Landing : Athabascau University

On Black British Science Fiction

I subscribe to the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) listserv, to which another member, yesterday, posted the following query:

I'm about to start a research project looking at speculative fiction across the African diaspora, but I'm having trouble finding Afro-British writers who work in SF. Anthony Joseph's The African Origins of UFOs and Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses are the only two I've discovered so far. If anyone can think of any others, it would be greatly appreciated.

This afternoon I realized I had something to say on the subject, which I'll reprint here since it's relevant to the course on Black Atlantic literature and culture (LTST 637) that I'm now teaching.

Julian Jonker and Kodwo Eshun (among others) have argued that the preponderance of black diasporic science fiction is to be found in music - in the Afro-Futurist music forms that Eshun calls "sonic fiction." In the UK, producers of hardcore (1990-1993) and then jungle, or drum & bass (1993-present) have developed what is some of the most futuristic, SF trope-laden, and "alienating" (in Simon Reynolds' words) Afro-Futurist music. Producers like 4 Hero, Goldie, Shy FX, and A Guy Called Gerald, for starters. (The more recent dubstep sound, popularized by mixes like this one, builds on these earlier music forms.)

In UK literature, there's Junglist, a pulp novel about the predominantly black underground jungle scene in early 90s London. As a construction of the early London jungle scene, the novel might be read as black British science fiction - inasmuch as it's fiction about "sonic fiction." The novel specifically evokes SF, in the following suggestive claim (if one sort of symptomatic of the techno-Utopian mood of mid-90s music culture):

I live in a world where science fiction is out of date because science fact is outstripping it. (31)

Another member has followed up with a selfconsciously off-topic reply to the effect that reports of the obsolescence of SF are greatly exaggerated. Well, yes - that is off topic, inasmuch as a statement like this needs to be understood in two related historical contexts, one relativley specific and the other more general.

The specific context is, as I've suggested, the techno-Utopian culture of the "cyberdelic" acid house and rave scene of the 1990s; this culture included a strong streak of premilliennial apocalypticism deeply connected to technoculture - the advent of the web, the proliferation of cell phones, and the music forms around which the culture developed: a set of highly, selfconsciously and sometimes quite exaggeratedly futuristic dance genres, among which London hardcore and its successors, jungle and drum & bass, were among the most "sonic fictional." Deliberately abrasive and alienating, propulsively speedy, and audibly digital, these genres did (and the latter still do) all they could to sound like they've returned from the future to annihilate the present. Like the Terminator.

The more general context is that of black diasporic modernity, which as Gilroy argues emerges in the holocaust of Atlantic slavery. In its aftermath, modernity for the black diaspora is already from its inception post-apocalyptic. This is sort of what Jonker is getting at when he writes that black diasporic subjects have a different relationship to science fiction on account of having experienced some of its main tropes - invasion, abduction, technologized oppression - not as a projection of futurity but conversely as the lived historical past.

Or, as Sun Ra puts it in the chant that opens his quirky '70s blaxploitation film Space is the Place:

It's after the end of the world. Didn't you know that yet?


Eshun, Kodwo. More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction. London: Quartet, 1998.

Jonker, Julian. "Black Secret Technology (The Whitey on the Moon Dub)." CTheory (4 Dec. 2002): 51 pars.

Reynolds, Simon. Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture. New York: LBC, 1998.

Two Fingers and James T. Kirk. Junglist. London: Boxtree, 1995.


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