I was born many years ago in Harlem of Dorothy Mae Mosley of Atmore, Alabama and John Matthew Faucette of Durham, North Carolina. They came north as young adults to escape the hate, poverty and lack of opportunity in the South.
I attended P.S. 184 on 116th Street in Harlem. In the sixth grade I wrote a story about spaceships battling for the moon and the teacher announced to our class that Emmett Till had been lynched.
I have never forgotten either.
I did not realize it then, but those two things would bring into being a black science fiction writer.
As I grew up there were two things there was no question of: I loved science fiction, read it every chance I got—to the exclusion of everything else, and I lived in a hostile racist world.
When I was a freshman at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, it occurred to me I could actually write science fiction. I looked for a story—could think of none. But I had grown up during the gang wars of Harlem—before drugs decimated them—and thought it all so stupid. One gang would kill a rival gang member in revenge of one of their own killed and then the other gang would seek to avenge its slain member. Gangs avenging members killed by other gangs formed an endless circle of retribution. And so I wrote the allegorical novel WARRIORS OF TERRA.
I sent it in over the transom to ACE BOOKS. To my surprise I received a rejection letter from Donald A. Wollheim saying the novel was too complicated for his readership, but he'd like to see something else if I had it.
Something else? I had nothing else. Except an anger at a world that had enslaved my people and lynched them and hated us. Science fiction is the literature of 'what if?' It is magnificent in that way. And so I said, what if we would have vengeance? How would it be accomplished? What would it take?
Most of what I'd read to that point and for many years after that was science fiction. I did not know how to tell a story any other way. And so an allegorical tale of black revenge was born: CROWN OF INFINITY. The remnants of a humanity slaughtered by an overwhelmingly powerful enemy take to space and multiply and study and train against the day of vengeance.
Over the years I received comments from editors telling me how awful that novel was, that it lacked dialogue, real scenes and characters. They all missed the point that it was simply a battle plan, a blueprint for the deliverance of a long overdue wrath.
Their remarks did alert me to the fact that the literature of ideas wanted more than ideas. If all you have read is science fiction, if all you care about are ideas, that leaves you at a serious disadvantage. But what black man in this racist land is not aware of living life at a disadvantage?
So I began a long program of trying to get better at the art of writing.
But before that time arrived, when the sword and sorcery genre was big, I wrote one about a swordsman who had purple hair and purple skin. I called it THE AGE OF RUIN. Why did he have purple skin? Because it couldn't be black.
AGE OF RUIN satisfied the rebel within me ... for a while. It was evident the field was totally white and white oriented. I began to be dissatisfied with that. It was always a white man went to a planet and kicked the butts of the grey, brown, red, blue or green aliens.
In my ignorance I thought it was racism. I told Donald A. Wollheim I thought he was publishing racist material. I realize now it was simply economic self-interest. You don't publish what you don't think there is a market for—especially if it's believed publishing black subject matter and/or authors will drive away or alienate the audience.
It was only years later, after we went our separate ways, I learned Samuel R. Delany was black, that Donald Wollheim was actually publishing two black authors at a time when no one else was, to the best of my knowledge, publishing any. And so, these many years later, I would like to offer my apologies and thank him for publishing Delany and me.
But at the time I was not aware of that, I saw only the racism. I told him I wanted to write a black science fiction novel. Since the sword epics, led by the incomparable Edgar Rice Burroughs and his John Carter series and Robert E. Howard and his Conan stories, were popular, it would be of that genre: a black swordsman. I sought his go-ahead because I knew that if he did not publish it, no one else would.
I waited. Finally, he said do it. So I wrote the story of Justinian Elroy Black (yes, even his name was black), ex-college athlete hobbled by a knee injury who earned his living giving fencing instructions to rich whites. After running afoul of one client, he is sent at gunpoint to the world of the Two Cities and the Seven Valleys. There, in a land hammered by alien invasion and race war, he survives a string of adventures that climaxes in a coming to gether of the white, black and yellow races to live in harmony.
Don said he couldn't publish it. He never said why. I can attest it wasn't great literature, but certainly no better or worse than AGE OF RUIN or WARRIORS OF TERRA—and certainly much better than CROWN OF INFINITY.
So, feeling betrayed, I said things I should not have said and a short, intense relationship ended. I shopped MAROONED ON THE LEVELS around, but no one wanted it. One editor complained there was no dialogue in an extended battle scene. No dialogue?! Maybe they were too busy staying alive to stop and chit chat!
