Welcome to my new Website and Blog, both of which I am calling "Things Fall Together." This designation is a tribute to the title of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe's Classic novel, Things Fall Apart. And, indeed, things often do fall apart and shatter, as a look at any day's newspaper headlines will tell you. But sometimes, things fall together and connect, or perhaps interlock. I'm hoping that on this site, there will be some interlocking, even as things are bound to fall where they will.
My previous website, www.charlessaunderswriter.com ran from 2008 to 2015. Its focus was on the fantasy-fiction genre, the field in which I have been writing from the early 1970s to the present time. That site is still accessible, though no longer active. It contains a wealth of archival material about my writing, along with book reviews and commentary about the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. as well as reprints of non-fiction articles and a couple of stories I wrote for various small-press publications.
The scope of this new site will be much more eclectic. Yes, it will still feature shameless self-promotion ... is there really any other kind? And I'll continue to write reviews and commentary about present and past works in my favorite genres. However, I will also branch out into current issues and events, and even (gulp) politics.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my previous site was the interaction and feedback generated in the Forum section. I would like that exchange of thoughts and opinions to continue. So please feel free to comment on what you read on this site. And let's hope that as the world progresses, things fall together and not apart.
Charles R. Saunders is a cutting-edge Baby Boomer, born in Elizabeth,Pa. -- a small town near Pittsburgh. He later lived in Norristown, a suburb of Philadelphia. He was educated at Lincoln University, a historically black institution in Pennsylvania from which he graduated in 1968.
The next year, he moved to Canada, where his life as a writer began and continued amid stints in scholarship, teaching, clerical work and, ultimately journalism. As an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, he noticed that blacks were, for the most part, either absent from or stereotyped in those genres -- though there were notable exceptions such as Ray Bradbury's Mars story, "Way in The Middle of the Air."
Having developed a keen interest in African history, culture and folklore, he combined those passions with an urge to write fantasy fiction. That merger of interests resulted in the creation of African-based stories and novels featuring Imaro, a brother who could kick Tarzan's ass, and Dossouye, a Black Amazon who could do the same with the help of her Cape buffalo companion, Gbo.
He coined the term "Sword and Soul" to describe this new subgenre of fantasy fiction -- a tribute to the Sword and Sorcery subgenre created by Robert E. Howard back in the 1920s. As other writers began to explore that theme, he became known as "The Father of Sword and Soul."
Now retired from his career in journalism, during which he worked as a copy editor, opinion columnist and editorial writer, he continues to contribute to the subgenre he founded.
Author Barbara Chase-Riboud is not a stranger to controversy. Her novels about the intimate relationship between third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson and a slave he owned named Sally Hemings (Sally Hemings and The President's Daughter) elicited equal measures of praise and condemnation. And 10 years ago, she received a $10-million settlement from the Dreamworks film studio over the movie Amistad, after she accused Dreamworks of infringing on her novel Echo of Lions, which was also about the famed slave-ship rebellion.
In Hottentot Venus, takes on another contentious subject: the sad saga of a Khoe Khoe (also spelled "Khoi Khoi" woman from South Africa was displayed throughout Britain and continental Europe during the early years of the 19th century. The woman was known by a succession of names: Ssehura, the name her people gave her; Saartjie and Sarah Baartman, which she received as a servant in Dutch and English colonial households; and finally the Hottentot Venus, which combined a derogatory identifier for the Khoe Khoe and and a snide reference to the Greco-Roman goddess of love and beauty.
Because Europeans of the early 1800s had little or no knowledge of the Khoe Khoe people, they they viewed Sarah as a freak of nature' an oddity, a "missing link" between the human and the subhuman. The primary reason for this perception was a characteristic called "steatopygia," an excessive development of the hips and buttocks that was characteristic of her people.
Chase-Riboud chronicles this story primarily through the voice of Sarah herself, along with those of her captors, companions, and contemporaries. Sarah is a victim of circumstances well beyond her control. Yet she is not a passive object in the tragi-drama of her life. She is the one who decides to leave her homeland, which is besieged by rapacious European colonists. She agrees to accompany a pair of rogues to England, where she will supposedly receive a share of the profits from her purported performances will earn. When she boards a ship departing from Cape Town, she cannot be expected to know that she never see Africa again -- not, at least, while she is alive.
