Ben, Don and Raven-Symone at Dinner

Setting: Halloween night, warm and cozy Italian restaurant, candle lit on table. Ben and Don are seated, with glasses of wine. They are both eating pasta, we join mid conversation.

Ben:…and I simply don’t care what he has to say about me, he’s just a puffed up real estate emperor in the nude.
Don: Do you think you can actually win though? Not just against him, but against the lesbian?
Ben: Anything can happen. I mean heck, a Muslim named after a terrorist is president right now. Blacks can do anything.
Don: I’ve been thinking of running for office. I don’t really understand much about the Congressional system though, so I’m aiming for Veep.
Ben, shrugging: I don’t know much about human anatomy but they call me Dr every single day.

Raven-Symone enters and joins them, smiles and hugs all around.

RS: Well guys, it’s been a shitty week.
Don: Do tell.
RS: My girl broke up with me because she felt offended by my stance on black names.
Ben: I wouldn’t exactly call ‘Asgard’ a black name.
Don: Oh come on, you were just being realistic. As an example yourself!
RS, perplexed: What do you mean?
Don: Name me one white person in your income bracket with a hyphen in their first name.

Silence ensues.

Then, RS: Honestly, I get checks based on how many times I get myself or the show mentioned. That doesn’t happen if I don’t cross some eyes and dot some lines.
Don: Ditto! Ha, I know my job. Angry attention is still attention! I bring in numbers and, frankly, make my costars look downright liberal.
Ben: We really should get some credit for the way we’re unifying our people!
Don and RS cringe a bit at the grouping in with black people.

A fourth person approaches the table, a light skinned black man in a clown suit. His face is covered in black paint, an exaggerated red pucker around his mouth. His hair is a used mop, shoes floppy and tattered.

He pulls up the last chair at their table and sits down, smiling at each of them.

After a moment of silence, three voices start at one:

RS: Excuse you –
Don: That seat’s taken –
Ben: I don’t have any cash on me right now!

The stranger grins.

Stranger: I don’t need any cash my brother! And you missy, don’t you get all high yellow and mighty on me – you don’t recognize me?

He spreads his fingers out and wiggles them.
The three look at each other, clue free.

Stranger: I am the Ghost of Minstrels Past. (Theme music plays)

Ben: I don’t believe in ghosts.
GOMP: And yet, like so many things you don’t believe in, here I am.
Don: How did you die?
GOMP: Like all minstrels, alone and ashamed.
RS: Do you hyphenate all those words in your name?
GOMP: No, but thanks for asking.
Don: Why are you here though?
GOMP: It’s Halloween. Every Halloween I offer a few of you another option.
Ben: A few of who?
GOMP : You! Modern day minstrels.
Don: But I don’t sing. And I never do jazz hands in public.
GOMP: Our number includes anyone who benefits from blackness while simultaneously hating blackness.
RS: I don’t identify with blackness at all.
GOMP: Exactly my child of black America, you came from everywhere and nowhere! You emerged from the fractured fourth wall of fictional fame.
Ben: Huh?
GOMP: You don’t love who you are – trust me I remember. None of you even know who you are. There is a place I can take you where you will learn. It is a journey of time jumping along your own ancestral line.
Ben: Do we get to go all the way back to the Arc?
GOMP: Beg pardon?
Ben: All humans alive now trace back to Noah’s Arc.
Don: The white people on the boat with the monkeys? Who you calling a monkey?!
RS: I think you’re confusing your creation mysteries Don.

A moment of silence.

GOMP: I can’t with y’all. And I don’t have to. It’s been unanimously decided by the collective will of your peers. And if an arc is where you came from, that is most certainly where you’ll return.
RS: You can’t just take us! We are beloved unhyphenated-Americans! There will be an uproar!
Ben: I’m the president. Ish.
Don: Can I document this?

An instant later the table is empty, the wavering candle the only hint that something has changed. Black people, dreaming together of minstrels scrubbing their faces with soap, sink into a more restful sleep.

science fiction and social justice beginner reading list

i recently gave a talk on octavia butler and emergent strategies in johannesburg, south africa. which was A DREAM COME TRUE so i won’t try to play it cool at all. the audience was brilliant, engaged, and hungry for more readings. i started listing names of science/speculative/visionary fiction books that i would recommend for folks wanting to build their capacity to read sci-fi and speculative fiction for social justice, or with a social justice lens. the idea behind this is that a lot of science/speculative/visionary fiction can be read as case studies and imagination expanders that can help us navigate towards different ways of strategizing on social, economic and environmental justice in real time.

a few folks said, can you send us that list? and that sparked this post, which i have been wanting to write for a while. this is my starter list, in order from what i felt were the easiest worlds to enter to the harder ones. all of these are worthwhile reads. i reserve the right to add on as my memory is non-linear…and please feel free to add on in the comments section!

The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler

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Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (continue on to Speaker for the Dead. i disagree with Card’s sexuality politics, but i don’t believe in only engaging the work and vision of people i agree with)

My Soul to Keep ( and the rest of the African Immortals series), Tananarive Due

The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin

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Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (short story collection – especially crucial stories are ‘The Morning, The Evening and The Night’ and ‘Speech Sounds’)

Midnight Robber, Nalo Hopkinson

The Inheritance Trilogy, NK Jemisin


Who Fears Death?
, Nnedi Okorafor

Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark and Pattermaster (often grouped together as the Patternist series, or the Seed to Harvest collection), Octavia Butler…(if you can get a copy of Survivor, a book she stopped publishing, it adds pieces to this collection)

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin (i recommend her works as a whole as well – the rest of the hainish series which this book is a part of, the earthsea series, even her translation of the tao te ching)

Dune, Frank Herbert (read as much of this series as you can – it tracks and traces power, culture shift and evolution in ways that are challenging, gorgeous, shocking)

Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago (sold together as the Xenogenesis trilogy, or Lilith’s Brood), Octavia Butler

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson

The Famished Road, Ben Okri

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Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Train, China Meiville (Also everything else that he has written, especially Embassytown)

Neuromancer and Idoru, William Gibson

Dhalgren, Samuel Delaney (also everything else he’s written, including his autobiography)

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Canopus in Argos: Archives series, by Doris Lessing