But sf is “a point of cultural departure” for all of these writers and musicians, because “it allows for a series of worst-case futures-of hells-on-Earth and being in them-which are woven into every kind of everyday present reality” (“Loving the Alien”). The “central fact” of the black sf they produce “is an acknowledgement that Apocalypse already happened,” that, in Public Enemy’s words, “Armageddon been in effect.” (Bould, p. 180)
One of my favorite game franchises is Fallout. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world that takes place in the 23rd century, doomed by nuclear war because of rising tensions between the U.S. and China in the late 21st century over dwindling natural resources. The catch is that because the microchip was never invented, electronics would never develop past the technology of the 1950s, and as a result society takes on a satirical retrofuturism aesthetic, creating a stark juxtaposition between post-War jingles and checkerboard diners with nomadic violence and the consequences of atomic destruction. Although the game is quite progressive in its character creation, selection of available dialogue and the paths you can take to complete it, things such as racism largely no longer exist in this world [with the exception of radiation poisoned humans, harshly called ghouls], being put to the side to deal with simply the survival of humanity itself.
Science fiction tends to do this commonly, ignoring the fact that for a lot of people, especially marginalized communities, that apocalypse is already here today. Week 7’s Whitey on the Moon, by Gil-Scott Heron succinctly states this, as Heron criticizes the U.S. government for spending millions and millions of dollars to launch people into space, while back on Earth black people still deal with systemic discrimination, ranging from housing, healthcare, pollution and more addressed in the song. For a lot of science fiction writers, the “final frontier” is only focus of their stories, that humanity as a whole is ready to move on to greater things, but tend to leave out that humanity is not doing that good already (maybe even a little heroistic??)!
I didn’t really start listening to music as a hobby until a couple years ago, but for some reason one of the ten or so tracks I had saved on my Spotify for the longest time was “BabopbyeYa”, by Janelle Monae, the closer to her debut album TheArchAndroid, an Afrofuturist concept album about the idea of “the other” in society, and the problems they face. Mr. Ideology, famed Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek once called this idea of multiculturalism “racism with a distance” (Board, p.180). In TheArchAndroid a future world exists where androids are almost indistinguishable from humans, but still separate entities, and ponders how society would treat, or even discriminate against this “other” (Monae). The concept of androids, others is a metaphor for the conditions black people face in America right now; although they are indeed human and act like humans, they are not given the same respect and are treated as outcasts, separate beings from another plane of creation. It is incredibly important for the future of science fiction as tensions grow more intense to not leave behind those already suffering in exchange for a fragmented “utopia”.
- Bould, M. (2007). The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrofuturism and Black SF. Science Fiction Studies, 34(2), 177–186.
- Fallout 3 (PC version) [Video game]. (2008). Rockville, MD: Bethesda.
- Monae, J. (2010) TheArchAndroid [Recorded by Janelle Monae]. Wondaland Studios, Atlanta: Atlantic