And if she did know, it might not have mattered to her, as her people faced dispossession and slavery at best, and extermination at worst. Putting herself on display in a faraway land would have seemed a small price to pay for freedom from the deadly prison South Africa was becoming for anyone who was not white.
Alas, once she set foot on British soil, Sarah learned that the contract into which she had entered with her two "benefactors" bound her to them as securely as the fetters that shackle a slave. Her "performances" consisted of sitting, standing, walking and dancing, sometimes on a stage, sometimes in a cage. Sometimes she sang and played a guitar. Whatever she did, the crowds that clamored to gawk at her viewed her as an example of a "lower order" of humanity, or perhaps not human at all.
Chase-Riboud counterbalances the quiet dignity of "The Venus" with the reprehensible behavior of the jeering, sneering, object-tossing audiences that pay to see the woman from afar. Yet despite this deluge of degradation, Sarah tries to adapt to her surroundings. She becomes a connoisseur of clothing (especially gloves) and learns to speak Dutch, English and French competently, if not fluently. She also discovers alcohol, which soothes her sorrows but threatens to steal her soul.
Because of the terms of the contract, Sarah's "masters" control her body. The contract gets divided and resold, and is eventually claimed as winnings in a card game by a dissolute Frenchman named Sieur Reaux. Reaux takes Sarah to France, where she becomes just as much of a sensation as she had been in England. She also attracts the interest of Baron Georges Cuvier, a leading biologist of the time, who has a special interest in the classification of humans and the hierarchy of races. He is a proponent of a pre-evolutionary concept called "The Great Chain of Being," and he is determined to discern where "The Venus" and her race fit in that chain.
Cuvier arranges for Sarah to be examined by a group of notable anatomists, naturalists, physiologists and other scientists whose behavior is far more circumspect than that of the crowds at her performances. But their curiosity is just as avid, and their respect for Sarah's personal dignity just as lacking.
Even after the examination ends, Cuvier continues to stalk Sarah like a patient predator. And while Reaux counts his profits, his "Venus" succumbs to the ravages of alcoholism, depression and the myriad European diseases to which she has no immunity.
On New Year's Day of 1816, Sarah dies at the age of 27 of pleurisy and tuberculosis. Cuvier swoops in and claims her corpse for dissection. Venturing into the realm of magic realism, Chase-Ribaud enables Sarah's spirit to speak in the afterlife. Thus, Sarah witnesses her own dismemberment at the deft hands of Cuvier and his colleagues.
The indignities continue. Under Cuvier's supervision, Sarah's corpse is stripped of skin and skeleton. Both the bones and the stuffed skin are put on display in a glass case -- a transparent cage.
Time passes. Sarah's spirit remains tied by invisible tethers to her preserved remains. The lens through which she is viewed changes. Twentieth-century campaigns for her liberation from the museum and return to her homeland gained momentum in both France and South Africa. Finally, in 2002, her remains are repatriated amid great ceremony amid crowds that venerate her.
Hottentot Venus is a sweeping saga, replete with subtle nuances and hard truths, rooted firmly in its colonial Africa and Napoleonic Europe contexts. The characters -- both good and bad, and there are some who are good, both black and white -- are fully realized. Ssehura/Saartjie/Sarah/Venus is a tragic figure, but she does not become a broken one until the end of her short life.
This book is not light reading. But in its indictment of attitudes that continue to this day, it is essential reading.
There are only a couple of speed bumps in the narrative. Chase-riboud mentions the term "evolution" fairly often. But that concept was only in its infancy during Sarah Baartman's time. And Charles Darwin was then only a boy. He does make an appearance toward the end of the novel.
Also, Chase-Riboud places in Africa animals that do not occur there naturally, such as wolves, coyotes, and lynx. These are just quibbles, though, well within the bounds of literary license.
One final note of irony. During the late 1800s, a certain fashion trend flourished for a while among women in Europe and North America. It involved the fitting of a wickerwork construction called a "bustle" to a woman's backside, beneath the long dresses of the day. The bustle made its wearers looks as though they had steatopygia.
