A map of Africa with Egypt highlighted and Will Smith as a meme gesturing toward it

Yes, in my novel, the Ancient Egyptians are Black

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with an indie publisher[1] about an anthology project they’ve been wanting to do for a long time: speculative fiction stories set in Ancient Egypt where the only rule about the stories is that the authors must make it clear that the Egyptian characters are Black people. They told me every time they get ready to put the wheels in motion for this, they pull back after they ask themselves “Do I really want to deal with the grief and attacks I’m gonna get because of this?”

If your first thought upon reading this is “But of course the Ancient Egyptian characters should be Black Africans because the Ancient Egyptians were Black Africans…” or “But why would people give the publisher so much grief over this that the project keeps getting put on the shelf?” then you belong to the group of people who are attempting to live in a rational world where truth is real and things make sense. Not everyone lives in this world.

How do I know this? Well, there’s Fox News. But also, as previously mentioned, I’ve been researching Ancient Egypt off and on for over a decade, and in academic circles you will still find people arguing for how the Egyptians weren’t really African, or weren’t sub-Saharan African (which I guess is where all the Black Africans live. Above the Sahara they are so totes white), which is a holdover from the beginnings of Egyptology and archaeology in the West that are built on white supremacist ideas. The pyramids, the Great Sphinx, the many wonders of Egypt are very clearly the work of advanced, intelligent people. But Black folks are just tribal savages rolling around in the mud. Therefore…

Now, you won’t find too many modern academics being quite this blatant with their racism. You will find the average Joe from that forum you frequent wallowing in this nonsense while pretending that isn’t racist as fuck. For some more recent evidence of this, I invite you to venture into the comments of Scott Woods’ post on why The Gods Of Egypt is a terrible, racist movie. You will find therein people who argue vehemently that Ancient Egyptians were not Black like those other Africans, are kind Greek, or some other ridiculousness that I have likely erased from my memory. This is not new. Armchair historians who learned everything they know about the past from watching The Mummy[2] have been giving us this chin music for years.

So yeah, it is a bit of a radical act to stipulate that stories set in Ancient Egypt should have Black Egyptians and I can sort of understand not wanting to walk into that particular hornet’s nest willy nilly. Still though. I’m ready and waiting for this anthology to become a reality because I will just write a story set in the Steampunk Egypt world my novel is set in. Because, other than wanting to ensure the culture I crafted is matriarchal, my other base reality is that all the native Egyptians in the book are Black. I intend to mark their dark skin colors as often as I can get away with, and using language that makes it clear they and other people in Egypt consider that skin to be beautiful. Hell, everything about their features will be marked as the epitome of beauty and the standard by which people of nearby countries judge themselves by.

And if someone out there has a problem with it, I will compose a special song to sing for them that will go something like:

Just keep steppin’ / just keep steppin’ / get that racism out of my waaaaaay!

Just keep steppin’ / stay in your lane / or go right to hell to-daaaaaay.

And yeah, the next time you see me at a con I’ll sing that for you if you like.

Cuz look: Hollywood is gonna keep trying with this Egyptians Were White business. They haven’t lost enough money yet to stop. So other forms of art are going to have to carry this for now. So I challenge you to write stories with Black Egyptians and create art with Black Egyptians and sing songs about Black Egyptians. I know that’s what I plan to do.

Footnotes

  1. Whose name I won’t reveal here because they might not want everyone and their mama to know they have this opinion.[]
  2. Pick a version. Any version.[]
Tempest Challenge - History According to Women

History, According to Women | The Tempest Challenge

Today is the close of women’s history month! It doesn’t quite loom as large, or as annoyingly, as Black History Month in terms of the kinds of narratives it perpetuates about women. There’s still probably far too narrow a focus on what Women’s History means (I see a bunch of suffragette stuff bandied about). The thing that interests me most about women and history is how different history looks when women write it.

Take the research I’m currently engaged in. The novel I’m writing is a historical fantasy novel set in a real time in earth’s history. I’ve spent over a decade reading books and journal articles about Ancient Egypt for various versions of this project. A few years ago I hit a point where I decided that I just wasn’t going to read any more books on the subject written by men. The more I began to understand my research subject, the more I could see how much patriarchal nonsense plays a role in how everything from artifacts to culture are interpreted and presented.

I recently picked up Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman and found in the introduction a reaffirmation of the observations I’d made.

…another problem I encountered was the sexual and religious bias of many of the erudite scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most of the available information in both archaeology and ancient religious history was compiled and discussed by male authors. The overwhelming prevalence of male scholars, and the fact that nearly all archaeologists, historians and theologians of both sexes were raised in societies that embrace the male-oriented religions of Judaism or Christianity, appeared to influence heavily what was included and expanded upon and what was considered to be minor and hardly worth mentioning.

