Explore Dark Science Fiction, Learn By Color, Cost Of Cooling And Other New Books
Black Sci-Fi Short Stories
edited by Tia Ross
Flame Tree Gothic Series. Flamboyant Tree, 2021 ($ 30)
In a 1970s essay with the provocative title of “Why Blacks Don’t Read Science Fiction,” the late African-American writer Charles R. Saunders reflected bitterly on the prevalence of anti-noir in the genre. Although white American science fiction writers “were able to stretch their imaginations to the point of conceptualizing aliens with sympathetic qualities,” he mused, “a black man or woman in a spacesuit was an image beyond the limits of [their] imaginations … If blacks appeared in the pages of science fiction magazines, they were presented as offensive “darkies” stereotypes. The genre, as Saunders put it, was “as white as a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan.”
In the years since Saunders’ scathing observations, black writers have undoubtedly become more prominent in speculative fiction. But given the continued dominance of white men over the genre, non-white authors are still too often overlooked. A new collection, Black Sci-Fi Short Stories, aims to correct this, presenting readers with a wide range of short stories and short stories from 20th and 21st century writers, some of which have never been published before. A traveling set of introductory essays attempts to situate the book in the larger history of black science fiction and fantasy around the world.
The selection of the book appears spotty, providing ample space for previously unpublished short stories and lesser-known early 20th-century novels that curiously lack work from well-known writers in the genre such as Octavia Butler, Nalo. Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor or NK Jemisin, although the introduction cites a number of these luminaries. And although the collection signals the global presence of black science fiction and fantasy by, for example, alluding to a number of African writers, the table of contents ultimately seems a bit American.
Yet the anthology contains a compelling group of memorable and moving stories that often examine the intersections of race, gender, heartbreak, technology, and the fantastic. WEB Du Bois’s 1920 short story “The Comet,” for example, imagines what would happen if a catastrophic celestial event left only a black working-class man and a rich white woman alive. In ‘Elan Vital’ (2009), a deeply poignant story by writer, speculative fiction critic and teacher K. Tempest Bradford, we glimpse a world in which the dead can be scientifically resurrected for hours, but only for the price. of a fragment of someone else’s life; to speak to his late mother again, the protagonist must shorten his own life. Nigerian writer Wole Talabi’s “Regression Test” mixes transhumanism and the Turing test, offering an intentionally disturbing look at what it means for a computer program to attempt to replace someone you’ve lost.
Other stories focus more on comedy or satire to further promote power, social responsibility and racism. A curious story is the diary of a girl who unexpectedly gains superpowers, then must learn how to wield them to save her city; it rehashes the tropes, but its structure as a diary and its growing seriousness make it surprisingly memorable. Another story, “e-race”, acid satirizes the idea of racial color blindness, conjuring up an alarming but strangely recognizable world in which people line up at a high-tech hub to “end racism” by changing their brain to no longer see skin color. If such a premise sounds absurd, it is meant to be, reminiscent of George S. Schuyler’s grim satire of 1931. Black no more.
Perhaps the most fundamental argument of the anthology is that racism and anti-darkness seem inevitable. No matter how different the imagined worlds are, the racist sentiment – especially anti-Black – lingers in all of them, a cruel reminder that it is perhaps easier to fly to another planet or technologically resuscitate them. dead than repairing white supremacy scars. This is true even in the 1904 short story. Light ahead for the nigger, by Edward A. Johnson, who imagines a white man with the abolitionist spirit of 1906 transported, through dubious science, to 2006, where he discovers, to his delight, that black Americans have achieved much greater socio-political equality . Yet in Johnson’s perhaps unnecessarily long tale, which critics have described as “utopian,” there is a clear sense of demarcation between racial groups, and a “Negro problem” seems to exist, even though his characters speak volumes. like everything is fine now. for black citizens.
