Good Read: 12 Science Fiction Books Written by Black Authors


‘Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film’

“Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film” by Adilifu Nama (2008) is the first book-length study of African-American representation in science fiction films. “Black Space” demonstrates that science fiction cinema has become an important field of racial analysis, a site where definitions of race can be contested and post-civil rights race relations (re)imagined.



‘The Conjure Woman’ 

“The Conjure Woman” is a collection of short stories, written by Charles W. Chesnutt in 1899, that deal with major themes through the lens of an African-American man living in the antebellum South. The prose is a bit dated, and very 19th century, but it establishes the genre very well. Chesnutt’s work is one of the first collections to be truly considered Black speculative fiction/sci-fi/fantasy. Also, “The Conjure Woman” collection is 100 percent free on Project Gutenberg.



‘Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation’

“Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation” edited by Sheena C. Howard and Ronald L. Jackson II (2013) is an analytic history of the diverse contributions of Black artists to the medium of comics. Covering comic books, superhero comics, graphic novels and cartoon strips from the early 20th century to the present, the book explores the ways in which Black comic artists have grappled with such themes as the Black experience, gender identity, politics and social media.

Translating Future Noise: Interview with Producer and Composer King Britt

Afrofuturistic music, art and culture showed early signs of life in Philadelphia decades before the term was coined. Because some of the men who would come to be dubbed the forefathers of the genre worked, lived, created and left their marks in Philly, the groundwork for the genre and culture has been substantially laid here. Sun Ra spent some years here and had a home base in the Germantown section of Philly, where the Sun Ra Arkestra continues to practice to this day; while jazz legend John Coltrane’s house still stands as a local landmark and testament to his childhood, study and early career in Philly. Philly is home to The East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), the region’s first Black comic book convention. Samuel Delaney, Nebula-award winning author and recently named Grand Master of Science Fiction, is currently a creative writing professor at Temple University.

Philly is also home to world-renowned producer, composer and performer King Britt, who started experimenting with speculative and electronic sounds early on in his work. I caught up with King Britt in the middle of plane hopping on his way to Berlin to get his thoughts on Afrofuturism, technology, science fiction, and how it all collides as inspiration for his music and creativity.

What sci-fi/speculative fiction books, shows or comics influenced you as a musician and your work now?

Funny, as a kid I wanted to be an astronomer from like third grade to eighth grade. I had all the cool space books and didn’t really get into sci-fi through books. It was always sci fact.

Films and TV were my influence more than comics. Although the Muhammad Ali vs Superman giant comic was the most amazing thing I owned.

Ultraman and Johnny Sokko TV shows were probably the most important influences. They were Japanese TV shows that made it to the USA on a regular basis in the afternoons. I was obsessed with them. Still, it was like super innovative for the lack of technology at the time.

Then, of course, Shazam, Wonder Twins and Isis TV shows. Isis was the illest!!

Describe your first musical instrument. What made you pick it up? Who are your greatest musical influences? Who and what inspired you to take this path?

Well, both parents were music collectors, so I figure it was inevitable that I would fall into it in some way, shape or form.

In second grade, I played violin but never thought of pursuing music as a profession.

I soon started collecting as well but didn’t get serious about making music until the Scritti Politti Cupid and Psyche 85 came out. I needed to make music like that. Of course Depeche Mode as well.

So I bought my first keyboard, a Yamaha DX 100, and then I had the bug. Jazz fusion and new wave being my main influences.

What do you listen to before a show? What would be your theme song or anthem?

Before a show I try to listen to the act before me and feel the room out. Especially when DJing. Then maybe 15 before I just need silence to channel my spirit guide.

My theme music would just be a drone in C minor.

What was the Saturn Never Sleeps project? What is the meaning of the name?

SNS was a project, with Rucyl Mills, I was involved with years ago that is now defunct. I had gotten a personal call from the ICA in Philadelphia to curate a music performance around an amazing Sun Ra exhibit that was here from Chicago. Rucyl and I were dating at the time and thinking of the right time to collaborate. I felt this was the perfect opportunity to do an improvisational show. I called up Tim Motzer and Damon Bennett for guitar and keys and my homie Jason Senk on visuals. I had Jason cut up Sun Ra footage to mix live with us.

The name was a moment when we were trying to figure the name. I said Saturn must be in the title and Rucyl was like, don’t sleep (slang) and boom Saturn Never Sleeps. We went on to play at the World Finance Center, big props to Ben Neil … and then we started a series and did an album. Fun times. I have a new series starting in January around my experimental label, The Buddy System project.

