Sunday, June 10, 2012

English 311: Afrofuturisms Reading List

For those of you who don't know what Afrofuturisms means, the simple version is African American science fiction. The more complete version includes such factors as reflections of slave narratives and discrimination, in either a bleak dystopian format or, conversely, through imagining a better future to make up for the loss of cultural history and identity through eutopia.

In other words: awesome wrapped up in intensity.

Here's our reading list:

Imperium in Imperio by Sutton E. Griggs, 1899

There were a lot of people in my class who contested the Sci-fi (SF) classification of this novel, but it's about what the title says it's about: an empire within an empire, a government within a government, and it's an imagined eutopia, as my teacher defended it. (My own opinions on SF and genre boundaries in general make me inclined to agree, but more on that later or never.) One of the drier texts, it's about two boys who both go on to become great orators, each championing the same cause, racial equality in the United States, in very different ways. The society itself doesn't feature much in the story until towards the end. Not highly recommended, but interesting. 

Of One Blood, by Pauline Hopkins, 1902-1905

Published serially in the Colored American's Magazine, one of the first publications written by and for the emergent black bourgeoisie in America, Of One Blood is a story which relies on the familiar, but appropriated, constructions of Romantic mysticism blended with the sciences and the explorer/colonization trope. Interesting, sometimes confusing, but first and foremost to put forward an important agenda for the time in which it was written: that the human race is, quite literally, all of one blood. More recommended than Imperium, but still not a must-read.

Black Empire, by George S. Schuyler, 1936-1938

Also published serially and actually consisting of two novels, The Black Internationale and Black Empire, Schuyler satirizes the ideas of how to achieve racial equality contemporary with his time, mostly through the use of a evil genius and lots and lots of money. A reimagined future, though I'm still not clear on whether it's supposed to be a dystopia or a eutopia. Pretty darn good, if taken with a touch of dark humor.

Nova, by Samuel R. Delany, 1968

Nova was, by far, my favorite thing we read. A space-opera set in the thirty-second century, it's a race to the edges of the then-known universe to find a dying star in order to plunge into it, with plenty of economic and societal commentary and intrigue on the side. An absolutely enjoyable trip.

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler, 1993

Parable was my second-favorite read of the quarter, despite its being bleak, dark, and triggering. At first it felt a little like the only thing between life currently and the universe of Cormac McCarthy's The Road with a dash of P.D. James' Children of Men thrown in. Luckily it turns out slightly less bleak than the former, though not by much. Good, interesting read with a strong female lead.

Cheers, everybody.

Three-Movie Weekend

From the archive of unfinished posts:

The Wrath of the Titans, directed by Jonathon Liebesman and starring Sam Worthington, was, I think, actually better than its predecessor. Clash of the Titans was decent, in a b-movie kind of way, but it had one problem: it tried to tell the story of a classic myth and failed to do so. Wrath broke with every mythic convention I can name, and was better for it. Because it hardly acknowledged myth, it didn't really have expectations to fill. I'd watch it again.

The Raven was shockingly well done. When I first saw the trailer, all I could think about was how badly this movie wanted to be Sherlock Holmes, but it turned out to be more than that. Cusack played a shockingly convincing Poe, the circumstances/traps were appropriately squirm-worthy and awful, and the mystery was downright decent. I would be willing to own this movie.

The thing you've got to understand is that The Three Musketeers is ridiculous, hands down. The Musketeers are primarily in tight leather, one of them is practically a ninja, they uncover DaVinci plans for steampunk airships and build them, and Orlando Bloom has a pompadour. In summation? It's awesome. One for all and all for one!



Ridley Scott's latest Sci-fi/Horror/Survival flick, starring Noomi Rapace as scientist Elizabeth Shaw, an...interesting...prequel to the Aliens series.

I am beginning to hatch a theory that the more special effects Ridley Scott - who brought us such titles as Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and the Alien franchise (1979-present) - has access to, the grosser his films are bound to get. Primarily, I regret to say, Prometheus was gross.

Yes, the effects were praiseworthy. Yes, I enjoyed all of the design. Yes, I appreciated the multiracial cast of characters. Yes, the script had great Alien-esque moments. Yes, the performances of the actors were stunning. However, my first and foremost gut reaction is that this film was disgusting. It was like Scott sat down with the design and animation team and said "I want this to be as gritty, organic, nasty, and invasive as you can possibly make it without our audiences physically barfing, okay?" Because that's about how I would describe the pale, writhing-in-black-goo penile snakey Elder God facesuckers that the film's progenitors of the human race created.

Not to say that it wasn't realistic in the sense that if one was actually on an alien planet going up against bio-engineered creatures of mass destruction, that's probably what it would be like, so props in that direction, but seeing it in movie-theater high-definition, that's something else entirely.

That being said, the stars of the show were Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and Charlize Theron, for their performances. Fassbender played a spookily accurate android, Theron was appropriately blunt, no-nonsense and corporate, and, most importantly, Rapace more than carried the strong main female role. I don't know if anyone could quite pass Sigourney Weaver's Ripley (flamethrower, anyone?), but Rapace did a heck of a job.

In short? I'd recommend seeing it at least once. It's a good concept and well-executed to boot, but bring your brown paper bags. Cheers.