June 15, 2016

Black-Speculative-Futurist Fiction: Dark Matter (Book Review Part 1)

Dark Matter is one of the primary collections of short stories espousing the black science fiction literary aesthetics. It personally has some of the most significant eye-opening  pieces for me to the possibilities regarding the black imagination, even already being very familiar with the material within the futurism and fantasy genres overall.

Edited by Sharee R. Thomas, this book blends new (at the time, 2000s era) and older and some even classic foundational stories together, as well as some thorough essays on Afrofuturism at the end, by writers and cultural analysts.

I‘ll leave the whole book for the experience of the readers, and in condensed form, go over my favorites.

Firstly in regards to the newest:  Jewelle Gomez’s “Chicago 1927” was an amazing blend of afro-historical fantasy, slave narrative, and vampire lore; my awe of the story was more-so because I never read a black narrative mixed in with the vampire or supernatural genre like that before at the time, so that has to be factored in. Particularly, the context of Gilda being alive long enough to have lived through a time of direct slavery into post-slavery in the Harlem Renaissance timeline was fascinating. 

“Separation Anxiety” (Evie Shokley) Another well-established one mixing many of my favorite subjects: arts, dance, historical context, and social/cultural divisions. The story primarily revolves around Peaches and her brother Roo (short for Roosovelt) and friend Trevette, living out artistic lifestyles in a neo-ghetto of the 22nd century.

Linda Addison’s “Twice, At Once, Separated” mixes South American rain forest society within an afro-futuristic plot, and for a story not that long it frames a lot and gets a lot done by the end. The ‘Ship’ there on kind of represents ‘god’, and an interconnection of lucid dreaming, astral travel and technology, as well as holding DNA and memories from a dying earth (though never directly said, they did allude to being on a path most likely for a new home).

Nisi Shawl’s “At The Huts of Ajala” is mostly enjoyed, but only off a bit because there are some things, mainly those in parenthesis that come off as nonsensical, throwing off the flow of narrative. This is definitely a story to reread though based on the need to decode some of the content; even while reading I figured some obfuscating parts will make sense on the second-go-round. Specifically, the ‘eternal spiral up’ and the Before-Birth searching for ‘Two Heads’ to describe/be an explanation for Loanna’s second sight. Other than that, it gave off some of the best visions I’ve read in this genre.

“The Pretended” by Darryl A Smith is an elaborately painted story – good for the amount of information you get out of it, always a lot to ‘decode’, definitely the first pages because I didn’t know what was happening until later. Once the general concept of this story was gotten – black peoples minds, languages, etc uploaded into robots databases – I felt at ease as things started to or finally fully made sense, at least the overall concept. Definite props to all the original terminology, which was so much it seemed too much for just a short, like “Afridyne”. Also, within this once you decode it you can see broader world-build and a hella’va history in this future-based story, one projecting that black people are no longer around, and that whites had actually created these robots to replace the presence of them.

Ama Patterson’s “Hussy Strutt”: although many characters were done very well to have identifiable traits – especially Dream and Zinger, one for being an intelligent-oracle but having frantic-random rants, and the other for speaking out-loud storytelling to distract herself to get through this plot – to me some characters were not needed.

Once you get attuned to history explained in the Italic flashbacks, definitely like the four aunts –Chloe, Zora, Alice, Gwen – as adult-basis/foundation of who looking over these kids and how they got in the position of being locked in a basement.

An issue did come with the writer sort of glossing over of very important  structuring detail – and I know, short story and all but – regarding all the natural disasters and economic collapse, this is never given too much structure of how current society in that future-based story, after all that, is still ‘functioning’ to some degree.  We are given enough location basis in the northeast, but… the only thing that I can conclude is that these ‘disasters’ had recently happened, and people are still getting along in a sort of go along-get along kind of way, but I can’t say as there isn’t enough information to maintain the structure of the world and timeline we’re given. Still a good read overall though.

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