From the President

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

From the SFRA Executive Committee

From the President

Gerry Canavan
Marquette University

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the elections, and thanks to Ida Yoshinaga and Jessica FitzPatrick for taking on new leadership roles on the executive! Thanks also to everyone who worked on and voted to support the new bylaws, which will take effect over the course of the next year and allow the organization to evolve in ways that I believe will be to the benefit of us all (including the election of new “at large” members to the executive board and the establishment of a standing conference committee). Thanks also to Sonja Fritzsche and Hugh O’Connell, who will be rotating off the executive at the end of the year; your work has been so important and vital in these very challenging years for the organization and I want you to know how grateful I am to both of you for stepping up as you have on behalf of the group.

I hope by now you’ve seen the teaser for SFRA 2022, which will be headed up by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay of the University of Oslo in collaboration with the CoFutures research group and the “Theory from the Margins” project. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s here: The full CFP will be out soon. I could not be more excited about this opportunity for SFRA; the Theory from the Margins group has a staggering global reach and can put our collective in conversation with people we haven’t begun to dialogue with yet. We will have to bring our A games to Oslo.

A quick technical note: Membership renewals will be turned off the SFRA site beginning Monday, November 1 in prepared for our migration off Wild Apricot to a new host. More on this as it develops!

As always, please reach out to me or to Sonja Fritzsche with any calls for papers, conference announcements, special issues of journals, and more that you’d like us to promote; I’m very happy to put work from SFRA members in front of as many eyes as we can manage. I can be contacted at or via the @SFRANews Twitter. Stay safe and I hope you have a terrific end to the semester, and I look forward to when we can all meet again in person soon.

Introduction: Composing Trans-Indigenous Futures

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Trans-Indigenous Futurisms

Introduction: Composing Trans-Indigenous Futures

Jeremy M. Carnes

I still remember, early in my Ph.D. program, when a colleague mentioned the collection Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, edited by Grace L. Dillon (Anishinaabe). This collection was my own first real foray into the world of Indigenous sf. It was the first time I considered “the excitement and depth of Indigenous futurisms—the responsibility of each moment, each fold, each time, imagined or not, because each imagined moment contains within it already our presence, not our absence. The visibility of Indigenous space-time creates an event horizon we can all slip into, a responsibility we all share” (Dillon 239). In so many ways, Indigenous sf has built around that same activist call so popular in the Idle No More and #NoDAPL movements, “We are still here.” Indigenous sf is inherently anti-colonial in the assumption that Indigenous peoples are and will continue to be a part of the future, as opposed to colonial notions of their disappearance.

Thus, as indicated by its anti-colonial nature, Indigenous sf is inherently different from sf in the Euro-American tradition. As Dillon notes, “Writers of Indigenous futurisms sometimes intentionally experiment with, sometimes intentionally dislodge, sometimes merely accompany, but invariably change the perimeters of sf” (3). Indeed, notions central to Euro-American sf are distinct experiences within Indigenous worldviews, from relations between human and other-than-human beings, to temporalities and spatialities, to technologies and that ever-problematic specter of “progress.” Indigenous sf pushes at the boundaries of the possible in the past, present, and the future; it alternatively considers connection through time, space, and technology; it reconsiders the structures of oppression stemming from settler colonialism and capitalism. But perhaps more than anything it considers the question posed by Joshua Whitehead: “What better way to imagine survivability than to think about how we may flourish into being joyously animated rather than merely alive?” (11).

From Cherie Dimaline’s (Métis) The Marrow Thieves, a story about connection and the power of one’s language in a future that looks so much like the past, to Claire G. Coleman’s (Wirlomin Noongar) Terra Nullius, a tale that extends the label of victim in order to rethink settler colonialism and its attendant labels, to Daniel H. Wilson’s (Cherokee) Robopocalypse, a story that reconsiders the affordances of technological advancement as well as its many dangers, Indigenous sf is continually pushing and prodding our expectations and considerations of the generic underpinnings of sf itself. In many ways then, Indigenous sf embodies Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson’s conceptualization of “refusal,” which she defines as “a political alternative to ‘recognition,’ the much sought-after and presumed ‘good’ of multicultural politics” (11). Rather than stories that remain palatable to settler readers, Indigenous authors enshrine political Sovereignty for Indigenous communities, an inherent right that outlasts the seemingly indestructible towers of the settler colonial fortress. Even in the face of further oppression, as in Dimaline’s novel, Indigenous authors understand “that as long as there are dreamers left, there will never be want of a dream;” they consider “just what we would do for each other, just what we would do for the ebb and pull of the dream, the bigger dream that [holds] us all” (231).

This special symposium, titled “Trans-Indigenous Futurity,” draws on the seminal work of Grace Dillon as well as Indigenous literary scholar Chadwick Allen (Chickasaw) to consider sf and futurities across. For Allen, trans-Indigenous scholarship is about “purposeful Indigenous juxtapositions” which help “develop a version of Indigenous literary studies that locates itself firmly in the specificity of the Indigenous local while remaining always cognizant of the complexity of the relevant Indigenous global” (xix). One of the joys of editing a special section like this one is the ways that authors take an idea and expand beyond what I could ever have imagined. The trans of trans-Indigenous comes to mean beyond the spatial and the temporal, the familial or ancestral, the (para)normal, the ontological, the epistemological. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Allen notes the possibility of this prefix, trans, when he writes, “trans-Indigenous may be able to bear the complex, contingent asymmetry and the potential risks of unequal encounters borne by the preposition across. It may be  able to indicate the specific agency and situated momentum carried by the preposition through. It may be able to harbor the potential of change as both transitive and intransitive verb, and as both noun and adjective” (xiv-xv). While I came into this issue expecting to consider the relationality between the global and the local, the authors of these essays have pushed my own thoughts, and the scholarship of Indigenous sf and futurity, further.

I consider the contributions of this symposium in three interrelated sections. Works in this first section focus on the way Indigenous futurities are always defined by the present and relationships to the past. These contributions reflect on the legacy of boarding schools in the United States and Canada, paying particular attention to the ways past events can help us re-evaluate the work possible through sf. In Melissa Michal’s short story “Ghost Hunt” and reflective essay “On Writing Ghost Hunt and Preparing My Own Spirit,” we come face-to-face with this palpable and sordid history of residential schools or boarding schools, which focused on the violent assimilation and “re-education” of Indigenous children. Michal’s story, written before the devastating news of unmarked mass graves found at Kamloops Residential School, St. Eugene’s Mission School, and Marieval Indian Residential School, examines what it might be like to encounter the spirits of children like these. Through a futuristic story about friendship and connection, even across the boundary of life, Michal reminds us, “The system isn’t made for our healthy passage through education. It was and is still made for our demise.” E. Ornelas’s contribution, in similar fashion to Michal’s, considers the history of boarding schools through the specific story of Louis Ornelas, the author’s grandfather and survivor of the Sherman Institute located in Riverside, California. In working through this history, one not shared by their grandfather, Ornelas considers an experience of disassociation as associating with her grandfather’s story through what Dillon, among others, calls Native slipstream. According to Dillon, Native slipstream “views time as pasts, presents, and futures that flow together like currents in a navigable stream. It thus replicates nonlinear thinking about space-time” (3). For Ornelas, then, chrononormativity is an understanding of temporality that does not, indeed cannot, contain or explain Indigenous communities and ancestries. Native slipstream, then, becomes a form of methodology for Ornelas, rather than just a subgenre of Indigenous sf.

The second section of this symposium, containing a single essay by Nicole Ku’uleinapuananiolikowapuhimelemeleolani Furtado, considers the ways the past affects our relationship to the present through the continuities of violence in settler colonialism.  Furtado’s contribution analyzes Christopher Hakunahana’s film Waikiki as an example of what scholar Lawrence Gross calls Post-Apocalyptic Stress Syndrome. Furtado follows Dillon in noting that the apocalypse is not a coming event in the future, but an event past and present for Native communities. The apocalypse has already happened, is already happening (Dillon 8). The structure of settler colonialism is itself the structure of the apocalypse for Indigenous peoples the world over. Furtado contends that Waikiki highlights the colonial reality of Hawaiʻi obscured by the tourist imaginary of “paradise.” The end of worlds through the settler colonial machine embeds cycles of trauma, alcoholism, homelessness, and violence within Native Hawaiian communities. As such, the future of the apocalypse, the futurity of sf, is also contained within the present of Indigenous sf.

The third and final section of essays for this symposium is comprised of essays that explore stories of the future, which can help us to understand the pasts and presents. These contributions examine place, language, epistemology, and the Anthropocene in order to highlight the stories of present and future joy, hope, love, connection, community, and kinship. Malou Brouwer and Camille Roberge offer a particularly trans-Indigenous methodological approach in their consideration of Wapke, an sf collection of stories by Indigenous authors writing in French. They rightly argue that a collection like Wapke is itself trans-Indigenous in the juxtapositions of various Indigenous communities, yet Brouwer and Roberge are particularly interested in the interplay these juxtapositions have on the local relationships between Indigenous languages and French as well as Indigenous considerations of the temporal contra settler ones. By privileging these juxtapositions of the collection, Brouwer and Roberge show the ways that these stories “build tomorrows rooted in Indigenous resurgence by creating alternative temporalities and reflecting on linguistic diversity.”

For Kelsey Lee, studying speculative fiction from Indigenous communities is incomplete without including work by and about the arctic, which she argues is a landscape often incorrectly viewed and valued by settler sf authors. Lee examines two texts—Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (Wasauksing Nation) and “Wheetago War II: Summoners” by Richard Van Camp (Tłıchǫ Nation)—noting the ways the landscape in these stories functions different from novels like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstsein. Rather than the arctic landscape operating as villain or antagonist in these texts, the horror is and always will be the settler colonial mentality at work in settlers and their desire, sometimes implicit and sometimes not, for the erasure or death of Indigenous bodies, communities, and lifeways. Whether post-apocalyptic or not, the beast, the monster is the one that has been here for 500 years.

In his essay, Jesse Cohn considers the very definitional fabric of sf and Indigenous sf by returning to an influential definition by Darko Suvin that focuses on the “interaction of estrangement and cognition” in a setting “alternative to the author’s empirical environment.” Cohn notes the subjectivity of Suvin’s definitional moves, a subjectivity that becomes even more pronounced when considering the markedly different relationship Indigenous communities have to the genre conventions and markers of sf. Examining what he calls “rhetorics of incredulity” and “rhetorics of believing,” Cohn argues that Indigenous sf is itself a multifaceted genre that has within itself various approaches to considering story and futurity, among other things. Perhaps, then, the trans-Indigenous is also, as Allen notes, about considering genre across these differences.

Finally, Abdenour Bouich offers a trans-Indigenous reading of two novels: Joseph Bruchac’s (Abenaki) Killer of Enemies and The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by  Ambelin Kwaymullina (Palyku). Bouich first analyzes each text to highlight the ways these authors conceptualize a future defined by disconnection between humans, other-than-humans, and the land. Bouich then considers the ways that these authors, within the bleak societies of their respective post-apocalyptic futures, construct visions of possibility for Indigenous communities and ways of knowing, which have, especially since the onset of colonialism, privileged ways of seeing beyond the “end of the world.” In one way then, we can consider these novels within our current epoch of the Anthropocene as indications of the importance of attending to Indigenous knowledges and forms of relationality between humans, other-than-humans, and the land.

These essays, when taken together, highlight the complexities of temporality, relationality, the arc of settler colonialism, and the tradition of resistance in Indigenous sf. Ancestors of Indigenous communities are always present, even in their pastness, teaching, affecting, speaking and resisting; under the veins of capitalist “beautification” there are sinister layers of mire and muck defined by violence, poverty, and settler oppression in areas like the “paradise” of Hawaiʻi; and the future is something worth considering, not just for the potentialities of decolonial moves, but for the returns to Indigenous knowledges and lifeways crucial to a future beyond the end. The texts examined here, and the essays themselves, show that Indigenous authors composing Indigenous futures is about composing the then, the now, and the yet-to-come in one bundle, offering it up as a gift to ancestors, to relations, and to descendants. For, as Thomas King (Cherokee), writes, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (2).


Allen, Chadwick. Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Dillon, Grace L., editor. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction. The University of Arizona Press, 2012.

Dimeline, Cherie. The Marrow Thieves. Cormorant Books, 2017.

King, Thomas. The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Simpson, Audra. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Duke University Press, 2014.

Whitehead, Joshua, editor. Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction. Arsenal Pulp, 2020.

Jeremy M. Carnes (he/his) is a settler scholar and Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. His research is focused in Indigenous studies and comics studies. He is an associate editor for SFRA Review and reviews editor for Studies in American Indian Literatures. He is co-editing a collection titled The Futures of Cartoons Past: The Cultural Politics of X-Men: The Animated Series and is currently at work on his first book on comics by Indigenous creators and the affordances of comics as a visual medium for considering land-based practices by Indigenous communities.

“Papa and the Steam Rifle”

Papa and the Steam Rifle

Suzanne Church and Stephen Kotowych

Papa promised to design and build me a steam rifle for my eleventh birthday. One that would fire straighter and farther than the gunpowder rifles my friends received for their eleventh birthdays. 

“You will carry the best possible weapon in your hands.”

I smiled up at him. “Merci, Papa.”

“My Georges deserves the best, the moment he becomes a man, oui?”

Oui, Papa.”

“Since the English attacked us over the Montréal Question, all able men must be prepared.”

I nodded, but kept my fears to myself. I was less enthusiastic than my older brother, Rollan, to go to war. News of the Question had spread to our corner of Quebec. The airship factories in Quebec’s largest city had joined the underground revolution, secretly shipping parts to the United Kingdom’s great enemy, the German-Boer Alliance. 

While the Anglos in Canada welcomed the United Kingdom’s fight against the Alliance, we Quebecois felt only sympathy for them in their struggle against Queen Victoria and the forces of her empire. Once the Dominion of Canada’s answer to the Montréal Question became clear—our troops massed on the Ontario border, Her Majesty’s Navy blockading le Fleuve Saint-Laurent and staged troops in New Brunswick for invasion—partisan groups soon sprang up to defend us, declaring alliance with the German-Boers, and demanding a Quebec free from the self-centered English-speaking conservatives.

The Anglos in Montréal fled west to Ottawa, or south to Vermont as refugees, fearing reprisals and the inevitable bombardment by the Royal Navy.

The previous Saturday afternoon, I witnessed Papa’s first test of my rifle. The bullet shot out of the barrel in a spectacular explosion of steam and lead. I stood with my mouth open and Papa took the Lord’s name in vain. In a good way, of course, he dared not incur Maman’s wrath.

The re-charge cycle took slightly more than two seconds, but I could fire up to twelve times before the pressure dropped too low for the gun to function. So many rabbits and foxes would come home as meat because of the quality of my weapon. Like Papa, I would bring food to our table. My steam rifle would keep us fed, as men were meant to do.

Venez ici,” Maman shouted from the front porch. “Dinner, Georges.” Then she coughed. And coughed.

I wished that she wouldn’t yell. Too many times she struggled to find her breath afterwards.

Oui, Maman,” I shouted, hurrying to her side, and offering my handkerchief. She smiled and waved her own, which was always stained with her blood, no matter how many times she washed it in the large pot on the stove.

“Papa?” she managed to ask between coughs.

“He’s almost done for today. The rifle is nearly finished.”

She shook her head, but said no more. So many women scoffed at guns, as though men treated them as toys rather than tools. How else did she expect our family to eat?

Papa washed up, sat at the table, and Maman spoke her thanks to God.

We all looked up, and Papa said, “I’ve a mind to make a steam hand-pistol as well.”

“No!” Maman’s eyes blazed. “The boy is too young for such nonsense.”

“Not for Georges.” Papa devoured a huge mouthful of stew before he continued. “For Rollan. The design is nearly identical, save for the barrel’s length.”

Maman made the sign of the cross. “Rollan, bless his soul, must have no more excuses to die.”

“The British rushed to land their ships in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick,” said Papa. “They made a huge error. If our forces don’t dispatch them by Christmas, then les patriotes will bring airships from Montreal to finish them before Rollan is truly in peril.”

“Unless the Americans choose a side.” Maman coughed again and said no more.

I stared at Rollan’s empty chair, amazed at the changes to our dinner table since he’d left us.

Rollan wouldn’t be eighteen for three more weeks, but that was old enough for les patriotes, who enrolled him in basic instruction without a second thought. That way, he could join his compatriots on the train to New Brunswick on his birthday.

Maman noticed me staring at Rollan’s place, and said, “We all miss your brother. But God will watch over him.” She made the sign of the cross again and whispered a prayer.

She hadn’t been well these past weeks, so she’d missed the honor of sewing Madame Moussa’s party dress for the November festival. It was strange, seeing her at the dinner table without her stitching an arm’s length away. Madame had engaged the services of Maman’s rival seamstress, Agathe Travail, instead. We would miss the pennies. And our thin stew tonight spoke the truth of our misfortune.

Agathe’s son, Francois, was in my grade, his birthday the same day as my own. His father had already purchased a gunpowder rifle for Francois, and he’d brought it to the schoolhouse, two days before, hidden inside his long wool coat, to show it off behind the coal shed before our teacher rang the morning bell.

Francois’s rifle fired true, but the calibration was a little off and he was forced to repeatedly re-adjust his targeting. I would spend more time picking up the rabbits I’d hit than I would adjusting my aim. After Papa finished tinkering with the trigger action, of course. He didn’t want me blowing off a finger because the design had been rushed.

“My steam rifle is more precise,” I’d boasted to Francois that morning.

My friend had shaken his head, and said, “The tanks for steam guns are noisy and heavy.”

“But the weapons are more accurate.”

“They’re cumbersome and unreliable.”

“No, they aren’t.”

“Then why don’t les patriotes use them? Such weapons could give us the edge against the British Empire and their Anglo supporters here.”

Such questions had been debated in our household many an evening before Rollan left. The smoke from the tiny steam engine could give away one’s location, if one was trying to hide from attack, Rollan argued. Yes, but the engine need only be engaged once the steam reservoir emptied, my father would counter. The whistling was loud but so was the explosion from any gunpowder rifle, I offered once, earning a smile and tousle of my hair from Papa.

So many times, I’d wished I’d paid more attention to Papa’s explanations about his steam micro-engine’s design. It seemed near impossible to produce steam in such a tiny chamber, and store it under enough pressure to shoot a bullet out the barrel. And yet Papa could manipulate the tiny parts, assembling them in the right fashion with care and love.

Perhaps his love was the underlying reason why the guns could not be produced in large numbers. Too many men would rush the job, and then, of course, fingers would be lost. Or worse.

My papa was a genius. I licked the stew drippings from my plate, wiped my mouth, and defended his work. “Both Rollan and I will be invincible with our new weapons at hand.”

“Unstoppable, at best,” Maman corrected. “None of us are invincible. We all die, don’t we?” She coughed after that, so hard and for so long that her handkerchief was soaked with her blood.

“Rest, Maman,” I told her, nudging at her elbow in the manner that made her smile. I relished her joy, especially as her health deteriorated. The thought of losing my mother made my throat close and my heart ache.

I felt close to crying, but men didn’t cry. I had only days until I became one.

Maman’s cough would never improve. One of her last wishes was for the town elders to hurry and build a Catholic Church in Mégantic, so she might be put to rest in consecrated soil. Our small town, south of Québec City, had only been founded fifteen years previously, when the CP and QC Railway junctions were completed, connecting us to Montréal and Saint John.

Maman coughed once more, bringing my attention back to our table. Papa was staring at her with more worry than he normally displayed. 

He said, “Georges, your steam rifle will be ready on Sunday for your birthday.”

“No.” Maman spoke the word quietly but with such intensity that Papa and I bit our lips. “No gun worship in the house on the Sabbath.” Again she made the sign of the cross, but said no more.

“Saturday evening, then,” said Papa. “I’ll take you to the woods myself and we’ll catch Sunday’s dinner.”

Maman smiled at the promise. Papa and I tried to contain our enthusiasm.

