Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Sheree R Thomas’s Dark Matters is an interesting mix of reprints, original stories and essays. Seventeen of the stories are original, with eleven reprints dating back to 1887. Thomas also includes five essays (plus her introduction) which discuss the role of African Americans in science fiction and why it is important for Blacks to read science fiction.
One of the interesting, and sad, things about the stories reprinted in Dark Matters is how few of the stories were originally published in the standard outlets of the science fiction field. One was published in Omni (1987), one in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress (1984), and one in Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions (1967). Although this seems to indicate that Black authors are not being published in those outlets, several of the authors included in Dark Matters, such as Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia E. Butler do have stories appearing in places such as Analog, F&SF and Asimov’s. Furthermore, Butler’s novel Parable of the Talents was the Nebula winner this year.
At the same time, few of the authors in Dark Matter are generally recognizable as genre authors. Steven Barnes, Samuel Delany, Due and Butler have established reputations within science fiction and Hopkinson has made quite a splash in the couple of years since she made her first appearance, winning the Warner first novel contest with Brown Girl in the Ring. Other authors have names which may be familiar, but which are generally associated with other fields of writing, ranging from Walter Mosley’s mysteries to the history and sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois.
While the authors’ backgrounds are not necessarily evident in their stories, their familiarity with the common themes and ideas of science fiction is noticeable. Stories like Amira Baraka’s “Rhythm Travel” demonstrate a high level of skill for story-telling, but fail to follow through with the extrapolation which forms part of science fiction. Other stories work better. Tananarive Due's short "Like Daughter" is a masterful examination of cloning and a reminder that no matter how hard we try, we can't provide our children with the lives we necessarily would like for them.
The collection ends with a series of short essays in which the authors examine the ties between African-Americans and science fiction or the gulfs which keep them apart. Naturally, with several different authors attacking the same issue, nothing is resolved, but several interesting points of discussion are raised which can spark future discussions.While Thomas does not include a bibliography for further reading as such, she does mention several other titles in the notes about the authors which can provide a starting place for further explorations into African-American science fiction.
|Honorée Fannone Jeffers||Sister Lilith|
|W.E.B. Du Bois||The Comet|
|Jewelle Gomez||Chicago 1927|
|George S. Schuyler||Black No More (excerpt)|
|Evie Shockley||separation anxiety|
|Leone Ross||Tasting Songs|
|Kalamu ya Salaam||Can You Wear My Eyes|
|Tananarive Due||Like Daughter|
|Nalo Hopkinson||Greedy Choke Puppy|
|Amiri Baraka||Rhythm Travel|
|Samuel R. Delany||Aye, and Gomorrah|
|Nalo Hopkinson||Ganger (Ball Lightning)|
|Akua Lezli Hope||The Becoming|
|Charles W. Chestnutt||The Goophered Grapevine|
|Octavia E. Butler||The Evening and the Morning and the Night|
|Linda Addison||Twice, at Once, Separated|
|Charles R. Saunders||Gimmile's Songs|
|Nisi Shawl||At the Huts of the Ajala|
|Steven Barnes||The Woman in the Wall|
|Henry Dumas||Ark of Bones|
|Ishmael Reed||Future Christmas (excerpt)|
|Kiini Ibura Salaam||At Life's Limits|
|Anthony Joseph||The African Origins of UFOs (excerpt)|
|Robert Fleming||The Astral Visitor Delta Blues|
|Derrick Bell||The Space Traders|
|Darryl A. Smith||The Pretended|
|Ama Patterson||Hussy Strut|
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