Like the Sputnik launch of 1957, the publication of this anthology expands the frontiers of speculative fiction into a new dimension. In her introduction, Thomas develops an intriguing metaphor of blackness as a kind of "dark matter"--an invisible mass which exerts a gravitational pull on the entire genre. Her selections for the anthology span the twentieth century, dispelling the notion that black writers are newcomers to the field. This initial reading of a literary phenomenon heretofore rendered almost invisible promises to enhance understanding and appreciation not only of these unique voices in African Diasporan literature, but also of the speculative fiction genre as a whole.
Naturally, Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, Charles R. Saunders, and Stephen Barnes, the handful of better-known black writers who have been publishing speculative fiction through the 60s, 70s and 80s are represented in the collection; but Thomas grounds their work in a continuous tradition. She unearths a little-known story called "The Comet" which the W.E.B. DuBois first published in 1920, and presents an excerpt from satirist George S. Schuyler's classic 1931 novel, Black No More. Further, Thomas' inclusion of Charles Chesnutt's tale "The Goophered Gourd Vine" (1887) challenges the expectation that speculative fiction must draw on hard science and technology. Indeed, Chesnutt's incursion into the realm of the metaphysical provides an important precedent for writers like Nalo Hopkinson, who treats African-derived ritual practice as a technology of metaphysics.
Critical essays by Delany, Butler, Saunders and Walter Mosley further explicate approaches to defining "blackness" through speculative fiction. Yet, in addition to racial issues, these well-crafted stories speculate about a wide variety of themes including the AIDS crisis, the dynamics of romantic partnerships and the quest to heal childhood traumas, The prevalence of musical influence on the themes and structure of the stories suggests further exploration of "dark matter" need to include African Diasporan musical expression. Thomas has charted a rich alternative strain of speculation on the human condition which will engage readers and writers for years to come.
Paulette Richards is the author of Terry McMillan: A Critical Companion (Greenwood Press, 1999).
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|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2000|
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