Welcome to the show. Oh. Thank you for having me. And congratulations on, uh, what we’re hoping will be
another smash hit, Riot Baby. Many people have referred
to this as one of your more dystopian, uh, pieces
that you’ve put together. You-You’ve written
multiple stories in and around the world
of science fiction. What is Riot Baby all about? So, Riot Baby is the story
of these two siblings, Ella and Kev, who grow up in the shadow
of the Rodney King, uh, riots -in L.A.
-Right. And their story takes them from,
you know, South Central to Harlem uh, to Rikers
and then back to Watts. And as they grow up,
they’re dealing with issues of structural racism,
uh, mass incarceration, police brutality, all while developing
superpowers. Yes, that seems
like a-a lot to handle as a– as an adolescent
growing up. -Very charged adolescence, yeah.
-Racism and superpowers
at the same time. -The same time.
-It-It’s fascinating, because you-you write
these stories, -and you-you’re a big science
fiction lover. -Oh, yeah. You know what I mean? And that’s
what your stories are about. But you do weave in real life. Some might say,
“But, Tochi, why do that? “Real life is already real life. Why not just make it
science fiction?” Is science fiction
the place of social commentary? Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think
there’s a very rich history in science fiction and fantasy of exactly that type
of social commentary. I mean, the wonderful thing
about the genre is that it operates, uh,
on two levels simultaneously, -metaphor and reality.
-Mm-hmm. So, you know,
the issues are stories of-of first contact with aliens are also stories
about colonialism. You know,
the X-Men as a metaphor for the civil rights struggle. You know,
the whole dying Earth subgenre -of sci-science fiction and
fantasy, climate change. -Yes. And so I think,
in science fiction and fantasy, you have a very particular set
of tools at your disposal to explore really intense issues -of say gender or race
or what have you. -Right. And so, I mean, this was
exactly the type of-of sandpit that I wanted to engage with
these issues in. Do you find
that it-it connects with people in a way
that they’re not expecting when they read
about a-a “fictitious” world that’s not really our world -and-and there’s superpowers
and there’s magic? -Mm. Do you find it becomes easier
for people to engage in conversations about race
and-and, you know, sexism and misogyny
when it is in a “fantasy” world than if you just write a book
about real life? Oh, absolutely. I mean,
because there’s that, uh, story. You know, this isn’t an essay. -This isn’t a reported piece.
-Yes. You know, we’re not dealing
with facts, per se. But, at the same time,
we are, I think, able to get to a deeper truth with regards to the storytelling and the way
that storytelling can operate -as a vehicle into that.
-Mm-hmm. Um, I mean, there are people
who, uh, are going to decide not to have their mind changed
by a story. Um, you know,
they should still buy the book. -(laughter)
-Um… But, uh, you know, it’s-it’s a very different way
of engaging, where I could have people
who don’t share my politics, -for instance, who, uh,
might still find a story -Yes. -that…
-That’s interesting. Exactly.
That is appealing to them in this story of these two
siblings with superpowers. Some have called it dystopian
though. They say, like, “Tochi, I mean,
we’ve read the book.” I’ve read a few people–
you know, like, a few critics who say,
“It’s a great book, but, whew, Tochi really thinks
of this dystopian world.” Do you–
do you view it as dystopian? No, actually.
I mean, there’s a-a bit of near future towards
the end of the book, but I’ve always found the dystopian commentary
fascinating, because a lot of what’s depicted
in Riot Baby is what’s going on now, um, with regards to the issues that African Americans in
America are having to deal with. -Mm-hmm. -Uh, you know, the
section that’s set in Harlem, where, you know, these two kids
are having to deal with, you know,
super violent police, -that’s all happening right now.
-Mm-hmm. And so it’s interesting
seeing people attach the dystopian label
to this narrative, because what’s dystopian
for some is just reality for us. Man. That’s deep. If you had one superpower
to fight any ill in the world, -what would it be?
-(exhales) Oh, my goodness. You’d-you’d think I’d have a
faster answer to this question, uh…
(laughs) because of how much I-I deal
with superpowers in my stories. -Yes. -I think
it’d be really cool to fly. -You-you would fly?
-I would fly. So, like, there’s, like,
racial injustice -and it’s like, “Look!
-(laughing) That guy’s flying!” (applause) -But…
-“I mean… “we’re still getting pulled over
by the cops, “but that, uh… that brother’s in the sky.” -But, but if I..
-(laughs) if I train properly– and this is the anime geek
in me coming out– if I train properly,
I can develop the strength and the capacity
to carry others on my back. -Oh…
-(awwing) -That’s– Okay.
-(cheering and applause) I see what you did there. I see
what you did there. Thank you so much
for coming on the show. Riot Baby is a beautiful,
fascinating story, and it’s available now.
Tochi Onyebuchi, everybody.