Had she lived long enough, what might the Hottentot Venus have thought of that particular fashion statement?
Bet she would have laughed her ass off.
Recently, a brief but intense controversy flared in Halifax, Nova Scotia, over the use of an "n-word" by a city councillor named Matt Whitman. No, it wasn't the six-letter word that starts with an "n" and ends ends with an "r" and is the atomic bomb of racial epithets. Instead, it was a five-letter word that starts with an "n" and ends with an "o" and was once the preferred reference-term for black people.
The word in question is "Negro." It was mentioned within the context of a debate between two councillors over the possible racial connotations of another word:"marijuana." The question was whether that word is racially offensive to Mexicans. In an interview about the matter, Coun. Whitman argued against that notion, because "Mexicans are not a race, unlike "Negroes."
Immediately, the councillor was with criticism on on social media and elsewhere for using a term the critics deemed offensive to black people. Soon after, Whitman issued the now-standard apology to anyone he may have offended. His reasons for using the word "Negroes" remain unknown.
Regardless of those reasons, there was -- and is -- no need for Whitman to apologize. There was -- and is -- no reason for the critics to have taken offense to his utterance of the five-letter "n-word." Unlike the six-letter "n-word," "Negro" is a descriptive term only, not a pejorative one.
In the past, the word "Negro" was the conventional nomenclature for people of African descent, whether or not they actually live in Africa. Most black people embraced the term. Obviously, it was preferable to that six-letter alternative.
That's not to say that "Negro" was free from controversy. During the 1920s and '30s, huge debates raged both within and outside the black community over whether the "n" in "Negro" should be capitalized, or remain lower-case, as was common practice at that time. That distinction may seem trivial now, but back then the capital "N" was thought to be an indication of respect. Ultimately, the capital "N" won out.
The next controversy over the five-letter "N-word" occurred half-a-century ago, during the turbulent 1960s. It was a generational conflict: younger people at that time wanted to drop the word "Negro" and replace it with "black." Having battled so hard to get that doggone "n" capitalized, the parents of the 60s youth resented their offsprings' rejection of that hard-fought victory. Ironically, this was a battle of linguistics more than anything else, because "negro" happens to be the Spanish and Portuguese word for ... black! So it was a matter of whether one preferred to be called "black" in English or Spanish. Yet feelings ran so deep that some parents and children stopped speaking to each other over what they wanted their race to be called.
By the 1970s, "black" became predominant, and "Negro" faded into the background. A dictionary of self-referential terms followed, ranging from "African-American or Canadian" to "people of color." Only a few black people born after the Second World War continue to refer to themselves as "Negroes."
Even so, there is nothing wrong with that word. To this day, an American-based organization called the United Negro College Fund continues to use the five-letter "n-word" as part of its official name. If the UNCF believed the word "Negro" to be detrimental, it would have changed that name a long time ago.
The word "Negro" may be outdated and outmoded m this day and age. But it is not outrageous.
For sure, it's not worth fighting over.
One by one they are falling, like weeds being cleared from a long-neglected garden. Statues and other public monuments commemorating the Confederacy, that cabal of slave-holding Southern states that precipitated the American Civil War during the 1860s, are being taken down and placed in storage or in museums – anywhere other than the pride-of-place locations they have occupied in public parks and civic squares. The presence of these monuments, along with the display and veneration of the “stars-and-bars” Confederate battle flag, has been the subject of acrimonious division and debate for decades. One side decries the continued presence of these monuments as constituting tacit – or, perhaps, overt – approval of slavery and the right to secession. The other side insists that the statues and flags are legitimate memorials to the history and heritage of the South. Passions run hot and deep in this debate. It’s as though the Confederacy’s surrender in 1865 ended the war on the battlefield, but not in the hearts and minds of the descendants of those who fought in the conflict. Violence seethes beneath the surface of the dispute. Sometimes the brutality breaks through, leading to painful – and even lethal – consequences. Case in point: In Charlottesville, Virginia, city authorities decided to remove an equestrian statue of General Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Confederate armed forces during their attempt to break away from the Union, from a public space ironically named “Emancipation Park.” In August, a gang of white supremacists for whom veneration of the Confederacy is only part of an overtly racist and anti-Semitic ideology marched in protest of the statue’s imminent removal. Counterprotesters who supported the removal soon appeared. In the midst of the resulting chaos and confusion, a car rammed into the ranks of the counterprotesters, killing a young woman. A white-supremacist man faces charges in the wake of the tragedy.