When you improvise soundscapes (for example, live improvised sound for Brother from Another remix, improvised sound for Bucknell gala), are you recreating/participating in traditions such as free improvisation jazz, or what Sun Ra called ‘phree music,’ music of the sun? What inspires you to create sound in this way?

There is nothing phree-er than improv. I have little loops and such to combine for the foundation and then create live from there. I now have the tools to really express myself in a live context. Be it with a full band or solo. I feel I bring my studio wizardry to the stage now.

How do you define technology? Do you see art and music as technologies in and of themselves, absent whatever medium is used to create, communicate or transmit the sound or the image? How do you use technology to create?

For me, technologies are the tools based in a process, used to create more technologies.

Technology can be knowledge, art, objects … whatever thought-out system which can be used to help one adapt or create.

I feel technologies are infinite, and, yes, each is in itself a technology even out of context.

All of our creativity is from some sort of technology … brain, molecular, whatever.

How does futurism inform your work in music and technology? Do you identify as an Afrofuturist? What pulled you to the genre and how do you translate the concept into sound?

I feel the genre came to us. The term was created and it stuck. But I didn’t consciously say I’m an Afrofuturist. It just happens that I was way before the term. I feel I have always been a starchild, so I am this naturally.

I definitely now use it as it helps people understand and relate to the ideas. My major was marketing, so it helps in defining market value in terms of making money.

Earlier this year, you participated in the SPACES artist residency, a residency where artists share their expertise and creative practices with a neighborhood struggling after decades of disinvestment. What about the SPACES residency, if anything, was different or nontraditional from other residencies you’ve done?

This is the first residency where I worked with the youth. I learned so much. They are fearless and the program was to start a label and Internet radio show for the community and ended up with a studio, too, Playback Radio. This is the main hub! It blew my mind, and I’m excited to take this to other cities. Access is key! I also learned to be a better leader as inspiration to the youth.

As part of SPACES, you worked with the community to create Playback Music, a record label and radio show that gathers, remixes and broadcasts the voices and sounds of North Philadelphia around the world. Why was it important for you to bring this project to the community? How do you feel the residency connects to the tradition of Afrofuturism? How did technology play a role, and why is access to tech important, particularly for disenfranchised and marginalized communities?

Yes, access. Without it you feel that there is no way out! The simple technology we had in the studio opened doors to the entire world through software and the Internet.

I feel the community needed to hear not only new music but to hear themselves on the show. Be it music, interviews etc. we also did a party every Monday on the block called The Stoop. That kinda turned into the show. I’m excited for them to take it on Germantown Avenue, which was the plan. Just had to wait for the landlord.

As it relates to Afrofuturism … Black people using what we got to the max as usual.

In your travels, have you seen the concept of Afrofuturism and the Black speculative in other cities and countries? Do you see any particular place as becoming a hub or central to the movement?

I feel it’s the coin phrase now and it’s everywhere. But L.A. has taken it to a whole new level with low-end theory and flying lotus’ Brainfeeder label … also Seattle with Shabazz. But they don’t look at it in those terms … it’s just natural!

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).”

6 Organizations Every Black Nerd Should Know About

1. Kemetic Youth Foundation (Ferndale, Michigan)

Teaching the Kemetic history, theology, wisdom and understanding while supporting, educating and empowering our young people. Monthly workshops, lectures, support groups, writings.

blerds afro 3

2. East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (Philadelphia)

ECBACC, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, holds the annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, America’s premier Black comic book convention encouraging youth literacy and expression through reading, writing and drawing comic books. “ECBACC offers workshops and activities dedicated to promoting literacy and creativity. The great thing about this is that the ECBACC was founded in Philadelphia, the city of many of the nation’s firsts — the first President’s House/White House, university, library, museum, public park, hospital, bank, zoo, prison — and the very first independent ‘Black comic book’: All-Negro Comics created by Orrin C. Evans in 1947,” said Yumy Odom, founder and president of ECBACC, Inc., and a self-described archivist of the Afrocentric comic book tradition who has been using comic books in the classroom since 1982.

