle Girl. Set in Nigeria in 2081, the story contains Nimbus information system technology, much like a Big Brother system, which uses “Ariyo chip” implants and Google-like glasses that have a holographic keyboard and are powered by piezoelectricity, bioelectricity, thermo-conversion of body heat, electromagnetic induction, and sun power.

Finally, Francis tells of how Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber turns the table on the white, patriarchal-centered concept of Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, through her description of the Caribbean-inspired futuristic planet of Toussaint, where instead of Big Brother it is Grand Mother. Instead of a system, Ingsoc, whose sole purpose is to gain power and control, Midnight Robber’s “Grande Nanotech (Granny Nanny) Sentient Interface” is much more nurturing and protective of its people. The Interface is also called Gran-Nan-S-I,” connecting the system to Anansi, the trickster spider of West African heritage, and the Nansi Web is the Internet network. Hopkinson also evokes other West African deities and cultural heroes, like Eshu, who is the implanted computer system. “Through the cultural basis of these systems,” says Francis, “Hopkinson gives the main character Tan-Tan a foundation of heroic women and heroes that she can rely on when they are lacking in her own family, and she complicates notions of technology, motherhood, the watchful eye of authority, and their purposes through a diasporic lens.”

We will continue our exploration of Black speculative technology in art, music and literature in Part 3. In the meantime, feel free to comment below or reach out to us with your own examples.

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”