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Edited by Sheree R. Thomas



427pp/$24.95/July 2000

Dark Matter

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.

Author Story
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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