In memory of Octavia Butler


In memory of Octavia E. Butler (June 22, 1947 – Feb. 24, 2006), science fiction writer who addressed issues of race, sexuality, gender, religion, class, and the environment in her award-winning books. Listen to her interview from the Democracy Now! archives: “Octavia Butler on Race, Global Warming, and Religion” What books or essays by Butler have you used in the classroom? Photo: Octavia Butler signing Fledgling at a talk hosted by Teaching for Change and Busboys and Poets in Oct., 2005. Books by Butler:

Off-the-cuff Review of @PetruPopsecu #ScienceFiction Novel “Almost Adam”

Author Petru Popescu asked me via Twitter about my thoughts regarding his science fiction novel, Almost Adam.

I have not read the novel, but I listened to the abridged audio book.

The litmus test for my audio book experience is whether I get in the car wanting to continue listening or whether I’m falling asleep while I’m driving. I did not drive extra circuitous routes to listen to the book more quickly, but it did engage and entertain me.

Thinking about it, however, the audio book had two main weaknesses. The first is the weak science, and the second is the privileged place of the white man in Africa.

I like hard science fiction, and this book seemed a lot weaker in the science part of evolutionary biology than Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio. In fact, it has a similar premise to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World (audio version), namely that geographical isolation could allow archaic species to persist. I am not an evolutionary biologist, so perhaps I underestimated the author’s attempts to merge the protagonist with the survivors of the ancient humanoid species. Another factor could be that the abridged audio book removed all the passages which explain the science supporting the story. For example, Michael Crighton’s book Jurassic Park is great in its discussion of chaos theory, while the movie hardly touches it.

My second objection is obviously political. I’m just tired of white protagonists in Africa. Blood Diamonds. Vampire Empire. Last King of Scotland. Ad nauseum. In many of these stories, the white male protagonist has sex with black African women at will. I could go on-and-on with this theme, but just read Orientalism.

Not trying to condemn Petru Popsecu here. Just giving my gut impressions of something I listened to more than a year ago.

BP Oil Spill and Science Fiction


Many science fiction movies, from Gojira, to Godzilla v. the Smog Monster, The Host, Them!, and more, all jump off from the real world situation of industrial disaster, pollution and waste.

The BP oil disaster is truly one of epic proportions. Two years on and the world continues to reel from its effects. The tragedy of it is that Nigeria has experienced an even worse rolling disaster…effectively destroying the environment of the Nigerian Delta, a catastrophe which compelled its residents to rise up in arms to fight back via an insurgency organized under the group, MEND or Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

From April 20th, 2010 through April 5th, 2011 some 1,149 sea turtles washed up along the gulf coast. Of the dead turtles, an overwhelming majority were Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the most endangered sea turtle species in the world, which nests only in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last month alone, 40 more dead sea turtles were found on the shores of Mississippi.

Does @TerraNovaOnFox Continue the Whitewashing of Science Fiction?

I’ve watched the first 3 episodes of @TerraNovaOnFox, and I like it. Yes, I’m a sucker for all science fiction. I hope Fox doesn’t kill it like it did Firefly, Dollhouse and Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles. I also enjoyed TNT’s Falling Skies.

But, Terra Nova, j’accuse! In 2149, nearly 140 years in the future, white Americans and British dominate, and the brown characters are anglicized to make them more acceptable.

  1. Actress Shelly Conn, of Sri Lankan descent, is named Elisabeth. Is this impossible? Of course not. But why can’t one of the lead characters, who could certainly pass for a Sri Lankan, actually be a Sri Lankan instead of just another American?
  2. Would not American culture have changed at all in 140 years? All of the American characters have the same generic Anglo names: Jim Shannon, Nathaniel Taylor, Josh Shannon, Maddy Shannon and Zoe Shannon. Isn’t it possible, 140 years from now, a racially mixed couple like Jim and Elizabeth Shannon would give their children less Anglo names? Don’t get me started on the most WASP name ever, Nathaniel Taylor, as the colony commander. One of the best things about Firefly was that it recognized a Chinese component to popular culture in speech and material culture.
  3. Should there not be some explanation of how the portal came to be in Detroit? Is there a United States? Do other governments exist? Shouldn’t Indians and Chinese make up 1/2 of the colonists in Terra Nova?
  4. Josh’s love interest is an Anglo-American, Skye. He could not be in love with a Chinese or Japanese or (God forbid!) an African or Mexican? Likewise, the daughter Maddy is infatuated with Mark, a tanned white man who looks like a high school quarterback.
  5. Are gays and lesbians allowed in 2149 to participate in Terra Nova?
  6. Mira is the only black character. She has great potential. Don’t mess it up! Make her good, evil, a combination of the two, but don’t make her a caricature. In the last scene of Episode 3, one of her followers had “tribal” adornments in his hair. Uh, oh.

I dabble in writing. I attend a local writers’ group once a month. A name I gave one of my characters is Goliki (Go-li-kee). One of the comments I received was I should make the name “easier.”

I got the name Goliki from looking at a customer database to which I have access and picking out names of real people, mixing and matching elements. In other words, WASPs, there are real Americans living among you with names like Rodriguez and Goliki and Fadel and Li. So learn them and get used to it. Especially you editors and producers of science fiction! It’s no longer Tara, even in the United States, and it certainly won’t be like that 140 years from now on a global scale.

P.S. Read Fandom and its hatred of black women characters @Racialicious.

Enjoyed @BenBova Leviathans of Jupiter, but drop villain character

I’ve just finished Ben Bova’s Leviathans of Jupiter, a sequel to Jupiter. I love all alien contact sci fi, and I loved the way Ben Bova explored the different ways we might try to communicate with the alien species on Jupiter.

I’m assuming that a 3rd novel is on the way. Please, Mr. Bova, drop the Katherine Westfall character.

If there has to be an enemy, let it be based on a legitimate concern about scientific research in an alien environment or the appropriateness of inserting ourselves in the Jovian ocean. Or maybe a political crisis on Earth which makes further exploration unsustainable. Or something else. Anything besides bureaucratic jealousy or personal neuroses.

Note, you can follow Ben Bova on Twitter.