…Despite the discovery of temples of the Goddess in nearly every Neolithic and historic excavation, Werner Keller writes that the female deity was worshiped primarily on “hills and knolls,” simply echoing the words of the Old Testament. Professor W. F. Albright, one of the leading authorities on the archaeology of Palestine, wrote of the female religion as “orgiastic nature worship, sensuous nudity and gross mythology.” He continued by saying that “It was replaced by Israel with its pastoral simplicity and purity of life, its lofty monotheism and its severe code of ethics.” It is difficult to understand how these words can be academically justified after reading of the massacres perpetrated by the Hebrews on the original inhabitants of Canaan as portrayed in the Book of Joshua, especially chapters nine to eleven.

This part in particular caught my eye, given my proclivities:

In 1961 a series of mistakes was described by Professor Walter Emery, who took part in the excavations of some of the earliest Egyptian tombs. He tells us that “The chronological position and status of Meryet-Nit is uncertain, but there is reason to suppose that she might be the successor of Zer and the third sovereign of the First Dynasty.” Writing of the excavation of this tomb by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1900 he says, “At that time it was believed that Meryet-Nit was a king, but later research has shown the name to be that of a woman and, to judge by the richness of the burial, a queen.” He goes on to say, “In 1896 de Morgan, then Director of the Service of Antiquities discovered at Nagadeh a gigantic tomb which, from the objects found in it, was identified as the burial place of Hor-Aha, first king of the First Dynasty. However later research has shown that it is more probable that it was the sepulchre of Nit-Hotep, Hor-Aha’s mother.” And again he tells us that “On the mace of Narmer a seated figure in a canopied palanquin was once thought to be that of a man, but a comparison of similar figures on a wooden label from Sakkara shows that this is improbable and that it almost certainly represents a woman.” Yet, despite his own accounts of this series of assumptions that the richest burials and royal palanquins of the past were for men, rather than women, in describing the tomb of King Narmer he then states, “This monument is almost insignificant in comparison with the tomb of Nit-Hotep at Nagadeh and we can only conclude that this was only the king’s southern tomb and that his real burial place still awaits discovery …” Though some pharaohs did build two tombs, one might expect a “possibly” or “probably” rather than such an absolute conclusion and the implied dismissal of the possibility that, in that period of earliest dynastic Egypt, a queen’s tomb just might have been larger and more richly decorated than a king’s. (emphasis mine)

If you’re interested in this subject you should read the entire introduction because I can’t excerpt all the good parts here.

When God Was A Woman was written in the 1970s, but lo these almost 40 years later, this is still a problem. That’s because many of these foundational ideas of archaeology aren’t being challenged, they’re being taught. So new discoveries are often analyzed through these faulty, patriarchal lenses.

It’s not just men who do this, mind you. On one of my trips to Powell’s I came across a book I should have wanted to buy immediately: Nefertiti: Egypt’s Sun Queen by Joyce Tyldesley. But when I read the introduction I came across a paragraph that made me shut the entire thing and fling it back at the shelf.

The women of the 18th Dynasty enjoyed a freedom that made them unique in the ancient world. They had the same legal rights as men, and were permitted to own property, to work outside the home, and to live alone and raise their children without the protection of a male guardian.

Pause right here. This kind of paragraph can be found in many books or articles that tackle the subject of women in Ancient Egypt. These conclusions are based on several things, including existing records around Egyptian law, plus first person observations of historians and travelers from ancient times. This is where I wish most of these paragraphs would end. Yet there is always a But. Or, in this case, a:

Nevertheless, few women received a formal education and, in a country where maybe between two and ten per cent of the population was literate, few women could read or write. Women were not expected to train for careers.

Pausing again to slam my fist on a table. Because first, no one ever backs that bit about the formal education up with actual data and, second, what is the criteria for “formal education”? Is it “training men receive to do jobs generally done by men in these times”? I bet if you asked Joyce Tyldesley if masonry required a “formal education” she’d say yes, but if we asked her if weaving required one, she’d say no. And she’d be wrong.

Also, that line about “few women could read or write” is always, ALWAYS included in these things. But if less than ten percent of the population could read or write then that means few men could read or write, so why are we taking this time to single out women?

And finally, what constitutes a career in Ancient Egypt? Once again I’m going to bet if we asked, the answers would reveal this is some patriarchal nonsense. Because:

They were expected to marry and produce children, and mothers enjoyed a position of great respect within the home and the wider community. Nefertiti was no exception. Born a non-royal member of Egypt’s elite, she was married as a young girl to the most enigmatic individual in Egyptian history. By the age of thirty Nefertiti had borne at least six children and had transformed herself into a semi-divine human being. Meanwhile her husband, Akhenaten, had instigated a religious revolution and founded a capital city.