Dinner was turnip and squirrel pie, so light on the squirrel that it tasted sour. Or perhaps it was the flour that Maman had used to fashion the crust. Rats had gnawed and soiled our last sack of flour, down in the cellar where Papa kept Grand-Père’s locker and Maman stored her baubles for church, if she was ever able to attend a proper Mass again and resume taking regular communion.

I finished my serving and asked for seconds, knowing we might not eat again until I caught a meal. Maman showed no pleasure at my eagerness to eat, no doubt dreading my upcoming gift.

Sure enough, Papa finished his meal, excused himself, and headed out to his work shed. When he returned, he held my steam rifle in his hands, cradled inside a soft, brown cloth.

“Here she is. Joyeux anniversaire, Georges.”

Beaucoup de joie, sincère,” said Maman.

I reached out and with my heart pounding, took the steam rifle and the cleaning cloth into my hands, stroking the cloth along the barrel. “Merci beaucoup!” I could hardly contain my eagerness as I added, “Can we head out to the woods, Papa?”

He said, “Now? In the dark?”

I nodded. “We could take our packs, sleep outside. My first hunting trip. So that we might celebrate from the earliest moment of my birthday.”

Papa looked to Maman and they exchanged glances I couldn’t decipher. Finally Papa smiled and said, “Oui. A hunting expedition. But we’re to return as soon as we have enough meat for our feast. I don’t want to leave Maman for too long.”

Before either parent could change their minds, I hurried to my bed-corner to pack a roll with supplies for a night in the woods. The air felt damp with rain, and the ground was still a mixture of the green of fall grasses and the oranges, reds, and browns of autumn’s fallen leaves.

“We’ll head to the shores of Lac Mégantic,” Papa told us both. Then I heard him whisper words to Maman. Hiding in the shadows, I watched them embrace. In our small home, privacy was difficult to find, but I gave my parents what I could.

When Papa and I were ready, we headed out the door, him with his gunpowder rifle and me with my new steam one. 

The moon was low and about half-to-full, giving us enough light to walk with. My roll was heavy and burdensome, but I barely noticed, so excited to be on the cusp of my transition to adulthood. I wondered if Rollan had felt this way when he and Papa had celebrated his eleventh birthday. Rollan possessed Maman’s pious disposition and tended to keep his feelings close to his chest. I wondered what he and his fellow partisans-in-training were doing this night. 

Was he holding his own rifle tight to his chest like a lover? Did soldiers sleep outdoors or only in their hideaways? He had only sent us one letter so far and the details had been frustratingly brief:

October 20, 1899.

Soon, the New Brunswick front. I’m healthy, perhaps more than I’ve been since the summer I worked at the mill with you, Papa. They push us all hard, through the days and sometimes the nights as well. Soldiering requires a fit body and mind. Although there has been no mention of the health of our souls, Maman. I pray for you all each night.

Love and prayers, 


I wondered if there would still be a war when I turned eighteen. But such ponderings were dangerous, taunting the darkness of hell with the un-Christian allure of battle.Papa reminded me of the hunting rules as we walked. We must wait until we were safely beyond town limits, stick to lands without fences, and always say a Hail Mary before pulling the trigger so the soul of the animal was welcomed into His kingdom. The last rule was a sign of Papa’s love for Maman and her devotion. Papa’s parents had been more grounded, the first of their families to work at the mill and not count on farming to feed their kin.

Grand-Père, like Papa, had been so smart-minded that he tinkered and experimented when he could make the time. All of his best inventions, though, had been of little use in a logging town like Mégantic, so they remained in his trunk in our cellar. 

My mind could not stop racing, from rule to rule, story to story, Rollan to Maman to Grand-Père and back to Papa. Then my nose caught the smell of open water.

“We’re close?” I asked quietly.

Papa nodded. “We must stop speaking now, Georges. So as not to scare our prey.”

I nodded, hoisting my rifle a little higher in my grip.

We moved through a heavily forested patch, the brambles catching at our trousers, and then Papa held me back, pointing at his lips to shush me.

Up ahead, we could hear activity. A great deal more commotion than a herd of deer or warren of rabbits could produce. Papa motioned for me to crouch down, so I did, following his movements until we came close to the lake’s shoreline.

Soldiers! Hundreds of them.

I scanned their camp, eager to find a sign of Rollan, in case we’d stumbled upon one of his training exercises.

Except that my brother was miles and miles away.

Papa grabbed my arm tightly, pulling me back the way we’d come. When we’d reached the thick woods once more, we dodged this way, and that, always staying low.

Then Papa found an overhang of granite that created a small cave-like enclosure from the elements. He gestured for me to wait while he checked for trouble within. When he returned, he pulled me inside, signaled for me to set down my pack, and then spoke in hushed tones.

“Americans,” he said.

“How do you know?”

“Their uniforms. The symbols on their sleeves are not Dominion or of the Empire.”

“How could they be here?” I asked. “So far from the New Brunswick border?”

“I think the Americans have finally chosen sides, and I fear it makes them more foe than friend. War has come to our doorstep.”

My eyes opened wide with shock. Our townsmen would be caught in the middle and our soldiers were too far away to help us.

Papa said, “Did you see their airship?”

I shook my head.

“It was well hidden; the air-sacks partly packed away so that they looked like mounds of cloth. But the gondola was too distinctive to miss.” 

Papa reached out his hands, and gestured for my steam rifle. “Its range and aim is superior to my own,” he explained. “I will only fire if I must. You have my word, Georges.”

“Can I come?”

“No. It’s too dangerous. You wait here.”

“I don’t want to wait.”

“Young men listen to their fathers. They don’t squabble like immature boys. And you’re a young man now, Georges.”

Understanding my responsibility for the first time, I nodded.

Papa patted my head and said, “I’ll learn more and then come back for you.” He kissed both my cheeks, in the same manner he’d used to say goodbye to Rollan on his soldiering journey. 

I waited in that small cavern, holding the gunpowder rifle close to me, wondering if I would ever see my brother or Papa again. The thought of their deaths was too much to bear.

Thrusting my bedroll over my shoulder, I hurried out of the cave. The mud held Papa’s footprints well and with the assistance of the half-moon’s light I was able to pick and find my way.

Up ahead I heard grunts and a commotion. Abandoning caution, I raced through the woods and caught sight of Papa and a soldier battling to take control of my steam rifle. The soldier knocked Papa to the ground and grabbed hold of the steam rifle, but before the frightful man took two steps I dove at him, my whittling knife in hand. With a desperate slash I raked the back of his leg, cutting through his pants and into flesh.

The man screamed and turned, but Papa was quick. He shoved the man to the dirt, covered the soldier’s mouth to keep him quiet, and then said, “Georges. Look away.”

I had already defied my father once and could not do so again. I turned my back and listened to the sound of the struggle. 

Papa said, “It’s safe now, Georges.”

I turned and looked at the man. His slashed throat oozed his red lifeblood, painting red-brown into the fallen leaves and mud. I reached for the steam rifle but Papa snatched it first.

“We must hurry,” he said. “Before this scout is missed.” Blood stained Papa’s left sleeve and dripped from his fingers. 

“You’re hurt,” I said.

“It’s not bad. Maman will sew it later.”

“I’m scared, Papa.”

Moi, aussi.”

We hurried back toward Mégantic, taking a different route, closer to the railroad tracks. Papa explained that we should watch for trains. Make sure one of them wasn’t full of the enemy, ready to overrun our town.

Mégantic was so small. A fraction of the size of places like Québec City or Montréal. What could our community’s men do to ward off an advancing army?

Papa and I said little on our hurried trek. No trains came and soon we were back in Mégantic, close to the station and the local inn.

I followed Papa inside and listened while he told the drinking men about what he’d seen. Too many of the patrons had not seemed surprised, as though they’d also stumbled across the troops at the lake. Many hurried out to take up arms against the enemy. The ones who remained lifted their tankards and laughed. Men like them—hard-muscled lumberjacks and rail-men—mistrusted the words of thinkers like Papa.

Finished with our warning, we rushed home. I flew through the front door, shouting for Maman, words streaming out of me about the soldiers, the airship, and my heroism in the face of danger. I wondered why she wasn’t sewing at the table.

Nor did she hurry from her bed to meet me by the hearth.

“Maman?” I called.

No answer.

I considered rushing to the shed, but she would never venture out there when Papa wasn’t home.


I ran to her room, and then my bed-corner but she was nowhere inside our home.

Then I saw blood droplets. Near the front door and on the handle.

I ran outside and found another trail of blood, this one leading towards the privé. Papa must’ve seen it, too, because I could hear his voice coming from that direction.


He emerged into the light from the house, Maman limp in his arms.

“Clear the table, Georges.”

I hurried to do as he asked. Papa gently placed her on the hard table’s surface, rolling his coat and placing it under her head. I reached for her hand and found it cold.


I yanked my hand away. Tears filled my eyes and I managed to ask, “Papa?”

“She’s strong. Très forte.” He pressed his face to hers, kissed her lips, and said, “I can’t lose you, my love.” But I knew. Her hand was too cold. Maman was already lost to heaven. Like my mother and brother so often did, I made the sign of the cross and began to faintly murmur a Hail Mary for her. Then a second.

Papa did not join my litany. Instead, he wept and shrieked, kissing her cold body and begging her to come back to him. His behavior frightened me. 

For hours we mourned Maman in our own ways. I snuck into their bedroom to touch a few of her trinkets–her hairbrush and mirror. Papa would not stop crying and touching her body. I wanted to shout at him to leave the flesh alone, that the heat of the fire had caused her to begin to smell. But even I could not admit that Maman’s body could spoil so.

At dawn, the sounds of airship fans and gunfire drowned out Papa’s wailing, distracting us from our sorrow.

Battles that occur in towns the size of Mégantic don’t last long. We were soon under the control of the American Army, bolstered by men from the New England militia. Papa did not return from the mill on Tuesday, and I was forced to live with François and his family. 

Smart men like Papa could create more technology, better ships and weapons to spread the invasion deeper into Quebec, like Maman’s blood turning her handkerchiefs brown. 

The British and Canadians had expected a fight against poorly trained partisans, not a battle against professional soldiers. They were totally unprepared. After a month of fierce fighting between the American invaders and the Dominion and British troops, much of Quebec and the whole of the Maritimes fell to the Americans.

They had come to restore stability, claimed the new military governor of Québec. They had come to protect life and liberty from the British invaders, he explained from amid the still-smoldering ruins of Montréal.

But the Americans showed no sign that they would leave us to our own devices.  

The British would be back, the Americans said; the situation was too unstable for them to leave. The military bases they began to build were for our protection, as was the call for martial law.

Everyone I knew whispered how the Americans had pounced on our rebellion as an excuse to gain control of the St. Lawrence and perhaps to finally annex the whole Dominion of Canada.

A package arrived at school one day, addressed to me. Rollan had been killed along the New Brunswick front and someone had sent me his personal items. The most precious was the crucifix mother had given him, so that their God might protect him from a bullet. I wore his crucifix from that day forward. Not because I had suddenly grown closer to Maman and Rollan’s God, but because I loved and missed them both so much.

I poured all my faith into my clever and resourceful father. He would make more steam rifles. And pistols. Whatever uses he could think up for steam that seemed to help the invaders. But I knew him. He would build falsities that would cut off fingers or blind men with backfires.

My faith was firmly enmeshed in my belief that one day, one of Papa’s steam inventions would allow him to escape and find his way back to me. In the meantime, I shall devote my attention to my studies so I might create a steam masterpiece of my own.

Between them, Suzanne Church and Stephen Kotowych have a Writers of the Future grand prize win, Spain’s Ictineu Prize, and an Aurora Award for short fiction, Canada’s top SF prize. As individuals they have published dozens of stories in venues like Clarkesworld, Interzone,OnSpec, Intergalactic Medicine Show, numerous anthologies, and had work translated into a dozen languages. They both live in Canada.



Michael W. Clark

“It’s not fair.” Broad Back was from Earth. He liked sunrises. Even though it was officially morning, he couldn’t tell if it was morning or dusk on the Second Grade. The space platform was stationary. The sun was always in the same place. Hot on one side, cold on the other. It was a procedure to generate electricity, the heat gradient. Of course, most of that power was used for the artificial gravity (AG) generators. But the AG wouldn’t be necessary if they just spun the platform. Keeping it properly spinning would require 10% of the power needed for the AG. The spin wasn’t done because the leaders of the platform didn’t like the stars moving in circles. The citizens called the platform “the Second Grade” because the leaders acted like second grade schoolteachers to everyone. The leaders clearly didn’t care; the citizens weren’t really anything more than staff to the leaders. They were under paid because of a lack of respect. The Second Grade’s main revenue generator (RG) was teenager rehabilitation. It was why Broad Back was on a station without a sunrise or sunset.

Broad Back was one of those teenagers in need of rehabilitation. Of course, he hated the place. “The sun is always right there.” He pointed at the sun. The platform’s dome components filtered the light and radiation, so it was at the proper level for most humans. The Second Grade was further away from the sun than the Earth, so Sol was much smaller than he was used to. The AG on the platform was set at 0.75 G. Clients from Earth were fitted with a belt that augmented the platform gravity to 1 G immediately around them. There were no superpowers on the Second Grade. Only the leaders had power on the Second Grade. The diurnal cycle of day and night was maintained though by a migration from one side of the platform to the other. The Second Grade was riddled with routine. Routine was part of the rehabilitation. Broad Back walked with the other clients. Walking everywhere was part of the routine. Broad Back scratched at the back of his neck. “Hate this too.”

“Scratch not.” Phalyn whispered. “Implants are expensive. To replace is extra fee.” Phalyn was no Earther. It showed in her physique. She was born in microgravity. Her belt augmentation reduced gravity further. Everyone had a right to their own gravity. It was written in the contract.

“Gov pays. What would caring matter?” Broad Back didn’t put a tone in his voice. They were monitored every moment. A harsh tone was demerit worthy.

“The family. The family balance sheet. The Gov will reconcile.” Phalyn’s tone was always moderate. Her volume always low. In a space craft, quiet was the only privacy available. Where she was from, all citizens were quiet.

Binky was a smartass. He was proud of it. “Why bother with Earth geography? If it will just change?” He smiled at the teacher. The other client-students remained quiet. They didn’t think they were smart and none wanted to be an ass.

“Over millions of years, yes. You are correct, but that is not relevant to this class, or the question I asked.” The teacher reached over to the sky board class rooster. She pushed the red button beside Binky’s picture. “You know the rules. You know the consequences. A demerit is appropriate.”

Binky’s smile evaporated. He started to cry. The teacher scanned the class; the client students looked at their desktops and nothing else.

After dinner, there was a free period lounge. The lounge was large. There was popcorn, salted with no butter. There were videos of all kinds. There were video games. All covered by their tuition. The video games were unused by the most recent client students. Broad Back, Phalyn, and Binky watched a CGI animation that was on when they sat down. It was full of action, loud and brightly colored with little dialogue. Each animated situation lasted less than ten minutes. It was attention span appropriate. It was in the contract too. Binky laughed at all of it, Broad Back only once and a while, but Phalyn never laughed. She just ate the popcorn. There was no amusing food where she came from. Food was rationed. Food added mass. Food used fuel. Fuel was rationed too.

With the sounding of the bell, they all walked back to the dark section of the platform where their beds were. Broad Back wanted to rub his neck where the implant was, but what happened to Binky made him reconsider such behavior. Phalyn had been correct this morning: it was against the rules. In their beds, supine was the only position. On the ceiling above, written in the appropriate language, was “Sweet Dreams!” It was there even when the lights were out. And then, there was bliss. It was like floating in a warm bath. It was like eating too much but not feeling full. It was like a touch by your mother. A long touch. It was disorienting. Even though Binky started to cry, Broad Back remained with bliss. As did Phalyn. Demerits reduced the duration of the bliss event. It was one of the rules. Bliss was rationed here.

The teacher pointed at Broad Back. “Where are you from?”

Broad Back blinked. His face reddened. “An Earth dome.”

“On which continent?” The teacher didn’t smile. The classroom A/C moved her hair slightly.

“The Americas.” Broad Back was concerned about getting a demerit so he answered immediately and briefly.

“North or South?”

Broad Back frowned at his answer. “North.”

“Which dome?”

“Southwest dome.” Broad Back was breathing heavier.

“Good. What did you do there?”

Broad Back blinked back a tear. He wasn’t sure what was happening. “I watched the weather most of the time. I liked the sleet the best. The way it crashed on the dome. I could hear the thumps.”

“Did you ever wonder what made sleet differ from rain?” Still no smile on the teacher, but no frown, either.

Broad Back almost cried. “No. Both fell from the sky.”

“Both are water.” The teacher nodded. “Not curious about what makes them act differently or about the Earth weather? The constant storms. The Gore – Schmitt Ice age?”

Broad Back shook his head.

“But you have heard of it?” The teacher was beginning to smile.

Broad Back swallowed while nodding.

“Have you heard of Dopamine Deficiency Syndrome?” She raised her eyebrows.

Broad Back nodded again. “DDS. Yes. The reason I am here.”

The teacher smiled. “Yes. Yes. It is why you are not curious. Did you ever wonder why you were not curious?”

Broad Back looked around the classroom. None of the student–clients were doing anything other than looking at the desk’s top. He swallowed. “Curious about not being curious?” He knew it would generate a demerit. He closed his eyes.

“Very good. Very good. To my point, exactly.” She smiled and clicked her tongue.

Broad Back opened his eyes, slowly. “I, it, was relevant?”

“Yes. Exactly relevant. Very appropriate. You see class, questions related to the topic are what we desire.” She waved her hands in the air before the bell rang. “Class dismissed.”

The student–clients were slow to respond. The teacher had never smiled before. Class had never gotten out early before. It was confusing. Confusion made them all hesitate. But when the teacher left the classroom, they all thought it was appropriate for them to leave too. Also, the bell had just rung.

Binky was annoyed, so annoyed. “I ask a question, demerit. You ask a question, reward. I don’t get it.” He was keeping his voice down, so the tone didn’t matter.

Broad Back shrugged. “Me neither.”

“Teacher’s pet.” Binky muttered.

Phalyn ate the popcorn. She even crunched quietly. “Relevance. She said relevance.”

“Not the questioning, but the question?” Broad Back looked at the monitors in the lounge. They were functional and functioning.

Binky went to turn something over, but he knew the monitors were monitoring. “I didn’t want to come here.”

“No one asked me.” Broad Back turned to Phalyn. “Anyone ask you?” Phalyn shook her head. “I was told on the way here it was for the good of humanity.”

“What does that mean?” Binky rolled his eyes. “Was that relevant enough?” Binky stared at one of the monitor cams. It didn’t reply. It never did.

“Curiosity required.” Phalyn said with a mouthful of popcorn. “Relevant curiosity.”

“It is stupid.” Binky burst out. Two of the monitors cams turned to focus on Binky. Now, there were three. Binky started to cry. Broad Back and Phalyn looked at the CGI dancing in the screen. Another monitor cam focused on Binky. Now, there were four. But to everyone’s surprise, bliss came to everyone this night. No tears necessary.

Broad Back’s mother was crying. She sat where he usually sat and watched the weather. She was too upset for the weather. She had never left the Earth. She had never left North America. Her status and education level kept her in the dome. She ventured out very seldomly because of the severe weather. Her son, Broad Back, though: he was in space now. His status had changed. The Administrator had changed it, not her. She had won the privilege to have a child in a lottery. A year without contraception was the actual prize. Population in the dome had to be controlled. It was by mandatory contraception food additives. She had gained 20 pounds that year. The food seemed to taste better then. She didn’t get pregnant until the last month. She put in an extra effort to get Broad Back. She knew who the father was only by the genetic tests.

She cried for him. He was her goal in life. But now he was in space being cured. She didn’t think he was ill. He just liked to watch the weather.

“The human race needs inventors.” The Administrator had told her.

She had not disagreed. “You want Broad Back to be an inventor?” She had never met anyone who was an inventor. She just knew the dictionary definition.

The Administrator smiled, knowingly. They all gave that same expression to her. She hated it but never said anything to them about it. “We want him to want to be an inventor. Good inventors are very difficult to find.”

“Do they get lost, easily?” She was confused with what was being said. She only understood that they wanted to take Broad Back into space and that she had no power to stop them.

