Dark Matter: Reading the Bones

Dark Matter: Reading the Bones

by Sheree R. Thomas


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Dark Matter is the first and only series to bring together the works of black SF and fantasy writers. The first volume was featured in the "New York Times," which named it a Notable Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446693776
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 02/01/2005
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 386,437
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.93(d)

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Dark Matter

Reading the Bones

Warner Aspect

Copyright © 2004 Sheree R. Thomas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-52860-9


Since ancient times, oracles and diviners have combined their collected wisdom with close observation of the world. Occupying a unique position in society and often living in the margins, these diviners attempted to gain insight into their personal circumstances and improve the lives of their communities. Whether they chose to cast bones and shells, palm nuts gathered in gourd and calabash, read footprints in the dust, or rely upon a complex system of calculations rooted in sacred works such as the Path of Odu or the I Ching, they drew upon cultural traditions handed down through generations.

And these seemingly disparate practices of ancient cultures that spanned throughout Africa, Greece, Etruria, China, Tibet, and India shared one thing in common: the desire to change and impact the future.

This desire to alter one's path, to understand how things have come to pass, is one of our most basic human impulses, and over the centuries it has inspired and informed much of our creative art forms, including our literature. Speculative fiction writers share this in common with diviners, attempting to gain insight by examining the unique circumstances of our world and questioning it in ways that challenge and critique our fundamental beliefs, social conventions, and assumptions. Their work shares an affinity with these ancient traditions of divination in their desire to gaze into the future in order to anticipate developments, whether social, environmental, or technological in nature, to caution or offer counsel and direction, to identify and expose injustice, to heal, to protect. These various impulses are embodied and expressed in stories that often cut to the quick, through our assumptions to reveal deeper truths, borne in blood and carved in bone.

Dark Matter: Reading the Bones presents works of speculative fiction and nonfiction by twenty-eight writers of the African diaspora. In compiling this collection, I chose not to force the work into a preconceived political, social, or moral framework. Rather, I was interested in providing a more open structure to allow for the juxtaposition of unique and individual voices, ideas, styles, themes, and aesthetics from new and emerging black writers as well as acclaimed writers whose work offers bold and fresh insights for readers. Like the diverse communities and personal histories from which they hail, black writers are not a monolithic community. Their interests are manifold, their expressions and personal rhythms as wide and varied as the land in which their ancestors first gave voice. Their work reflects a vision that is two-headed in view and intent, looking forward as much as looking back, like the diviners of old-and those still among us-to cast a reading, a new vision that illuminates as it engages. I hope that this work acts as a catalyst for discussion and inspires others to explore black contributions to speculative fiction.

The oral tradition is central to Afrodiasporic writing and storytelling, and so I chose to begin with ihsan bracy's retelling of an old African-American folktale, "ibo landing," a work that is as much a testimony of the courage and sacrifice of a people as it is a praisesong to those who did not "fly away" and walk back across the waters to the land of their ancestors. This work, like Charles R. Saunders's "Yahimba's Choice," is an original exploration of the complexity of challenging and questioning ancient traditions such as the practice of female "modification"; it is also historically linked to a legacy of conscious resistance and the African tradition of call-and-response.

The new voices of this collection, notably emerging speculative fiction writers such as Cherene Sherrard, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, and Ibi Aanu Zoboi, as well as the acclaimed author Nalo Hopkinson, draw upon African and Afro-Caribbean legend and lore to craft tales that are as instructive as they are evocative, even as they deliver powerful critiques, but the tall tales of Douglas Kearney and Tye-himba Jess, that evoke the folkloric trickster Kwaku Anansi, "the Keeper of the Stories," Peter Parker, and a legendary soothsayer from ChiTown called Voodoo Vincent, remind us that the ability to laugh, to "signify," is an ancient skill, a vital strategy for black survival.

Black writers are now, as ever, it seems, struggling as all artists between the political and personal landscapes in their work, and this individual, creative struggle is a strong and recurring theme throughout Dark Matter: Reading the Bones. Three stories, "Whispers in the Dark" by Walter Mosley, "Whipping Boy" by Pam Noles, and "Aftermoon" by Tananarive Due, are strong, literal interpretations of this contemporary and historic struggle, both questioning how individuals- indeed, black communities, whether rural or urban-can hold on to self and their intellectual integrity in a world that is often intensely judgmental, hostile, and threatening, while W. E. B. Du Bois's "Jesus Christ in Texas" and Henry Dumas's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" offer a dark and haunting meditation on the spiritual and social implications for American society in particular. Historically, "new world" Afrodiasporic writing generally has been overtly political, with little reference to the erotic. Kiini Ibura Salaam's "Desire" and David Findlay's "Recovery from a Fall" draw the African aesthetic through an experimental fabric, creating a new veil of lust and lore and longing, while Kevin Brockenbrough's "Cause Harlem Needs Heroes" and John Cooley's "The Binary" offer tough, hard-edged characters who give as much as they get from the world.

In Jill Robinson's "BLACKout" reparations move from contested theory to a complex reality as Charles Johnson's "Sweet Dreams" and Wanda Coleman's "Buying Primo Time" cast us into a future where even our dreams have become commodities and the cost of living is a price few can afford to pay, while Nisi Shawl's "Maggies" and Samuel R. Delany's "Corona" are two compelling works that reveal that navigating childhood can be a difficult journey, no matter where in the universe the young traveler calls home. Andrea Hairston's "Mindscape" contemplates a future where a spiritual outcast and an "ethnic throwback" must help rechart a world thrown off its course, while Kalamu ya Salaam brings us full circle in his exploration of how a group of black scientists and revolutionaries might use time travel in his story, "Trance."