Not only did the Charlottesville authorities uphold their decision to relocate the Lee statue; other Southern municipalities also took action to eliminate their Confederate monuments as well. Those measures prompted the expected pushback from people who continue to cling to the belief that the defeat of the Confederacy represents a “lost cause” rather than simply a lost war. The union’s victory preserved the federation of states that went on to become the most powerful nation in the world, both economically and militarily. Reluctantly, then eagerly, the former Confederacy participated in, and benefited from, the advancement of the nation it had attempted to rip asunder. If anything, the South should be dotted with monuments honoring Civil War president Abraham Lincoln and Union General Ulysses S. Grant, who won the war, rather than Lee and Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederate states. It stands to reason that many Southerners have long since accepted the result of the Civil War, and have moved on. Yet many others, as evidenced by the Charlottesville disaster, clearly wish the outcome had gone the other way … that the Confederacy had succeeded in its aim to establish itself as an independent nation. But why? Do these dreamers really believe that residents of a separate South would have lived happily ever after, with no more interference from those do-gooding abolitionists from the North? Well, you know the old saying:
“Be careful what you wish for.”
Tons of alternate-history novels have been written about what might have occurred if the South had won the Civil War. Few, if any, of them paint an optimistic picture of such a timeline. Why would they, considering the extreme tensions that existed at that time? With two mutually hostile nations – the United States of America and the Confederate States of America – facing off while recovering from the wounds of war, there is scant reason to believe that the conflict of the 1860s would have been the last war fought on American soil. The vast lands to the west of USA and CSA territory would have beckoned. Instead of one nation seeking to fulfill its “Manifest Destiny” to “win the West,” there would have been two. And the two nations would have fought like cats and dogs to expand their boundaries. Indigenous Americans, also known as “Indians,” would have caught in the middle of these disputes over lands that had been theirs for millennia. Perhaps they could have played the CSA and USA off against each other, and thus maintained their autonomy. Or maybe they would have been defeated and dispersed, as they were in the timeline we know. Mexico, which lost huge chunks of land to the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican War of 1846 to 1848, would have been in a perfect position to reverse those recent losses. With the USA and CSA at loggerheads, could very well have succeeded in that quest. They might have even built border outposts – or a wall – to keep Union and Confederate Americans out of the reclaimed territory. Texas, which to this day styles itself as the “Lone Star State,” might have decided to secede from the seceders, which would have been a body blow to the CSA, especially in view of the threat from Mexico. Can anyone doubt that Great Britain, which was approaching its apogee as a world power during the late 19th century, would have taken advantage of the war-weary Northern States to annex disputed territory south of the Canadian border? More land would have been added to the empire upon which “the sun never set.” Also, the USA would not have possessed the fiscal wherewithal to purchase Alaska from the Russians. If the Bolshevik Revolution had occurred during this alternate timeline, the Soviet Union would have enjoyed a sizable foothold in North America, and would have proved a major player in the continent’s geopolitical affairs. Clearly, the people for whom a Confederate victory would have had the direst and longest-lasting consequences are the African-Americans. There would not have been any need for post-slavery Jim Crow segregation laws in the South, because slavery would have continued. In the wake of defeat, the North might have continued to take in fugitive slaves as a way to damage the Southern economy – or it could have targeted the slaves as scapegoats and barred runaway blacks crossing the border between the two countries. Either way, life for blacks in an independent Confederacy would have been even more of a hell-on-earth that it was before the Civil War. Yes, this is all just speculation. There are infinite variations on alternate-history timelines. It is within the realm of possibility that that in some of those variations, less-disastrous outcomes might have occurred. Even so, a Confederate win would have destroyed the “one nation, indivisible” that went on to achieve greatness in the world of our timeline. Instead, the territory that nation now occupies would be the site of two, and perhaps more, counties perpetually at odds and sometimes at war with each other. So why in the world would anyone want to honor and revere the people who would have made that grim possibility a reality? There is no need to burn the flags of the Confederacy, nor melt down the statues of its heroes. But there is also no need to accord them positions of prominence that that implicitly extol an ideology that was vehemently opposed even during its heyday. If there were no contemporary dissent against slavery and secession, the Civil War would never have occurred. History needs to be preserved, within an appropriate context. Museums are the best place for monuments to the “Lost Cause.” Otherwise, they are nothing more than statues of limitation.
