Tenea D. Johnson lives near the Gulf of Mexico where she builds an arts & empowerment enterprise. Her short fiction appears in anthologies like Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, Sycorax's Daughters, and Blue and Gray: Ghost Stories from the Civil War. Her musical stories were heard at venues including The Public Theater and The Knitting Factory. Her books include Starting Friction, Smoketown, R/evolution, Evolution, Blueprints for Better Worlds, and the brand new Broken Fevers. Publisher's Weekly had this to say about her new release: "The 14 hard-hitting, memorable short stories and prose vignettes in this powerhouse collection from Johnson … are astounding in their originality." Her virtual home is teneadjohnson.com. Stop by anytime.

Blueprints for Better Worlds by Tenea D. Johnson

Two girls barely in their teens devise an escape from a world abandoned by the privileged, ravaged by climate change, and losing its way. Will they find what the world has lost and what they've so far only found in one another?

Can a manufactured heaven floating amongst the stars provide more than illusions of perfection? How might it improve the world that its customers vacated?

When all you have left is the space between you, can you overcome the distance, and what might be lurking in the things that you don't say, the days you can't share, the secrets you keep from yourself?

In the absence of government, how can the people left behind avoid a grim fate of air thinner by the day, hope thinner by the hour?

Is home where you're from or how it treats you? How much a home is a place where you're not equal? Might you change that by stepping into another person's life? Or stepping into new territories within your own?

Once forever is attainable what will it be spent on and in this ultimate success of sustainability who decides what exactly should be sustained?

Only one way to find out.

From award-winning author Tenea D. Johnson comes Blueprints for Better Worlds. In these linked stories, discover.


Blueprints for Better Worlds is about creating a world you want to live in — whether that's amongst the stars, in a search for retribution or trying to hold onto a planet on the edge of ecological ruin and the people falling off it. It's my linked novella birthed from the impulse of how to make stories manifest. There's a prize inside. Read it to find it. – Tenea D. Johnson



  • "Through stories stitched together through time and space, Tenea D. Johnson masterfully crafts science fiction with a deep care for humanity. Set in a future left behind by our present-day environmental disregard, Blueprints for Better Worlds does not let us look away from the consequences of our actions, or more accurately, inactions. The protagonists, who fight to survive despite every treacherous landscape, caution and alert us of a time in which people will be forced to build better worlds. These are the stories of our future that we need to read right now."

    – Gloria Muñoz, author of Danzsirley / Dawn's Early, winner of the Ambroggio Prize
  • "In Blueprints for Better Worlds, Johnson brings the full force of her poetic voice to examine the far-future of human life on a ruined Earth. In juxtaposing hardscrabble existence on an earthly dystopia with the lure of purported comfort of life on an interstellar cruiser, Johnson's stories evoke the dissonance of our own modern life, with its perpetual interplay between what is and what could be."

    – Nicole Kimberling, Lambda Award-winning author of Turnskin
  • "In this chilling, evocative, and action-packed science fiction novella, two preteen girls, Jak and Clem, try to escape what's left of our home planet for the promise of life on other worlds, where equality for all may finally be the norm. As Jak and Clem discover over the years, however, earthlings should be careful what they ask for. Wise and wildly propulsive, Tenea D. Johnson's Blueprints for Better Worlds delivers unforgettable speculative adventure for our times."

    – Lisa Lanser Rose, author of the memoir, For the Love of a Dog, and the novel, Body Sharers, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for Best First Novel.



Jak and Clem made their first sun out of reflectors and foil insulation pulled from the wrecked copters that littered the Gog. All those copters had crashed in unison, right along with shuttles and lifts, rockets and airliners all over North America. But for a few intact blades and the fuselage of one that looked like it hadn't got 10 feet off the ground, in the Gog, you couldn't tell they'd been helicopters. But everyone, everywhere, had seen the footage.

It'd happened long before either Jak or Clem was born, before the first alien contact, before the sea swallowed all but the world's peaks. But not before pollution's haze dimmed the sky.

The beat up bit of Arkansas where they lived still got streaks of blue sky but in most places, strong, natural light became a thing to long for, and for the girls, one to harness.

To Jak and Clem, the Gog's ruins were more treasure than tragedy.

They could create possibilities with those ruins, make progress, fix some of the broken they'd been born to.

They built their sun to bounce light into the deepest corners of Clem's tenement. That sun's light ran through the big adobe warren of three hundred, past the hydroponic garden in the basement, straight down to the subbasement where Clem's grandmother fed the kiln that fired the pots she traded for her and Clem's food.

Everything was work here. That is until the spring Clem met Jak and the Gog became more than the edge of a boneyard.

Still, the two of them built the best parts of it, two wild-headed girls barely into their teens.

So when a gale scattered their sun into oblivion, plunging Clem's grandmother, Triz, and the tenements' subfloor farmers back into the dark, Grand called on the girls to make another.

