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Writing an Afrofuturist Space Opera

Image Place holder  of - 94Sweep of Stars, the first in a brand-new trilogy that is Black Panther meets The Expanse, hits shelves everywhere on 3/29 and we cannot wait for this book to get into your hands. To help prepare you for this epic new journey, author Maurice Broaddus joined us on the blog to talk more about the journey around writing this new series. Check it out here!


By Maurice Broaddus

Afrofuturism is the marriage of my faith, my social practice, and my writing. In addition to being a middle school teacher and librarian, I am the resident Afrofuturist at the Kheprw Institute. We are a grassroots organization that trains up young people to be community leaders using entrepreneurial experiences as labs for community wealth-building. Basically, think of an Afrofuturist as a strategic foresight planner who operates through a lens rooted in black history and culture. To me it looks like dreaming alongside community, highlighting my neighbors and their work. In other words, it’s science fiction applied to the world we live in.

Space has been the place for a lot of Black imagination and creative thought. The infinite possibilities that space represents lines up with imagining Black freedoms. Those dreams fueled W.E.B. DuBois’ scifi story, “The Comet,” to Sun Ra’s jazz career. One day I was thinking about the work we do in the community and started wondering what was the world we wanted to see? Yes, more just and equitable, but I mean if we could start fresh, what kind of institutions, practices, and world would we build?

That’s how the world of Muungano, the setting for Sweep of Stars, got started. I took a year and a half doing the world building, which looked a lot like talking to my neighbors and colleagues. I wanted to write a story not about our suffering, but about us existing on our terms, living in harmony and exploring the cosmos.

Originally, I pitched Sweep of Stars as “Black Panther meets Game of Thrones … IN SPACE!” (because everything sounds better when you add “in space!”), but we tightened it up to “Black Panther Meets The Expanse.” Besides being an epic, yet intimate, space opera, it’s also full of my usual mix of social commentary, jazz/hip hop, and jokes.

Sweep of Stars is about black people—the Diaspora as well as those from the mother continent—united as an intergalactic community. It started on the moon but has expanded to include the portion of Mars nicknamed Bronzeville, Titan, and a distant mining colony. The story follows three sets of characters:

  1.  The Dreaming City: the capital of Muungano. The voice of their community has fallen and the people must figure out who will speak for them in light of increased aggression from O.E. (Original Earth).
  2. The Cypher: a research starship, powered by jazz music, with the task of exploring the galaxy has been sent to study the wormhole within the span of the community which has been determined to have been artificially created.
  3.  The HOVA: Muungano’s defensive forces have secretly gone through the wormhole only to discover that they are not alone in the universe.

These days, I’m dreaming of the stars, imagining us existing on our terms, living in harmony and exploring the cosmos. Sometimes we get so caught up in surviving today, we can lose sight of the fact that part of what we’re to be about is creating the future we want to see. In other words, in doing this Afrofuturist work, I hope these stories allow me and my community the space to dream of what a better tomorrow could look like. The dreaming impacts the work, the work impacts the writing, the writing impacts the dreaming, and so it goes.

Thank you for going on this journey with me.

MAURICE BROADDUS is a fantasy and horror author best known for his short fiction and his Knights of Breton Court novel trilogy. He has published dozens of stories in magazines and book anthologies, including in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Black Static, and Weird Tales. Sweep of Stars releases from Tor Books on 3/29/22.

Pre-order Sweep of Stars here:

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The *Best* Dynamic Duos in SFF by Ryan Van Loan

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Legolas and Gimli. Ripley and her giant space gun. SFF has some of the best dynamic duos. To name a few, we asked The Sin in the Steel (home to chaotic Sherlock & Watson style duo Buc and Eld) author Ryan Van Loan to join us and round up some of the best.


By Ryan Van Loan

Dynamic duos. 

They’re found everywhere in fiction and while they’re a little less (in)famous in science fiction and fantasy, Dear Reader, we have some of the best of the lot. There’s something about a pair of characters thrust together by chance or choice that pulls us in. Whether it’s opposites with a healthy dose of will they/won’t they like Katniss and Peeta or sympaticos like Fred and George Weasely, the options are endless and endlessly fascinating. Below are some of my timeless faves.