The hated expression came back. “Dopamine Deficiency Syndrome causes a loss in curiosity. No invention without curiosity.”

Again, she didn’t disagree. “Isn’t there a pill?” There were pills for every mood.

“We need relevant and sustainable curiosity.” The Administrator had a different smile. “Treatment is necessary.”

“But I won the Lottery.” She started to cry at that moment and hadn’t stopped since.

“Good luck is a rare item, too.” Back was the hated expression.

So, she spent her free time sitting where he had sat watching the weather. She cried harder when there was sleet. It was his favorite. “But I was told not to ask too many questions and I haven’t. Isn’t asking questions curiosity?” She didn’t understand a great many things. That made her cry, too.

Broad Back was thinking of his mother less and less. He never had a problem with learning the class material. It had been the assignment. He always did the assignments. Phalyn hadn’t had any trouble, either. Binky just did what got him by without punishment. He never asked the right questions but finally they weren’t the wrong questions. He was satisfied with that. Broad Back, though, started to wonder about the gravity augmenter. Even though it could stand up to water without damage, Broad Back started taking his gravity augmenter off when he took a shower. It was the shower water drops. They didn’t look like the ones on Earth. It had to be something with gravity effecting the water. When he took off the device for the first time, he hit the ceiling of the shower. He felt so powerful. It made him laugh to feel that way. The shower was the only time they had privacy so he only experimented with gravity there. He wasn’t sure if it was against the rules, but he was cautious about it. He final asked Phalyn. “Have you taken off your augmenter?”

Phalyn paled. She shook her head. “I would die, I think.”

Broad Back nodded slowly. “Yes, yes. It is not the same. Yes.” Broad Back wasn’t confused. It made sense. “Is there a rule against it?”

Phalyn frowned. “Doesn’t need to be. It is dangerous.”

“So, no punishment likely.” Broad Back smiled.

Phalyn frowned more deeply. “What are you thinking?”

“Why walk if you can fly.” He nodded. “Tomorrow. You will see.” With the bliss sleep came quickly. His excitement didn’t keep him awake.

Broad Back had found the device’s power circuit breaker. He didn’t need to take it off his person, just switch off the power. The next morning, he walked to the light side up to the open area of the central park. Then he switched off his gravity augmenter and jumped high and long. He made it all the way across the park before anyone noticed. Everyone usually looked down. But Broad Back’s yell of glee made everyone look up.

“How did you get over there?” Binky shouted. It was a reasonable neutral question.

Broad Back just leaped back to them. All the student-clients laughed. Laughing was appropriate. Then they all looked at the Administrator for a sign of disapproval. The Administrator didn’t show any negative reaction. Broad Back didn’t wait and leapt to the other side of the park. Broad Back was breathing heavily from excitement more than effort. “What is gravity? I have to find out.” He was surprised at how he felt. He wanted to know how it worked. The artificial gravity and real gravity. The science section wasn’t until the afternoon. It was disappointing.

Broad Back switched the augmenter back on and walked the rest of the way with the other student-clients. They walked in their approved ques but they were noisy now, giggling and yelping for no reason. Broad Back just smiled quietly. He had pushed enough for one day, he thought. An Administrator was standing at the school entrance. She waved at Broad Back to come with her. This action quieted everyone. They all looked back down as they entered the school. Broad Back walked to another building behind the female Administrator. Broad Back could only think, “Blissless night.” But he so enjoyed the leap. It was worth it.

“Where am I?” Broad Back had never been in this section of the Second Grade.

“Excellent!” The older female Administrator snapped. “Such progress.”

The younger male Administrator nodded. “Good question. This module in front of you is the artificial gravity generator.”

Broad Back’s eyes widened. “Really? How does it work?”

The older female Administrator clapped her hands. “It is not a simple answer, but we will be working here with you. Is that something you would enjoy?” She emphasized the last word.

Broad Back smiled. “I certainly would.”

“Excellent!” was said by all.

Phalyn didn’t understand Binky’s anger. She was happy for Broad Back. He was happy so she was happy. “But you don’t care about gravity, do you?” She spoke in low tones. She was afraid of bliss demerits. Binky cared about them too.

“It’s not gravity!” Binky pulled off his augmenter and immediately collapsed. He too was born in microgravity.

“It is.” Phalyn said softly.

Binky turned the augmenter back on and stood up. “Why him and not me? That’s an appropriate question.” Binky was breathing heavily from his anger.

“We don’t define appropriate.” She sighed. She didn’t quite know what was appropriate herself. Binky jumped up at the video game monitor. He pulled at it but it was firmly anchored to the wall. “How does this work?” He yelled. “That’s what you want to hear.” He tried to smash the screen with his fist but only hurt himself. It made him cry. Phalyn started to cry, too. She wanted to go back home. She didn’t care about the treatment. She wanted to be with her family. Binky had no family. It didn’t matter to him. But they both cried in the corners of the lounge. Everyone else had left when Binky got loud. Broad Back wasn’t in this section anymore. He had advanced. Phalyn missed Broad Back too. There were no goodbyes. Broad Back’s leaps had been the last she saw of him. When she asked about him, the reply was hurtful. The Administrator had said. “He has moved ahead. He must be quarantined. So, he won’t be contaminated. His progress must be maintained.” She hadn’t told Binky the last part. He was upset enough.

Broad Back couldn’t sleep the first night. He was so excited about learning the artificial gravity generator. He didn’t care about the bliss. It occurred to him that it was artificial bliss just like the artificial gravity. He touched the relays on his neck and smiled. “How do these work?” He really wanted to know, just to know. It made him laugh. Only much later in the night, when he was getting tired, did he think of Phalyn. “Hope you will complete the treatment ok.” He said to the ceiling. There was nothing written there. Only a three-dimensional projection of the galaxy and its billions of stars. Broad Back watched the stars slowly move and fell asleep.

Review of Sorrowland

Review of Sorrowland

Julia Lindsay

Solomon, Rivers. Sorrowland. MCD Books, 2021. 368 pp, $14.45, ISBN 9780374266776.

In relation to both gender and genre, Rivers Solomon pushes boundaries. Their first novel, An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017), launched them into the literary scene and was shortlisted for several awards. Solomon maintains Unkindness’s queer and Afrofuturist themes in their subsequent novels and continuously engages with African American history. Sorrowland (2021), Solomon’s third and most recent novel, features a cast of queer characters, including intersex protagonist, Vern. The novel follows Vern as she evades a Black separatist commune-turned-religious-cult, the Blessed Acres of Cain, from which she has fled. In the first half of the novel, Vern hides from her pursuers in the woods of a speculative contemporary American South, an unconventional setting for the SF genre. The novel further toys with the reader’s generic expectations, employing tropes and figures traditionally associated with the gothic and the fantastic.

The novel is queer from the opening pages, as Vern gives birth to twins Howling and Feral and does not bother to look at Howling’s genitalia after birth (the sex of the babies is never revealed to the reader). She decides not to gender them, concluding that such matters are of no concern in the woods. Vern and the children’s relationship with the woods may trouble readers in the first half, as Solomon’s initial characterization could potentially stabilize the problematic nature/culture binary. However, the latter half of the novel, which follows Vern and the children after they leave the woods, complicates such a reading. As Vern and the children come into their own, she realizes the naivete of her escapism. Vern’s time in the compound and the years she and the children live in the woods, in fact, leads them to encounter the novel’s speculative United States as strangers. Solomon utilizes free indirect discourse and reading through Vern’s, and later Howling’s, perspectives defamiliarizes the novel’s setting, evoking the same sense of cognitive estrangement common to temporally or spatially distanced SF. 

Solomon uses gothic and fantastic conventions that are particularly associated with Southern and African American literature, continuing the push to open SF to the experiences and voices of authors whom the genre has excluded based on race and region. Further, Vern’s ambiguous references to “hauntings” and to a “fiend” stalking her in the opening scenes, evoking the gothic or fantastic, unmoor the reader, making it difficult to place the novel in place or time. These “hauntings” originate in Cainland and appear to follow Vern after her escape. For Vern, they materialize in human form, featuring both familiar and foreign faces, increasing in number and intensity as the plot unfolds.  The science fictional nature of Sorrowland is not confirmed until the latter third of the novel, a move that, while not unique to SF, sidesteps the norm and contributes to the novel’s interrogation of genre, particularly as it pertains to Black experience. Vern discovers that her hauntings, and the strange developments in her body that she begins to notice shortly after the birth of her children, are the result of a government conspiracy with Cainland at its center: Cainites are being used for medical experimentation. Joining the gothic/fantastic and science fiction through hauntings displaying the history of violence on black bodies highlights how these genres can both reflect and be limited by an antiblack culture.

Vern is forced out of the woods when the symptoms of this experimentation take a turn for the worse, making her fear she will die and leave her children abandoned as a rapidly developing exoskeleton leeches her body of energy. Once the novel moves out of the woods, the introduction of Gogo, a queer woman of Lakota descent, provides a welcome shift in plot and intensity, the novel’s underlying detective structure becoming more realized with Gogo taking on the role of co-investigator and love interest. Gogo identifies as winkte, a term from her Lakota heritage that is definitionally fluid, pushing against the binary constructs of gender and sexuality in the Anglo world as well as those in fundamentalist Cainland. Gogo enables Vern to not only become more comfortable with her sexuality but also to better understand her changing body.

Solomon thus forges a unique and fruitful link between the novel’s queer and posthumanist themes. Their inclusion of queer and intersex characters and of Black characters with albinism brings to the fore the many ways bodies naturally resist categorization, and this queer lens compliments the novel’s science fictional rendering of posthumanist perspectives. Together they undermine notions of fixity and autonomy and the naturalized, humanist hierarchy placing the human above the non-human. Solomon instead favors the cyborg, the porous being, the process of becoming, the mutual interpenetration of human and nonhuman nature, the rhizome. Vern refers to her developing exoskeleton as her “little passenger,” an echo of the language she uses to explain germs, viruses, and sickness to her children. Vern does not see her passenger as a separate entity threatening her bodily autonomy; rather, she sees it as an organism doing what it needs to do (the same way she views her body’s adaptation to it). Near the end of the novel, she acknowledges that her passenger has turned her into her “true self.” 

Sorrowland presents scholars with a case study of how queerness, Blackness, and science fiction intersect. The novelreframes African American history with science fictional tropes, like P Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout (2020), where grave-robbing “night doctors” and Klansmen are likened to literal alien body snatchers, or Bill Campbell’s Koontown Killing Kaper (2013), which extrapolates from the government-made crack epidemic in a darkly funny monster-noir narrative. Foregrounding the incredibly science fictional nature of Black history and experience, Solomon draws a genealogy between the novel’s fictional experimentation and its historical precedents, referencing MKUltra, Project 112, Edgewood, and Tuskegee. These novels together ask: how fictional is science fiction? 

Themes such as trauma and collective memory connect Sorrowland with African American literary predecessors across genres, its spectral figures, of course, evoking Beloved (1987). However, Solomon moves beyond the trauma narrative, as these undead are neither psychological manifestations of trauma nor merely tragic figures. Because Vern’s passenger is a mycelium, she becomes part of a subterranean matrix, tied through the earth to the knowledge and experiences of the dead who have carried this fungus. 

These are not ghosts to be excised; they are part of an Afrofuturist-networked consciousness, inseparable and codetermining. Solomon‘s play with genre and history provides scholars with fruitful ground, highlighting how their science fictional fungus is just one iteration of this kind of Afrofuturist work. Drawing from and celebrating subversive and/or non-Western knowledges and technologies and connecting Black people across time and space through various engagements with collective memory sits at the core of the African American literary tradition. Sorrowland, as such, can serve as a point of departure in conversations about the ever-evolving definitions of Afrofuturism and SF. 

Review of Chosen Spirits/The City Inside

Review of Chosen Spirits/The City Inside

Ruchira Mandal

Chosen Spirits, by Samit Basu. Simon & Schuster, 2020. To be republished by Tor in 2022 as The City Inside. 256 pp. Price/ISBN yet to be established.

Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu is a novel set in the late 2020s in a New Delhi that still carries the scars of real, recent political violence, albeit hidden beneath the glib veneer of technological advancement and a plethora of distractions. Dubbed as a “capitalist technocrat’s wet-dream” (Deepanjana) by one reviewer, this near-future view of the city unsettles the present-day reader both by the familiarity of its history and the strangeness of its present.  The people now live under constant surveillance from their gadgets, houses, and even toothbrushes all watching and listening; they are distracted from dissent via the stories they are fed from their omnipresent screens. This distraction is primarily in the form of the new-age social media platform, the Flowverse, a cross between reality television and live-streaming. The Flowstars are the new celebrities/influencers of this era, streaming artificial, scripted stories about their lives, the content of which is pre-determined by their teams in accordance with the policies of their corporate bosses. It is not only the Flowverse, but also the actual reality of ordinary people that is largely controlled and curated by a combination of safety filter settings on the television channels, a firewall around the country’s internet, and the manipulation of information by the powers that be. As Nikhil, a potential investor, tells Indi, the Flowstar, “Bro, you have no idea who even runs the country…. It’s certainly not the dumbfucks on the hoardings” (Basu 106).

It is appropriate then, that the protagonist of this novel, Joey, holds the designation of a “reality-controller,” a professional image-builder and storyteller whose role it is to curate the feeds of Flowstars assigned to her. However, Joey’s own position as one of the objects of constant surveillance and her lack of control both over her own reality and over her Flowstars’ actions renders the job-title of “reality-controller” ironic. The opening sentence of the novel sets the mood for this world of mundane but sinister compliance: “Sometimes Joey feels like her whole life is a montage of randomly selected, algorithm-controlled surveillance-cam clips, mostly of her looking at screens or sitting glazed-eyed at meetings” (3). As a professional storyteller, Joey notes the lack of structure and story qualities in her own life, sometimes fantasizing herself as the star of those perfect montages she curates for her clients. In a world watched by some undefined, multi-entity Big Brother, life is a series of social media stories. While Orwell had the Thought Police, Basu’s characters are watched not only by their devices but also by their own bodies. Smart tattoos on their wrists can monitor their hormones and stress levels for the personal AI assistant called Narad, [1] who can order the coffeemaker to make coffee, order takeout, schedule a therapy session, and even send puppy gifs and loving emojis to their phones. Basu brings Orwellian dystopia and satire closer home with click-bait headlines that you may have read last week (Chattopadhyay). However, despite this omniscient surveillance, there are hints of an undercurrent of resistance. Surveillance cameras are mysteriously smashed and roadside kolams [2] with QR codes lead to secret protests with maximum bloodshed ratings.

Unlike many cyberpunk novels written by Western authors, Basu does not create a lone, male protagonist fighting the system. Rather, his protagonist, Joey, is a more relatable Indian, upper-middle-class woman, trying to do her job, look after her elderly parents, and survive without getting into trouble with the authorities. In creating an upper-middle class protagonist with a privileged social standing, Basu ensures that the readers are given entry into the world of the powerful while simultaneously sharing in her helplessness and insignificance. Rudra, the secondary protagonist and disfavored second son of a powerful family, is another character who functions as an observer of this world through all his cameras and VR sets. In his Dear Reader interview, the author declares that:

…this is a book about people who I might have known if they’d really existed, set in a world that’s pretty much identical to ours right now, and will be wholly so very soon. Which is why what the protagonists want is a normal, everyday life; peace, happiness, clarity — not adventure, not escape, not any form of saved or improved world; just the ability to cope with a regular day. (Deepanjana)

This is perhaps the reason why, unlike his earlier, more fantastical work such as the Gameworld trilogy, there is no grandstanding, saving-the-world scenario in Chosen Spirits. The protagonists of Gameworld learn to view all grand narratives with a degree of cynicism and irony, but they are nevertheless players with stakes in the game, rulers, powerful sorcerers, and prophesied heroes. In Chosen Spirits, the characters would simply like to get by without getting into trouble. Basu’s primary milieu is of “a middle-class family, complete with domestic help, facing the usual problems—ageing parents, a younger brother who isn’t ‘settled.’ Basu even posits a kind of ‘jugaadpunk’ [3] aesthetic in his depiction of the semi-formal cyberbazaars of Delhi” (Unudurti).

What makes Chosen Spirits specifically Indian and particularly disorienting is its rootedness in current Indian socio-political events. Basu wrote this novel in a milieu of protests relating to, among other issues,the Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA, which could compel citizens to prove their citizenship (The Hindu); the Farm Laws, which farmers allege would leave them without legal recourse against traders’ hoarding and arbitrary pricing (Chaba); and the attack on the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (BBC News). More popularly known as JNU, the university has long been one of India’s premier educational institutions as well as a stronghold of Left-Wing student politics. In November 2019, an MP of the ruling party proposed that the university be closed for a period of two years “to curb the presence of antisocial elements” (Press Trust of India). In Chosen Spirits, we are casually informed that the mall selling the world’s largest air-conditioning machine has been built “over the ruins of what was once Delhi’s most prestigious post-grad university, demolished after three years of demonstrations, terror strikes and bloodshed the city pretends hard to forget” (Basu 122). Likewise, Shaheen Bagh, the hotbed of anti-CAA protests, “exists only in memory” (7) in the novel, with a new name that Joey refuses to learn. It is this near familiarity with the real world that paradoxically gives the novel its quality of displacement. As the author says, unlike classic sci-fi, there is “no central sci-fi or fantasy plotline or regular-physics-distortion in Chosen Spirits, so physical and digital objects, places, and character transformations based on both real (and imaginary near-future) historical events are where the dislocation from here and now comes from” (Deepanjana). Instead of taking a dive in an unspecified far future, Basu takes us on a ride through the dystopia of a possible near future, and the effect is both fascinating and discomfiting. In Joey’s world, our present has become ‘the Years Not To Be Discussed’ (Basu 14), a time when opinions could still be expressed before:

the Blasphemy laws in several states, … the mass de-citizenings, the voter-list erasures, the reeducation camps, the internet shutdowns, the news censors, the curfews, … data-driven home invasions… the missing person smart-scrolls on every lamp-post…. (15)

Joey’s parents, belonging to an older generation, continue to cling to a lingering faith in the idea of protests and standing up for what is right. But in a world where anyone from pest-control or app-based cleaning crews can plant molka cams in one’s kitchens and bathrooms and young girls may disappear a few days after attending a protest of the demolition of their schools (18), the individual has very little agency to do anything to change the state of things.

The ubiquitous surveillance technology described in the novel is very similar to an early 2000s Georgia Tech project called ‘Aware Home’ (Kidd 191-198), a “human-home symbiosis” consisting of a network of “context aware sensors” embedded in the house and wearable computers worn by the home’s occupants. The network of smart tattoos, personal AIs, smartphones and kitchen appliances in the houses of Joey or her parents in Chosen Spirits recalls this concept of ‘aware home.’ However, whereas the original intention of the scientists might have been optimistic and idealistic, the idea of a truly ‘aware’ house takes on a far more sinister connotation in Basu’s novel where the idiom about walls having ears comes true in the most literal and frightening sense. As Joey tries to explain to her uncomprehending parents, while one could still express one’s opinions in the good old days when surveillance was run by people, it was “your own house spying on you now” (Basu 16). While the scientists at Georgia Tech assumed that the knowledge produced by the new data systems would belong exclusively to the people who live in the house, the data in Chosen Spirits is subjected not just to government surveillance but also to corporate espionage. Shoshana Zuboff in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism discusses how this original benign idea might have influenced a present-day smart home appliance such as the Nest Thermostat, which uploads its personalized data to Google’s servers “to be shared with other smart devices, unnamed personnel, and third parties for the purposes of predictive analyses and sales to other unspecified parties” (Zuboff 6). The project, in the year 2000, “imagined a digital future that empowers individuals to lead more effective lives” (7). Writing in 2019, nearly two decades later, Zuboff observes how those inalienable rights to privacy and knowledge have given way to the age of “surveillance capitalism”, which “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data” (7). And writing just a year later in 2020, Basu predicts a future in which personal data is not simply sold for marketing purposes but is also monitored to ensure the maintenance of the status quo of inequality and injustices that allows for more profitable trade.

