14 November 2011

Street Lit and Sci Fi: Fantastic Voyages in the Hood

Hi everybody!

Well, at long last, I have finally gotten around to posting this topic - a topic I promised a few months ago.

Believe it or not, there are quite a few wonderful novels that feature science fiction elements, that are set in the hood...or, vice-versa, science fiction stories that feature street lit elements, as in - the stories are location-specific, set in the hood. I wrote not too long ago (forget where though) that just like in every other community in the world, everything happens in the hood, including science fiction-y type things, fantasy, horror, mystery, all genres. We can find stories within all literary genres that are set in the hood. 

For this post, I'd like to feature a few of my favorite titles from the science fiction and speculative fiction genres that have settings in the hood. There's also a couple of contemporary novels penned by up-and-coming authors that are decidedly street lit AND decidedly science fiction. Keep reading ...!
A few years ago, I remembered that one of my favorites novels ever, Mind of My Mind ([1977] 1994) penned by my favorite author, Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006, may she rest in peace), had a primary setting in the hood. Mind of My Mind is book #2 of Butler's esteemed Patternist series.

In Mind of My Mind, the protagonist, Mary, is an extremely powerful telepath who lives in a seedy ghetto in California. Her mother is a failed-mutant experiment, who falls to drugs and prostitution as a means of coping with supernatural gifts that are too much for her to manage. Mary is a stronger entity, and is able to galvanize the best-of-the-best young telepaths from all over the world to her, for the purpose of defeating their mutual father and enemy, the elusive, all-powerful immortal, Doro. This novel, is really the sequel to Butler's awesome tale, Wild Seed (1980) where we are introduced to Doro and Anyanwu, his immortal counterpart. Both Doro and Anyanwu reappear in Mind of My Mind: Doro is Mary's father, Anyanwu is Mary's grandmother.

To my knowledge this is the only novel where inner-city living is a backdrop for an Octavia Butler story, although some of her stories are city-based dystopias, and in that vein, if you think about it, the fictionalized inner-city setting can also be regarded as a kind of dystopia.
The next novel I'd like to share is Nalo Hopkinson's debut wonder, Brown Girl in the Ring (1998).

Seattle-based writer and literary critic, L. Timmel Duchamp, provides a wonderful description of this speculative fiction novel:
Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring envisions a twenty-first century Toronto that has suffered political and economic crises of such proportions that it has been barricaded off and abandoned by its moneyed, predominantly White suburbs. Cut off from modern material resources and left helpless to defend itself against the domination and depredations of a ruthless drug lord, the city has become a post-apocalyptic urban landscape reminiscent, at times, of Samuel R. Delany's Dahlgren. (Duchamp, 1999).
Set in a demoralized inner-city setting, Hopkinson adds Caribbean magical elements and insights into the spiritual practice of Voodoun as a method of empowerment and survival in the story. This novel has won numerous literary awards, as has its author, for her subsequent publications. Lastly, speaking of Delany's Dahlgren (1975), there are street elements in that classic text also (see Wikipedia article, "Dhalgren").

Young adult author, Zetta Elliott, published a wonderful speculative fiction novel for teen readers, A Wish After Midnight (2010). In this story, 15 year-old protagonist, Genna, lives in the projects of Brooklyn, with a single mom who is having a hard time making ends meet and keeping control of her family, particularly her wayward teen son who is leaning towards gang life. Genna, in a quest to decompress from a stressful homelife, visits the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens regularly. Ultimately, Genna finds herself time travelling through a portal after making a wish at a fountain in the Gardens.

When Genna and her friend, Judah, time travel, they wind up in Brooklyn, during the 1860's, in the middle of the U.S. Civil War. This is where the magic lives in Elliott's tale - this is not a hood story - it is historical fiction with a fantasy twist that teaches readers valuable insights about race relations during 1860s Brooklyn juxtaposed with race issues in modern-day Brooklyn. One could consider: what are the progressions for race relations for citizens living in the inner-city of modern day Brooklyn?
Lastly, I'd like to introduce you to author Trevis Moore. His novel, Hood Titans (2011), is published by independent publishing house, Bravin Books, owned and operated by CEOs, K.L. and Tiffany Belvin.

Here is an adapted synopsis of the story, from Bravin Books:

Every Hood needs heroes. Someone to protect the people from the forces who profit from crime, poverty and degradation in Urban neighborhoods. Find out what happens when a black geneticist decides enough is enough. Having fought his way up and out of the hood, he returns as a doctor, ready to positively change the neighborhood. In his efforts to give back, he launches his ultimate plan of protection for the brothers and sisters in the city. The Black Brotherhood Brigade is born. But how do you create these protectors? What happens if the secret gets out? What if you've been created to think the hard life you're living is all there is? What happens when the genes you're carrying are truly special and designed for a greater purpose? All these questions and more will be answer in Trevis's new book "Hood Titans." See what happens when Urban Fiction has a child with Science Fiction: they gives birth to a new genre which will captivate all who reads.
Sounds exciting, right? Currently available for pre-order on the Bravin website, I am looking forward to learning how readers respond to this story! I believe more stories that interweave science fiction, fantasy, and magical elements into the tales will be a welcome evolution to the street lit genre. After all, magic and fantasy are alive and well in the 'hood. Think about all it takes to survive daily in low-income city settings that can oftentimes be precarious moment-to-moment. Survival of such intense living takes guts, resilience, and yes, being able to regard situations fantastically at times, and to believe and/or trust in a little magical luck. Oops, that's actually called: human living. La la la....

Last but not least, don't forget that another sub-genre of urban literature is the exciting realm of "urban fantasy". Also, consider the settings and themes of contemporary comic/graphic novel stories such as The Hood Volume 1: Blood From Stones (2003), The Hood (New Avengers) (2007), and Fluorescent Black (2010), where really magical and fantastical things happen to all kinds of people in the hood.
Note: If you know of street lit novels that are science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction oriented, kindly let me know and I will add the titles to this post!
Disclaimer: The traditional science fiction/speculative fiction titles discussed in this article are not street lit novels. They are highlighted because the stories contain street lit elements, particularly  settings in inner-city neighborhoods. Please do not go out in the world telling people that Vanessa Irvin Morris thinks that Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Nalo Hopkinson and Zetta Elliott are street lit authors, because you would be sharing a huge untruth.

Thanks; over and out (for now)!


  1. Vanessa's thank you for write up. Trevis is excited to see his book getting attention. This is the starts of a triology he is working on. Bravin Thanks You. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to support. www.BravinPublishing.com

  2. Great post, Vanessa; thoughtful and clearly shows how SF and SL can blend to create fascinating reads that highlight the strengths of both genres. Looking at the combination from the other side - Science Fiction with Street Lit elements - a few examples would be the classic Robert Heinlein title, Citizen of the Galaxy (1957), the opening chapters at least; Philip Dick's title, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968); Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) by Samuel Delany; the Chung Kuo series by David Wingrove (1990-1997). All have urban settings that play an important role in the storyline; focus on characters culturally misunderstood by, different, and, sometimes, isolated from an implied - sometimes explicit - larger society; and a plot that includes attempts to escape the urban setting (and failing).


StreetLiterature site *ON HIATUS*

Greetings, This site is *on hiatus* until further notice. There are reasons: 1/ Since street lit has become pretty mainstream in publicat...