In the meantime, Belmont published WARRIORS OF TERRA. They wanted another novel as part of the same series. I wrote SIEGE OF EARTH—the first novel not written from the gut. It shows it.
I put MAROONED away. It still gathers dust. Someday I will rewrite it—I've learned a lot since then. I did not return to the sword novel for more than twenty years. When I did, it was in the most unexpected way and with two of the most incredible characters ever. But first to continue the road to BLACK SCIENCE FICTION.
I wrote and had published DISCO HUSTLE, a story of the black discos as I experienced them, my first mainstream novel (though some critics might argue that). In writing it, I realized science fiction was my first and, perhaps, only love. So I went back—and received form rejection after form rejection. They only hardened my resolve: I would learn the craft of writing, I would go beyond science fiction and read the great works and authors of literature. I took short-story, novel and screenplay writing courses at NYU's Continuing Ed. I read hundreds of books on writing and every literary biography I could find.
I wrote every day.
I still received endless rejection after rejection.
But that was okay. I was doing what I loved to do, creating characters and worlds that absorbed me, characters and worlds I found nowhere else. A writer writes. I was a writer and so I wrote. I did not need an audience. I wrote for myself.
The world changed. I began to hear talk of self-image and how the lack of black presence in science fiction (i.e., the future) damaged black kids. People began to ask where are the black science fiction writers? I would say to myself, "I'm here writing away. I'm not a Delany, so you'll never see my stuff in print."
Spike Lee came along and suddenly there were black movies where there hadn't been since the days of blaxploitation. After that, Terry McMillan arrived and overnight publishers saw there were black women out there who actually, believe it or not, read books.
I began to look around again and noticed the science fiction field had not changed much from the day I asked Donald Wollheim if I could do a black science fiction novel. True, there was a handful of gifted ones, but where were the rest, the ones such as myself? We'll never win awards or be bestsellers, but still, we love the genre and we keep working away at it.
One of the tasks I set myself was to go back and rewrite my early novels, incorporating all the things I'd learned over the years. The first was CROWN OF INFINITY—the generations long battle plan for revenge. It became THE EARTH WILL BE AVENGED. No more bobbing and weaving—a black hero up-front, commander of the starship Harlem. I queried agents. No interest. Okay, so I still had a lot to learn.
I began another novel—and stopped. What point in spending years writing a novel that will be ignored, that no one will publish? I would still write but I needed to do something new. Moreover, I needed to write something so good no one would reject it for any reason. Three years ago I decided to switch to short stories. I did so reluctantly.
I'd never been a fan of short stories. I like to spend time with characters I find interesting. Just as you're getting into a short story, it's over. Plus, novels had made up most of my recreational reading. I felt comfortable with novels. I knew what had been done in them. In short stories, I would be a novice—without any knowledge of what had gone before. I would run the risk of being called ignorant of the field. They would be right. So I looked for a way to avoid that. The answer was twofold.
I started a crash course in reading the best anthologies of literature and science fiction. I studied the sf collections to see what stories weren't being published. I saw two gaping holes: black stories and the biggest one of the 20th century: sex/gender/reproduction. Since these stories were not being done, I would not run the risk of inadvertently duplicating prior ones.
Why is sex/gender/reproduction one of the great stories of this century? Think about it. In the West, especially the United States, women gained the vote. The microwave, clothes washers and the Pill, which meant small families and shorter mothering periods, liberated them from the home. Women can have lives that go beyond the raising of the next generation.
The Pill and abortion-on-demand meant sex could be a recreational activity engaged in without concerns of pregnancy.
Amniocentesis can reach into the womb and tell the health or sex of the fetus before birth. That simple medical breakthrough irrevocably changed whole continents and societies. And now add the even simpler ultrasound.
Women's sports leagues.
A freedom from the male and an equality with them unprecedented in human history.
In reproduction, cloning and other advanced techniques regularly help fertility-challenged couples become parents.
Sex change operations.
The gay and lesbian revolution.
The incredible explosion of pornography. We went from French postcards and hard-to-find little magazines to dingy theaters to the videocassette to Internet porn. For thirty dollars I can buy a program called Mister-Pix. I key in a description of the type of sex I want and it comes back with a thousand pictures from around the world—within minutes. It is fascinating to see the fetishes of various societies. Porn today is only a keystroke away.
Life threatening sexually-transmitted diseases, the most serious of which is AIDS.