While Joey leaves for work from her posh gated community, the militia is busy herding out people in rags, possibly to some detention centre. She wonders if they have become non-citizens already or if they are going to lose their organs, but can’t voice any of her concerns because “she’ll hear they were illegal terrorists or Pakistani spies, and her concern will be noted in the Welfare Association’s ledgers, marking her out as a potential troublemaker” (Basu 27).  Meanwhile, a Singapore real estate tycoon advertises for partners for an organ-farm business and the debate on the news centers not around human trafficking and slavery, “but around the maximum allowable percentage of foreign ownership of these farms” (29). Farmer protest processions still happen, but in single file as they submit to face scans and searches through data implants installed on their necks (30). While a fraction of this makes its way to the Newsflow, real news is to be found in the gatherings of the powerful, as Rudra discovers during his father’s funeral by shadowing Chopra, an ‘access-caste’ elite, one of the people with access to people’s data and the means to use them (63). As Zuboff notes, “Surveillance capitalism’s actual customers are the enterprises that trade in its markets for future behaviour” (10). As Rudra learns from this gathering, there are new plans in place to implement a new system of social-credit ranking, an automated, algorithm-based system where the average citizen will be ranked according to “every transaction, every observed adherence to or violation of every unwritten rule, every movement, every word spoken or messaged, every act of consumption, participation or expressed emotion…” (Basu 64) to be filtered and categorized by their biometrics and their role in family and community against their optimum, ideal potential as a member of society. The resultant data will only be available to people like Chopra to be used while the ordinary citizens, thus judged, will never even know about it; “Surveillance capitalists know everything about us, whereas their operations are designed to be unknowable to us. They accumulate vast domains of new knowledge from us, but not for us” (Zuboff 11).

The surveillance capitalists in this new world continue to grab for even more control, not just for data but for the very identities of individuals. As Zuboff says, “the competitive dynamics of these new markets drive surveillance capitalists to acquire ever-more-predictive sources of behavioral surplus: our voices, personalities, and emotions. Eventually, surveillance capitalists discovered that the most-predictive behavioral data come from intervening in the state of play in order to nudge, coax, tune, and herd behaviour toward profitable outcomes” (8). In Chosen Spirits, Basu posits a future where faceless corporations not only control the social media content of the influencers but eventually control their digital identities—for all time—where this new digital icon/filmstar/influencer might become the face and voice of anything without the consent or even involvement of the actual individual. According to this estimate, in some undefined but not far off future, the individual may not even exist, and celebrities would be created from scratch, without the need to sign up an actual human being (Basu 115). This is the offer that is made by a potential investor to Indi and Joey, an offer they refuse at first, because in a world where every action performed by the body is recorded and measured, “talking is all we can do…” (116). Thus, digital expression via the Flowverse, however scripted, remains one of the last vestiges of freedom of expression, or an illusion of it at least. But the oligarchs in this world get what they want, and Indi is soon convinced into signing to save his career when a video-clip of him sexually assaulting a makeup-artist mysteriously finds its way to the feed of a rival Flowstar. In the ensuing damage-control measures, the issue of justice for the victim is of course buried.

Surveillance capitalism thus depends upon knowing and thereby shaping human behaviour towards goals that suit those in power. While Basu’s dystopian Delhi has neighborhood armies marching in jingoistic uniforms, simultaneously advertising vegetarian restaurants and flushing out undesirables, the real power of the state is exerted not via “armaments and armies” but “through the automated medium of an increasingly ubiquitous computational architecture of ‘smart’ networked devices, things, and spaces” (Zuboff 8). Thus, while Indi dreams of the poor rising like a zombie herd someday to overthrow the current order, Joey is aware of the difficulty of achieving that in a regime that has foreseen every possible means of insurrection and taken measures to prevent it.

Basu’s dystopian Delhi can be described as a cyberpunk cross between the Orwellian world of surveillance and Huxley’s Brave New World where instead of Soma, the people are drugged by the constant diversion of catchy, clickbait entertainment.  Moreover, this distraction is often a conscious and necessary choice in a world where “not looking away means seeing terrible things” (Basu 28). Early in the novel, Joey and her brother attempt to prevent their parents from having “a full-scale fight about the State of the Nation…. She barges in and makes the standard gestures—they stop immediately, and stare back at her with their usual mix of rage and shame” (14). The crisis is then more properly averted as Joey sets the television to a puppy adoption show, which acts as a ‘smart pacifier’ to distract the elderly from ranting about the government; “There will be no van full of murderers pulling up outside their house today” (16). When Tara, aspiring Flowstar, speaks of participating in protests as a student while promoting the supermarket built at the site of the former university, she manages to disturb the audience who would rather forget student protests when “the mall and the accompanying religious park… are an attempt at dazzling the city into distraction” (122). 

Even Joey, who is more adept than her parents at keeping her opinions unheard, and less tone-deaf than Tara, is often tormented by having “Real Thoughts” and must distract herself with the work of creating stories for her clients. A major theme of the novel therefore is that of storytelling and narratives. Chosen Spirits looks at how stories are constructed, which stories are told, and which ones are buried beneath the onslaught of relentless entertainment. While Joey selects the stories that might get maximum engagement from Indi’s followers, another slum not far from her upper-middle class, respectable neighborhood is being evacuated by the police and the builder-militia.

Although written from the perspectives of the upper-class elites of the city, the novel manages to highlight this clear line between the privileged and the poorer section of the population. Basu posits the ‘Chosen Spirits’ of the title as the privileged, ‘chosen’, conformist elites who have always been a part of the city’s top brass, “the chosen ones of the age” (Basu 1) mentioned in the Mir Taqi Mir poem used as an epigraph. In a private Twitter conversation, Basu states that the poem reflects “both the timeless nature of Delhi” as the city of the powerful and “the representative/popular/conformist nature of the workspace of the protagonists.”  Joey herself is aware of this “low-level court intrigue” (12) that makes her feel a little out-of-place amongst her Delhite friend circles despite belonging to the same social class. Although she has adapted herself to this new position of being in the surveillance state, this sense of discomfort never really dissipates, much like the constant itching of her smart tattoo. Similarly, the privileged may pretend that everything is perfect, protected as they are by their air-sealed, air-conditioned apartments and cars, but even for them stepping out on the streets entails packing essentials such as water bottles, smog masks, and pepper sprays. Even for the chosen ones, the problems of environmental pollution and social degeneration are hiding just around the corners, and neighborhoods must hire private militia (wearing patriotic uniforms with sponsorship logos in a beautiful marriage of jingoism with capitalism) to ensure that their ration of weekly drinking water is not raided by someone less fortunate.  This state of being is maintained by a combination of surveillance and the dissemination of too much information that drowns out news that matters, such as the new age slave-trades and environmental disasters.

Although the book, toward the latter part, does consider the possibility for change, Basu’s main focus is to dig into the mechanics of oppression, the way those in control silence or marginalise the “other”—whether it be Muslim, Dalit or LGBTQIA+ voices—by feeding an eager audience with spectacle and distraction. (Mond)

Flowstars are often willing participants in this circus of ‘spectacle and distraction.’ Indi may speak of uprisings and the freedom to use his own voice and Tara may speak of her struggles and trauma from participating in student protests in her hometown. Yet, in truth, they have very little agency or even intention beyond building their own careers. Even celebrities less selfish than Indi or Tara can do nothing to change this state of affairs. Joey has seen other reality controllers and Flowstars fade and disappear from the industry after being seen at protests. Even looking at inspiring photographs of protestors braving police brutality and fascist mobs across the world is of no help, if not downright dangerous as potential ID traps (Basu 28). This is in contrast to the Shaheen Bagh and Jantar Mantar protests, which Joey remembers as a time of hope, of people coming together from all walks of life for a common cause: “…they’d thought they were alone, that most people in the country had been swallowed up by a tide of bigotry and hate. They’d never been happier being proved wrong” (5). Those people from ‘the Years Not To Be Discussed’ were united by stories of faith against a common enemy, and as history will show, stories are important as tools that can both make or break a civilization.  As Yuval Noah Harari says in his famous work, “The ability to create an imagined reality out of words enabled large numbers of strangers to cooperate effectively…. Since large-scale human cooperation is based on myths, the way people cooperate can be altered by changing the myths- by telling different stories” (Harari, 36).

In the fictional near future of the late 2020s India, all possibilities of cooperation and collective protest have been nullified through a multiplicity of stories. As Nikhil tells Indi during their business meeting, “They wouldn’t know if there was another epidemic happening right now, or a genocide, or a civil war. Even if they knew, they wouldn’t know how to join it. They would have no idea what to do. They’re that easy to distract” (Basu 116). Unlike the protestors from the past, the oppressor in Chosen Spirits is faceless, even more so than Orwell’s Big Brother:

…it isn’t just the government snooping any more, but a peak-traffic cluster of corporations, other governments, religious bodies, cults, gangs, terrorists, hackers, sometimes other algorithms, watching you, measuring you, learning you, marking you down for spam or death. (Basu 16)

In an interesting conversation between Joey, Indi, and Nikhil where the latter proposes to make Indi a global icon in exchange for his digital identity, the reader is offered an insight into what it means to be an ‘influencer’ and the mechanics of garnering an audience in India and in the West. In this new age of ‘Cultural Warming,’ the digital identity of the icon can be constantly altered to stay relevant to public demand, becoming a film-star or spiritual healer or social justice activist as the need be. Whatever public dissatisfaction exists may be weeded out without causing any real impact: “The state funds and controls the resistance, so there’s no left or right, everything’s a distraction, everyone’s observed and under control” (Basu 120).

The real resistance in the novel is offered by tertiary figures who have learned to subvert the system to their benefits, sometimes using VR gaming platforms: DesiBryde, a radical porn-star who performs while wearing the masks of religious leaders, creating a Flowstream powerful enough to circumvent all culture-policing and censorship; E-Klav, a Banksy-like Dalit graffiti artist who has somehow managed to stay hidden while vandalizing the symbols of the establishment; and Zaria Salam, an investigative journalist who has managed to build up an online notoriety despite her videos disappearing off the Indian internet within seconds of release. There is also cyberbazaar, the market for pirate-tech run by working class people where Rudra and Zaria get their smart-tattoos removed when they go off-the-grid. At the end of the novel, Basu does not offer revolution, only the possibility of change through slow, long-term efforts as Desibryde and Joey begin to discuss the possibility of working together. This leaves the novel open for sequels, but also makes it more realistic. As history might prove, the mass uprising of the poor, as envisioned by Indi, rarely affects a sustainable shift in the dynamics of power imbalance, especially against an insidious, all-pervasive system. Basu thus creates a cautionary tale of a possible future, leaving us only with an outline of how to navigate it.


[1] Narad or Narada is a god-sage in Hindu mythology famous as a travelling musician and storyteller.

[2] Kolam is a form of traditional decorative art made of a series of dots joined by lines and loops that is drawn by using rice flour, generally seen during festivals and celebrations.

[3] Jugaad, a Hindi word meaning hack or makeshift solutions. Cyberbazaar in the novel is a market for pirate tech.


Basu, Samit. Chosen Spirits. Simon & Schuster, 2020.

—. Personal Communication on Twitter. 8 July 2020.

BBC News. “JNU: Students across India Protest against Campus Attack.” BBC News, 6 Jan. 2020,

Chaba, Anju Agnihotri. “Explained: Point-by-Point, Why Farmers Still Oppose the Centre’s Proposals on Farm Laws.” The Indian Express, 16 Dec. 2020,’%20objection%3A%20%E2%80%9CThe%20Union,discontinue%20the%20subsidies%20to%20farmers.&text=Therefore%20the%20Modi%20government%20wants,farmers%20are%20opposing%20this%20move.

Chattopadhyay, Diyasree. “Samit Basu’s New Novel Looks at How Reality Is Shaped and What Humans Can Do about It.”, 9 May 2020,

“Citizenship Amendment Act.” The Hindu, 2021,

Deepanjana. “Of Choices and Chosen Spirits.” Dear Reader, 12 May 2020,

Mond, Ian. “Ian Mond Reviews Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu.” Locus Online, 4 Aug. 2020,

Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens. Vintage, 2015.

Huxley, Aldous Leonard. Brave New World. Kindle ed., 1932, Vintage, 1994.

Kidd, Cory D. et al., “The Aware Home: A Living Laboratory for Ubiquitous Computing Research.” Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Cooperative Buildings, Integrating Information, Organization, and Architecture, CoBuild ’99, 1999, 191–98,

Orwell, George. 1984. Kindle ed., Secker & Warburg, 1949.

Press Trust of India. “JNU Should Be Shut for 2 Years, Renamed after Subhas Chandra Bose: Subramanian Swamy.” India Today, 26 Nov. 2019,

Unudurti, Jaideep. “Joey and the Guardians of the Data Galaxy: Review of Samit Basu’s ‘Chosen Spirits’.” The Hindu, 13 June 2020,

Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Future at the New Frontier of Power. Kindle ed., Profile Books, 2019.

From the Editor

Fall 2021

Ian Campbell
Editor, SFRA Review

My memories of last fall are of constant anxiety and insomnia. I genuinely believed that monster was going to win re-election, and that my daughter and every other woman would be soon reduced to de jure as well as de facto second-tier citizenship. Now, I’m no less anxious, but the fear is not so immediate; yet unless we begin to think of ourselves as a coalition against fascism rather than a fractious party divided into two groups with very different agendas, we’re headed toward authoritarian minority rule, all while the climate apocalypse keeps ticking away. A 74-year-old coal baron and a proudly out queer woman who was once a member of the Green Party are keeping us from addressing that apocalypse, while the other party actively denies its existence or even exacerbates it. Imagine an agent or publisher finding any of this plausible as a work of SF. Now imagine a work of SF that estranges a modern society facing the climate challenge by having its foundational document written with a feather on a sheepskin by an all-male group of aristocrats who were mostly slaveowners.

I say all this well aware that I personally have a great deal of societal privilege: were I able to plausibly claim that I’m a Christian, I’d pretty much run the table on it. In this issue of SFRA Review, we present to you two different perspectives on SF from folks who can plausibly claim they’ve already suffered through the, or an, apocalypse.

In our Features section, we have a roundtable discussion on the state of Black Indie SF, centering on how a group of people often excluded from mainstream publishing both put out their work and deal with both the exclusion and the still-imperfect attempts at inclusion. The discussion is fascinating in itself, but its organizers have also included links to publishers, sites, authors and events: please take the time to introduce yourself to this most excellent discourse. Our symposium in this issue, Trans-Indigenous Futurity, examines SF by and from Indigenous authors from North America. Much of the fiction examined by the scholars in this symposium addresses the apocalypse that for many of these groups is and has always already happened. Please take the time to explore these fascinating and valuable perspectives.

In addition, we introduce our Fiction section in this issue. We urge you to submit your own works of SF for subsequent issues. And as we move toward peer review, please make sure the graduate students and emerging scholars in your network are aware of the opportunity for peer-reviewed publication through SFRA Review.

From the Vice President

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

From the SFRA Executive Committee

From the Vice President

Sonja Fritzsche
Michigan State University

The SFRA Support a New Scholar Grant deadline will have closed when this goes to press on November 1, 2021 for the independent and non-tenure track scholar competition. For those interested in the graduate student competition look for that call in the early fall of 2022.

We are excited to be discussing plans for a hybrid conference in 2022 hosted by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay of the CoFutures initiative at the University of Oslo in Norway. Dates are Monday, June 27, 2022 through Friday, July 1, 2022. This will no doubt be one of our most compelling and international conferences yet!

The SFRA Country Representatives have continued their quarterly meetings and brainstormed ways to support/mentor graduate students and early career scholars in the respective cultural and geographical contexts at the last meeting. The next meeting will be in January 2022. We continue to look for new representatives so please e-mail me if you are interested ( and share your global events on Facebook, Twitter, and the SFRA list. The current rep list is: Look for the contributions of the country reps in each SFRA News to learn more about what is going on in various places in the world in the study of SF.

And finally, I bid you farewell with sadness as the outgoing Vice President since I will finish my three year term at the end of December 2021. The past three years have been a joy as I have worked with such dedicated colleagues on the executive committee who have put in so much work on conferences and in other organizational matters during a time of significant upheaval. Some important bylaws changes were recently passed that should help to make the society more inclusive in a variety of ways. We are all responsible for ensuring that happens in the way that it was imagined, so consider putting yourself forward or nominating deserving others for some of the new openings as excellent stewardship opportunities. Congratulations to incoming VP Ida Yoshinaga who will bring much creative energy to the position. You all are in excellent hands! Thank you to the other candidates who ran as well. We hope you will run again in the future and/or help out with other various SFRA functions, as there is always the need for service from people dedicated to the furthering the study of science fiction. Ciao for now!

Hidden Stars: A Conversation on Black Indie Speculative Fiction

Hidden Stars: A Conversation on Black Indie Speculative Fiction

Jalondra A. Davis and LaRose Davis

Hidden Stars: Black Indie Speculative Fiction is a roundtable discussion with independent Black writers, creators, publishers, and organizers. This roundtable continues conversations within the 2021 SFRA conference regarding the need for more critical attention to the nontraditional publishing of BIPOC authors, with a focus on Black indie publishing in science fiction, speculative fiction, comics, fantasy, and horror. The conversation addresses themes and subgenres, institution building, and the relationship between the indie scene and mainstream.

The idea for this roundtable had its genesis at the 2021 SFRA Conference. Over the course of the conference, which included papers on Baldwin, Butler, and Okorafor, we realized that so many of the authors being studied were the same ones who have received critical attention in the genre for many years. In her keynote address, Joy Sanchez-Taylor illuminated one reason for the frequent repetition of the same coterie of black science fiction authors; namely the continued existence of roadblocks to traditional publication for Black authors in the genre. Even in overcoming the obstacles to publication, traditionally published black authors still face challenges with visibility in the spaces where speculative fiction is disseminated and discussed, including at fan conventions and academic conferences. As a result, the pool of available texts by Black authors might seem rather shallow.

Black speculative writing has not diminished as a result of these obstacles. Rather, a vibrant and innovative community of independent authors and presses exists that addresses the gap and meets the need of audiences (both Black and Non-black) that demand more representative speculative fiction canons. As an indie author who has been writing in the genre for over a decade, LaRose Davis (pen name L.M. Davis) asserted understandings of Black speculative production that rely solely on the work coming out of larger traditional publishers are incomplete, both in their definition of the scope of the offerings and their perceptions of how black speculative literature is innovating the genre. In order to fully understand the evolution of Black speculative production, the independent scene must be more completely engaged and studied.

Thus, “Hidden Stars” was born. LaRose (L.M.) Davis, independent author and scholar, and Jalondra A. Davis, black feminist writer and scholar of speculative fiction and culture, convened this roundtable with independent authors and publishers working throughout the genre, from comics to novels to film. Our intent was threefold: 1) we wanted to begin to document the decades-long project of creatives to build these independent spaces and networks; 2) to document the contributions and impacts of independent authors to the larger field, and 3) begin to assemble a resource guide by identifying and cataloguing some of the most innovative, independent authors writing right now.

What follows is the result of a wonderfully rich, two-hour conversation with some of the pillars of the independent scene. For the sake of brevity, we have trimmed the transcript, in places removing portions from individual responses, but in no way did we change the original meaning or intent of the speakers.   

Jalondra A. Davis: So I think where we want to start is if everyone can just tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in the Black speculative fiction community. 

Nicole Sconiers: My name’s Nicole Sconiers and thank you LaRose, LM, and Jalondra for inviting me to participate. It’s interesting because I didn’t always call myself a spec fiction/sci-fi writer. I guess I didn’t feel smart enough to be writing sci-fi, but I have since claimed that title. I’m the author of a collection of spec-fic stories called Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. And that’s how Jalondra and I met, because I was driving cross country to promote my stories in this huge van that was wrapped in the cover of my book. And just going around to different indie venues, spoken word places to talk about my stories, to read my stories. I’ve been published in Lightspeed, different sci-fi, spec fiction publications. I have a story out this week actually, in Speculative City. I’ve also directed a spec fiction short, that’s based on Escape from Beckyville. So I direct and I write spec-fic and sci-fi and horror. I was in Sycorax’s Daughters with Nicole. And also Black from the Future with Nicole, which is a collection of speculative fiction by Black women writers. So, I’m excited about this conversation and talking to you guys. Thank you. 