I don’t have time to dismantle all the nonsense around the idea of women being wives and mothers means they couldn’t have careers or read or anything, because this would turn into a book and other people have written far better ones on this than I could. But do you see how she positions Nefertiti as a person who was just expected to produce children, which she did, proving she was just like any other woman, but hey she was married to an extraordinary man! This is a book about Nefertiti.

You see why I put it back on the shelf.

And yeah, Joyce Tyldesley is a woman, and she still falls under the sway of patriarchal nonsense, because she was educated by the institutions that uphold it. That’s going to be true for many of the books I come across in my research quest. Still, of the books about Egypt, and about history in general, that I read, the ones I see stepping out of the shadow of patriarchy are all written by women. I’m more willing to give those books my time and money.

Many of the research books I’ve come across in the last few years are written by women who seem to acknowledge that early pioneers in this field had unexamined biases and that their conclusions and conjectures need not be dismissed, but rather re-examined in that light. Still, they are willing to step back and see new things, reach different conclusions, and present a different paradigm.

And that’s so important, not just in archaeology, but in many disciplines that examine the past. The assumptions and base viewpoints of the scholars doing the research will always have an impact. And it would not surprise me to find that across many different history categories there are women writing books, papers, articles, and more that are more willing to poke at those paradigms. It probably costs them to do so. That’s another good reason to seek out their work.

Here are my current favorite books that touch on Ancient Egypt written by women. I’m always on the hunt for new ones. If you know of any, please do share them in the comments.

When God Was A Woman by Merlin StoneWhen God Was A Woman by Merlin Stone

This book doesn’t focus on Egypt specifically, yet it’s been very valuable to me as I try to construct a matrifocal[1] culture for my book. Stone talks about the evidence she found for how spiritualities and religions with goddesses at the center as well as how women were treated in the cultures where this was prevalent. Then she goes into how matrifocal cultures were invaded and replaced by patrifocal ones. It’s all fascinating and still relevant many decades on. More relevant right now, I’d say.

Hathor Rising The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt by Alison Roberts Ph.D.Hathor Rising: The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt by Alison Roberts Ph.D.

The way Dr. Roberts illuminates the story of the goddess Hathor through textual, mythological, and archaeological evidence is amazing. Hathor is so much more than just Egypt’s Aphrodite, and is so intertwined with the other major female deities as well as the history and evolution of dynastic Egypt that I’m surprised more alternative Egyptologists don’t spend more time on her. The author is not necessarily of that alternative set; I do find it interesting that the press where she chose to publish this leans heavily toward books on spirituality and not serious books on Ancient Egypt.

The Dawning Moon of the Mind Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind MorrowThe Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind Morrow

If, like me, you have ever tried to read the Pyramid Texts or the so-called Book of the Dead and went: “The hell? This doesn’t make sense…” you need to read this book. It’s a new translation of the texts by a woman who understands poetry, knows multiple languages derived from Ancient Egyptian, and views the texts from a spiritual perspective most of the original translators don’t. The middle of the book is the straight up translation, but the first and third parts go through the texts line by line, column by column, explaining the author’s conclusions and readings. It’s so wonderful.

The Woman Who Would Be King Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara CooneyThe Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

I haven’t read this one yet! I’m recommending it, anyway, based on the reviews that I’ve read, including this one from a woman Egyptologist on Goodreads. Hatshepsut may be the protagonist of my next book in the Steampunk Egypt books, so this is near the top of my To Read pile. I am side-eyeing that cover, though.


I do have a few other go to Egyptology books that I always keep around written by men. So let’s not hear any of you saying BUT BUT BUT YOU’RE MISSING OUT BLAARRGGG because I’m not. Going forward, though, if an Egyptology book isn’t written by a woman or a trans person or a non-binary person, it’s going to have to prove itself to me in several specific ways before I get too deep into it.

For those who venture into the comments, which books about history written by women are your favorites?

Footnotes

  1. Matrifocal is a new term I heard at this year’s ICFA conference. It encompasses matriarchal and matrilineal, which aren’t exactly the same thing. It’s a nice umbrella term.[]
The Copper Scarab

Coming Soon: Clockwork Cairo

There’s a new steampunk anthology in town, and this one has a theme close to my heart: steampunk stories with an Egyptian theme. It’s called Clockwork Cairo and it’s coming out in May from TwoPenny Press. The antho features my first original short story in a long while: The Copper Scarab. It’s set in the same world as the steampunk Ancient Egypt novel I’m writing.

