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Dark Matter
Sheree R. Thomas
Warner Books, 427 pages

Dark Matter
Sheree R. Thomas
Sheree R. Thomas edits the literary journal Anansi: Fiction of the African Diaspora and has contributed to national publications including the Washington Post, Black Issues Book Review, and QBR: The Black Book Review. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Ishmael Reed's Konch, Drumvoices Revue, and other literary journals. A native of Memphis, she lives in New York City.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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When people discuss important works in science fiction, they tend to focus on novels, and the occasional short story. Less often, an anthology is credited with being a major event in the field, but it's been a while since that happened. Dangerous Visions was one such anthology, Women of Wonder was another. The last anthology to introduce a new generation of writers with their own sense of style and immediately launch them into prominence was Mirrorshades. Twenty years have passed since the cyberpunk movement challenged the SF establishment, and we're overdue for something new to shake loose the cobwebs. Dark Matter, an anthology of stories by African-American writers, edited by Sheree R Thomas, is it.

Dark matter is the non-radiating matter that physicists and astronomers have speculated must exist in space due to its measured gravitational effects. Dark matter must be there in large amounts, yet we cannot see it. The metaphor is an apt one for the experiences of black writers in society in general and the science fiction community in particular. Dark Matter, with its vibrant mix of voices old and new, should serve to bring visibility to these authors, and acquaint readers with highly talented writers who have something to say, and highly expressive ways of saying it.

There are names here that will be familiar to most SF readers. Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler are at or near the top of the field, and their contribution's are the most classically science fiction stories in the collection. Delany's "Aye, and Gomorrah" is a classic itself, while Butler's "The Evening and the Morning and the Night" shares some of the same concerns expressed so memorably in her Xenogenesis series. Steven Barnes' "Woman in the Wall" explores emotional territory not always found in his collaborations with Larry Niven.

But the revelations here are the things you probably haven't read before. Who remembered that W.E.B. DuBois wrote a science fiction story? Ishmael Reed is probably best known for his poetry, but "Future Christmas" reveals a sharply satirical, comic fiction style. And Anthony Joseph's "The African Origins of UFO's" is at times laugh-out-loud funny. Who can resist a line like "I hear Joe Sam kill 20 men with Idi Amin jawbone, all was Spyro Gyra fans."?

There is not enough time in a review this size to mention all the good stories in Dark Matter; suffice it to say that styles and themes range from the vampire-with-a-caribbean-dialect of Nalo Hokinson's "Greedy Choke Puppy" to the music and rhythm inspired prose poetry of Tony Medina's "Butta's Backyard Barbecue." The anthology also includes essays by several of the writers, plus Walter Mosely, that help fill out the anthology's historical and thematic range. Like all good science fiction, Dark Matter offers entertaining stories that will leave you with plenty to think about.

I read these stories at the pace of one or two a day over the course of a month, and every day brought new enjoyment and challenge. There is an intensity of shared emotion here that no doubt is the result of an intensity of shared experience. The African-American story has too often been one of degradation and pain, and it's no surprise that many of these stories focus in on just those experiences.

Perhaps more than any other literary genre, science fiction requires a fresh infusion of new voices and ideas in order to keep the field creative. Let Dark Matter introduce you to thirty writers who are willing and able to do just that.

Copyright © 2001 Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis, where at this moment the outside darkness is filled with flakes of falling white matter. His reviews also appear in Black Gate and the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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