Jarvis Sheffield: Once again, my name is Jarvis Sheffield.  I am the creator of Black Science Fiction Society…It’s an online social network that’s created for black creators and this is our thirteenth year. I’m also the Coordinator of Tennessee State University’s media centers on both campuses. We also manage the creator space, actually the Makerspace called the Imagineering Lab, and I’m also the Director of Dragon Con’s diversity track. This is our fourth year.

Nicole Givens-Kurtz: I can go next. My name is Nicole Givens Kurtz. I am a science fiction, mystery writer. I write speculative mysteries basically. And I write weird westerns. I’m also the Science Fiction Geek Track Director for Multiverse as well as a programming…part of the programming community for Boskone. So, I do a lot of panels at science fiction conventions, and I am also a writer, but I am also running a very small press called Mocha Memoirs Press and we aim to amplify marginalized voices in speculative fiction. Our most recent anthology was called Slay:  The Stories of the Vampire Noir, which is an anthology of vampire and hunter story, slayer stories from the African diaspora. So, I do a little bit of everything [laughter] publishing, editing, writing, and programming for science fiction conventions as well.

Hannibal Tabu: Alright. Well, hi, my name is Hannibal Tabu. Thank you all for having me here. I am an award-winning journalist, novelist, and comic book writer. I’m the head comic book reviewer at I worked for, I think it was, gosh, sixteen years, at Comic Book Resources before I moved on to that. I am the winner of the 2012 Top Cow Talent Hunt, the 2018-2019 Cultural Trailblazer Award from the city of Los Angeles. In this specifically Black speculative fiction space, I’ve been published in the Steam Funk and Cyber Funk anthologies from MV Media as well as their Black Superhero Anthology, Black Power.  I’ve written two novels, Far Away and The Crown Ascension. And I’ve completed a manuscript for a third called Rogue Nation, which I am now shopping out to agents and managers. I’m also the writer of Project Wildfire, which will be in comic bookstores this November. It just became available for pre-order yesterday, actually. And that will be coming to comic bookstores wherever you are. So, feel free to ask your local comic book retailer for Project Wildfire. I’m also the writer of Time Core for Wunderman Comics, which is like a time travel book and the upcoming supernatural western, War Medicine, which I’m getting art from issue number two from the artist now. I specialize in the comic book space.  I have a degree in creative writing from the University of Southern California. And I am not as awful as white people would have you think, just to some of them.

L.D. Lewis: I think I’m the last one. So I am L.D. Lewis, L. or LeKesha if you can spell it properly. If not, just go with L. I am one of the founders of Fiyah Literary Magazine for black speculative fiction. Been there about five years. Absolutely exhausting, but I love it. I directed this year’s Nebula conference. I’m the director of FiyahCon, and Nicole and Mocha Memoirs Press is actually paneling. I noticed that I’m kind of tangentially like a Jarvis, Jarvis, you won something at the Nebulas this year. You were one of the special award winners, honorees. And then I’m here with Nicole, and then LaRose will be editing an upcoming issue of Fireside Magazine of which I am publisher. So I have little connections with everyone. Most of my published short fiction is, let me see, Anathema, Fiyah, Fireside, Lightspeed, Neon Hemlock Press. I’ve been in a couple of anthologies, one of which is with Scholastic. I’m kind of all over the place. So, I also edit and write and publish and do event things. And then I also author studies like the, like Firesides. Fireside and Fiyah, they both put out iterations of black speculative fiction reports, which study experiences and output specifically regarding the presence of Black voices in short, genre fiction. The last one of those came out in 2018. We’ll be bringing it back this year. Looking forward to seeing how the market has improved, because it has ever so slightly. But I like to put numbers to the numerous complaints we have about the industry. So, that’s my whole thing.

LaRose: Okay. Great! So now we have our panelists. And I think actually, your introductions kind of transition into our next question, which is, how are you defining indie? 

Nicole G-K: So the question is, what does it mean to be independent? And what does independent mean? For me.

LaRose: I think it’s both, what does it mean to you? But then how does that look in the field? So, I don’t want to frame, but I may redirect after I hear your responses.

Nicole G-K: [Laughter]. Okay. So, for me, independent or indie is not having one of the major—as a writer, independent for me is self-publishing. Me guiding my own work, producing my own work or not using a traditional press, whether it’s a small press, a medium press, or one of the larger like Tor or Edge or someone framed in being my own publisher. I am independent of these other major publishers in producing my work. It could also mean to a certain degree, you’re unagented, right, and kind of operating on your own, solo, through the publishing streams. 

Hannibal: In the spirit of our people, I would “yes and” our sister’s response there and say in the comic book world it’s all those things plus more. In comic books, there are two major publishers. And those two major publishers have 70% of the market cornered. And everybody else who shows up is an afterthought, literally. No matter if they’re a large international publisher like Humanoids, where I did a graphic novel called MPLS Sound, or if they’re, you know, eight people in an office space in West LA, which is another publisher that I worked with. So, indie comes, in my mind, first of all, with, you’re walking into the market without a bankroll. You’re walking into the market without the machinery of a large company, promoting, producing, and verifying the quality of your work. 

And indie has a certain stigma from a consumer standpoint…, even if it’s something as big as The Walking Dead, which is an indie book that was independently produced and put out through Image Comics when Robert Kirkman had zero money or if it’s someone like myself on Second Side Publishing with Wildfire. All those are painted with a broad brush with the term indie.

For the creators, it is a mark of pride. It is you know, David versus Goliath. It is standing against an establishment that has denied and marginalized people who look like me, people who look like you for almost ever [laughter]. And we are more than proud to wear that title and claim it as we will build something on our own and something independent in the spirit of my other sister, Ava DuVernay.

Nicole S: To Hannibal’s point, there is this stigma of being considered an indie writer, because it’s like you weren’t good enough to have a mainstream publisher backing you. But when I first wrote Escape from Beckyville, I didn’t reach out to mainstream publishers. My goal was, I’m going to self-publish this, and I’m going to do all the legwork. I’m going to drive across the country. I’m going to talk to the indie bookstores. And I wouldn’t replace that experience, because a lot of those Black indie bookstores that I went to are no longer in existence, you know. So, it was great to be able to get out into the community to talk to people. I mean, they saw me coming basically in my little pink van. So, to just get out there and talk and say, hey, this what I’m doing, and I’m writing spec fiction. And they’re like, oh, they had never heard of spec fiction, some of the communities that I went to. So, to me, it was a give and take. They embraced me as an indie writer, and I was introducing them to a genre that they hadn’t heard of before. So, it was a fulfilling experience for me.

LaRose: And to your point—I’m just gonna interject here—the stigma is particularly around writing. Because I don’t think that you have that kind of stigma around other types of indie production, independent film….I think that people are more open to the idea and understand a pathway to success through film, for music, for musicians, as independent artists, as opposed to looking at writers and thinking you weren’t good enough. As opposed to, as Nicole said, making a deliberate choice to be independent… for a lot of the same reasons that other artists and others working in other mediums choose to be independent, a lot of which has to do with creative control.

Jarvis: Right. I think I’m really simple in most things. Operating outside the mainstream primarily is my definition of being independent. Primarily having complete ownership of your creative work, which gives you the opportunity to have creative control over your characters…. I’ve seen other comic book creators that have submitted their work to major corporations—Nickelodeon, Disney, things of that nature—and it’s like, oh okay, that’s great, that’s really… oh, we really like what you’re, what you’re doing, but we’re going to…can you change this character to a white character? You know what I’m saying? And so, that’s value in itself. Also, I’ve seen a lot of times people want to have that recognition or verification from the mainstream to feel as though their work or what they’re doing is culturally significant. I’m kind of the opposite.

Nicole G-K: So, one of the things I think is super important about being an independent author is not…is that, what Jarvis said which in that creative control, but it also puts you right in what Nicole said, right, lock in step with your people, with your readers, you’re a lot more connected. Because you have to go out and work for them, you have to go find them, you have to go out there and make connections with them. And so, that is and to our point, we talked about Black Science Fiction Society, The State of Black Science Fiction. Prior to the rise of social media, which is when I first got my first novel contract was in 1998… I felt completely disconnected, right, because I would go to cons with my one little book.  And that’s what they tell you, right, go to science fiction conventions, you wrote a sci-fi book.  And I would go to my vendor table with my one little book. 

And first of all, people were like, who is that? And then I was the only one in that space [chuckle] with my one little book. And people were very much, who published it? That’s number one. Oh, you’re not published by Baen. You’re not published by, you know, the larger people. So, you’re not really a writer.  But you’re buying all the books with the white guy next to me who self-published all his UFO books. Got it. [Laughter]. So, okay. And two…I actually made a point of having a Black woman on the cover, because growing up I didn’t see that a lot. I didn’t see it…unless it was like an urban contemporary story, right. The Women of Brewster Place or Terry McMillan. Some of those more contemporary stories had Black women on the cover, but not always. And so, I was really hungry as an adult to see myself reflected on covers, and a darker me, right. Like me. [Laughter]. Not, not the racially ambiguous female on my cover. So, I made a point of doing that. But it was really difficult.  That was because I was able to as an indie author, right or with a small press to demand that. And it wasn’t a risk for the press, because everything was a risk. Cause everything was e-book, right. This is like 2000, super long ago. But people looked at that, and they would pick it up and say, “you know, I don’t think I can identify with this.” “I don’t know if this book is for me.” But you can identify with a shapeshifting tiger. But you can’t identify with another human being who’s going through, right, trials in a speculative setting. So, being independent allows you to find, to root out those people and actually find those who are actually just as hungry and just as interested in Black speculative fiction as you are, as a fan, as a writer.

LaRose: So, the reason we asked this question is we wanted to get everybody kind of on the same page in terms of what we’re discussing, and what the sort of scope is of what we’re calling the indie community. And so some people mentioned small presses. But Nicole, in your initial response, you were saying that you think for writers, it is independence from all presses. It’s completely guiding the process yourself. So, just in terms of the rest of the conversation, this is the scope. So, we can think about maybe small presses, we can think about self-publishing, completely guiding every part of the process. What it means to have no budget, right, in terms of what you’re creating, even if you’re creating through a small press. So, that can be the scope of what we’re thinking about as we answer the other questions. Jalondra?

Jalondra: So, we wanted to ask, what are some of the most exciting developments that people see happening right now in the indie community? And this can include things you’re doing, things you’re seeing of other authors, things that are happening in presses, with institutions, with specific works, collections…

Nicole S: Can I talk about something that’s… a little subversive in spec fiction and sci-fi is, I’m seeing a trend toward joy. Like I’m seeing these calls for, publications having calls out for, we want stories about joy. Khadijah Queen, and I think it’s Kiini Salaam, are working on an anthology about the POC gaze and utopias from a Black perspective or a POC perspective. I think it’s Escape Pod has a call for their next issue is on joy. Apparition Lit has a call out for wonder. And I think that living in a pandemic in the country is so much, you know, turmoil, tumult, and divided. People want, not Pollyanna-ish stories, but more affirming stories of the future. And so, and that was and that was subversive for me, because all my stories are dark. I don’t think I’ve ever written a happy ending. So, I’m like, joy, I don’t think I can do that [laughter]. But now it’s, it’s got me thinking like, how can I include more uplifting elements in my writing?

Jalondra: Yes, that is so real Nicole, I’ve been noticing that too. And I think that my dissertation project, and even writing that I’ve done has tended towards… I don’t like to use dark, but you know, just unsettling. That was one of the things I wrote about your collection. It’s very unsettling. So I understand the turn towards joy. It’s really interesting, and it’s really complex. 

Hannibal: Well, I’ve specifically made a move towards joy myself. Choosing it in both my personal life and in the fiction that I’m writing. I was talking to my creative partner Quinn McGowan about the character Will Watson from Project Wildfire, and our goal with him was to present the inherent goodness that is installed into Black, most Black people in the south, from values, from aunties, from relatives, from being cared for by community. And from that set of values that comes up outside of what is traditionally thought of as a southern idea, which comes across very white, very racist, very exclusionary.

He’s a superhero, but literally the first time he meets any conflict, he tries to talk, every time. It rarely ends up with him being able to do that, but he at least tries every time. And as a self-described horrible person, I always say when I’m writing Will, I think what would I do, and I do something completely unlike that. [Laughter]. And that’s come across with the project. And I’m hoping when it comes to stores in November that people will really be able to latch on to it. 

In the fantasy space, my friend Sebastian Jones is working very hard with HBO Max on his show, Asunda which is going to be set in his fictional universe that he’s been working on for, since before I met him, 30 years ago [chuckle]. And to see that come to fruition from a guy who was just making his own little Dungeon and Dragons characters to seeing it realized with contracts at HBO Max is very gratifying. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a sister named C. Spike Trotman.…she posted the other day that she’s about to launch her thirtieth Kickstarter. She has made literally more than two million dollars kickstarting projects, speculative fiction, Black specific fiction, very, very niche cast material, and she has created an industry of her own, a lane of her own that nobody else is in and that she dominates.…Now there’s a lot of notice from bigger publishers for smaller writers, I see Brandon Thomas writing a lot more stuff at DC Comics, which is great to see after he did Miranda Mercury, which is like a love letter to Black women in science fiction, or after he did Excellence, which is a very strong family drama based in magic that he did for Image Comics. So  there’s a lot of great things happening. As for myself, I’m doing this speculative fiction story called False Flag, which is like GI Joe meets wrestling, but in a world of superheroes. It’s super evil. It’s so the worst. And I’m doing it for free on I’m doing that with illustration from Demar Douglas, and I’m really enjoying finding these spaces of joy under this cloud of doom. That’s where a lot of these stories happen. That Will Watson shines, because there needs to be light. That these stories are presenting, you know, finding your sliver of happiness, even when everything else is going wrong. Oh, I’m sorry, I almost missed Tee Franklin, who wrote the very brilliant Bingo Love graphic novel for Image Comics. She’s also getting some more notice. I hear she’s writing television now, which I’m enormously happy to hear. So, there’s a lot of great movement from people who were not in the mainstream, being able to take mainstream money and then bring it home to the family, which I really appreciate.

LaRose:  I feel like L.D., Fiyah, you all had a call for joy, last year. That you all actually had been thinking about in 2019, or something before, I feel like I remember Davaun saying that this was the moment for it. But you had already determined that was going to be a topic in 2019.

L.D. Lewis: Yes.

LaRose: So maybe you talk a little bit about that. But I think it gets to another point that we’re trying to make about how what’s happening on the indie scene sort of anticipates or not even anticipates, but drives kind of what happens in the larger sphere.

L.D. Lewis: Let me see, so we settle on themes for issues the summer prior to the publication year. So, our Joy issue was our October issue last year. And it was really well received. But the reason we did it was because you know, state of the world type stuff. But also because the bulk of our submissions normally are based in trauma. And we publish exclusively Black writers… and it’s to the point where acquiring editors kind of need a break from those sort of heavy topics. So, the core of the theme was to give our readers a bit of a break there. And it just turned out to be timely. I mean, we do that work to kind of anticipate where there’s shortages.

Fiyah became a thing, it was born out of a void in the industry. There was a lack of Black voices.  We were like, okay, well, here’s a publication, it’s all entirely Black voices. And so, there was a dearth of Black joy on the scene. And so that’s what we’re doing. So next year, it’ll probably be more Black horror, or we’ll get into some punk themes or whatever. But I think that across the board, especially at Fireside as well, we receive a lot of narratives that are rooted in trauma. So, I think that the joy theme was sort of to dare us to tell stories outside of that home zone, that sort of finding joy in dark places, or just not having the dark places at all. We’re so used to kind of pigeonholing ourselves in that way. 

Jarvis: Alright, I’m excited about three specific things. I believe that creators have to hit the industry on both the independent front and the mainstream front, to hit, to push on all of those. And I’m excited about the individuals that Hannibal mentioned, in addition to Sebastian, Brandon Easton, Kevin Grevioux, LaSean Thomas have been making a lot of waves in terms of mainstream. But then on the other side, I’m excited about the explosion,…with the Black sci-fi creatives, and I’ve seen from when I first started, of maybe a dozen people that I would buy stuff from and share with my friends to hundreds now, and that’s comics, that’s books, that’s e-books, independent movies, and shorts. So, now we have a plethora of things to read and enjoy and share with other people. And then lastly, I’m a big fan of the events. Some of the people here I met at events. So, I’m excited that I started off going to maybe two or three events a year and before, pre-COVID, I was up to like fifteen events a year.  I was at everything. [Laughter]. If it was a Black event, I was there…But events, like The Black Age of Comics, which was really the first one that started almost thirty years ago in Chicago, and it kind of spread and became…some other people picked up the mantle and started the East Coast Black Age of Comics. The Motor City Black Age of Comics. The Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo, Onyx Con, and the African Street Festival here in Nashville….And so, I really enjoy going to those events. And it’s a real community when you go there.

LaRose: I was going to follow up with Jarvis to talk about actually Cons and events. I’ve been going to Dragon Con, I think my first time was maybe in 2011. So minus a pandemic, 10 years. [Laughter]. And I have noticed and I kind of want to think about that a little bit, how our presence in those spaces is changing the field…I remember one of the first panels we had for the State of Black Sci-fi, there was even this sort of conversation about whether we call ourselves science fiction and fantasy authors, right. And it was this back and forth between, well, no, I don’t write that, I write weird stories. I don’t know if I want to embrace that label because of how so often that label pushes us out. So, now in the last ten years, in terms of my experience—and Jarvis can speak more to this, but it sounds to me like he was saying a similar sort of thing—I have seen us more in these spaces, cosplaying, on panels, doing those sorts of things. And can we talk a little bit about how we think that might also be impacting our presence in the space, as writers and as creators, as opposed to just as participants and consumers? 

Hannibal: …for me, you know, because I’ve been going to like San Diego Comic Con since ’99, but going to something like Black Speculative Arts Movement or Black Comix Day in San Diego—which is run by Keithan Jones—to  go to those places, is a much different, much warmer environment.

For a Black creative at San Diego Comic Con or Wonder Con, you’re in there, your eyes are going left and right, you’re looking for opportunities, you’re looking for vulnerabilities, you’re looking for a place to make yourself welcome, because the energy isn’t always there.  When you’re at, you know, Black Comix Day, everybody loves you. Everybody’s happy to see you. Everybody’s happy to be there. There’s a shift that is happening from our presence.  We’re showing up, and we are, we’re building up certain people. We’re building up your N.K. Jemisins. We’re building up, as you said, your Brandon Eastons, who also wrote on the Netflix series, the Transformers series…So, seeing us…if we elevate our people, then other people are forced to accept them. But it is a community effort. It is a work of banding together in that regard. And it cannot work if, as the old folks used to say, a rising tide raises all boats and we all got to put something in the water.

LaRose: I just want to take a minute to underscore, because I think that’s a really important point Hannibal, about our presence shows that there is an audience, which is what drives mainstream or traditional interest in our work. And I think, we can also then look back at the Black Science Fiction Society and the State of Black Sci-Fi as these massive online communities that also show mainstream publishers, you got, 20,000 people in the State of Black Sci-Fi, who probably would be interested in this work by this Black author. Milton is not here, he has talked about that in the past. That was one of his interests in creating that community, was just to show the audience existed.

Nicole S: I have to shout out Rasheedah Phillips, who is one of the originators from the State of Black Sci-Fi, she has this amazing event in Philly, the Afrofuturist Affair, and she’s always been such a strong advocate for her fellow writers, creating this safe space for Black writers of sci-fi and spec fiction to come in, read their work, barter with other writers, bring their products to sell. She has an immersive experience this month. I think it’s called the Black Quantum, Black Quantum Futurism that’s taking place at the Hatfield House, which is this historic house here in Philadelphia. And it’s going to be like time capsules and time travel and just bringing Black people in to see what Black people, what our future could look like. Like can you imagine the possibilities of a Black future and also bringing in people to read their work, to get on the mic to talk about what they’re doing. So, Rasheedah has always been super supportive. 

