New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color is an anthology title that doubles as a mission statement. Editor Nisi Shawl (the Nebula Award-nominated author of Everfair) has brought together seventeen stories, showcasing work by both newer and more seasoned authors from marginalized backgrounds. Rather than reign in her contributors by asking them to conform to a theme or confine themselves to a single genre, Shawl allows their imaginations to roam freely across the planes sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. If there is thread connecting these stories, it is their focus on settings, people, and perspectives that are not always the foregrounded in popular notions of genre fiction.
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In his stirring foreword, LeVar Burton praises the book’s “vibrant, authentic voices bursting to weigh in on the human condition and our journey of human evolution.” That is a fitting description of an anthology that is decidedly eclectic and often audaciously imaginative.
To that end, New Suns offers several strong stories that would qualify as science fiction. Tobias S. Buckell’s “The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex” is an earthy (pun intended) comic story entry following Tavi, a hardworking cab driver in future New York City who picks up an alien at JFK, and, through no fault of his own, ends up in the middle of an intergalactic incident.
In “The Shadow We Cast Through Time,” Indrapramit Das explores a more ominous aspect of interspecies relations; it’s an evocative story about humans living on another planet, which they share with creatures they call demons. It’s an interrogation of the notion of galactic exploration and colonization—humans set out into the galaxy intending to conquer it, but find the galaxy unwilling to submit; along the way, humanity is forced to undergo the greatest change.
In Kathleen Alcalá’s “Deer Dancer” we enter a future ravaged by climate change, in which people dream of the time Before, “when the sun was scarce.” Yet it is not a post-apocalyptic wallow in despair and violence; the focus is on exploring new ways of living, and on working together to form new communities in order to survive.
Straddling the line between science fiction and fantasy is the fiercely compelling “Burn the Ships” by Alberto Yáñez. An empire is invaded by a fleet of spaceships, the invaders bringing guns, and plagues, and demands of worship to a foreign god in a story that vividly evokes the brutal European colonization of South and Central America. But in this story, a group of women decide to use dangerous, forbidden magic in a bid to strike back at the invaders, even if that means defying the gods.
New Suns also offers powerful fantasy stories. Silvia Moreno Garcia’s chilling “Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister” is about a woman who feels something monstrous stirring beneath her own skin, a power she scarcely dares to name, even to herself. Chinelo Onwualu brings a subtle touch of humor to the thoughtful, sharp-edged “The Fine Print,” in which a man heads to Djinn headquarters, hoping to ask for a wish to be undone. And in the realm of pure delightful, whimsy, there is Hiromi Goto’s hilarious “One Easy Trick,” in which a woman loses her bellyfat in the woods, and goes back to find it, only to meet a sentient version of her fat (plus a talking bear).
Fans of horror will find plenty to enjoy here as well, including the eerie, gripping “unkind of mercy” by Alex Jennings, about a woman who slowly comes to the realization that someone or something utterly strange and unknowable is sharing her world, and that it poses a unfathomable, unavoidable threat. Anil Menon’s “The Robots of Eden” is a subtle sci-fi/horror story hybrid in which the rich are “enhanced” so that they can move through life’s challenges with calm rationality rather than emotion, causing them to seem oddly blank, meeting even the most horrid events with a placid demeanor and a positive outlook.
Other “vibrant, authentic voices” you’ll encounter: Darcie Little Badger, whose weirdly wonderful “Kelsey and the Burdened Breath” concerns a woman and her ghostly dog who hunt “shimmers”—the spiritual remnants of the dead. Rebecca Roanhorse, whose visceral “Harvest” explores the allure of a deer woman, and the crimes you might be willing to commit—and the sacrifices you might be willing to make—for love, revenge, or justice. Jaymee Goh, who offers up the erotically charged “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea,” an unsettling story about desire and transformation beneath the waves that’s about as far removed from the Disney-fied romance of The Little Mermaid as ispossible.
The title New Suns is taken from Octavia E. Butler’s unfinished novel Parable of the Trickster: “There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns,” Butler wrote. It’s a line that captures the spirit of this anthology, the way it allows readers to explore new and different worlds, futures, wonders, and horrors.
In his forward, LeVar Burton affirms we are in a New Age of speculative fiction in which voices of color “are being paid much overdue attention.” I believe most people who read widely and deeply would agree. Certainly New Suns provides ample evidence of an incontrovertible fact: if you do not seek out speculative fiction written by authors of color, you are depriving yourself of some of the best stories and best voices in genre today.
Addendum: Nisi Shawl dedicates this anthology to writer and editor Sheree Renée Thomas, praising her Dark Matter anthology series for inspiring and empowering her, and many other authors of color. Shawl’s own work as a writer, educator, and editor is surely equally inspiring, and her afterword is worth quoting as a call to action for both writers and readers: “Would you like more of what you’ve read here? Wider constellations, greater galaxies of original speculative fiction by people of color? Then seek us out. Spread the word. Wish on us, reach for us, and yes, let us gather together in the deep, dark nurseries of stars. Let us congregate. This is how new suns are born.”