Overall, the collection is both exciting and mind-blowing. With its omissions from some authors, Black Sci-Fi Short Stories isn’t a definitive introduction to black speculative fiction – and perhaps it doesn’t, instead offering readers an intriguing array of new and lesser-known voices seeking to challenge the dark memories of Saunders of a genre that for so long excluded black authors. It therefore works best as a complement to other essential collections of black speculative fiction, such as Butler’s Bloodchild and other stories (1995), Hopkinson Folk skin (2001) and Helen Oyeyemi What is not yours is not yours (2016). —Gabrielle Bellot
Learn by color
Nature’s palette: A color reference system from the natural world
Introduction by Patrick Baty
Princeton University Press, 2021 ($ 39.95)
For many people, pandemic lockdowns have led to deeper knowledge of their local natural environments. Bursts of color that could previously go unnoticed (purples in the middle of the lawn, indigo buntings in a field) are now sources of comfort. Nature’s palette is an extension of these connections between color and environment and how they orient us in a complex world. This richly illustrated reference guide, punctuated with essays by botanists and ecologists, is based on the work of the mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner in the 19th century Color nomenclature. It was the first textbook which “presented a method of identifying rocks and minerals by their external characteristics as perceived by the five senses” and influenced the creation of standardized color systems that were used for the scientific taxonomy of entomology to medicine. Designers and artists alike will appreciate the contemporary reference guide, as will anyone looking to repaint their bedroom. Unlike analyzing paint chips in a hardware store, exploring color through animals, plants, and minerals illuminates its many tools and signals while providing context as to why we find certain colors so appealing.
Beauty, of course, often leads to curiosity and knowledge, and interest in natural color seems to be on the rise. In Sweetgrass braiding (Milkweed, 2013), botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer wondered why yellow goldenrod and purple aster, which often grow side by side, look better together than in isolation. It’s a question rooted in his Aboriginal heritage: “Why can the most ordinary piece of prairie cause us to tip over on our heels?” A handful of recent books and other media capture these sensory experiences, often through tactile practices. The art and science of natural dyes: principles, experiences and results (Schiffer, 2019) is technically dense, while Make ink (Abrams, 2018) is a color research guide that includes city sidewalks and compost bins among its sources.
Soil scientists Karen Vaughan and Yamina Pressler have recently started making and selling soil-based watercolors. “It’s our underhanded way of doing science communication, pushing our agenda forward to worry about soil formation,” Vaughan says. By using minerals to create art pigments, she wants to show people that “earth is more than brown”. Even if Nature’s palette is more encyclopedic than experiential, it will help readers develop a language for observing nature through the prism of color – looking at a handful of dirt and seeing hematite, ocher or ash. –Jen schwartz
The sound of the sea: Seashells and the fate of the oceans
by Cynthia Barnett
WW Norton, 2021 ($ 27.95)
This natural and cultural history of seashells by award-winning environmental journalist Barnett is filled with both wonder and dread. It opens with the evolution of early seashells, later explores how Neanderthals turned them into jewelry, and then explains how, in the 14th century, a queen of the Maldives harvested and sold seashells as currency, thus launching the one the first international exchanges in the world. Climate change and human development now threaten the future of seashells and our oceans, even as scientists and collectors mobilize to save them. Both an ode to the natural world and a cry of warning, this well-documented book reveals that seashells “truly hold back the wisdom of the sea”. –Amy brady
After cooling: On freon, global warming and the terrible cost of comfort
by Eric Dean Wilson
Simon & Schuster, 2021 ($ 28)
Wilson, essayist and poet, explores the unintended consequences of technological progress through the rise and fall of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. The book alternates between walks with a friend who collects illicit freon for safe destruction and digressive chapters on the cultural history of refrigeration, a tale of near-miss disaster. “That we are moving towards more environmentally friendly refrigerants … hardly comforts me,” he writes. “We still do not take into account the issues of our personal comfort, how and why we got here, and how our thinking could lead us to a new danger.” –Seth Fletcher
The startup woman: A novel
by Tahmima Anam
Scribner, 2021 ($ 26)
Asha, a late bloomer working in a neuroscience lab, meets her high school crush, Cyrus, at a funeral. He creates customs for the infidels; she tries to mold empathy in the brain. They get married quickly, then launch a platform that supplants religion with an algorithmic ritual generator. As Cyrus becomes a literal social media god, Asha (who left her doctoral program) convinces herself that she is content to rule from the shadow of her enigmatic husband, even after her voice has died down. The startup woman is a bouncy novel full of familiar satire (techno optimists are secretly preparing for the end times) that deepens into a calculation with self-delusion. –JS