Nicole G-K: So, I have noticed that at Boskone a few years ago, there was the State of Black Sci-fi meetup. But when I was at Worldcon in Dublin, there was a specific Black sci-fi writer meetup as well, that was just us. And it literally said in the program, if you’re not Black, do not attend. Because it was just a safe space in a much larger area. And as Hannibal mentioned it may not always be inviting or warm to us to be able to find others to network, to vibe as Nicole was saying in those spaces. But I also know that from working with programming for a couple of different conventions, that the goal has shifted towards being more inclusive beyond just having a diversity panel, right. Because we are fans of science fiction and fantasy. I can speak to more than just diversity in spec. And so, I know that from programming from Multiverse in particular, as well as Boskone and ConGregate, they were definitely working towards having panels that were inclusive of different people across the board for every panel, not just that corner here, let’s have a diversity panel. And I think Jarvis’s track at Dragon Con just demonstrates and kind of amplifies at such a large, it’s like the largest con, sci-fi con in the United States after Worldcon, that’s not a comic con, that’s Dragon. Here we are…it’s even worth noting that having a track devoted to Black and people of color speculative fiction tells the other readers, right, in other fandom and other participants, this is something you might…this is not a small thing. This is actually a bigger thing.  It’s something that you may want to give your attention to or notice. And even at Worldcon in Dublin, they had highlighted a section in their dealer’s room, a large section that was just devoted to Brazilian science fiction art. 

Jarvis: Oh, I just wanted to piggyback. Thank you for mentioning the diversity track at Dragon Con, I think that track is the first track at any major event. Cause in the past, you had your Black panel, and then everybody goes home and goes back to normal, and before the Diversity Track. And with the Diversity Track, we have a whole week of stuff all day, all day long. So, it’s not going back to okay, we’re gonna just do a Black panel and send everybody home again.

L.D. Lewis: So, FiyahCon, which was… which I started yesterday, last year with Brent Lambert, who’s the Social Media Manager over at Fiyah, it is dedicated specifically to centering black, indigenous, and people of color and their experiences and contributions to spec lit. And we are Hugo nominated now for it…because we set that as our focus, it allowed us to do, beyond 101 programming. So, there are no diversity panels. It’s just all of these people from all of these different backgrounds who are able to actually talk craft, without having to properly orient people as to what Afrofuturism is, you know, for the eleventy-billionth time. And it was super well received. We had like eleven, twelve hundred attendants, something like that. Twelve hundred attendants last year. This year, we are at about eight hundred so far. And we’ve added an additional day of programming and it’s really robust and really interesting conversations. Even as different organizations are doing like year-round kinds of panels and things, we were able to still find conversations that haven’t been had yet. So I got the Nebula conference gig off of having directed FiyahCon and I was able to diversify some of that programming, some of the social spaces there as well. And it’s… it’s been really interesting to see how well it’s been received. It’s been interesting to see how a lot of Con runners from predominantly white teams are trying to poach my team members to try and get them to contribute something organically to their space. And I’m like, well, why do you have, you know, a white person who only has white friends trying to diversify their programming, maybe they’re not the person for that job just because they want it. And so, that’s a class I had to teach at Clarion West to just kind of like, these are pretty basic questions you should be asking yourself when staffing your events. 

Jalondra: So, I just want to follow up. I’m so glad that you are talking about the importance of institution building. How Black people build institutions and build spaces and build community. And that’s actually the thing that carries up and supports artists and builds audiences and cultivates new talent. Because when I was in a creative writing program, I wasn’t connected to any of these communities. And I was really pushed to do realist fiction. I think about how transformative it would have been to be connected to these communities. One of the things I find myself within the academy frustrated about, is I feel like with Afrofuturism and all of this excitement—and there’s a lot of white people doing Afrofuturism work, right—I  feel like there is kind of a narrative that the white people did it first and then the Black people, then Octavia Butler, and Samuel Delaney came… I feel like there’s a little bit of this linear narrative, because the only space being looked at is that…mainstream science fiction institution, you know what I mean?  Like, because the only site being looked at is these particular publications, these particular venues, these particular associations, they’re only seeing the people who…. somehow managed to be included within those spaces and not seeing all of this other stuff that’s happening. 

Nicole G-K:  So, we’re just not going to talk about like, “The Comet,” right.  Like, W.E.B. DuBois, right, “The Comet.”  It’s the first…for me, I feel like.

LaRose:  Well, yes. 

Nicole G-K:  The first like, like…the first science did it first.

LaRose:  Pauline Hopkins serialized the novel.

Jalondra:  Pauline Hopkins, yes.

LaRose:  Called Of One Blood in the 1800s.  [1]

Jalondra:  Yes. Yes.

LaRose:  You know, and within academia, obviously, where white people, and I, you know, we’re not even going to call it mainstream or whatever, just white people ignore again, the sites of, the places and spaces that Black folks are using to get these stories out. And just because you ignore it, just cause you kind of decide that it’s not worth talking about, or that you’re not aware of it, that doesn’t mean that it’s not there and hasn’t been happening.

Jalondra: And I mean, I do see people talk about  those older texts… Within the institution, Black people have done that genealogical work of saying, like, oh, DuBois, Pauline Hopkins, all of that.…but then I still don’t really see critical engagement of those works. Still not the engagement of how Black people are engaging with these themes of utopia, time travel, body transformation.

Nicole G-K:  Gender. Yep.

Jalondra: Like what Black people are doing in these conversations. That’s kind of what I’m doing now with the mermaids project. Like, it’s not just this thing over here, like, look at this cool example of Black people being mermaids. It’s like, no, Black people are transforming what the mermaid means. Black creators are advancing and creating and innovating certain concepts, but still not really getting engaged through those concepts, because it’s still being engaged as, look at this cool example of Black people also doing this, you know what I mean?

Nicole G-K: Like it’s an anomaly.  

Jalondra:  Yes.

Nicole G-K: We’re looked at as anomalies versus being…a living, breathing entity, right….and again it goes back to the idea that there could be only one. That’s why when you see examples of list of “Black Authors You Should Be Reading,” it’s the same five authors over and over again, because there’s this concept that… and they’re only looking at this very narrow—it’s like they’re looking at Florida, instead of looking at the whole United States.  They’re only looking at this one area, when it’s a much, much larger canvas to be observed. Wait a minute, this isn’t just this one small [chuckle] state, it’s a whole country.

LaRose:  But also… it’s a question of even having the tools, right?

Nicole G-K:  Right.

LaRose: To understand what they’re encountering.  And a lot of times, you know, in the year of our Lord 2021… white academics specifically are still not being trained to even have that nuanced conversation Jalondra that you pointed to about how Black folks are not just taking sort of Eurocentric or mermaid mythologies that come out of a European history and lineage, but they’re adding to it. They’re bringing things that are coming out of African traditions, they’re bringing things that come out of Caribbean mythologies. And that quite honestly, those things have been present… were present in these communities prior to contact… So it’s not we’re taking the notion of mermaid and kind of flipping it—though, that’s sometimes what’s happening—but we’re also… we’ve always had this idea of this water creature, right, that gels in some ways with European mermaid mythologies, but it’s completely different in other ways… because they don’t have the tools necessarily to do a complex, thoughtful reading of what is distinctive… about the way that that figure appears in Black texts in sort of African diasporic texts.

Jalondra: I think that that leads well into the subgenres question. What subgenres that were or are being incubated in the indie community have crossed into the mainstream?

Hannibal: Well, I can think of one from the comics books sphere that there’s a very common element that happens with Black creators where we’ll look at something and say, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s stupid. It’s got to be fixed.

Nicole G-K: To piggyback on Hannibal’s point, the demand often comes from us.  If you look at Black Twitter, or social media, we are a loud voice. Those shows that don’t have us in the writing room, they don’t do well. The chorus that arises from Black Twitter and from Black social media around things, wait a minute, no, that’s racist, or no, that’s not us, or no, that doesn’t flow, or who’s in your writing room, has kind of forced the hand for major studios to rethink how they present things, and who is in that writing room. Which is why we’re getting a lot more diverse talent in the room. But I think that conversation of, if you look at Lovecraft Country, what Misha Green was able to do with Mark Ruff’s text blew it out the water. Just, I mean, her, just from her experience, episode seven, Name Yourself: Who Am I, right?… the whole love letter to Black women and speculative fiction. That whole episode was phenomenal. And it was so well received. If you look at Lovecraft Country, it had like 12 or 15 Emmy nominations.  It’s stuff that we’ve been doing forever, right. Black horror, Black sci-fi, but because it’s been elevated to such a state, more people are gonna do it now, right, cause it’s popular. Because it’s successful. It’s been proven that there actually is a chorus or an audience for that. And that’s the note for indie, right. We do things. And it has a small blip of popularity amongst us in our niche. And then someone else says, “hey, what’s this ripple over here.” And they take it, and they amplify it, which is what Hannibal was saying. And now suddenly, it’s popular. And you’ll see more opportunities grow from that. But as LaRose said earlier, it does tend to ebb and flow. I remember in the early ‘90s, when Waiting to Exhale came out, and there was like a gazillion other authors who were writing similar girlfriend books, and it was like, oh my gosh, we’ve arrived. We’ve arrived. And you can’t even name five of ‘em now. You can’t find three of ‘em on a shelf. And so, [chuckle] it does tend to ebb and flow. But one of the things that is consistent is Black independent authors and Black independent publishers continuing to produce work that reflects the needs and wants of our communities.

Jalondra: Yes, I want to follow what you just said Nicole about Black audiences and social media. I think there’s a way in which I see independent writers, because they’re in control of the process, because they’re not at the behest of the schedule of a press and trying to find an agent they are responding more immediately, being a part of these conversations. That’s something that I wrote about Escape from Beckyville is that there are these conversations that black women were already having about the Psychology Today article that said Black women were ugly, and the film The Help, that the stories were directly engaged with. And I think that’s really powerful, because it provides a window into this work for Black people that’s not only through the window of science fiction. Like people who weren’t already fans come into a lot of this work in different ways.

LaRose: Does anybody have any other thoughts on things that are happening right now that you’re seeing in the indie world, that we’re going to see in like two years in the mainstream? Or that we potentially will see, as long as this interest in representing us actually persists? Which, who knows when it will ebb again? But what’s happening now? What do you think is poised to break through into more mainstream spaces? And I think we have to think about that language as well, because it continues to be problematic.

Hannibal: I would keep an eye on LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a science fiction comic that she did with one of the smaller publishers, not one of the big two. And it posited the idea of plant consciousnesses and human consciousnesses living side by side in the societal thing. The development of the idea was really deep, and I just, I was reading it like, yeah, I can see this in the movie, this could check out. So, whether she does it or someone tries to steal it, I don’t know. But I would not be surprised to see some elements of LaGuardia on your screen within the next few years.

Jarvis: I’m going to piggyback off of Hannibal. You’re going to continue to see more independent work making its way to mainstream like William Hayashi’s Discovery. Where it centers around Black people who have been living on the dark side of the moon before Neil Armstrong. There’s been like a Jack and Jill type of recruiting that’s been done with the geniuses and people of that nature. A Black ilk, they’ve created their own society, and have been in hiding and they get discovered. That has already, from what I understand, been picked up by, I think Netflix. 

Nicole G-K: That’s right. Yep.

Jarvis: Yvette Kendall has a series called God Maps, where they explore where the soul actually goes after you die. These scientists have created this technology to… at the moment of death, it kind of tags the soul as it leaves the body, and they’ve been tracking it. And she has had her stuff picked up, and is in the process of development. So, you’re going to see a lot of cherry picking of successful work. Sort of like the entertainment industry. I was privileged to be in the room with… I can’t think of his name right now. Record executive. He came to Tennessee State University years ago, and I taped his speech. And he was basically telling us like, how do we get on. People were trying to give him tapes and DVDs of their work and stuff, and he’s like, that’s not how it works. We pick up people that already have a buzz, that they’ve proven that they have an audience. And if you can have an audience in your region, or state or whatever, we pick those people and then work with them. So, you’ll see a lot of cherry picking like that happen. Which can be a good or a bad thing.

LaRose: And are there genres? I think about for instance, steamfunk, as something that we definitely saw going very strong in the indie community and P. Djèlí Clark with A Dead Djinn in CairoandThe Black God’s Drum.

Nicole G-K:  The Black God’s Drum. Yeah. I love that book.

LaRose:  Where we’re starting to see more steamfunk and Nisi Shawl had a steampunk novel. And we’re starting to see that more in the mainstream. But we definitely saw that in indie writers before it had that kind of crossover. I think a lot of that is coming out of Tor right now. So, are there other genres right now that we haven’t seen in the mainstream, but that we’re seeing in the indie community that you think we’re going to see in the mainstream later? Because we want to talk about it right now, so we can point back to it in two years and be like, look. We said it. They said it. Now respect their authority. 

Nicole G-K: So, I write futuristic noir, which is basically cyberpunk slash futuristic noir. They’re all mysteries set in the future, with a PI, think Blade Runner, but with a Black female lead. And I used to be the only Black woman who did that. But I’m starting to see a growing number of Black women authors writing mystery speculative noir. I’m very happy about that because I was the only one for a very long time. But I definitely see that they’re not tagging it as futuristic noir, it’s either cyberpunk, or they’re just tagging it a regular science fiction story. But at its origins, it’s a mystery in a speculative setting. I think that genre is going to tend to grow because people love mysteries. There is a rise of people who are watching true crime as they go to bed at night, or just to calm down. People who like a good mystery, but are kind of sick of the ordinary settings, are turning to that genre.

Hannibal: I was just going to piggyback on what Nicole was saying, because earlier this year, I was in two anthologies, from Milton Davis, of course, Cyberfunk! and Noir is the New Black from Fair Square Comics, where I was writing, as she said, a mystery of sorts in a futuristic setting. I definitely think that’s the aesthetic, because when costume designers and production designers look at things, the lines and the aesthetics of that being applied to black aesthetic are very visually appealing. A lot of people have learned from the way that Issa Rae used lighting in Insecure to light dark-skinned people. They are like, oh, we can do this now. We’ve learned something we can steal. So, I definitely think that will definitely be a factor. I’ve always seen ironically, that Milton is ahead of the curve, because he was the one who did the steamfunk anthology. I was in that.

Nicole G-K:  He was. Yep.

Hannibal:  He had Cyberfunk!  His new plan, I believe he talked about, is doing spyfunk.

Nicole G-K:  Spyfunk.  Yep.

Hannibal: Which is a black spy thing, because they won’t make Idris Elba, James Bond.  They’re like, okay, suckers, we can do it ourselves.

Nicole G-K:  We got it!

Hannibal:  And off we go. So if you see Will Smith popping back into, you know, the spy thing in a few years, that’s probably why.

Nicole G-K: I’m also in Cyberfunk! And actually Milton and I had long conversations about…I’m a huge cyberpunk fan, obviously. I’m a big Philip K. Dick fan. And so, one of the things that we actually talked about a lot with the Cyberfunk! anthology is, where do we want it to go? Because cyberfunk by its definition is high tech, low life, which is really depressing. But he was like, I don’t want to do the same stuff that cyberpunk has done before hence Cyberfunk! And it’s a very different anthology as Hannibal can probably attest. These are not your ordinary cyberpunk stories. They have elements of hope. They have elements of other things that aren’t oriented in trauma. They don’t all have to have a murder, or some horrific thing that happens, or discussions on what it means to be human. It’s just how do I exist in this space and find joy? I love the idea of cyberfunk, I hope it catches on. I hope it grows. I expect that it will, because it’s a very unique twist on cyberpunk. Milton’s diesel funk is ahead of the curve as well. With futuristic noir, the noir anthology that Hannibal was talking about as well. We write those things. If you think about the Sherlock Holmes comic that was written, set in Harlem, Watson and Holmes. I mean, we’re just always ahead of the curve with these types of things. Even though they may not be labeled as such, they’re definitely part of a growing trend of, here’s what we do that’s awesome. And how we make twists and turns and transform things. That’s kind of just… that’s the beauty of who we are. We take what is on the table or something and then we reconstruct the table to fit our needs. 

Hannibal: That’s a hip-hop aesthetic. Everything that you’re talking about is hip-hop, or jazz, or blues, or griot. I mean, that’s, that’s the black aesthetic inside and out all day.

Jalondra: Speaking of cyberfunk as a movement towards hope, one of the things I’ve been noticing at academic conferences lately are critiques of dystopia. And trying to talk about hope more in the midst of these kinds of genres. One of the things I would like to see is for the Black writers that are doing this to be centered, or at least factored in and read in the context of that conversation. Not read after the fact like, oh look, they’re doing it too, but like, oh, no, this is actually a driving factor, not just an afterthought.

Nicole G-K: And that’s the thing though with indie. That’s why we ask people to read indie, because they are at the forefront of the next large movement. By the time it’s mainstream, it’s already been active in indie circles for a while, right?

LaRose: I’m going to tell the story about my series. I truly believe that one of the problems that I had when I was shopping my series in 2010, that people didn’t know what to do with something that wasn’t about Black trauma. I really think that was one of the massive things that I encountered. But now Black people are saying… we’re tired, our experiences are more than our trauma. We are more than our trauma. Our experiences are more than trauma. And we want to see that reflected in books as well.

Jarvis: One theme that has been emerging is the strong Black female lead. I want to see that continue to thrive. That’s been in the independent world for as long as people been writing. But stuff like Lovecraft Country, Discovery, Sleepy Hollow, and anything that Janelle Monáe is in. Those are strong Black female leads that have been coming to the forefront.

Nicole S: The flip side of what Jarvis was saying about the strong Black woman lead is the woman who’s dealing with trauma. And I’m seeing more writers talking about their struggles with PTSD ,with trauma. Zin E. Rocklyn talks about writing as a woman who has suffered PTSD and writes about trauma in her work. And I love Sumiko Saulson, her book Solitude.

Nicole G-K: Yes, Sumiko. We publish her.

Nicole S: Yes. She’s awesome. In her book Solitude, she talks about just having this radical self-acceptance, and how mental health challenges are stigmatized in the Black community, and how it is transgressive to talk about being a woman who suffers from a mental illness. One of her characters is a woman who is housebound and an empowered character. So I am seeing more women speaking out about their own trauma, their own PTSD, their own feeling othered whether it’s in their community or in their own skin, and how they transcribe that into their work.

Nicole G-K: In my Fawn & Briscoe series, the protagonist Fawn actually has PTSD from the job that she actually does as a detective. It’s in this futuristic setting, of course, but it kind of enables her ability to do some of the work she needs to do. And it’s dealing with that because I think especially after the year we just all collectively had–

Nicole S:  Yeah.

Nicole G-K:  There’s definitely a lot of residual mental health that we need to look at. But I also think to Jarvis’s point, a strong Black female lead, it depends on who’s writing the character. I go back to this again and again, who is in your writing room? Because sometimes… it’s a Black female lead, and it’s not authentic. It’s not… it’s kind of destructive in how she’s depicted. So, it’s really important, I know “I’m rooting for everybody Black!” but I need to see who’s writing that character. Because Misha Green writing a character is very different from J.J. Abrams writing a Black female lead. And so, I need to know who’s behind that work, because that’s very important in how that character shows up in the movie, or film, or TV show.

LaRose: I think that that’s an important point, because a lot of what you all have been talking about as to how these ideas are moving out of the indie space into the mainstream is through film. So, now we’re talking about a whole other sort of apparatus that we have to think about, because it’s not just that you’re dealing with publishers and trying to make sure that the resulting book stays true to your vision, but also that now we’re talking about where we have writers’ rooms, and where they may option the rights to your story, but then you don’t know who is writing the story, who is translating your character, and whether or not that person has the insight to be able to authentically translate that character, especially if you as the writer are not involved in that process. I know N.K. Jemisin, a couple of her things have been pulled for adaptation, and I know that with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I think that’s the one she’s actually adapting herself. But yeah, that becomes a massive factor. Because what gets lost? What gets flattened out? What gets jettisoned? Because people don’t understand the significance of it in the first place. Because there are not enough people reflecting, who are connected to those identities in the writers’ room.

Hannibal: Real quickly. Could I just tell a real quick story. One of my friends, Lamont Magee, was one of the writers on Black Lightning. And when they were doing the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, there was a moment when Black Lightning walks into the room with Diggle and Lamont spent three weeks arguing with people and producers and writers that when they walked in the room the dude gave him a head nod.  Gave him the nod.

