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As I move further in my academic career I move more and more to only talking about my research interests in Black Speculative Fiction. I believe that the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and (alternate) history are so important to representing Blackness and can do so much to teach about Blackness, but unfortunately when I start talking about my interests most people's eyes gloss over. "What are you talking about, Marcus?" "What good does this do?" they ask me. So for this year's Black Speculative Fiction Month I have decided to spotlight some anthologies that I think are seminal to understanding Black Speculative Fiction. So read about and then click on the pictures of the books in the list below and get understanding of what these works can do, and be sure to check out some of my personal favorites afterwards (and of course my own Black Speculative works).
The first up is the oldest of the texts gathered here, the award winning Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction From the Africa Diaspora. This anthology, edited by Sheree Renee Thomas (a HUGE name in the field) and featuring stories from all time greats like Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, and Nalo Hopkinson and even a few writings by people you wouldn't expect like W.E.B. DuBois and Charles Chesnutt, is a must own for anyone interested in Black Speculative Fiction. A lot of the stories and essays here lay the groundwork for what Black authors in these genres are capable of and give all of us writing in the field currently some amazing people to model ourselves after.
Speaking of modeling ourselves after greats, the anthology Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements uses the name of Octavia Butler (and part of the title of one of her famous collections's, Lilith's Brood) to show how Black Speculative Fiction plays a part in social justice of the past, present, and future. There are stories like "The Token Superhero" which takes a pretty straightforward look at what it's like to be the only Black superhero in a team, and deeply philosophical stories like "Black Angel" that question religion, life, death, and autonomy. What the stories here are all share, however, is the evidence that proves that Black Speculative Fiction is an important part of resistance and liberation. After all, how can you change a system if you don't know what the change you want looks like?
While Dark Matter and Octavia's Brood give us the perfect bookends of what our elder and ancestral writers wanted to do and what we are able to do with our work, these next four books show in greater detail (and with more imagination) that we have been active parts of these worlds since the inception of our own. The aptly named Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology introduced many a reader to the concept of Sword and Soul: a subgenre dedicated to the heroic adventures of characters in precolonial times. So many of us have accepted the idea that precolonial Africa was just a savage land with no real history or purpose that a text like this serves not only to entertain but to inform readers of African traditions and maybe even a bit of history.
If precolonial times are a little discussed time period for people of the Africa Diasporas, then the 18th and early 19th centuries (1700s and early 1800s, for clarity' s sake) are REALLY poorly discussed. If you see Black people during this time period 9.9 times out of 10 they are going be a slave and nothing more. Well Rococoa turns that idea on its head. Now there are of course narratives of enslaved people (prepare to see Nat Turner and the Haitian Revolution as you've never seen them before here), but even more than that other elements of life during this time period are seen through Black eyes. There are Black people who became sailors and in some cases pirates, and of course references to the "mainstream" rococo all throughout this text. So be prepared to learn and be entertained as you flip through this anthology.
Immediately after Rococoa ends we have Steamfunk, a more inclusive sibling to the wildly popular Steampunk subgenre/aesthetic/fantasy/fetish/whatever. Like all of the subgenres listed here Steamfunk has a name that has been reclaimed to include Black creators and characters, like Harriet Tubman. Set throughout the Victorian Age (which started about 1837) Steamfunk addresses the end of slavery, the advancement of technology, and mankind's desire to rebel against both. Steamfunk, like Steampunk before it, has a lot of different arms. There are stories about the Wild West, stories about traditional Victorian Age stuff, stories about men and women rebelling against the technology designed to replace them, and as always stories about Black folks just trying to get free. There's a reason why this anthology is so popular: no one can afford to miss out on these valuable lessons and representation.
Last on the list (or at least until the Black superhero anthology comes out) is the newest of the bunch: Dieselfunk. If you thought Steamfunk talked about a lot of different historical elements, they don't have NOTHING on Dieselfunk. Since this subgenre is set in the early 20th century (which means it includes the world wars) there is a lot happening here. We get to see the roaring 20s, the turn of the century, the Tuskegee Airmen, Black people fighting wars overseas, the creation and use of the internal combustion engine, and even the Jazz Age and Harlem Renaissance. Probably the best way to sum it up would be with a video like this full of the sorts of images you may see in Dieselfunk. Though Dieselfunk isn't nearly as popular as Steamfunk, much like all of the works here it too is vital to understanding how Black Speculative Fiction teaches, motivates, and challenges ideas that we as a people are steered away from. In an age where shows like Luke Cage and movies like Black Panther are capitalizing off Black faces in these genres, it is also just as important for us to understand what these images really mean.