The Confederate statue issue is a cause du jour these days. I had heard a lot of them were erected in the 50s and 60s when Jim Crow was being dismantled. I had three ancestors in the Union Army in the Civil War. The Confederates made it easy to wage the Civil War by firing on Ft. Sumter and attacking a Federal armory in Missouri. Had they attempted no violence
and wait out the Union, public opinion would have been different.
I can remember Steve Tompkins demolished Charles Gramlich's defense of the South the with whole "unique culture" ox manure. Steve shut it down that the South's unique culture was slavery.
A situation of two geographical populations who grew to despise each other. The South certainly seemed to be preparing for war for at least a
decade. Jefferson Davis as Sec. of War tried to give as many commands to Southerners in the 1850s as he could to get them ready.
CRS: Thanks for that valuable information, Morgan.
Great read. Wow, so many possibilities. Thanks as always for the insightful writing.
CRS: And thank you for your support, Confidence.
If the Sword-and-Soul sub-genre were a relay race, I would be the starting runner. The person to whom I would hand the baton for the next leg is Milton Davis. This is not the most appropriate analogy, though. I haven't handed off any baton. Milton and I are running this race together, side-by-side. And ... there's no finish line. My hope is that Sword-and-Soul will go on indefinitely, with more and more authors creating more and more novels and short stories, as well as visual art.
One of Milton's novels, published in 2013, has already become a classic. Its title is Woman of the Woods, The story unfolds in Milton's alternate-world version of Africa known as Uhuru, which is also the setting for his ground-breaking Meji novels.
The title character is a warrior-woman named Sadatina. Adopted as an infant by a farming family, Sadatina grows up unaware of her destiny. One indication that she is not like other girls is her instinctual command of combat skills. Another is the bond she establishes with a pair of orphaned female lion cubs, who soon become her four-footed "sisters."
Beyond the boundaries of Sadatina's home community,dire events are occurring. An unholy alliance of humans, called the Mosele, and demonic beasts, called the nyoka, is seeking to dominate all of Uhuru. This conflict directly impacts Sadatina when she returns from a trip to find her home destroyed and her parents dead at the hands (and claws) of the nyoka.
With the help of her ferocious "sisters," Sadatina avenges the deaths of her parents. Then she becomes the "Woman of the woods," a reclusive slayer of nyokas and protector of her people.
One day, a mysterious stranger comes to her people's country: A warrior woman who is a member of the Shosa, an order of female soldiers who from the distant city of Wangara. Her name is Hazeeta, and it turns out that she is Sadatina's natural mother, who had been forced by unbending custom to give her daughter up soon after birth.
After a bittersweet reunion, Hazeeta takes Sadatina to Wangara, where it is expected that the young woman will undergo training to become a Shosa. But the free-spirited Sadatina balks at that prospect, and leaves Wangara to return to her role as "Woman of the Woods."
Years later, Sadatina has a change of heart, and she makes a second journey to Wangara, this time to stay. Not only does she become a Shosa, she rises to the top of the order, reaching the position of Nana -- a combination of commander and priestess.
In the meantime, ominous and momentous events continue to occur throughout the land. Two god-like entities, Karan and Rashadu, are fomenting mayhem and destruction. Humans and nyokas alike are locked in a dance of death, and Wangara itself is in peril.
With her lioness sisters at her side, and a talismanic magical sword named Judgment in her hand, Sadatina plays a pivotal role in this cataclysmic conflict. Before it ends, lives are lost, ancient wrongs are righted, and new beginnings rise from painful endings.
