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In the Middle of the Night

Black Star Series

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nnedi Okorafor, Nisi Shawl, C. T. Rwizi, Nalo Hopkinson & Victor LaValle 

8 Jul, 2022

Doing the WFC's Homework


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2021 Amazon’s Black Star series offers six short science fiction pieces by six different Black authors. To quote:

The sky is not the limit. From an alley in New York to an interstellar wormhole, the path to the future looks different for everyone. These cosmic short stories from some of today’s most influential Black authors reveal a universe of possibilities. 

I’d love to know who the editor was for this series, but if that information is available anywhere, I can’t find it. 

The emphasis here should be on the word short”; none of these stories seem to reach even novelette length. The series might be best viewed as a short anthology. Such creations serve as inexpensive ways to sample authors1 otherwise unfamiliar to the reader. While four of the authors were familiar to me, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and C. T. Rwizi were not. Mt Tsundoku becomes even more unmanageable! 

The Black Stars series is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK). The series does not appear to be available from Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, or Chapters-Indigo, probably due to that whole Amazon series thing.

The Visit” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Obinna, an African man whose life is tightly constrained by the benevolent laws put in place by the women who dominate social, economic and political hierarchies, enjoys a visit from an old friend Eze, returning from equally sexist America. 

How would you like it if (social injustice) were inflicted on you?” is of course a venerable genre, whose only flaw is that the people who would benefit from reading it probably lack the essential empathy needed to appreciate the point. This is a decently written story that benefits from the brevity of piece, inasmuch as it’s more about the setting than the story.

The Black Pages” by Nnedi Okorafor 

To the Al-Qaeda forces occupying Timbouctou, the African city’s libraries are seen as strongholds of heresy whose guardians should be executed and whose contents should be burned2. Against his will, American-educated Issaka is drafted by relatives to save the oldest tomes. The odds against success are long. The odds against survival are almost as long, save for a most unexpected ally. 

Issaka’s timing is just awful; if his trip had been a bit earlier, he’d have been and gone before the city was occupied and if it had been later, he would never have visited at all.

2043… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” by Nisi Shawl

Providing African Americans and other POC with the option of leaving the US for a life under the sea as technological merfolk seems to American politicians a perfect solution to American racial conflicts. The flaw in the plan, of course, is even this is seen as an affront to white racists, whose anger manifests as relentless harassment of the emigrants. 

For the most part, the harassers stop short of overtly lethal attacks, preferring dangerous methods they can argue were not intended to kill. It’s not clear to me why the author takes such an optimistic view of white bigots, particular since the cops will likely be on their side.

These Alien Skies” by C. T. Rwizi

Explorers of worlds made accessible by artificial wormhole arrive prepared for almost every eventuality … save the possibility that the world may already have inhabitants who went to a lot of trouble to isolate themselves.

And this why it’s always a good idea to have a diplomat on board, although in this case there was a good reason the explorers didn’t expect to have been beaten to the planet. These Alien Skies” would not be out of place in a classic SF anthology, which makes me rather curious about the same author’s Scarlet Odyssey series.

Clap Back” by Nalo Hopkinson

A frustrated artist living in a smugly racist world invents an intriguing way to repurpose appropriative art. 

This would be the sort of racist world where POC are tolerated, but their work is invariably commandeered by and credited to white artists. It’s also the sort of world where people roll out cool new tech before the bugs have been worked out. The good news is that since the newest tech is biotech, this tendency will be solved as soon as a sufficiently flawed innovation leaves everyone too dead to behave badly. For the moment, however, people will have to live in the world as it is.

We Travel the Spaceways” by Victor LaValle

The space gods are benevolent and powerful, but immortals lack any grasp of urgency or punctuality. Bad news for those they promised to protect. At long last they’ve taken steps to provide refuge to the diaspora. Pity their chosen agent appears to be a madman.

This was a bit constrained by the need to reconcile powerful gods interested in a specific region of Earth and their manifest failure to act. The problem of evil, essentially. The particular justification seems a lot more reasonable than other suggestions. 

1: But won’t these mentions preclude featuring novels by these authors in 2022’s Doing the WFC’s Homework? No, because I count novels and anthologies and collaborations as different things. This is why, for example, I would review Monstress (collaboration by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda) and a Marjorie Liu solo effort in the WFC reviews in the same year. That said, even if it did, I would find room for them somewhere else. If an author I like has more than one book a year, I will find a way to review everything, time allowing.

2: The story is based on real-life efforts to save the precious books.