The Blues are about the past, a lament; Gospel is about the future, hope for an alternate reality. They overlap quite a bit in the middle. Both are gifts from African America.
Here, at the end of African American History Month, let’s take a look at Octavia Butler’s short piece from Essence in 2000, titled “A Few Rules for Predicting the Future”.
Of all the many, many authors we could look at this month*, why Octavia Butler, a “mere” sci/fi-spec/fic writer? Besides that this month is the 10 year anniversary of her death, to paraphrase Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future”, the African American experience is a real-life analog to speculative fiction: “alien” invasion and abduction, and imprisonment or control by often invisible powers. It has often been a dystopian experience, to say the least. For us pale-skinned Americans, these ideas are all a safe part of the “What if?”; for African Americans, they have been reality. So, you could argue that an African American spec fic writer is working in a deeper place than most, and not “mere” anything.
Why think about the future when we should be remembering the past? Like Blues and Gospel, they’re joined in the present. And in possibly the scariest election cycle since ever, a little careful examination of history is needed to guide us in making a future. As she says:
“So why try to predict the future at all if it’s so difficult, so nearly impossible? Because making predictions is one way to give warning when we see ourselves drifting in dangerous directions. Because prediction is a useful way of pointing out safer, wiser courses. Because, most of all, our tomorrow is the child of our today. Through thought and deed, we exert a great deal of influence over this child, even though we can’t control it absolutely. Best to think about it, though. Best to try to shape it into something good. Best to do that for any child.”
That’s enough of my yappin. Here is Butler’s very short essay, thankfully reposted in exittheapple. It is worth the 8 minutes it will take you to read it.
* I know. I could have been doing African American history posts all month. I got caught up in other things and just totally missed it. It’s my fault, but next time, you know, say something, Dear Reader.