The art above is the frontispiece to the story and I am super excited about it. My first story art!

You can pre-order the anthology right now. If you’re curious about the story, I posted the opening over on my Patreon page (for patrons only). You can also hear me read from it at AnomalyCon!

Book Trailer: Untitled Egyptian Steampunk Novel In Progress

Can one have a book trailer for a book that isn’t quite written yet? Dunno, but I decided to make one, anyway. Given that I have no budget and only rudimentary video editing skills, this was always going to look very DIY. Enjoy…

Teehee.

As you may have surmised, this is part of the video I made for my Patreon page. I’m in the middle of draft 2 of this novel and I’m looking for some support as I write it. If you become my patron, you can see excerpts from the book each month or even read along as I write one chapter per week. The draft is still pretty rough, so I cannot promise you polished.

I’ll also post about some of my writing process, including the quite intriguing research I’ve done and will do for this book.

Plus there will be deleted scenes, DVD extras, and microfiction every month. I have reward levels starting at $1 per month on up to $25.

In the Shadow of the Towers cover

Coming this September: In the Shadow of the Towers anthology

In the Shadow of the Towers cover

Douglas Lain put together a fantastic new anthology called In the Shadow of the Towers: Speculative Fiction in a Post-9/11 World, and I have a story in it! Until Forgiveness Comes, to be exact. I’m quite honored to be in the company of so many great stories. Particularly There’s A Hole In The City by Richard Bowes, still one of the best post-9/11 stories I’ve ever read.

Pub date is September 1, and you can pre-order the book now from Powell’s or Amazon.

The version of the cover I grabbed off of Amazon is different from the one I saw on Doug Lain’s website a while ago. That version did not have my name on the cover. No idea which is the final, so I guess it will be a fun surprise! (I honestly don’t think it’ll be this version.)

I’m trying to decide if there’s still a chance at getting the radio play version of this produced before September. The script is done, I’d just need a cast, a place to record, a director…. You know, minor stuff.

“Why I Don’t Drink Anymore”

If you’ve been to my website recently you may have noticed that I changed the theme dramatically. Along with that I’ve been cleaning up some of the pages and making this place a more useful calling card for myself.

Right now I’m working on the Fiction page. It’ll probably be done by the time you read this. In the process of checking links I discovered that a story I published long, long ago at Abyss & Apex no longer exists on the website. That’s not a huge surprise. I think the archives got pruned long ago. And none of the editors working there now were working there back then.

I dug the page out of the Wayback Machine to reclaim the story, which I remembered as being rather short. I was right. Here it be:

Why I Don’t Drink Anymore

by not-K Tempest Bradford because I had a different pen name then

I’m sitting at my favorite café drinking absinthe when this guy comes up to me.

You’re a writer, aren’t you? he says.

Yeah, I says. How did you know?

You have that Hemingway thing going on, he says. Sitting around in a café all day. Drinking absinthe. Scribbling in your little notebook.

At this point I’m starting to get offended.

This isn’t Paris, you know, he says. This is Oregon. And you’re drinking in the middle of the day. Do you know what we call you types where I come from? Drunks. Damn drunks.

Then he walks away.

Oh, did I mention that this guy was a big scary eight foot tall monster with six arms? What a loser.

Would you like to nominate me for awards? I would not object.

Earlier this month when I posted my personal Best Of list of short stories for the year, I stated that I would like to see any of those works nominated for awards. This is very true. Later on I’ll also make a post about other folks or works I think deserving of nominations, including novels and such. But this post is all about me.

Yes, it’s completely selfish, blah blah. Moving on.

I had a handful of pieces published in 2012, both fiction and non. And since it’s all the rage to mention lately, I am eligible to be nominated for the Fan Writer Hugo based on my blogging and other non-professional publications, such as this piece that went up on io9.

As far as fiction, my story “The Birth of Pegasus” in Dark Faith: Invocations is under 7,500 and eligible for the Hugo, World Fantasy, and Nebula awards. My story “Uncertainty Principle” in Diverse Energies is over 8,000 words (I believe), so counts as a novelette for the Hugo and Nebula awards.

I would also love to see Chicks Unravel Time nominated for Best Related Work in the Hugos. That’s not just about me, but about all the really amazing contributors to the book and the editors who so wisely put it together.

So there you go, my award eligibility for 2012 stuff. Act on it as you will.

Story Notes: Uncertainty Principle (from Diverse Energies)

So I may have jumped the gun a bit early on the release date for Diverse Energies! However, according to the publisher, it is available now. And I’m seeing it in eBook format on Amazon and B&N, so I suspect print copies will be forthcoming very soon. Check your local, indie book sellers first!

