Speaking at New America with NASA, Virgin Galactic on March 8

I’ll be speaking at the New America foundation about efforts to go to Mars, competition, and science fiction. There will be several extraordinary guests, including the CEO of Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides, and the former Lead Scientist at NASA.

In April this year, my essay on equity in space exploration will appear in a joint NASA / Slate: Future Tense book. More on that soon.

Click here to read more and RSVP

New! Pre-order my novel After the Flare

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I’m thrilled to announce that my new novel, After the Flare, is available for pre-Order on Amazon from Unnamed Press.

Order it on Amazon | Order it on Indiebound

From the cover:

A catastrophic solar flare reshapes our world order as we know it – in an instant, electricity grids are crippled, followed by devastating cyberattacks that paralyze all communication. Kwesi Bracket is an industrial engineer who works for NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab, running space-walk simulations for astronauts. When the flare hits, his life quickly disintegrates – he loses his job and his wife leaves him, forcing him to take care of his daughter by himself. Meanwhile, America slowly descends into chaos as people turn inward to protect themselves.

Bracket soon discovers that Nigeria operates the only functioning space program in the world, which is recruiting scientists to launch a daring rescue mission to save a famous astronaut stranded aboard the International Space Station. With Europe, Asia, and the U.S. knocked off-line, and thousands of dead satellites about to plummet to Earth, Bracket heads to Kano in Northeastern Nigeria. But what he finds there is anything but normal. In the aftermath of the flare, the country has been flooded with advanced biohacking technologies, and the scramble for space supremacy has attracted dangerous peoples from all over Africa. What’s more: the militant Islamic group Boko Haram is slowly encroaching on the spaceport, leaving a trail of destruction, while a group of nomads has discovered an ancient technology more powerful than anything he’s ever imagined.

With the clock ticking down, Bracket – helped by a brilliant scientist from India and an eccentric lunar geologist – must confront the looming threats to the spaceport in order to launch a harrowing rescue mission into space. In this sequel to Nigerians in Space, Deji Bryce Olukotun poses deep questions about technology, international ambition, identity, and space exploration in the 21st century.

Pre-orders make a huge impact on sales and reviews. By buying After the Flare in advance, you’re voting for a different kind of literature and sci-fi — one that I hope you’ll find entertaining and challenging.

Order it on Amazon | Order it on Indiebound

The changing faces of science fiction: notes from my event with PEN America

Thanks to PEN America for hosting a thought-provoking event at KGB Bar. Over the course of two hours, I joined Maria Dahvana Headley (the Magonia trilogy) and Haris Durrani (Technologies of the Self) for a fascinating discussion about science fiction and fantasy.

We discussed African, Queer, and Muslim perspectives on writing, including what excites us and terrifies us as authors. I especially enjoyed their thoughts on world-building, which as a writer is one of the most enjoyable and difficult aspects of crafting a speculative fiction story. You’ll be able to find the rich catalog of stories we referenced during our discussion on the event page at Pen.org. And I recommend you check out Maria and Haris’s stories. They’re good.

Lead photo credit by Bayo Olukotun

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photo credit: PEN America

Is the Black Panther an African stereotype?

If you’re like me, you watched every frame of the movie Captain America: Civil War to scrutinize the introduction of the Black Panther into the story. This comic book story about the leader of a fictional African nation called Wakanda has been revived several times by Marvel over the past 40 years (and frequently imagined by artists, like the illustration above by June Vigants). Although National Book Award-winner Ta-Nehisi Coates will grab the headlines for its most recent incarnation, author Christopher Priest laid the foundation for its current storyline in the late 90s.

Anyway, during the film I gritted my teeth as I expected an onslaught of African stereotypes, but there were fewer than I thought. I bristled at the notion of a fictional African kingdom, as if we don’t know which countries exist in Africa. I mean, imagine if someone told you there was a fictional state wedged between New Jersey and Pennsylvania and the inhabitants shared the cultural traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch from 200 years ago. Would you find that believable?

There’s an argument that the kingdom of Wakanda allows for the best parts of Africa to be imagined into the story, a sort of enlightened magical pan-Africanism. We didn’t see much of Wakanda itself in Captain America, but in Christopher Priest’s comic books — which I enjoyed — leopards and elephants roamed the Wakandan jungle. I think those animals are pretty awesome, and fascinating, and powerful too, but I also know where they actually live in Africa, which is on state parkland and white-owned private game reserves. (And many of those private game reserves squirrel their money away in offshore accounts.) Is it possible to tell a story about Africa without reference to the unique fauna that still live there? I’m not sure. I remember picking up a copy of Little House on the Prairie when I was younger and there were definitely black panthers in those dark woods. How often do those panthers (gone now in North America, and confined to zoos) make it into superhero stories set in the U.S.? Not often, unless they come from Wakanda.

I watched Captain America in a theater in the suburbs. The story still won me over somehow, maybe because Marvel has my number. And despite all the racial tension we see depicted in the media every day (police abuse, racism), after the credits rolled I heard some white teenagers spontaneously announce that the Black Panther was their favorite character. That’s pretty good when you consider that they could have chosen Scarlett Johansson or Chris Hemsworth. Something is going right.

–DBO