Fitz and the Fool from Robin Hobb’s ongoing Elderling’s Series are a longtime favorite of mine. Specifically, The Tawny Man Trilogy where we get a slightly older Fitz and a Fool who has transformed from court jester to a seemingly flippant noble, Lord Golden. 

I love that we have two old friends whose relationships with one another have to navigate multiple changes in each set of trilogies from age to power dynamics and yet the throughline that anchors both them and the trilogy is their friendship and trust for one another. 

This one really puts it to the test, with the Fool standing against everyone else Fitz cares for and forcing him to choose.

Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are literally our gentleman thieves (bastards) in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards Series. While our introduction to the pair in The Lies of Locke Lamora is really in the form of a small gang of thieves, these two stand apart from the beginning. I really enjoy that throughout the series we see their friendship, but their flaws too. This isn’t a perfect buds relationship…it’s messy and they both have to put in the work to keep their friendship, but at the end of it all, when the chips are down, there’s never any doubt that they have each other’s backs. Quite literally. 

My favorite moments in the first book are when Locke, who is small and not the best fighter, is getting his ass handed to him, and he notes he doesn’t have to beat the asskicker, he just has to hold their attention until Jean (the much bigger, much better asskicker) arrives on scene. And wow, does he ever!

There’s Moiraine and Lan from The Wheel of Timehonestly, we could spend an entire post exploring the duos there (Elayne and Nynaeve, Siuan and Leane, etc. etc.)—and Kell and Lila from V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic fame and many more, but the last one I’ll mention is of the quieter sort. It may be my favorite, because it’s intimate, poignant, and involves the highest of stakes, not just life and death, but the fate of worlds. 

The pair I’m thinking of are aeronaut Lee Scoresby and his daemon, an arctic hare named Hester from The Subtle Knife (Book 2 of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series). A daemon is essentially a person’s soul given shape and thought and speech in the same way that person is the daemon’s (soul’s) embodiment. They are two sides of the same coin and here, we get to see what that really means. Lee and Hester are helping a shaman escape from agents of the Magisterium (the Big Bad) to help the heroine of the story, Lyra, a girl, who Lee says he, “…love(s) that little child like a daughter. If I’d had a child of my own, I couldn’t love her more.” When they become trapped by a zeppelin full of Tartar soldiers, Lee and Hester choose to make a final stand at the entrance to the gulch that provides their only chance of escape…selling their lives that this shaman might use his to aid Lyra in her quest to defeat the Magisterium. Outnumbered twenty five to two, they look like they’ll defeat the odds, with Hester blending into the rocks and able to prove spotter to Lee’s sniper. 

Throughout the series to this point, this pair have been an anchor, much like the rocks hiding them now, they’ve been dependable for both Lyra and the reader. We’ve also seen the quiet, reserved friendship the pair share. Before the shooting starts, we see Hester through Lee’s eyes, his admiration for his lifelong friend and everything they’ve been through together. All too soon, that friendship is put to the test. Reader, I thought they were going to pull it off. Lee’s head gets grazed by a bullet, but the Tartar’s numbers are dwindling. Then Lee gets shot and this time it’s no glancing blow. He’s fumbling to reload and we get this beautiful pause amidst all that ugliness when Hester presses her tear-faced head against him, giving him her support in their final hour. They know they’re going to die, knew that was likely to happen when this all started, but they stood their ground because it had to be done. Now it’s all over, save the last. 

When it ends as it so cruelly, inevitably must, Lee Scoresby lies on his back, body bullet-ridden, Hester pressed close beside him. The ground is littered with dead soldiers, the zeppelin is plunging to the earth in flames, and Hester whispers her last to Lee, reminding him what they did: helped the child they love like a daughter. That’s it.

That Dear Reader, is why I love duos so much…we are none of us an island, we all need someone at some time, some point in our lives and when we do and that someone is there? That’s everything.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Thelma and Louise. Roland and Jake. Ka, Stephen King said, is a circle, and (I say, but I think he’d agree) at its center is friendship. 

Friendship.

Another word for magic.

Buy The Sin in the Steel Here:

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