In addition to these stories, Jewelle Gomez offers a transcript of a historic meeting of some of our most influential black speculative fiction writers, and Carol Cooper and Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu discuss the works of Andre Norton and the late Virginia Hamilton, who made significant contributions to speculative fiction and young adult literature, respectively, in the course of their careers.

In Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, these innovative writers present speculative fiction that reaches deep into Afrodiasporic traditions and push through to new forms. Their words and stories explore the languages of love and lore, oppression and abuse, identity and community, revelations and new frontiers. By bringing together this shared history and the rich diversity of these writers and their visions, I hope Reading the Bones captures your imagination and offers a memorable window into a vital period in the evolution of speculative fiction. Sheree Renee Thomas New York City, 2003


Excerpted from Dark Matter Copyright © 2004 by Sheree R. Thomas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

ibo landing1
The Quality of Sand7
Yahimba's Choice24
The Glass Bottle Trick47
Recovery from a Fall78
Anansi Meets Peter Parker at the Taco Bell on Lexington89
The Magical Negro91
Jesus Christ in Texas95
Will the Circle Be Unbroken?105
'Cause Harlem Needs Heroes111
Whipping Boy126
Old Flesh Song150
Whispers in the Dark162
Voodoo Vincent and the Astrostoriograms197
The Binary214
Sweet Dreams243
Buying Primo Time249
Excerpt from Mindscape294
The Second Law of Thermodynamics349
Transcription of a Panel at the 1997
Black Speculative Fiction Writers Conference
Held at Clark Atlanta University
Her Pen Could Fly: Remembering Virginia Hamilton369
Celebrating the Alien: The Politics of Race and Species in the Juveniles of Andre Norton375
Copyrights and Permissions397

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Dark Matter: Reading the Bones 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
funkendub on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Science fiction comes in a number of flavors. There¿s ¿hard¿ SF, which speculates from a basis in the physical sciences. There¿s ¿soft¿ SF, which works from a basis in the so-called human sciences (especially anthropology). The market-driven art is further subdivided into horror, fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery. Firing shots across the bow of these main genres, though, are those writers who create what might be called, to borrow a term from today¿s music scene, ¿mash-ups.¿ Joanna Russ, for instance, is perhaps best known for her feminist SF novel The Female Man, which throws gender into a mix of hard and soft science. Then there¿s Samuel R. Delany, whose New Wave classic Dhalgren pointed the way toward a science fiction that was truly literary and not merely boilerplate genre fiction. Into this mix we can add what may be the oldest form of speculative fiction: the retelling of myths and legends.Now take a gander at a collection of ¿speculative fiction from the African Diaspora¿ called Dark Matter: Reading the Bones. This unusual collection focuses on the experiences of Africans, and their descendents, in the Americas¿and the experiences are chilling, as you would expect. Slavery, racism, poverty and homelessness, magic, myth and religion, and killer jazz feature in this anthology of twenty-four stories and three essays. Most of the stories are by less-published authors (and most of those, seemingly, from the editor¿s adopted New York City), but there are some major lights here, too: W.E.B. Dubois, the above-mentioned Delany, the fiery Wanda Colman, and Walter Mosley among them.Although some of the writing in Reading the Bones is fairly mediocre in execution, none of it is so in content. Cherene Sherrard¿s story, for instance, ¿The Quality of Sand,¿ is exciting and original. It centers on a group of Haitian revolutionaries who, having captured a slave-transport ship, act as ¿pirates¿, freeing the prisoners of other slave ships. The story takes a magical turn when we learn that one of the protagonists is a jinni. Sherrard renders this magical twist as a moment of spiritual realism, producing a satisfying and tasty ending. Several of the stories are of the ¿stick it to the (white) man¿ variety, notably Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu¿s ¿The Magical Negro.¿ This very funny short-short starts out on a trajectory of comic-book heroism but quickly (it¿s only a couple pages long) resists that narrative line, running instead (so to speak, and in order not to give this little gem totally away) in an ¿Ain¿t Gonna Work on Maggie¿s Farm No More¿ direction.Perhaps most startling in this fine collection of truly alternative spec lit is W.E.B. Dubois¿s story ¿Jesus Christ in Texas.¿ ¿It was in Waco¿¿ the story begins¿but ¿story¿ is probably the wrong descriptor, since what Dubois spins here is really a parable. Jesus does turn up in Waco, but he¿s not the skinny white guy we normally see pinned to a stick. Instead, Dubois manages, in just a few words, to paint a historically plausible Jesus, as a Semitic man with a ¿coat that looked like a Jewish gabardine¿ (in contrast to the cowboy¿s ankle-length duster) and skin of ¿olive, even yellow.¿ This high-yellow Jesus never claims to be the son of God (which idea doesn¿t come up until the historically late Gospel of John, anyway), but is, rather, in the business of witnessing and reminding folks it¿s not a good idea to steal or murder or rape. It¿s the black man who gets this message, of course, and again, as with ¿The Magical Negro,¿ the ending provides the satisfying crunch of misguided authority getting its comeuppance while simultaneously offering a salvational vision. Dubois¿ story remains startling and relevant in still-racist twenty-first century America, and is even more so when one notices that it was written in 1920.The anthology concludes with three nonfiction pieces: a writers¿ roundtable featuring Delany, Octavia Butler, Jewelle Gomez, Tananarive Due, and the filmmaker William Hudson; an appreci
Anonymous More than 1 year ago