Sabina England’s Interview with J. Austin Yoshino, Black-Japanese Muslim Sci-Fi Author & Blogger

Sabina England:

There are some people in my life who have greatly helped me and gave me encouragement for my creative projects as an artist, filmmaker, performer, and writer. One of these people is J. Austin Yoshino, a Sci-Fi writer, entrepreneur, blogger, and tech geek, who lives and works in Washington DC. He is a Muslim of African American and Japanese descent. I first met him online a few years ago through a Muslim social networking website, which has now gone defunct. We both became friends due to our mutual interests in Islam, horses, martial arts, Sci-Fi, religion & spirituality, race & social issues, and astronomy / UFOs / paranormal subjects.

J. Austin Yoshino is one of the coolest cats I know- he’s practically an expert in everything. Every time I’d ask him a question about this or that, he’d almost always have an answer. He’s like a walking Encyclopedia! Anyway, he is a successful entrepreneur who has his own media / digital company, and now he has started his own website called Fresh Pulp Magazine and I decided to interview him to help get the word out. You should totally check out Fresh Pulp, be sure to “like” the Facebook page, and get the word out. Fresh Pulp Magazine is still in its early stages of development, so I’m excited to see what comes out of it.

Sabina: Why did you decide to start Fresh Pulp Magazine, and what kind of contents do you plan to publish in the near future?

J. Austin Yoshino: I decided to start Fresh Pulp Magazine about 10 years ago honestly.  I had so much work (from my day job) that I found it really hard to sit down and actually do it.  I had several friends who were writers all over Asia, Africa and the Middle East and I knew conceptually where I wanted to go.  I was inspired by those people because there writing was not euro or amero centric at all.  My goal is to publish that kind of content because I recognized that these new perspectives were very powerful and fresh.  I want other westerners to see this too.  It was very eye opening.  I’m really on the prowl for POC short fiction right now.  My goal is to create an environment that celebrates fiction from a variety of different backgrounds and ethnicities.  Despite such strong similarities amongst the various culture we too often view or treat each other with such suspicion and enmity.  I feel like if we can enjoy each others’ fiction we might have a better shot at understanding one another and perhaps even find some appreciation and fellowship with one another.

Sabina: We’ve talked a few times about Sci-Fi literature, and I know that’s one of your favourite fields. Is there a particular Sci-Fi novel that has really influenced you and made an impact on your thinking and the way you view the world? Also, Are there any POC Sci-Fi writers or novels that you can recommend?

J. Austin Yoshino: I was a big reader of “cyberpunk” novels in the 80’s and 90’s.  There was very little in the way of African American or writers of color in that sub-genre at the time.  But then, we didn’t have Amazon or the same access to books that we do today.  But I do remember coming across and author by the name of Steven Barnes.  I found his novel in a used book store it was called “Gorgon Child”.  It was hardcore cyberpunk and if I remember correctly the protagonist was black or at least the guy on the cover was.  

I remember being influenced by this work because there was a cultural sensibility and sensitivity that the character had that I found absent in other works.  I knew then that I wanted to write in this specific sub-genre.  He affected my view of the world because up to that point I was an angry young black man looking for an outlet.  And as many tend to do when it comes to their own pain or perceived shortcomings they fixate on themselves and their own problems.  ”Gorgon Child” showed me that there were others out there like me, not all black, yet suffering from the same dynamic.  As a person and as a writer, it showed me that we can use our experiences and our individual pain to empathize with others and perhaps even find solace in each others’ experiences

There are so many prolific writers of color and not all of them are black or African American.  Octavia Butler, I feel, is a must read.  She was a wonderful writer and had this fantastic way of making her novels relevant to all people of color.  Despite the fact that her protagonists were black and female in many cases the interactions those characters had with other characters made the narrative applicable to a wide range of people.  I’ve recently discovered Tananaive Due and Nalo Hopkinson, two African American female writers that are excellent.  Charles Tan is another one out of Asia, or at least of Asian descent.  Jhumpa Lahiri is very talented as well though very far afield of what I normally read (Sci-Fi), but it was a wonderfully powerful glimpse into South Asian life.

Sabina: Recently, you had written a post on Fresh Pulp Magazine about the symbol of the undead (“zombies”) that were actually a metaphor for people in the global south and the rise of their power and influence in the modern world. I’d never thought of it in that way, but I’ve seen a lot of complaints online from people about how Hollywood, comic books, and videogames, tend to portray disaster victims (victims of disaster, famine, easily spread disease, etc.) as being people of color and dark skinned people from the global south, who are left dying in a catastrophe while white people get to survive.