Nicole G-K:  The head nod.

Hannibal: The head nod. What’s up.

Nicole G-K: The head nod. [Laughter].

Hannibal:  He was like, you have no idea how hard I fought for that. And the importance of it, that it would be on screen. That it would be recognized. Because it was important that when these two Black men in a space with mostly white people walk in, there was that moment of recognition.

Nicole G-K:  The head nod. Oh my god. Yes.

Hannibal:  And I was like, yeah, that’s what’s up. That’s why we got to be in the room.  Exactly what you’re saying.

Nicole G-K: And Black Twitter erupted. I cannot tell you how many people tagged me and did you see that head nod? Did you see it? Yasss! Oh my god, it was perfect. Okay.  I’ll calm down now.

Hannibal: [Laughter].

Jalondra: Do you all in your platforms and your work, intentionally seek to move the genre or genres or in new directions? And if so, how?

Jarvis: With all of my platforms and the little writing that I actually do, I think it’s important that we are socially responsible and put images and themes out there that we want to see repeated. Not just, okay, I’m gonna go with what’s going on right now. And not just copy what somebody else is doing. We see that in all the little inventions that you’ve seen on Star Trek our whole life, whether it’s the cell phone, or the tablet, or the flat screen TV. And so, just like people see those inventions on sci-fi, and okay, well they figure out how to make that a reality. We need to put the images out there that we want to see in the future. So, other people can figure out, okay, how can we move this, move our country and our world toward that reality?

Hannibal:  I totally agree with what Jarvis is saying. And I’m gonna piggyback on that.  One of my elders in the Los Angeles poet community is this sister named V. Kali. When she first met me, I’d been writing all these break-up poems and that kind of stuff. And she was like, “have you ever thought about writing what you want to happen, and not what did happen?” And it changed my entire perspective on things. And I really, I really looked at that as science fiction being tomorrow’s science fact, in the way that Jarvis was saying. And really thought about what we’re doing as writers, we are creating these myths, we’re creating these paradigms, we’re creating these ideas that will then influence the actual lives of actual people. And that’s very important in the work that I’m doing, because I got two kids, that they always see me, to quote another one of my poetic mentors, Michael Datcher, that my Black man life lives up to my Black man rhetoric. That the work that they see me put out is work that verifies them, that lifts them up, that shows them in a light of possibility and what can be. So, yeah that’s super important to me. I’m writing a superhero book called Project Wildfire. It has a very aspirational element, even though most of the people in the book are awful, horrible liars, doing terrible, terrible things, and smashing up stuff. But there has to be a light in all of that. And that light has to shine.

Nicole S: I’ve been more intentional in my writing about writing older Black women characters as the main characters, because I think a lot of sci-fi and spec fiction leans toward younger characters. And I’m guilty of that in my own work, like, okay, she’s got to be 25 to 30. And as I’m getting older, I want to see middle-aged women not just seen as the elder, but in their full humanity, like being on a dating app or something. Just saying that older Black women exist and not just to save the world, as Whoopi Goldberg said. But they exist to, you know, do things in their community and be these complex characters. So that’s what I’m working on and being intentional about.

L.D. Lewis: I do something similar. My novella A Ruin of Shadows from 2018, the protagonist is in her late 50s. And then it still got shelved somehow as YA, but that’s another conversation entirely. All of my short stories have so far been kind of just personal experiments. So, that one came about… well, I don’t know how to write fight scenes, and it turns out that I do them really well. And it became a thing. And my short Moses ended up reprinted at Lightspeed, long listed in one of the “best of” anthologies, I don’t remember which one it was. That one was centering an addict, but who had super powers. So, trying to balance those two things. Because I had never seen an addict portrayed in a speculative literature setting. So, I don’t know about trying to push things forward, but I’m just trying to fill gaps in the stories that I’m seeing.

Nicole G-K: So, I write mysteries, as I mentioned before, but one of the things I do write also are weird westerns. I may be the only Black woman writing weird Western fiction set in the 1900s New Mexico Territory. I love westerns… but there’s a gap there, right? It’s a gap with westerns. They’re usually depicted as, with the exception of Maurice Broaddus’ Buffalo Soldiers and a few others, they’re often depicted as, white folks in the West. And they negate the stories of Native people there. They negate the story of the Chinese immigrants who are building the railroad. They negate the former slaves that escaped to that area. They negate all the people of color in those spaces. Like L.D., I love westerns, but I saw a gap. And so, I wrote stories—and of course, they’re speculative because I’m a nerd—about experiences in New Mexico. I lived in New Mexico for six years, which actually helped feed the magical quality of those stories. And I center Black women in almost all of those stories, because those stories don’t get told. I did a lot of research, a lot of writing. I don’t know if it pushes anything forward, but it definitely adds other stories or additional voices to the weird western genre, which is almost exclusively white male. Because I like those stories… first and foremost, the writer pleases the writer. But also, I didn’t see those stories, I thought those stories should be added and told. Secondly, I write speculative mysteries. Again, you don’t often see Black female protagonist PI stories set in the future. And so, my Cybil Lewis series, my Kingdom of Aves series, which is speculative fantasy, mystery fantasy, and then my Fawn & Briscoe series, they all star Black women detectives, doing what you normally see white male detectives doing in those spaces. I write those stories because I like them. And the repeated thing I tell people is that Black folks aren’t a monolith. We all have very different interests and things that we love. And so, the stories that I write are the things that I love. I love mysteries. I love spec. I love fantasy. I love westerns. Does that help another reader who’s like, “oh, you know, I like mysteries, I like mysteries in the future, but I never see this character.” I hope so. Growing up I didn’t see a lot of the things I love reflected as Black women doing it. My goal with the work that I produce, is that it finds a reader who feels validated and seen by reading, you know, Cybil investigating a crime or Prentiss using her Hawk abilities and her magic. So that’s my goal as a writer. Our mission is to amplify marginalized voices in speculative fiction over at Mocha Memoirs Press. And so, the stories that we tend to pick, not always, but most of the time, are those that are kind of hard to fit. Sometimes they’re mash-ups. Sometimes they’re just a little odd and outside of what the mainstream would like, either the voice it’s being told in, or the subject matter. And so, we try to produce works that fall into those cracks that don’t often get heard or seen or read or accepted. 

LaRose: So, I think that a lot of us who write are writing in some ways to what we wish we would have seen, or what we wish we could see now or what we wish we would have seen as kids. When I started writing and decided to self-publish, it was because you weren’t seeing hardly any—I guess they might have been out there; if they were I don’t know what they were—stories of Black boys in fantasy worlds. And you still barely see that. But the landscape has definitely changed since my first novel became available in 2010. And I wrote it because I had a cousin who loved fantasy. And I’m like, he should be able to read about people who look like him. And when I couldn’t think of a book to buy and couldn’t find any books to buy, that’s when I started writing. And the other thing that was always on my agenda was, again, that notion that we’re not a monolith. And so much of what you see, particularly written about Black children, is Black children engaged in these really serious adult issues, right. I mean, obviously, a lot of times to have a book and to have conflict, it’s not “my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is missing” for a teenager. That’s not the conflict. But… Black children don’t always have to be the next Civil Rights hero. They don’t have to be facing down the police. We can tell stories about other kinds of conflict for Black children. And particularly when that’s something that we see all the time, Black kids need escape, you know. Like, this is on the news all the time. This is happening in the streets. And yes, it is important to talk about that. And it’s important to give them books that help them think through those experiences, but it’s also important to give them places that say, you can have other kinds of possibilities for your life. And so, for me, when I started writing my Shifters Novel series, I wanted to start from a space where these Black children were empowered. And the world that matters is not this world. It’s a whole other dimension that I created, where everybody is like these Black children. And that was purposeful. Sometimes let kids breathe different air. And again, those books are really important. I’m not saying that they’re not important, I’m just saying kids deserve other stories as well.

Jalondra: I think it speaks to balance and variety. We need to have range and encompass and bigness to the art. And I think what tends to get the attention and the support tends to be that that coheres most with what is already familiar. So, my critique wouldn’t necessarily be of the author, but of the larger context for what is getting emphasized versus what we don’t see. Like, what’s the larger context for that? And how do we keep creating? I think this kind of institution building that all of you’ve been involved with is really key to how you create a larger canvas, you know, so that everyone can find what resonates with them.

Hannibal: I was just going to say real quickly, that one of the things that motivates me in my writing was growing up watching the Flintstones and the Jetsons and saying, there’s no place for me in the future or the past. So, I was like, yeah, I can fix that. I can, I can do something about that. I got these right here. And I started writing. And later on, I heard the story of Martin Luther King encouraging Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek. So yeah, I just think it’s really important that we just keep pushing the discussion and making the work for ourselves, because we have to be the first audience. And we have to satisfy the reader that we are before we can satisfy anybody else.


[1] Hopkins serialized Of One Blood in The Colored American Magazine between 1902 and 1903.


Addison, Linda D., Brooks, Kinitra & Morris, Susana. Sycorax’s Daughters. Cedar Grove Books, 2017.

Allen, Stephanie Andrea  &, Cherelle, Lauren. Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing. BLF Press, 2019.

Bollers, Karl, Perlow, Brandon, & Mendoza, Paul. Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black. New Paradigm Studios, 2013.

Broaddus, Maurice. Buffalo, 2017.

Clark, P. Djèlí. A Dead Djinn in Cairo. Tor Books, 2016.

—. The Black God’s Drum., 2018.

Davis, L. M. Interlopers. Lyndberry Press, 2010.

—. Posers.Lyndberry Press, 2012.

—. Skinless. Lyndberry Press, 2013.

—. Forgers.Lyndberry Press, 2020.

Davis, Milton. The City: A Cyberfunk Anthology. MV Media LLC, 2015.

—. Steamfunk! MV Media LLC, 2013.

Davis, Milton & Thomas, Sheree R. Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2020.

Givens-Kurtz, Nicole. Cybil Lewis series. Amazon Digital Services, LLC 2008-2018.

—. Fawn & Briscoe series. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2020.

—. Kingdom of Aves series. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2020-2021.

—. Sisters of the Wild Sage. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2019.

Harris, T.C. Noir is the New Black. FairSquare Comics, 2021.

Kendall, Yvette. God Maps. Stravard Lux Publishing House Incorporated, 2019.

Lewis, L.D. A Ruin of Shadows. Dancing Star Press, 2018.

—. “Moses.” In Anathema: Spec from the Margins. Issue 7, April 2019.

Okorafor, Nnedi. La Guardia. Dark Horse Books, 2019.

Saulson, Sumiko. Solitude., 2012.

Sconiers, Nicole. Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. Spring Lane Publishing 2011.

—. ”70 Decibels.” In Speculative City. Issue 12: Sound. Summer 2021.

Tabu, Hannibal. The Crown Ascension. Telepoetics Incorporated, 2005.

—. Project Wildfire.Second Sight Publishing, 2021.

, with Illidge, Joseph Phillip & Laxton, Meredith. MPLS Sound. Humanoids Inc., 2021.


Linda Addison:

Maurice Broaddus:

L. M. Davis:

Tee Franklin:

Tenea D. Johnson:

Sebastian Jones:

Kai Leakes:

L.P. Kindred:

Victor Lavalle:

L. D. Lewis:

Alicia McCalla:

Rasheedah Phillips:

Christopher Priest:

Zin E. Rocklyn:

Sumiko Saulson:

Nicole Sconiers;

Hannibal Tabu:

Brandon Thomas: C. Spike Trotman:


African Street Festival:

Afrofuturist Affair:

Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo:

Black Comix Days:

Black Quantum Futurism:

Black Speculative Arts Movement:





Anathema: Spec from the Margins:

BLF Press:

Cedar Grove Books: (

Mocha Memoirs Press:


Neon Hemlock Press:

Obsidian Sky Books:

Speculative City:


Black Sci-Fi:

Black Science Fiction Society:

Onyx Pages:

Sistah SciFi:

Jalondra A. Davis is a Black feminist cultural critic and University of California Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Diego. Her work has been published in the Museum of Science Fiction’s Journal of Science Fiction, anthologies The Politics of Ugliness and Challenging Misrepresentations of Black Womanhood, and is forthcoming in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts and the Routledge Handbook to Alternative Futurisms. Her new book project in progress, Sea People: Mermaids and the Black Atlantic focuses on aquatic mythologies in African diasporic literature, art, and performance. She is also the author of a novel entitled Butterfly Jar.

As L. M. Davis, LaRose Davis is a YA/MG author who writes about shapeshifters, aliens, immortals, and witches. L. M. Davis is author of Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, Posers: A Shifters Novel, Forgers: A Shifters Novel, and skinless: A Novel in III Parts. Additionally, Davis is a scholar of African American and Native American literatures and cultures, with particular interest in the speculative production of these communities. Finally, she has worked as a background actor on a variety of SFF projects including “Black Panther,” “Raising Dion,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” and “Lovecraft Country.” She has recently written and directed her first speculative short film, titled “Fevered Dreams.”

Beyond the End: Indigenous Futurisms’ Interventions in the Anthropocene

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Trans-Indigenous Futurity

Beyond the End: Indigenous Futurisms’ Interventions in the Anthropocene

Abdenour Bouich

In Walking the Clouds, Grace Dillon refers to science fiction works produced by Indigenous authors as “Indigenous futurisms,” a growing movement that encompasses, inter alia, literature, films, and even video games. As indicated by its name, Indigenous futurisms is inspired by Afrofuturism, defined by Mark Dery as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture—and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future” (180). Similarly, for Dillon, Indigenous futurisms arise as a subversion of what she calls “reservation realisms” that often define expectations surrounding Indigenous literatures (2). Sometimes combining Indigenous sciences with recent scientific theory, sometimes exposing limitations of western sciences, this fiction, Dillion states, combines “sf theory and Native intellectualism, Indigenous scientific literacy, and western techno-cultural science, scientific possibilities enmeshed with Skin thinking” (2). As such, one characteristic of Indigenous futurisms, Dillon explains, is to posit Indigenous sciences “not just as complementary to a perceived western enlightenment but indeed integral to a refined twenty-first-century sensibility” (3). In fact, Indigenous interventions in science fiction could be perceived as a decolonising project, or better yet, as an Indigenizing project. Commenting on “Indigenizing processes” within Indigenous research, Linda Tuhiwai Smith explains that “Indigenizing” is anchored within “a politics of indigenous identity and indigenous cultural action” (245). Quoting M. Annette James, she explains that the process of “Indigenizing” is anchored in Indigenous worldviews and ways of knowing to “counters the negative connotations” of “Indiginism” in “Third World countries, where it has become synonymous with the ‘primitive’, or with backwardness among superstitious peopies [sic]” (qtd. in Smith 245). Thus, the process of Indigenising science fiction is evident in Indigenous futurisms’ mobilisation and centralisation of Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies alongside elements pertaining to mainstream science fiction.

This article proposes a trans-Indigenous reading of two Indigenous futurist novels that emanate from different Indigenous literary traditions: Killer of Enemies, written by the Abenaki writer and storyteller Joseph Bruchac, and The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf,written by the Palyku novelist, illustrator, and scholar Ambelin Kwaymullina. In Trans-Indigenous, Chadwick Allen states that a trans-Indigenous mode of reading is a methodology based on “juxtapositions” of different Indigenous artworks emanating from distinct Indigenous contexts (xvii, original italics). He explains that purposeful trans-Indigenous juxtapositions would “develop a version of Indigenous literary studies that locates itself firmly in the specificity of the Indigenous local while remaining always cognizant of the complexity of the relevant Indigenous global” (xix). The first part of this article explores the narrative registers and aesthetic techniques employed by these authors to capture dystopic and anthropogenic futures resulting from the severing of bonds between humans, other-than-humans, and the land, a process initiated by colonialism and later exacerbated by extractive capitalism. The second section examines the novels’ potential in offering Indigenous visions beyond the Anthropocene and beyond “the end of the world.” Through their imaginative power and an assertion of Indigenous knowledge systems, these works of Indigenous futurisms reflect on Indigenous perspectives and views of personhood and kinship to imagine balanced futures beyond the apocalypse, tragedy, and annihilation.

Colonial Genocides, Colonial Ecocides

Killer of Enemies is set in a near future in what is now known as the United States of America. In this future characterized by major technological and genetic advances, a new form of governance emerges controlled by an authoritarian and repressive nomenclature composed of upgraded “human beings.” This cast implemented to their bodies all sort of techno-genetic implants by which they increased their senses. However, a global cataclysm occurs when a cloud from outer space settles on the planet, making all electronic devices obsolete and plunging the world into a neo steam-age. This “Silver Cloud,” as it is called in the novel, causes the death of many of these upgraded “humans” due to the failure of their electronic implants. In what is called “New America,” four members of this previous upper-class cast survive. Adamant to maintain their superior position, these four “Ones” establish a prison/workcamp ironically called “Haven” located in the Sonoran Desert where the lower-class survivors are provided with rudimentary sustenance and security from the outside world that is plagued by famine and water scarcity against their total servitude and obedience to the Ones. In addition, these lower-class survivors face the danger of being killed by genetically modified creatures created prior to the “Silver Cloud” apocalypse and which are now wandering freely in this post-apocalyptic world. 

The novel is told from the first-person point of view of the main character and protagonist Lozen, an Apache teenager and member of the Chiricahua nation located in southwest America. Lozen lives with her family in Haven where they were forcibly removed after some of the Ones’ mercenaries and recruiters found their hidden village. There, she protects her family by accepting to be recruited by the Ones to kill the genetically modified creatures that were once kept in the “pleasure parks of the most powerful Ones” (2). Being a skilled warrior with a good grasp of firearms and the ability to sense the danger of the Gemods before they approach Haven, the Ones choose Lozen as their favorite “monster hunter” (11). Nevertheless, Lozen knows pertinently that the Ones are vicious and selfish and would not hesitate to eliminate her if they find out that she is too dangerous to be controlled. Therefore, she must feign loyalty and carry on doing her job while planning her family’s escape from Haven.

While Killer of Enemies is a work of Indigenous futurisms that depicts a post-apocalyptic future, the cultural and historical contexts that defines the protagonist’s background are explicitly conveyed throughout the novel. Lozen’s name is based on the historical figure of Lozen, a Chiricahua warrior and prophet who lived during the Apache wars (1849-1924). Indeed, the real Lozen fought alongside other important figures such as her brother Victorio and later with Geronimo. In the “Author’s Note” of the novel, Bruchac writes: “Born around 1840, the first Lozen never married and died in 1890 in Alabama where the entire Chiricahua nation had been sent into exile by the United States government” (360). Throughout the novel, Lozen explicitly refers to the collective traumas that the Apache peoples endured during the American westward expansion and particularly during and after the Apache Wars, thus presenting a counternarrative to those Eurocentric historical accounts that portray colonisation as a benign civilising act or a heroic story of adventure and discovery. In addition, the novel aims at engaging non-Indigenous audiences by projecting these stories of contact, invasion, and subjugation to a narrative of futurity where the whole planet is under authoritarian and oppressive elites that remove, subjugate, and enslave any human being that does not pertain to their casts. As such, Killer of Enemies reflects what Dillon calls a storytelling tradition of “ironic Native giveaway” that positions readers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, within the “diasporic condition of Native peoples” (6).