We have gone from it being illegal for a woman to bare her legs at the beach to the thong.
And yet, with exceptions here and there, this is all ignored by science fiction.
I began to write stories like THE SPERM COLLECTOR, ALWAYS A VIRGIN, BY THE WAY MOM, ALIEN PERIL, THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE, BATTLE QUEEN CINDEREL LA, THE SCUMSHIP and others.
The rejections came.
Despite Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cointelpro, the Civil Rights Movement, The Freedom Riders, racial profiling, Rodney King, the Black Panthers and so many other things in recent years, science fiction has continued with business as usual: black heroes need not apply, black themes not wanted.
I wrote black stories: THE STARSHIP HARLEM, EVIL NEVER MAKES IT EASY, THE PROMISED LAND, THE OUTRAGE, CINDERELLA 3000, THE BIGGER FOOL, THE MAN AND THE QUAGIS, THE SLAVE AND THE TIME MACHINE, THE VIRGIN'S WALL....
I returned to my old love—the fantasy swordsman: EVIL NEVER MAKES IT EASY, BATTLE QUEEN CINDERELLA, THE VIRGIN'S WALL and the one that came out of nowhere to hit me between the eyes when two black Amazons walked into my living room and squatted beside me and told me to write their story: the AMAZON trilogy.
Yet more rejections.
The road to BLACK SCIENCE FICTION was still unconceived.
My brother Joe has for years urged me to selfpublish. "Stop begging them to publish you!"
I never thought I was begging. My sister Marie has said the same: "Do it yourself." And my answer always was, the money isn't there. Nor the distribution. And, although I did not come right out and say it, the confidence in my own writing wasn't there. If I were any good, I wouldn't keep getting rejected.
The Internet mushroomed. In the black chat groups, the question arose again and again: Where are the black science fiction writers? The black stories?
The ebook came into existence. So did print-on-demand technology. Interesting....
I began to see stories in the best-of anthologies that I didn't think were that good. But of course I was biased. One's own stories are always more interesting. Clearly I was deceiving myself. The unending rejections attested to that.
Then a strange thing happened. I noticed I'd been getting contrary rejections for some time: ALIEN PERIL—cool story. THE SPERM COLLECTOR—Sorry to keep this so long. We were considering it for publication, but decided to go with another story. THE VIRGIN'S WALL—This caused quite a bit of controversy in the office. In the end we decided that although very good, it is not irresistible. THE VIRGIN BLADE—Well-written, interesting characters but reads like an introduction to a longer work. (It is.) EVIL NEVER MAKES IT EASY—The action sequence was very good. THE SLAVE AND THE TIME MACHINE—Like the care you took with this. THE VERIFIER—Beautiful story. And on and on.
There was an announcement on the black egroup I was a member of that there would be an anthology of black science fiction called DARK MATTER. I immediately contacted the editor Sheree Thomas. I was too late. The deadline for submissions had passed.
I waited breathlessly for it to appear. The idea of an anthology of black science fiction, even though I would not be in it, was fascinating. Wow!
One day Ian Strock of ARTEMIS, a science fiction magazine, called. He wanted to publish PETS, my story of alien abduction. He added he thought it was very good. Incredible. I did not know what to say. After all these years an editor said something I'd written was good and he wanted to publish it.
After my website was up and listed with the search engines, I received a letter from a man who said he'd read WARRIORS OF TERRA thirty years ago. It inspired him to become a writer. He now had over two hundred short stories published and wanted to collaborate with me!
After Ian Strock published PETS, I received an email from a man who said he'd loved CROWN OF INFINITY so much he'd committed it to memory. And another to say CROWN had made him a serious sf fanatic. And yet another who was glad I'd finally written something else and urged me to write more!
One of the members of the egroup I belonged to was Cecil Washington—aka Creative Brother. He is an incredible young writer— with more talent in his right eye than I have in my whole body. Relentless, creative—and a shameless self-promoter. He'd published his fiction on his own website and countless others, in an ebook and a paperback. He had in effect said to the whole sf establishment, 'I don't need you.'
Surely, I thought, if he can do so, so can I. Construction began on the road to BLACK SCIENCE FICTION. It did not take long—the stories were already written.
Now the road is complete.
Here is BLACK SCIENCE FICTION.
I hope you enjoy it. I am no Hopkinson, Delany, Butler or Barnes. But I try. I will always try. Till the day they bury me.
Good luck. I love you all.
John M. Faucette Jr.
New York City 2001