It’s the same for zombies who are portrayed as dark skinned or people of color. Sometimes I feel that the horror genre is very misogynistic and racist, because the first victims of genocide, disaster, or a slasher tend to be a woman (either a woman of color or white), or a man of color. As a movie buff and as a lover of genres like horror, suspense, and Sci-fi, I find it very hard to enjoy watching films like that. Do you think that Sci-Fi can be a better genre than others and be more egalitarian and open-minded toward many different people of color, ethnicities, sexual orientations and disabilities?

J. Austin Yoshino: The truth is most genre’s can be better with their portrayals of ethnic and gender minorities.  Horror doesn’t quite have the flexibility that Sci-Fi does and neither do catastrophe films.  But I think this narrow perspective can be a perfect mode through which to demonstrate the human-ness of us all.  At the end of the day people of color are no less affected by horror and catastrophe than anyone else, and in many case more, especially when you consider vast cultural differences or socioeconomic disparities.  

But Sci-Fi has the unique possibility of looking forward, at the future.  Any one of us can imagine a future world where all of us exist, where we are all enfranchised and empowered politically and economically.  What would be the point of living otherwise?  The flip side of that coin is to imagine ourselves collectively being affected by the same dystopic occurrence.  These are perfect opportunities to imagine a time where we come together, all of us, to overcome adversity and to cast our reactions and reasoning in disparate yet appropriate cultural perspective.  Up to this point, Sci-Fi has been used to largely reinforce modern stereotypes (the black thug, the nerdy Asian engineer or scientist).  These are roles that are, at best, marginalizing and at worst, dismissive or racist.  To answer the question: Science Fiction has the most potential for being open minded and challenging cultural and gender roles and biases, but it is also the least fulfilled when you consider this.

Sabina: Since you are a Sci-Fi writer, what is your take on the paranormal? Do you believe in aliens, UFOs, or ghosts? Do you believe the “truth is out there”?

J. Austin Yoshino: As a science fiction writer I absolutely believe in UFOs, alien life and other paranormal events.  The idea, first of all, that we are alone in the universe is and extremely arrogant assertion.  Hell, before 2 years ago we didn’t even know that there was water on the moon.  This is an object that orbits our own planet and we still don’t know all there is to know about it.  It seems like every week we are discovering something about our galaxy that we didn’t know before.  I also believe it is likely that we have been, and to some extent are being visited by, beings from other worlds.  So much ancient literature and pictographs across the world depict, quite clearly, some things that could easily be advanced species visiting earth and even interacting with us.  

Is there room for skepticism? Sure.  

But healthy skepticism is was keeps us searching for definitive proof. Unhealthy skepticism is for those faithless individuals who would rather sit on their sofas than almost anything else.  I’m skeptical of naysayers and their motives.  In terms of the paranormal, yes I believe in ghosts, spirits etc.  Despite the fact that most of the proof is anecdotal, there is simply too much of it to dismiss out of hand.  The human capacity for denial is extraordinary and this should be factored into disbelief.  The truth isn’t “out there”, it’s right in front of us.  UFOs and aliens require an understanding of the universe the paranormal requires an understanding of the self.  Unfortunately, at this stage of our evolution, there is simply too little of either.  But we are getting there, and we will once people realize that new discoveries don’t have to challenge their most sacred beliefs.

Sabina: A while ago, you told me that you wrote a story about Muslim punks in space. From how you described the story, I thought it sounded cool. I think you had mentioned that it was accepted for publication in a Japanese magazine. Is there any way we can read a version online?

J. Austin Yoshino: Yes there are two stories.  One is about Muslim punks in a dark near future, and another about a Muslim military officer sent on a campaign against an alien race.  The latter was accepted for publication by a Japanese publication but was subsequently shelved for reasons you don’t have to be a genius to figure out.  For obvious reasons I won’t mention the name of the publication.  That is the downside.  The upside is that since the rights have reverted exclusively to me I will be electronically publishing the work in the not too distant future.

Sabina: If you can travel at thousands of light years in space, where would you go?  (for example: is there a particular planet, exoplanet, constellation, etc… that you’d like to visit?)

J. Austin Yoshino: If I were to visit a planet it would probably be Gliese 667.  There are a series of planets in that system and this one is the only one that might be habitable.  I first learned of this planet when researching a story and apparently is has water and other things that could support life.  It’s only about 20 light years from us and I would like to get there pretty quickly.  If another planet was discovered that was really exotic and had many life forms like earth I might pick that one.  I think having a breathable atmosphere would be a requirement for me.  I don’t like the idea of having to walk around in an environmental suit.  I would like to interact with the environment in a meaningful way; hold rocks or sand in my hand, drink water from fresh sources, feel wind or rain on my face etc.

J. Austin Yoshino was interviewed by Sabina England

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