Book Review: Like Mayflies in a Stream by Shauna Roberts

Unlike many of my learned friends I’d never read Gilgamesh until this year. This poem is considered the first great heroic narrative (until an older one is found) and is a great read, at least the translation I read. I was inspired to read this epic after reading Shauna Robert’s excellent interpretation, Like Mayflies in a Stream. Shauna is an expert on the ancient Near East and she deftly applies her skill to give a rich and more down to earth version of the Gilgamesh saga.

Shauna spreads out the attention in her narrative. She delves more into the life and motivations of the minor characters of the novel while making Gilgamesh closer to mortal, but still formidable. She also does the same for Enkidu by giving a logical reason for his abilities as well. The person that gets the most attention is Shamhat, the priestess, or harlot, chosen to seduce Enkidu into civilization. Zaidu also gets more recognition, bringing depth to his character and detail to his interactions with Shamhat. Mayflies reads like the true story on which the Gilgamesh epic was based.

Shauna also does an excellent job displaying the details of everyday life in and around Uruk, Gilgamesh’s walled city and home of Shamhat. As a history buff I enjoyed these details, especially since Near Eastern history is fairly new to me. The one that stood out was the fact that in this culture the liver was considered the center of emotions, not the heart. ‘I love you with all my liver’ sounds strange to us but would probably make a Urukan woman swoon…or maybe not.

Check out Like Mayflies in a Steam. It’s a well told, fascinating story that I enjoyed. And I mean this from the bottom of my liver.

Why Do We Need Black Speculative Fiction?

Mayday by James Mason

I received an e-mail today from a friend at Black Science Fiction Society. He submitted a graphic novel to a certain party to see if there was an interest in his concept. It took him a while to hear from that party but when he did the response was particularly upsetting. That certain party asked him if it was possible to change the characters from black to white. He said if my friend did so, he would be able to get some interest in his project. He told my friend ‘Black people don’t read comic books.’

I was having a conversation with a writer friend of mine and I suggested she read a particular book by a black writer. She knew of the writer, but she wasn’t thrilled. She had compiled a list of black science fiction and fantasy writers on a popular site, and that particular writer wasn’t happy being included on the list. She felt such lists limited her and labeled her as a ‘black’ writer, not just a writer.

Another writer friend had a book reviewed by a well known magazine. When the magazine displayed a picture of the cover the image of the person was white, despite the fact that the main character of the book was black. Come to find out that the publisher of the book had originally designed the cover this way but changed it after strong protests from the writer and the agent.

As a black writer of speculative fiction life is complex. The acceptance or rejection of what we write has more to do with perception than it does with talent. This perception has little to with the reader and more to do with those supplying books to the reader. All kinds of stereotypes abound, such as the concept stated above that ‘black people don’t read comic books, or science fiction or fantasy for that matter. Even some black science fiction writers buy into the hype. But everyday black people join the Black Science Fiction Society and at least 1/3 of the people of every con I attend are people of color. My books have been read by all kinds of people around the world and received  good reviews. At a recent meeting I attended the white people in the group stated clearly that it didn’t matter to them the race of the main characters or author. They just wanted a good story.

In my conversations at my signings I’ve discovered two things; black people DO read science fiction and fantasy, and more would read it if they knew not only that we were writing it, but that we were the main characters.  The biggest disconnect seems to be with major publishers. They don’t acknowledge the potential demand because corporations don’t deal with potential, especially when it comes to the African American community. So what’s a writer/reader to do?

You create black speculative fiction. You give readers what they want, you write what you want to write, and you create an environment that nurtures talent and provide support for those who want their dreams expressed the way they see it, not as others wrongly perceive it.  Black writers have to realize it’s okay to be black. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one who buys into the notion of race. But on the other hand I am a realist. I understand the barriers, conscious and unconscious, but I also understand that I have to respect myself before others will respect me. I can be a black writer and appeal to a multicultural audience. I shouldn’t have to submerge my culture to be acceptable to someone else.

This is a complex issue. I could write volumes of books on it and still not feel like I’ve done it justice, so I’ll say this: Black Speculative fiction, in my view, is not something designed to separate and limit. It is a way to provide opportunity for a deprived audience and an outlet for under appreciated artists. And no matter what anyone says, that’s a good thing for everyone.

Digital Sword and Soul

Amazon's Kindle

Last week MVmedia entered the digital age. With minor fanfare and major apprehension I uploaded Meji Book One into the Kindle Store, beginning what I hope will be a long and fruitful relationship with e-publishing.  It was a move I’d been contemplating for some time. My biggest concerns were profit and security. Not trying to be greedy but making books takes money and it would be nice for my hobby to pay for itself. I was also concerned about billions…well, maybe millions…okay, scores of digital copies of my stories floating around with no control. Those worries were eventually diminished by reality. The publishing business is changing, a change driven by the growth in e-books. The main question at every signing I’ve attended lately has been ‘are you on Kindle?’ My wife, an avid reader, asked for and received a Nook for Christmas.  So it was time. Actually, I was past due.

The process is not simple. Each e-book provider has its own riddle to pass through it’s gate. The end result is readable and enjoyable but still not to the level of the printed page. I’m still a book reader and probably will remain so for a time, but I can see that eventually I’ll succumb to the e-wave and join the revolution. My writing friends say their sales are more consistent because of e-books and the serious reader benefits from the lower prices. As a matter of fact, a study I read says that readers purchase more books once they switch to e-books.

I plan to have all my books available digitally at some point. For now I’m learning the upload process and deciding which formats I’ll offer my books through. Of course I’ll still produce paperbacks. Eighty percent of books are still purchased that way and there’s something about holding a book in your hand that makes the effort worth while. So to all my e-books fans, your requests have been answered. Enjoy!