Black Stars

In “The Visit” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gender roles are reversed. Men are expected to be house husbands while their wives work. Medical research focuses on women, so men’s health issues like enlarged prostate are not funded. Male masturbation is outlawed instead of abortion. Single men who go out without a woman are harassed. This story has a very obvious message about gender discrimination, so readers who don’t like being preached at will likely bounce off this story, but at least the characters are realistically drawn.

“Clap Back” by Nalo Hopkinson is about a new clothing line that embeds nanites into the person who wears them, compelling them to repeat a quote. Also, the main character is collecting racist knickknacks from the past for an art project. A lot of interesting ideas here, although I felt it tried to pack too much in. The flashforward at the end felt unnecessary, for example. It gives us an overly pessimistic view of the future in which driving while black can still get you killed in 2082.

“We Travel the Spaceways” by Victor LaValle is about a homeless man in New York who meets meets a trans prostitute and burns down Black churches because cans and bottles tell him to. Is he delusional or is he really receiving messages from beyond the stars? This story has great characters and the world feels lived in.

“2043 A Merman I Should Turn to Be” by Nisi Shawl envisions a world in which Black people are converted to mer people as part of a plan to deal with rising oceans and pay reparations at the same time. 2043 doesn’t seem far enough into the future for technology like this to become commonplace. 2143 would have made more sense. The story focuses on a band who have recently modified their bodies to give an underwater concert who get hassled by white supremacists along the way. Great world building, but feels like it should have been longer. The ending felt rather abrupt.

In “The Black Pages” by Nnedi Okorafor, al-Qaeda arrives at Timbouctou and burns the library, freeing a genie who’d been trapped in a book. There’s also a black book whose pages don’t burn. Issaka had returned home from studying in the States at the worst possible time. His parents are Muslim, but also revere older gods. A great story with great characters, but it feels unfinished. This reads more like the first chapter of a novel than a stand-alone short story.

“These Alien Skies” by C.T. Rwizi is my favorite story in the Black Stars collection. Msizi crashes on an alien world and meets a unique alien intelligence. A meditation on grief with great lines: “Being inside my head is erasing her. I’m holding on to her memory so tightly I’m warping it, distorting her from the person she was to a shallow counterfeit polluted by my own flawed thoughts and feelings.” The surprise twist towards the end is well done. It’s hinted at a few times before the reveal, but the surprise twist isn’t the whole point of the story. Fantastic.

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