DARK MATTER: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora

Dark MatterEdited by Sheree R. Thomas
Warner Books ($24.95)

by Rudi Dornemann

Anthologies have long been important in science fiction and fantasy. Whether pulling together previously published stories or actively soliciting new work, editors can try to shape genre development by spotlighting groups of writers or kinds of writing, as Harlan Ellison did in his Dangerous Vision series in the ’60s or Pamela Sargent in her Women of Wonder collections in the ’70s.

With Dark Matter, editor Sheree R. Thomas sets out "to offer readers an enjoyable entreé to the diverse range of speculative fiction from the African diaspora and to encourage more talented writers and scholars to explore the genre." Her particularly rich and diverse collection accomplishes this and more with non-realistic fictions (and a few essays) by a cross-generational group of authors from the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Britain. Thomas includes authors who are well established in speculative fiction, such as Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due—but she also pulls in writers who aren't usually thought of as writing in the speculative genres, such as Amiri Baraka and Ishmael Reed. There are new stories, many seeing their first printing here, and there are older stories as well, going back to a Charles W. Chesnutt story from 1887.

Dark Matter also offers a great variety in the worlds imagined and in the storytelling approaches that bring us into those worlds, from the fairly straightforward speculation of Evie Shockley's "separation anxiety" to the near-surreal future of Akua Lezli Hope 's "The Becoming" to the dream-intense synesthesia of Kalamau ya Salaam's "Buddy Bolden." Nalo Hopkinson, a fast-rising star on the science fiction scene, contributes two quite different stories, one drawing on Caribbean lore, the other delving into technologically augmented sex. Many of Dark Matter's stories are unique enough that they might well serve as the seeds for new speculative subgenres—there's African sword and sorcery by Charles R. Saunders, a black reimagining of vampirism by Jewelle Gomez, and science fiction cross-referenced with political and legal reality by Derrick Bell.

In his essay "Why Blacks Should Read (and Write) Science Fiction," Charles R. Saunders writes, "After all, if we don't unleash our imaginations to tell our own sf and fantasy stories, people like [white writer of science fiction set in future African societies] Mike Resnick will tell them for us. And if we don't like the way he's telling them, it's up to us to tell them our own way." His call to action echoes Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile, in which the renowned Nigerian author speaks at length of the need for African writers to write their own stories. There is happily a good deal of this taking place—editor Thomas is currently soliciting submissions for a second volume of Dark Matter.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2000/2001 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2000