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

While history books would have us believe that scientific and technological advancement suddenly sprang forth during the Age of Enlightenment in late-17th century Western Europe, a deeper dig into the matter reveals that the institution of African enslavement has an inextricable connection to the development of the Western scientific establishment. Scientific experimentation and studies on enslaved Black bodies became the justification for continued enslavement. In her book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Harriet A. Washington provides a history of medical experimentation on African-Americans, presenting the first full account of the gross mistreatment of Black people as forced subjects of experimentation.

Because of institutional racism and our positions as mere subjects of science, Black people have typically been excluded from the mainstream scientific establishment as actors, practitioners, researchers and policymakers. Black scientific and technological innovation and achievement have gone virtually unrecognized, save for the handful of Black scientists and engineers who get their acknowledgments during Black History Month. Contrary to perceptions of Blackness as divorced from tech and science, we have a long and well-documented history, present and anticipated future of technological development behind and ahead of us. In this series, we continue to explore the expansive realm of Black speculative technologies in music, art and literature.

Black Speculative Tech – Uses of Technology in Black Science Fiction, Part 1

I’ve always considered the term “science fiction,” as applied to writing, film and other speculative media involving scientific concerns, to be somewhat inadequate. It has always seemed to me that the worlds created within the pages or upon the screen are literally written into existence, brought to life, fully functioning and self-sustaining in the imaginations and minds of the viewers and readers, whereas the term “fiction” would seem to deny the world its possibility of being.

Science fiction also denotes a false sense of cause and effect, as though the writing or film is influenced by the field of science in a unilateral direction, instead of both science and speculative works being mutually influenced by each other. Science and technology have benefitted from the imaginations of science fiction writers as much as the reverse, and many sci-fi writers are, in fact, scientists, or are consulted by scientists when their work predicts the future or thinks up new possibilities and uses for technology. Many of the words and terms that we believe to have been fashioned in a laboratory, such as “zero gravity,” “ion drive,” and “robotics” were first used in science-fiction stories, and subsequently integrated into science jargon. And any sci-fi writer will tell you that extensive research into the scientific area that your story is focused on is crucial and perpetual. Likely, the same is true for other artists and performers whose works are speculative or science fictional in nature.

In this ongoing examination, we will look at the use of technology in the writings and art of popular and contemporary Black speculative writers and artists, what the technology comments on or correspond to in reality, how that technology anticipates some later development in science, or how the work expands or redefines the meaning of technology.

Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, AD 1933-1940 written in 1931 by George Schuyler, tells the story of a technology invented by a Black scientist named Dr. Crookman that changes a Black person into a white person. The transforming technology seems to anticipate the skin-bleaching phenomenon that would later grip societies all around the world. Although many sources trace skin-lightening techniques back to ancient times, skin-lightening cream did not come into mass production until the 1960s. In 1940, it was discovered that the chemical compound hydroquinone would depigment skin in people of color wearing rubber gloves made of the compound. In 1978, the Food and Drug Administration would issue proposed rules for over-the-counter drugs containing hydroquinone, which included skin-bleaching products. The chemical has since been banned in several countries, but remains available over the counter in the United States if it contains the chemical below a certain percentage. In Schuyler’s time, just as in 2014, lighter skin means a higher rung on the social hierarchy, along with better social and economic opportunities. Crookman’s machine, described as “a cross between a dentist’s chair and an electric chair,” also anticipates the use of cosmetic surgery to alter appearance. The technology in the novel changes not only the Black person’s skin pigmentation, but hair texture and color, nose and lips.

In her short story Like Daughter (appearing in the Dark Matter anthology), speculative author Tananarive Due paints an eerie picture of “designer babies” taken to its most extreme conclusion. Synthesizing the concepts of genetics, epigenetics, trauma and memory, Due’s story, released in 2001, seems to anticipate the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to pre-select preferred qualities of a child, such as its eye color and gender, and advances in assisted reproductive technology that could eventually allow parents to genetically engineer a child.

Amiri Baraka has two works in particular which are a speculative re-imagining of the function and use of technology. Rhythm Travel, also found in the Dark Matter anthology, envisions a way of traversing space-time that allows the traveler to “be the music,” disappearing and reappearing wherever and whenever the music is played. This 1996 story is an interesting parallel to Baraka’s earlier 1969 essay Technology and Ethos, where he calls for us to dramatically redefine and create new technologies that push beyond the boundaries established by the politics of the white scientific institution. The Molecular Anyscape used in Rhythm Travel appears to be one of the machines produced by the spirit that Baraka refers to in Technology and Ethos.

What are some other uses of or comments on technology in the speculative works of Black writers, artists and performers?

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).”