Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Activist science fiction?

Strangely enough, it hadn't occurred to me until just yesterday that all of my books (if one takes my War & Mir trilogy as a single work) are in part or in large measure about community activists.
In The Coyote Kings, Hamza and Yehat run an intermittent “Coyote Camp” during summers where local (largely newcomer or second-generation Canadians) can play street hockey, launch model rockets, build trebuchets, put on plays, and do other amazing boffo stuff.

In my Kindred-winning and PKD-runner up political satire Shrinking the Heroes (originally published as From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain), the L*A*B (League of Angry Blackmen) not only supply security for their neighbourhood of Langston-Douglass, they run programmes such as “Free Breakfast for Shorties,” “Africa Medallions for Homies,” and “Free Fades, Flat-Tops, and Afro-Picks for Soul Brothers.”


In The Alchemists ofKush, Brother Moon and company run a youth organisation called the Alchemists (AKA the Street Falcons) aimed at teaching African histories, entrepreneurship, the arts, martial arts, and community organising itself to young from a wide variety of backgrounds (Somalis, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Ugandans, Rwandans, pioneer African-Canadians, and more).

In War & Mir, on the alien world of Qorodis in the country of Shr Koioon, after a bitter experience in a massive agri-gulag, Harq attempts to build an inclusive union that will stop excluding Humans.


I can’t say I’d intended to write “activist fiction” in most of those cases (although I’m delighted to find out I did) any more than I’d intended to write what academic Lisa Yaszek informed me was “domestic science fiction”—that is, novels that include a focus on life in the home. To me, writing about the home (including cooking) seems totally obvious and natural. Why do any writers exclude such basic and central aspects of life from their work?
But in the case of War & Mir, a revisionist space opera and non-comedic political satire, I consciously set out to explore the work of activists, which to the best of my knowledge is almost completely absent in the canons of science fiction and fantasy.
Those genres, so concerned with titanic struggles of good and evil, seem to operate on the political delusion that smashing the villains will create a better society, rather than merely creating a vacuum for more villains to fill (and leave previously-existing social ills including racial and gender supremacy in service of economic exploitation to continue reaping profits and destroying individuals, communities, and nations).
I attempted to address that delusion (though briefly) in the Alchemists’ oath, which included a devotion to “replace/elevate” (a phrase I got from a Grand Puba line in Brand Nubian’s anthem “Wake Up”). One cannot make a better world by destroying evil alone. One must create good that is better adapted to the environment (or change the environment) so that evil cannot thrive and good can reproduce itself.


While there are non -SF/F classic novels dramatising activism (John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Richard Wright’s Native Son, Mongane Serote’s To Every Birth Its Blood, Andre Brink’s A Dry White Season, among others), I’m curious to know other which—if any—SF/F novels address activism (Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed dramatised an already existed anarchist society, rather than activists trying to change their society or create a new one)—and how they do so.
So please educate me!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Minister Faust named Writer in Residence at Canada's second largest university


Canada's second largest university, the University of Alberta, has nominated me as the 2014-15 Writer in Residence.

Valued at $50,000, the cash equivalent to the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the residency entitles me to write my own work (which includes finishing my War & Mir trilogy and creating several screenplays) and to help writers (from novices to professionals) of the greater Edmonton community to advance their writing.

To the best of my knowledge, I am the first Kenyan-Canadian to be made Writer in Residence at any university or college in the world, and one of the very few African-Canadians to become a Writer in Residence at any Canadian university.

I will be hosting four literary salons called AUTHORPALOOZAS, featuring at least sixteen Alberta writers from various disciplines (novels, poetry, song lyrics, comics, video games, plays, journalism, blogs, and more), who will come on stage to read from their work and/or be interviewed by me.

I will also be vlogging, posting original interviews with acclaimed novelists such as Robert J. Sawyer and comic legend/TV literary host Rick Green, on their approaches to writing.

I'm honoured to be the Writer in Residence at my alma mater, where I earned my BA English and ADBEd English, and look forward to helping build E-Town's literary community. We already have hundreds of outstanding writers in many disciplines--I'm hoping this year we'll channel our energies so that we all benefit.