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Steven Barnes

(b. 1952)


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(b. 1952), novelist, short story writer, television script writer, screenplay writer, lecturer, creative consultant, and martial arts authority.

A Los Angeles native and later resident of Vancouver, Washington, Steven Emory Barnes is the third African American author after 1960 to have chosen science fiction and fantasy writing as his primary profession. Barnes established himself through the 1980s as a determined and disciplined writer, one who had followed a cherished childhood dream to become a commercially successful professional writer.

The youngest child of Emory F. Barnes and Eva Mae (Reeves) Barnes, Steven Barnes grew up in Los Angeles. He attended Los Angeles High, Los Angeles City College, and Pepperdine University, Malibu, California (1978–1980). At Pepperdine he majored in communication arts but withdrew from school before completing a degree, frustrated because he thought no one on the faculty could teach him about building a career as a professional writer. It was not until Barnes made contact with established science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who sent the novice writer two encouraging letters after reading some of his stories, and with film director, producer, and scriptwriter John Landis, who also encouraged him, that Barnes began to feel he could be successful. Recognizing that more guidance from working writers could help him learn his craft, in 1979 Barnes sought out well-established science fiction author Larry Niven at the Burbank Science Fiction and Fantasy Club and began a literary apprenticeship with him.

From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s the mentoring arrangement between Niven and Barnes proved very productive, resulting in five coauthored novels. As a team the two wrote the progressively linked Dream Park novels, a combination of action-suspense and thriller-science fiction set in a near-future, highly technological, Disneyesque theme park. Dream Park (1981), The Barsoom Project (1989), and The California Voodoo Game (1991) comprise the trilogy. Barnes and Niven also collaborated on The Descent of Anansi (1982) and Achilles’ Choice (1991). In 1987 and in 1995, Barnes joined forces with both Niven and Jerry Pournelle to produce The Legacy of Heorot (1987) and Beowulf's Children (1995).

Working independently, Barnes wrote The Kundalini Equation (1986), a novel based upon East Indian myths, and three other books featuring the larger-than-life martial arts expert and zero-gravity “nullboxer” Aubry Knight. Knight became Barnes's black mythic champion, his response to a childhood diet of comic books and fantasy tales without positive images of African Americans performing heroic acts. While young, Barnes began creating his own dark-hued imitation Conan stories to help establish a context for his life. Believing myths are vitally important to all cultures, he went on to fashion the heroic Aubry Knight, who represents an outgrowth of Barnes's understanding of the popular, and profitable, fantastic hero. Giving more flesh to the type, Barnes drew Aubry as a man capable of growth; his Knight must learn what it is to become human, to become a man and not just a fighter. The shattered, vicious, and seemingly dystopian universe Knight inhabits reflects Barnes's fascination with anger and violence, his insight into what he deemed as “the dark side” of human nature or the “dark side of the force.” Yet after Aubry Knight has been through hell and back in Streetlethal (1983) and Gorgon Child (1989), when he reappears in FireDance (1993) the world has become more stable, and he has evolved to become a more balanced, mature man. Growth, balance, the unity of mind, body, and spirit, the sometimes thin line between feeling and action— these are all undercurrents in Barnes's independent novels.

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Subjects: Literature.


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