Following up on the success of Women Destroy Science Fiction in June 2014, and Queers Destroy Science Fiction in 2015, Lightspeed Magazine has come to People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction in 2016, and I am ready. Lightspeed continues a strong publication record as a monthly SF/Fantasy magazine. That may be because of their mix of content: they put out well-acclaimed short stories, many of which have been nominated for Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as reprints, flash fiction, interviews — all available on their website or from the ebook merchant nearest to you. People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction is a large volume containing samples of all of these types of content. In the interest of space and time I will review the short stories here, and let me tell you, that’s plenty.
The anthology opens with “A Good Home” by Karin Lowachee, a short story about a former soldier who has lost the use of their legs and adopted/acquired another former soldier for companionship around the house. Only the adopted veteran is more android than human, and is perceived as a threat by all those around them, leading to heart-breaking results. At the peak moment, the narrator says: “She didn’t understand… that he was my company and I was his.” The word “company” hangs heavy — company in both the sense of companion and in the military sense, the brothers you stand up for in any fight. There are conscious comparisons to Hemingway in the piece, which make the austerity of the language obvious. The tale is simply drawn, almost barren of detail, allowing the emotional connection between the two veterans to come through.
“Digital Medicine” by Brian K. Hudson is a delightful hacker story turned sideways. The hacker is an elderly Cherokee woman, Peg, who spends her time doing cross-stitch samplers of Cherokee words that she uses to teach children. She learns her way around the keyboard from a girl she calls Spider, a white hat techie who has comes by her trailer to work off her community service time. Their relationship develops well, not too sweet, as they exchange their languages — binary for Cherokee — and realize that they have a lot in common, particularly a drive for justice. This is a small story, the impacts are a high school in Oklahoma and a tribal casino’s website, but the implications are mythic and thus infinite.
Steven Barnes, known for the Insh’Allah series among others, turns in a satire of the human obsession with sex and all things “other” in “Fifty Shades of Grays”. The main character, an advertising copy writer, finds himself engaged in an unexpected project, to make the least sexy creatures in the universe, the alien Grays of Area 51 fame, sexy. He succeeds, but at what cost? This one has serious echoes of the Twilight Zone’s classic “To Serve Mankind” episode, along with just enough dry humor to keep it moving along. Oh, and there’s sex — weird, gooey, mind-blowing sex.
My personal favorite, and the most technically experimental short story in the group, is “As Long as It Takes to Make the World” by Gabriela Santiago. Told in the present tense, this is a year long tale of a group of farmers living on a world that looks like an idealized version of our own, but that is made up of anything but our familiar dirt and trees and flowers. The opening sentence sucked me all the way in. It is long, but worth quoting:
*Passes out from sheer joy*
As this synthetic world unfolds, you find that real or fake isn’t really the point here, the cyclical nature of existence is, and you get to see how that cycle has been broken, and how it carries on.
“I think of science fiction as a viewing surface onto which writers project their anxieties and hopes for the future.” -Kristine Ong Muslim, Co-Editor.
Which is revealing as pointing to my only critique of the collection — across the short stories selected, there isn’t as much variety of theme as I would have liked. This is science fiction filled with near-future anxieties about the present. There are a few aliens, but mostly these are stories of struggle with technology, otherness, peace, and loss on a very terrestrial level. There are no other worlds featured, and none of the more niche styles, like space or militaristic, make an appearance. I can accept that that’s a reflection of the kinds of stories submitted, but I would have liked to see more of the landscape as it were, even if it meant including slightly less polished works. As it stands, this special issue reads as an extension of Octavia’s Brood, high praise, but not something brand-new.
Given the current conversation on #BlackSpecFic going on in the field (see my article The Fireside Fiction Report: a Reader/Critic’s Perspective), it is noteworthy here that this anthology is a perfect example of the danger of letting Special Issue Anthologies do the work of popularizing Black Speculative Fiction writers, allowing quarterly magazines go on publishing almost zero such writers without consequence. I’ll let K. Tempest Bradford put it in 140 characters for you:
Not just for special issues — & hey, I'm down with special issues, yay for JJA and Yant and special issues. STILL. It's a start, not a stop
— K Tempest Bradford (@tinytempest) August 11, 2016
With this commentary in mind, this is a great example of what Science Fiction looks like when it includes PoC writers from across the spectrum of styles. People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction features 10 short stories, 10 flash fiction pieces, 5 reprints, and more than 30 essays. It is a lot of content and my review only scratches the surface of what this book holds. But given this surface, I can recommend this one, no doubt.
With the success of the Kickstarter, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror will be out October 1, 2016 (edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia) and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy (edited by Daniel Jose Older) on December 1, 2016. I’ll be picking them both up and I expect a lot of other fans will too.