She called as the two of them lay face up, head to head, on a patch of grass surrounded by a sea of thin dirt that lay just outside of the tenement's shadow. Grand's voice cut though the orange murk of dusk, and their conversation.

Respirators covered the bottom half of their faces, but even those didn't hinder their talk. The girls paused when Grand called, then went on sharing their dreams of space—the regular meals and clean water, the better life that beckoned them offworld. But also the yawning spaces between ships and what prizes they might find there.

They spoke of flying away in the newmoon starfarer, of the end of gravity, and their best breaths released into a capsule that could clean them so they wouldn't come hacking back every time their respirators clogged.

Grand called again.

A third call without a response would get Clem chores enough to fill a whole day. Clem pinched either side of the clean cell on her respirator and yelled back, "Coming!"

She rolled over onto her stomach and peered down at Jak. Clem moved her head so her afro blocked out the warmth that could have hit Jak, made a face that said, "So" and cocked her head.

Jak had tried to convince her to loc her hair like Jak's but Clem preferred it grow out, not down, no matter how long it took to comb out. She didn't tell Jak she wouldn't be able to do this anymore if she did, but it figured somewhere in her decision.

"Coming?" Clem asked.

Jak looked past her friend to the edges of dark quickly approaching.

"I ought to get back. Gotta seal up before the cold comes," Jak replied.

"Your place has a seal?" Clem asked, one eyebrow arched. Curiosity about where exactly Jak lived flared every evening they parted, every time Clem watched Jak walk beyond the rubble walls that bordered the tenement's south side and disappear into the dark.

Jak flicked her gaze from the sky to Clem's face. Jak's respirator shifted a bit. Clem couldn't see behind it, but would bet she was smirking. Jak arched her eyebrow slightly, made a noncommittal noise and got up, careful not to clip Clem as she rose.

"Tell your Grand I said 'hello'," Jak replied. 


Jak should have known that sun wouldn't survive the winds here. She'd figured in the effects of heat and sand but hadn't adequately accounted for the velocity of the wind. The new sun would require a sturdier base and reflective pieces that would move with the gusts, not resist them.

She reached into a front pocket of her pants and removed the sketch she'd drawn last night. Jak preferred straight pants to the folds of fabric Clem sported. A bit of breeze stirring around her legs couldn't beat the ease straight pants gave an unexpected run. Quiet as these parts had been since she arrived, Jak believed in staying ready so she wouldn't have to get ready. That was the only lasting thing Mite ever said to her, but it had stuck when everything else fell away.

Jak's fingertips bumped along the rough, thick sheet as she opened the square of paper. After a quick look, she flipped it over to the list of materials, handed it over to Clem.

Clem shielded her eyes from a gust of sand and angled the list up, nodding as she read. As Clem walked over the small jagged rocks and bones underfoot, not quite buried in the sand, Jak watched her slow and stop, then scan the horizon. Jak followed her gaze to the eastern edges of the Gog where the swollen belly of a military cargo aircraft lay cracked open and filled with sand, all but its edges hidden from view. That part of the Gog might yield smaller pins and shanks they could use to hold the sun together. With few windbreaks, parts had scattered and broken down quicker, which made it easier to find the small bits without having to disassemble much, and if those parts could survive the initial impact and years of exposure here, they'd easily keep the new construction together.

Wind kicked up out of nothing and blew a wave of sand across her and Clem's feet and legs. Grudgingly Jak pulled her respirator off a loop in her pants and put it on just as Clem did the same. Jak inched her gaze west, trying to decide on the most efficient path to find what they required. She took the Gog in as she thought it over. Much as the phantom sun had bleached most of the Gog to one washed out shade of old, the place had an eerie beauty. The shades of brown and yellow, often yielded bands of gold, both pale and rich, in the hills behind the tufts of grass and cacti. Hardy shrubs clung to the parched land, held in place by deep roots that found water far beneath the dust. Amongst the metal wrecks and bright white shards of bone there were boulders a coral color so deep it ran to red.

And at the outskirts of it all, stubborn trees stood their ground proving the Gog was only semi-arid.

Jak felt her feet slip further into the sand as she took a step, as if trying to pull her down into its rich and weary earth.

"Start in the Cut?" Jak asked, turning to Clem.

Clem nodded and fell in step beside her as they headed that direction.

Clem hummed a tune as they searched.

A shard of white sticking out of a dune caught Jak's attention, a jawbone by the looks of it. Back in Kentucky she'd met people who would have fought for that, seen a reliable weapon or hand trowel for scavenging. No one did that here. No grave robbers or makers. She'd met plenty on that long walk here. It'd been the only reason she stopped walking.

Part of her still wanted to hide the bone. She wondered if that was to save it from someone else or save it for herself. She looked over at Clem, moved the thought aside, focused on the task at hand.