I’m looking forward to hearing from people who read the stories to see what everyone thinks. Rachel Manija-Brown wrote a very thoughtful review here which then led into this post about dystopias and genre labels. One thing I find intriguing is that where Rahul Kanakia was told to write an SF action story, I was told to write a dystopia, yet his story is way more classic dystopia and mine has little shades of it but is more actiony.

Given the discussion on that post, I thought I’d give folks who read my story “Uncertainty Principle” a little peek into the background of it and my thinking around the whole dystopia thing.

As you might expect, these story notes are full of spoilers, so they’re going behind a cut. Don’t read unless you’ve read the story or don’t mind knowing some things about it! (also, ‘ware spoilers in the comments.)

Continue reading “Story Notes: Uncertainty Principle (from Diverse Energies)”

I Still Have That Dream

I Still Have That Dream

Been wondering why I’m in such a funk lately, then my calendar reminded me again this morning that today is my mother’s birthday. Her name is Marjorie Bradford and she died 13 years ago now, but the pain feels pretty fresh whenever I stop to think about her (which is often).

For many years after her death I tried to write a story that encapsulated how I felt about what happened and how much I loved her, but nothing ever came out quite right.

After she died, I had tons of dreams about her, but most of them had a common theme. In them, I was often aware that I only had a little bit of time to spend with her because I understood that she was sick and still dying. In some dreams she was very sick, in others almost completely healthy. A few times in my dreams I even asked her “How much time do we have?” and she’d say “Only a little while” or “A few days” or something.

It was as if, in my dreamscape, I was able to roll back the clock a little and revive her, but not completely and for good.

In mulling over why she almost always manifested in this way in my dreams led me to finally being able to write a story about her that did all of my memories and feelings and her impact on me justice. The story is “Elan Vital” and you can read or listen to it over at Escape Pod.

I’ve never read that story in public and probably never will because any attempt to do so will end up with me curling up in a ball sobbing. I don’t even read it to myself for that same reason.

However, when the story first appeared on the podcast I saw so many people praising the reading of it, I decided to listen to just a few minutes. I ended up listening to the whole thing. Mur Lafferty, as you may know, is an extremely talented reader. She did such justice to that story I can’t praise her enough.

Happy birthday, mom. I miss you and love you and I still have that dream.

Diverse Energies Launches Today!

Diverse EnergiesThe Diverse Energies anthology is now officially available in fine bookstores near you. Find it at a local, independent bookstore through IndieBound or grab it from Barnes & Noble or Amazon. I haven’t yet seen any eBook versions, but I think you’ll be able to find them through GoodReads.

Diverse Energies has 11 stories on a dystopian them for YA readers. Editors Tobias S Buckell and Joe Monti wanted to create an anthology full of characters that reflected the diversity they see in their own lives, so all of the protagonists are of color. Many of the authors are of color as well, and the stories well up from our perspective and experiences.

My story, “Uncertainty Principle”, features a girl of mixed Latina and Middle Eastern background who finds that the world changes around her — big changes that no one else but her notices.

Here’s the full TOC:

“The Last Day” by Ellen Oh
“Freshee’s Frogurt” by Daniel H. Wilson
“Uncertainty Principle” by K. Tempest Bradford
“Pattern Recognition” by Ken Liu
“Gods of Dimming Light” by Greg van Eekhout
“Next Door” by Rahul Kanakia
“Good Girl” by Malinda Lo
“A Pocket Full of Dharma” by Paolo Bacigalupi
“Blue Skies” by Cindy Pon
“What Arms to Hold” by Rajan Khanna
“Solitude” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Thus far I’ve seen many positive reviews of the book from advance readers. The Kirkus review even mentions my story:

Readers will find poor children working in mines and factories, a have-not yao boy kidnapping a rich you girl and a girl reeling as the world inexplicably changes around her, and no one else notices. Although many stories imagine bleak futures, their tones are refreshingly varied. Daniel Wilson’s tale of a robot attack at a frozen-yogurt shop takes the form of an almost-comical police-interview transcript. Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Solitude” is a sweeping, nostalgic epic. K. Tempest Bradford’s “Uncertainty Principle” is a character-driven time-travel tale. Understanding many of the stories takes patience: Readers are plunged quickly into complex worlds, and exposition often comes slowly.

There are a couple of other reviews that mention it as well, but everything is full of spoilers!

If you read the book and like it, please let folks know and leave reviews where possible. Also, buy it for the young persons in your life who like SF or like to read anything and everything.