Although Woman of the Woods weighs in at 275 pages, those pages are packed with enough action, color, and spectacle to do justice to a novel twice its length. sometimes, it reads like an African counterpart to the Norse Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods. when Rashadu and Karan, along with Cha, the deity of deities, are in the house?
Woman of the Woods is not only one of the best Sword-and-Soul novels I've ever read; it's one of the best fantasy novels, period. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and order a copy at MVmedia Publishing The Best in Black Speculative Fiction! You'll be glad you did.
A day for rejoicing indeed! Allow me to add my congratulations on the new website and voice my delight to have you back with us. Like everyone else who already commented here, I've missed you .As for any "cultural appropriation" on your part, baloney! (I had a stronger expletive that also starts with the letter 'b' but we're keeping this family friendly, right?) You looked at a popular genre and saw that there was an Africa sized hole in that genre that needed to be filled and you went ahead and did so. It's not given to many to be the founding father of an entire new genre but you are. Rejoice in your accomplishments as we all who read and love your work do.
CRS: Thanks for the kind words, Derrick. I like that phrase, "Africa-sized hole."
At last, a new addition to my CRS collection... as soon as I can get the order in for a hardcopy version of Nyumbani Tales... and I remember with fondness and a bit of moisture in the corner of one eye the story of Amma. As for the "cultural appropriation" concern of yours, Charles... in one word... 'No!" You never were, never have been, never are, and never will be guilty of such a thing, and anyone who might infer otherwise is an idiot and deserves to be smothered in honey and dragged by wild asses through the fire ants colony field. There is a difference between cultural appropriation, with its disrespect (ranging from simple ignorance of those who copy sacred tattoos as part of their 'personal style' to the actual cultural artistic thieves), and cultural appreciation, which demonstrates complete respect (which all true martial artists embrace, as one example). The growing problem is the increasing number of morons who cannot tell the difference, but rather prefer to respond with kneejerk political correctness as they scold anyone and everyone in a blatant effort to show how "with it" they are. And that concludes my rant for the week. Try the veal, folks, it's delish! :)
CRS: Thanks for backing me up, Gregg. If anyone ever did accuse me of culturql appropriation, my response would be: "I am not Edgar Rice Burroughs." Nuff said?
Glad to see you back in the groove. I miss doing the work for your covers. Please feel free to ask for my services at any point. Peace and many blessings.
CRS: Your extraordinary covers for the Imaro and Dossouye books were, and still are, highlights for me, Mshindo. You can be sure I will be seeking more covers from you.
Ronald T. Jones
Charles, I read Nyumbani Tales and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am so glad you're back! I'm looking forward to more of your work and I'm eagerly awaiting Abengoni II!!!
CRS: Thanks, Ronald, and I look forward to seeing more of your work, too.
hi charles, your new website/blog looks great! i'm so glad you're back in the saddle. the universe and your fans have missed you. much love jude
CRS: Thanks, Jude. For those who do not know, Jude was one of my teaching colleagues long ago. I learned from her, too.
Keep up the good work, Charles.
CRS: Thanks, Cliff. For those who do not know, Cliff Bird is a friend/colleague/publisher whom I first met back in the 1970s.
Confidence Chizoro Ehieze-Okeke
Thanks for all your work and dedication Sir. I just finished Nyumbani Tales and thoroughly enjoyed it.
CRS: Thank you as well, Confidence. I'm glad you like the collection.
So glad/excited to see you back in the saddle. Nyumbani Tales was easily the S&S highlight of the past few years. Looking forward to what comes next from your pen.
CRS: Thank you, Fletcher, for your steadfast support.
Happy to have you back on-line, my friend. Here's wishing you continued creativity for as long as the Good Lord blesses us with your presence in this world. And a not on that first blog, I detest Political Correctness. It's a form of censorship/intimidation I will not ever yield. Freedom means saying what you want to say, even if it offends others. We all have the right to be offended. Anyhow, welcome back, you've been sorely missed.
CRS: The thing is, Ron, who defines "political correctness"?