Read & Rebel: Science Fiction/Fantasy and Social Change

This morning, I had set out with the intention of writing about why I think everyone should read Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi followed by the second book in the series, Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Between my intention and the actual time when I was able to sit down to write, my friend the ravenous and omnivorous reader Anna sent me this article by Cree Myles, “If You Really Want to Unlearn Racism, Read Black Sci-Fi Authors” on The Mary Sue. Take a minute and read this insightful piece that far better articulates why reading Fiction, particularly Science Fiction, is such an important part of the process for people to truly become anti-racist in practice.

The thing that stood out to me about this essay is how precisely Myles locates the need to broaden our scope to include fiction as we journey through introspection. She writes,

“Nonfiction, while important, still affords you the comfort of looking at the problem from the outside. You get to intellectualize the grief instead of sit in it. You can passively observe the percentages and statistics instead of giving the numbers names and mourning families. Instead of being one of the names or mourning family members. You get to step away.”

Cree Myles, “If You Really Want to Unlearn Racism, Read Black Sci-Fi Authors” on The Mary Sue

Fiction serves so many purposes in our lives, including entertainment, but its true power lies in its ability to build empathy. If you want, I am happy to send you some research in this arena – how the brain reacts to reading fiction and what its impact is on our psychology. But, I think you can mine your own experiences and consider which fictional characters carried you through important moments or that came to mind when you met someone new or helped a friend in need. The ability of fiction to transport us into another’s feelings and to inhabit their world is critical to our personal well being but also to our citizenship in our communities.

Myles’ article pinpointed the unique quality of science fiction and fantasy to criticize, problematize and fantasize about necessary social change.

“Informational text is important, but emotional text is crucial. While we fight for the world of our dreams, we should read pieces from the people who have already created it.”

Cree Myles, “If You Really Want to Unlearn Racism, Read Black Sci-Fi Authors” on The Mary Sue

This is what compels me most about Adeyemi’s debut work Children of Blood and Bone and the striking follow-up Children of Virtue and Vengeance (which I enjoyed even more). There is a healthy blend of grappling with reality and dreaming of the ideal, which is equally complex and wrought with generational trauma. The books are squarely in the genre of Fantasy – both steeped in West African Mythologies and African American History, and the layered characters who struggle to make progress while simultaneously grappling with their inheritance as children of their parents in their communities. Magic is at the center of this story, literally and figuratively, as the story bounces between narration of Zelie, who is fighting for her magical inheritance, and Amari and Inan, royal siblings whose family brought about the end to magic but who each see a different truth for the future.

Young Adult Fantasy is not for everyone, but I think this one is worth everyone’s time, particularly in reading the author’s note about what compelled her to write this novel. I will leave you to discover that on your own, but it really adjusted my lens and deepened my experience with the book, and her insight is part of why I feel compelled to write about these books in this moment.

You should also read Octavia Butler’s Kindred. It is required reading for our sophomores, and I feel it should be required reading in all American High Schools. More in a future installment…