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Edited by Sheree R. Thomas



416pp/$25.95/January 2004

Dark Matter:  Reading the Bones

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 2000, Sheree R. Thomas put the lie to all those who say that African Americans don’t write science fiction with the publication of Dark Matter.  Invariably when people pointed to African American SF authors prior to that book’s publication, it was to Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes and Nalo Hopkinson.  In Dark Matter, Thomas demonstrated that there are may more African Americans writing in the genre.  Now, Thomas returns with Dark Matter:  Reading the Bones, in which she proves that the first volume was not a fluke.  In fact, many of the authors who appear in the second volume, did not appear in the first.

Many of the stories are reprints, such as W.E.B. DuBois’s “Jesus Christ in Texas” (1920) or Samuel Delany’s “Corona” (1967) and originally appeared in a variety of genre and non-genre sources.  Many more, however, are original to this volume.  While all the stories are written by African American authors, many of them deal with topics or themes which are universal.  Tananarive Due looks at the issue of fitting in when one is different in “Aftermoon” and “Voodoo Vincent and the Astrostoriograms” by Tyehimba Jess is about paying back to the community when you have the means, something which all communities need to do and some do better than others.

Slavery figures into several of the stories, often overtly, as in ihsan bracy’s “ibo landing” or Cherene Sherrand’s “The Quality of Sand,” sometimes more subtly, as in Nnedi Okorador-Mbachu’s “The Magical Negro.”  Only four pages long, “The Magical Negro” is an attack on both master-slave relationships and pop culture’s treatment of minorities.  Another story, “BLACKout,” is Jill Robinson’s examination of the idea of reparations for slavery and the problems inherent in any sort of agreement which might eventually arise in which descendents of slaves receive payment.

While some authors looked to the past, others have written distinctly futuristic stories.  Wanda Coleman posits a future dystopia in “Buying Primo Time,” in which the poor are forced to pay extortion to the rich for the privilege of living, even if the poor offer more to society than the wealthy.  A similar theme appears in Charles Johnson’s “Sweet Dreams” in which dreaming is a taxable activity and demonstrates concern about a Big Brother-like intrusion by modern society.

Pop culture also plays a role in several stories.  Douglas Kearney examines the theft by pop culture of minority legends in “Anansi Meets Peter Parker at the Taco Bell on Lexington.”  Another superhero is the protagonist in John Cooley’s “The Binary,” although rather than dealing with overtly black characters or mythology, Cooley borrows from Japan for his concept of the superhero.

The stories, both reprint and original, are the main focus of the anthology and where readers will spend the majority of their time reading.  The essays which appear at the end, however, help to provide a greater context for the stories which precede them and are also worth a look by even casual readers.  Taken as a whole, Dark Matter:  Reading the Bones is a good sequel to Thomas’s first anthology and with luck, she’ll continue to bring attention to these and similar authors and there will come a time when anthologies like Dark Matter will no longer be out of the ordinary.

Author Story
ihsan bracy ibo landing
Cherene Sherrard The Quality of Sand
Charles R. Saunders Yahimba's Choice
Nalo Hopkinson The Glass Bottle Trick
Kiini Ibura Salaam Desire
David Findley Recovery from a Fall
Douglas Kearney Anansi Meets Peter Parker at the Taco Bell on Lexington
Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu The Magical Negro
W.E.B. DuBois Jesus Christ in Texas
Henry Dumas Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
Kevin Brockenbrough Cause Harlem Needs Heroes
Pam Noles Whipping Boy
Ibi Aanu Zoboi Old Flesh Song
Walter Mosley Whispers in the Dark
Tananarive Due Aftermoon
Tyehimba Jess Voodoo Vincent and the Astrostoriograms
John Cooley The Binary
Jill Robinson BLACKout
Charles Johnson Sweet Dreams
Wanda Coleman Buying Primo Time
Samuel R. Delany Corona
Nisi Shawl Maggies
Andrea Hairston Mindscape
Kalamu ya Salaam Trance

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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