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is set in a post-apocalyptic future during which earth is recovering from an ecological cataclysm called “The Reckoning” that resulted from a longstanding environmental crisis due to humanity’s excessive pollution and resource extraction. “The Reckoning” left the humanity nearly extinct and caused the disappearance of separate continents giving birth to a single Pangaea-like continent that consisted of eight sophisticated cities ruled by elected representatives, yet they are all subject to a federal-like governing entity called the “Council of Primes” where each city is represented by a “Prime.” The Council of Primes established a new system and passed a number of “Accords” to maintain the “Balance” and avoid “the pollution, the overcrowding, and the terrible disparity between rich and poor” that characterised the “old world” and led to the Reckoning (29). However, the most important change in this post-apocalyptic world is the birth of children endowed with superpowers: for example, Firestarters can start fires, Rumblers can cause earthquakes, Menders can heal others, and Runners have a superhuman speed. These children with abilities are feared and hated by the rest of the population, as such the Council of Primes pass Citizenship Accords that distinguish the “normal” population from what is now called the “Illegals.” The Citizenship Accords states that each fourteen-year old child must be tested by a government enforcer to determine if they have any superhuman ability. Citizen tattoos are granted for those who display no superhuman abilities or have benign powers that can be exploited for the government interests. In contrast, children with “dangerous” powers are forcibly removed from their parents and confined in detention centres for the sake of general “safety” and to maintain the “Balance.” Indeed, the novel opens in Gull City’s “Detention Centre 3” where the protagonist of the novel, Ashala Wolf, is imprisoned. Ashala is one of the children with abilities who were able to escape the Citizenship test. Being “Illegals” now in the eyes of the government, some of these children formed a group called “Tribe” and found refuge in a forest called the “Firstwood” under the leadership of Ashala. As such, Ashala is hunted down and interrogated by Neville Rose, the Chief Administrator of the Centre, in an effort to make her divulge information about the Tribe. 

The socio-political and historical dimensions on which The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is grounded are subtly expressed and implicitly embedded into the text. Indeed, in the post-apocalyptic world depicted in the novel, what is known today as Australia no longer exists. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to discern parallels between this post-apocalyptic world and the historical and contemporary realities of the Indigenous peoples of Australia after the invasion and colonisation. In the novel, The Citizenship Accords that grant the government the power to assess children and subsequently remove and detain them in detention centres if they manifest any superpowers is reminiscent of the dark colonial and settler-colonial history of Australia and its treatment of Indigenous peoples. These accords echo the Aborigine Protection Act of 1909 by which the Australian settler-colonial state forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their families under the subterfuge of “neglect” from their Aboriginal parents. These children were placed under “the protection” of the government and were given for adoption to white families. Child removal in Australia lasted from the beginning of the twentieth century until the 1970s engendering what is known today as the collective trauma of the Stolen Generations. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf conjures the traumatic legacies of the Stolen Generations and projects the colonial policies of child removal in Australia into a futuristic narrative, thereby addressing Australia’s historical amnesia towards its colonial past and its treatment of Indigenous peoples. Moreover, the novel succeeds in implicating non-Indigenous audiences in the story by abstaining from making any explicit reference to the historical and contemporary realities of “Australia.” The story of the novel creates a déjà vu effect with which Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences are invited to identify. Indeed, in“Non-Linear Modes of Narrative,” Annika Herbwrites: “The reader is invited to become an active participant in coding meaning by applying their own understandings of the context and connections, creating an inter-subjective dialogue between reader and text, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowing.”

Although different in their approaches, Bruchac and Kyawmullina ground their respective novels upon significant socio-political and historical contexts to draw attention to the historical and contemporary realities of the Indigenous people within the settler-colonial states that encase them, and expresses the need for historical accountability and social justice from these settler-states societies that are yet to be achieved. In addition, while both Killer of Enemiesand The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf imagine worlds devastated by cataclysms, either of cosmic origin or of climatic nature, the authors’ depictions of the post-apocalyptic futures in the novels differ greatly. Indeed, as explained above, the post-Reckoning world portrayed in The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is characterised by a sense of “development” in the way in which resources are exploited and wealth is distributed according to the Accords passed by the Council of Primes in order to avoid another catastrophe. In contrast, the post-Silver Cloud world in Killer of Enemies is characterised by major regressions, thus contradicting the often-accepted idea that conceives the future and modernity in terms of a continuous development of science and technology that would bring about new human conditions. Instead, the future is conceived in terms of a reverse process of development in which humanity plunges back into a neo-steam age. 

Nevertheless, both novels seem to agree on the fact that apocalypse is the result of a failure of a global system due to humanity’s longstanding abuse of nature and the environment, as well the misuse of technology. In “On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” settler scholar Heather Davis and Métis anthropologist Zoe Todd call for a re-evaluation of the start date of the Anthropocene by linking it to western colonisation, approaching it not as a distinct phase that begins in the twentieth century, but as a continuation and accumulation of colonial dispossessions, genocides, and ecocides (761). They argue that colonialism and settler colonialism “[were] always about changing the land, transforming the earth itself, including the creatures, the plants, the soil composition and the atmosphere. It was about moving and unearthing rocks and minerals. All of these acts were intimately tied to the project of erasure that is the imperative of settler colonialism” (770). The logic of the Anthropocene, they assert, resides in colonialism and contemporary petrocapitalism’s severing of the bonds between “humans and the soil, between plants and animals, between minerals and our bones” (770). This parallel between the Anthropocene and western colonialism highlights the different perspectives that Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples tend to have regarding climate and environment crises, suggesting that Indigenous peoples are well acquainted with the Anthropocene and its repercussions. Indeed, in “Indigenous Science (Fiction) for the Anthropocene,” Potawatomi scholar Kyle P. Whyte argues that what constitutes non-Indigenous peoples’ speculations about dystopic ecological futures are mostly a reality Indigenous peoples endured and continue to endure under colonial practices and policies (226). It is, therefore, important to note that when the Anthropocene is explored in works of Indigenous futurisms, it exceeds mere speculation. 

Killer of Enemies provides several examples that depict the anthropogenic character of the future described in the novel. Lozen talks about the ways in which “[b]ack in the mid-twenty-first century […] rivers had been poisoned by gold mining. [And] the great forests of giant trees had been clear cut”, and how “anyone annoying our nation was blown up with unmanned drones and guided missiles” (168, 114). Yet, perhaps the most poignant anthropogenic example in the novel is the extinction of horses that, as Lozen puts it, “had their own apocalypse” before the Silver Cloud (111). In fact, what decimated horses is a disease called “equine pneumonia” that resulted from a biologically engineered “symbiotic microbe” inhaled by horses to make them stronger and faster on racetracks (110). She declares: “the symbiote mutated. It got faster. A year or two turned into a week. The infected lungs filled with blood, yellow mucus poured out of the horses’ nostrils. And they died” (110 ̵ 11). In addition, the disease becomes a pandemic spreading all around the world and “mov[ing] into other hooved domestic animals as well. Cows, sheep, even the semi-wild private herds of buffalos that still existed” (111). The advanced technological level reached by humanity in this futuristic world, however, cannot explain the Silver Cloud.

During one of her missions where she is sent by the Ones to kill a monster, Lozen encounters what she describes as an ancient being “who lives in the stories of not just my people but those of Indians all over the continent” (155). She declares: “All of our Native people have stories about him or his relatives. They’ve called him by many different names. Big Elder Brother, Sasquatch, Bigfoot. To us he was just Tall Hairy Man” (155).It is during another encounter with this being that Lozen now calls Hally that she finds answers about the origin of the Silver Cloud. Hally explains that his people walked the Earth long before humanity, and, like humans, advanced in knowledge and technology. He declares “We, too, became powerful. We could fly. We could shape the courses of the rivers with the work of our thoughts, dig into the roots of the mountains, raise great structures up to the sky” (304, original Italics). This feeling of might made Hally’s people believe they were more worthy than other life forms, that they would even “dream a way to rise up beyond the Life Giver” (304, original italics). Yet, he adds, “the Maker sent us a message. It came, a big light streaking across the sky. And there was a great explosion” (304, original italics). Hally remarks that the cycle is repeating now, as humans “were behaving as we did long ago. Your leaders believed they were wiser and stronger than Creation. They were crushing all other life on Earth beneath their weight” (305, original italics). Excessive use of technology, he adds, creates an “attractive field,” drawing things from outer space (307, original italics). In the same way this attracted the “meteor” that destroyed nearly all of Hally’s people before humans inhabited the Earth, it now attracted the “Silver Cloud” (307, original italics). As such, the apocalypse in Bruchac’s novel responds to the ways in which humanity, specifically the planetary elites, use technology to control other life forms, fostering a dynamic of oppression on the land, the environment, and on human and other-than-human conditions.

Similarly, in The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, the apocalypse called the “Reckoning” is caused by humanity’s abuse of the environment, making “‘the life-sustaining systems of the Earth collapse’” (12). Ashala, born long after the Reckoning, has no clear idea of humanity’s relationship with the land and environment in the old world; she soon gets a glimpse, however, when she arrives at the Firstwood. After fleeing her house, Ashala, along with her friend Georgy, takes refuge in the Firstwood since government enforcers avoid it for fear of dangerous giant lizards, called the saurs, that emerged after the Reckoning. On their way, they are stopped by a saur and discover that they can communicate with humans. The saur informs Ashala that the trees of the Firstwood “grew from seeds that survived the great chaos. They carry within them the memories of their ancestors […]. They do not forget what humans have done” (187). As such, if Ashala wants to live in the Firstwood, she must seek permission from the trees, and “whatever bargain you make with them, the saurs will ensure you keep it. And if the forest decides you must go, then we [saurs] will finish you” (188-9). Ashala speaks directly to the trees, promising that if they can live among them, they “won’t eat any of the animals, or cut down any tree” (192). It is here that the trees share memories of the old world with Ashala: “Images poured into my mind, nightmarish pictures of things I’d never seen before. Strange vehicles with metal jaws, weird saws with teeth that roared, and humans, always more humans, cutting and hacking and slashing and killing” (193). While Ashala is unfamiliar with the images the trees share, readers can identify these as characteristics of today’s extractive capitalism. The Reckoning is, therefore, a direct consequence of the exacerbation of the utilitarian relationship that humanity has with nature and the environment.

Post-Apocalyptic Balance

The dystopic futures in both novels result from what Davis and Todd call the severed bonds between humans, other-than-humans, and the land, caused by colonialism and later exacerbated by extractive capitalism. While Indigenous peoples did face countless anthropogenic scenarios that unfolded alongside colonisation, Davis and Todd assert that they “contended with the end of their worlds, and continue to work to foster and tend to strong relationships to humans, other-than-humans, and land today” (773). As such, rather than conceiving of human liberation and salvation from the anthropogenic horrors of climate change within science and technology, they “call here for a tending once again to relations, to kin, to life, longing, and care” (775). This is what works of Indigenous futurisms advocate, offering artistic and activist interventions to the current anthropogenic realities. Indeed, in Why Indigenous Literatures Matter Daniel Heath Justice explains that, though works of Indigenous futurism present violence, cruelty, and suffering that ravage a world destroyed or on the verge of destruction by “settler colonialism’s limited sense of kinship and personhood,” it endeavours to expose the destructive racial logic of the state which affects both the human and other-than-human world (168-9). He argues that, when the state’s “[b]lood rhetorics” appear to be the cause of catastrophe in these works, an Indigenous vision of “reciprocal kinship becomes, if not a full solution, part of the return to wholeness. The broken world may be overturned, but another world awaits—or at least, its potential lies at the ready” (169). Indeed, the two novels do not simply paint a bleak picture of the future. Rather, through their imaginative power and assertion of Indigenous perspectives and views of personhood and kinship, they offer visions of a future beyond apocalypse, tragedy, and annihilation.

In Killer of Enemies, Lozen learns from an early age that human beings are but a small part of a greater creation, and that human life is not the only one that must be respected and protected. In Our Stories Remember Bruchac asserts that “all created things are regarded as being of equal importance. All things— not only humans and animals and plants, but even the winds, the waters, fire, and the stones— are living and sentient” (11). Speaking of her fear of snakes, Lozen recalls her father saying that there is no need to be afraid as “[t]he God of Life made [them], too. [They have] as much right to live as we humans” (130). This vision of personhood also applies to kinship. Lozen asserts the strong bond between her people and dogs, remembering her mom saying that “‘[o]ur dogs made us more human,’” calling them “four-legged allies” (emphasis added, 225−6). Similarly, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf reflects this vision of personhood and kinship with other-than human beings. In “A Land of Many Countries” Kwaymullina explains that when colonisers arrived to what is known today as “Australia,” they did not understand “that life in all its shapes watched them anxiously from the ground, the water; the sky; and there was not a single grain of sand beneath their feet that was not part of a thinking, breathing, loving land” (11). She states that the colonisers considered land an object, “not as grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, sister, brother and family” (11).  In the novel, the Firstwood becomes a stronghold for Ashala and her companions. The trees allow her to live there because the two recognise in each other the violence they are subjected to. Upon receiving the trees’ memories, Ashala declares: “‘there is no reason. Do you hear me? There’s no reason good enough to hurt my sister, or to kill a forest’” (194). Indeed, Ashala asserts that the Firstwood “‘count as much as [her],’” adding that “‘if anyone ever comes for you with machines or saws or axes or anything, they’ll have to get through me first’” (194). Here, Ashala affirms the personhood of the Firstwood, pledging to respect and protect it at the expense of her own life. 

 Commenting on personhood and kinship with the other-than-human, which is central to many Indigenous knowledge systems, Justice argues that in various Indigenous traditions being human is a learnt process achieved through respectful and meaningful affiliation to the land and kinship with the other-than-human (WILM 76). He writes: “The earth speaks in a multitude of voices, only some of which are human. […] these plants, animals, stones, and other presences are our seen and unseen relatives, our neighbours, our friends or companions” (86). It is this expansive perspective on personhood, kinship, and life that leads both Lozen and Ashala to realise that their role in their respective worlds cannot be limited to protecting themselves, their families, and friends. Rather, they must devote their abilities to preserving all forms of life. 

In Killer of Enemies, after hearing Hally’s explanation of the origin of the Silver Cloud, Lozen corroborates it with stories that her mother used to recount, where many worlds before hers were destroyed “because of the misdeeds of humans or of Coyote, who is a sort of embodiment of all the craziest, most powerful and irrational aspects of humanity” (306). Lozen comes to understand the Silver Cloud as retribution to the imbalance caused by humanity’s oppressions and destruction of other forms of life. She declares: “What we need to do is to find the balance again to make it right” (306, emphasis added). While Lozen escapes from Haven with her family, she states that she must return and fight the Ones, because “if they have their way, they and others like them will claw their way back to control the whole world” (293). Approaching Haven, Lozen finds herself on a mountain: the “Place Where Birds Flew. Just one ridge away from Haven” (315). Seeking a way down the mountain to avoid one of the Ones posted on the path to Haven, Lozen states that “[t]here’s another, more precarious way” (328). She remembers her uncle advising her to not just “see the “‘mountain,’” rather “[b]e the mountain’” (331). Far from being metaphorical or romantic, these words find concrete manifestation when Lozen starts descending the cliff: “I’m part of it,” she states (331). The stones of the mountain, Lozen affirms, are as warm as “the skin of a living being” that as she touches, the feeling of weight disappears giving place “to immeasurable lightness” (331).  She realises that this is “this mountain’s spirit” that, as she holds, she begins “to know some of what it knows, feel the life that shimmers all over it, every plant, every insect and small animal. […] And with the mountain’s spirit helping [her], [she] take[s] a deep breath and move[s]” (331).  Lozen acknowledges the sentience of the land, regarding it as alive from a physical and moral perspective. Reflecting on the land’s ability to exert influence on human and the other-than-human beings, Vanessa Watts writes: “Our truth, not only Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee people but in a majority of Indigenous societies, conceives that we (humans) are made from the land; our flesh is literally an extension of soil” (27). This conceptualisation that Watts calls “Place-Thought” is “based upon the premise that land is alive and thinking and that humans and non-humans derive agency through the extensions of these thoughts” (21). Lozen illustrates this concept of “Place-Thought” in the way her body becomes an extension of the mountain, whose spirit shares its thoughts and knowledge with her, strengthening her agency as she moves down the cliff with ease. 

In the same way that the historical and socio-political contexts are not explicitly delineated in The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, so is the cultural context that informs the protagonist’s identity and cultural heritage. Kwaymullina subtly and tactfully integrates epistemologies and knowledge systems of Aboriginal peoples into the text that the protagonist (re)visits simultaneously as the readers are introduced to them. This, according to Herb, reflects the author’s endeavour to centre Indigenous “knowledge in its own right, rather than in direct opposition to Western epistemologies.” Indeed,after hearing Ashala’s plea, the Firstwood responds to her and manifests its consent in its own way. Indeed, Ashala states that after uttering her words, “something started growing in the emptiness” making all forms of life within the Firstwood grow and flourish (195). Kwaymullina explains that Aboriginal peoples call their homelands “Countries,” and while “Australia” does not exist anymore in Ashala’s world, Kwaymullina states that “every landscape in The Tribe Series is inspired by one of the many biodiverse regions of Australia” (“Author’s Note,” TheInterrogation). The significance of the concept of Country to Aboriginal peoples, however, exceeds the physical; Kwaymullina writes, “Country is not simply a geographical space. It is the whole of reality, a living story that forms and informs all existence. Country is alive, and more than alive—it is life itself” (“A Land” 12). Indeed, Ashala states that “beneath and within and between” the blooming life in the Firstwood “was a shining shape that was somehow the beginning and the end of everything. The glowing thing flowed around me, and my whole body hummed with life. I found myself shouting out, giving words to the joy and defiance of the Firstwood. ‘I live! We live! We survive!’”(195, emphasis added).Not only is the Firstwood sentient, but it also infuses life into everything that lives within it, including Ashala herself. Her words to the Firstwood convey the imperative of an interrelated existence. For Aboriginal peoples, Kwaymullina explains, the world as it is created by the Ancestor spirits consists of a “web of relationships” between all forms of life (“A Land” 13). She writes: “it is by maintaining and renewing the connections linking life together, that country—and so all of reality—is balanced and sustained.” (10, emphasis added). 

The Balance is the driving force behind the events of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. The government considers children with abilities not only outside the Balance, but also a threat to it. Chief Administrator Neville Rose’s desire to destroy Ashala and the Tribe makes him break the Benign Technology Accords by developing an interrogation machine to question detainees about Ashala and the Tribe. Discovering this, Ashala declares that “everyone knew the dangers of advanced tech. It had isolated the people of the old world from nature, shielding them from the consequences of imbalance. […] That was one of the reasons why we had Benign Technology Accords, to stop us from making the same mistakes” (288, original italics). Ashala realises that it is not only herself and the Tribe that are in jeopardy, but also the Firstwood and all that lives within it. This, for her, constitutes the Balance. She declares: “‘I’d always heard about the Balance before that. But that was the first time I actually felt it. That was when I knew that there was something greater than all of us. Those trees, and the Tribe, and even the saurs – that’s the heart of me. The essence of who I am’” (303, emphasis added). The Firstwood is Country for Ashala, defining her identity and giving meaning to her existence. She understands the Balance as that where all forms of life, human and other-than-human, are intimately bound and of equal importance. Offering herself to the enforcers as bait, she succeeds in stopping Neville Rose’s plan, freeing the detainees, and protecting the Firstwood. 


Killer of Enemies and The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf present Indigenous perspectives in which life, agency, and subjectivity exceed the category of the human, encompassing the-other-human and the land itself. In both novels, the apocalypse and the Anthropocene are approached as an imbalance in the bonds that tie these life forms together. The authors register what Davis and Todd call “ruptures and cleavages between land and flesh, story and law, human and more-than-human” caused by colonialism and extractive capitalism (755). Nevertheless, in both novels, the apocalypse is not the end of the world because, as Kwaymullina explains, “in an animate, interconnected existence, where everything has consciousness and agency, life is not easily overcome. Its nature is always to adapt, to change, to make itself anew—and in so doing, to remake all else” (“Author’s Note”). Both novels embody Indigenous perspectives and visions of land and environment, positing what Dillon calls “Indigenous scientific literacies” which are “sustainable practices used by Indigenous peoples over thousands of years to reenergize the natural environment while improving the interconnected relationships among all persons (animal, human, spirit, and even machine)” (7). In Killer of Enemies,Lozen’s source of survival and agency is largely informed by the history of her ancestors’ resistance who contended with their own apocalypse through their knowledge of the land and the environment that they regard as alive and sentient. In The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, Ashala and the Firstwood live in a harmony defined by mutual respect and protection. Indeed, Ashala understands that these bonds and relations are what define the Balance. 


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Abdenour Bouich is Indigenous North African (Amazigh) member of the Kabyle peoples. He is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Exeter in the UK. His research interests include colonial trauma studies, Indigenous studies, Indigenous futurisms, contemporary Indigenous “North American” literature, contemporary Indigenous “Australian” literature, and world literature.