Spies are mysterious, seductive, superhuman characters that have defined pop culture for decades. Whether from the machismo maverick of Ian Fleming’s James Bond or the big screen technological bravado of Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt, there is one major item that all of these fictional spies have tended to have in common…they’re White dudes. Spy flicks have been havens for the cis-White male fantasies of driving the nice car, seducing the beautiful woman, and always being in the right place at the right time with the right answer. There is a reason there was such vitriol and toxicity when Lashana Lynch was revealed as the new 007 in the movie No Time to Die. There hasn’t been any room given in mainstream media for alternative stories that do not fit into the basic narrative of what being a “spy” actually means.
And just like the undercover agents within the pages, Spyfunk! emerges from the shadows to eliminate the stereotypes of the mainstream espionage narrative. Spyfunk! (what a dope title for a novel.) is an anthology edited by Milton J. Davis, the author of the Changa series of media, multiple-time nominee for the British Science Fiction Award for the Short Fiction category, and winner of the Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award for the ECBACC. Davis lends the prowess behind his name to elevate the voices of many authors in this anthology. The common theme that draws these gifted voices together is that each short story revolves around the art of spycraft and involves people of color in each narrative.
Other than that centralized theme, Spyfunk! promotes expression and experimentation in each author’s account. There are stories from the future, such as Tiara Janté’s “When the Tide Turns,” and there are stories from the past, like “El Originario Extraño Del Kalypso Kid” by Joe Hilliard. There are also stories that are just experiential escapes, such as “She Loves How He Glows” from the talented mind of Eugen Bacon. These seventeen excellent stories will grab the reader with the espionage, extravagance, and excitement of spies throughout the novel and direct pushes against the status quo as an indie novel of the highest quality.
Anthologies, as a rule, are difficult to review, as readers will undoubtedly have stories that satisfy and other narratives that leave one wanting. Content aside, each entry is well written. One can see that each author is an experienced craftsperson and able to deliver a well-crafted vision onto the page. However, some visions were too similar in process and gave a vibe of sameness. Davis structured the novel by order of the author’s last name. However, Spyfunk! could have benefited from editing the format of each narrative based on theme. Another critique could be found in some author’s failure to expand the spy narrative from basic pop culture forms. Some stories could have benefited more from some creativity and context rather than a recycling of norms. That being said, none of the stories here are deficient, and several are outstanding, including the aforementioned “She Loves How He Glows.”
Spyfunk! is a triumph of Black literature and should be lauded for pushing against the status quo of espionage fiction. Whether unraveling plots in Jones’s “Codes and Coda” or riding a futuristic ‘79 Swift in Jackson’s “The End is Ecstasy,” Spyfunk! has something for every fan of an enticing and thrilling chronicle. This was one of the most pleasurable reads of the year and is easily digested in parts due to the anthology’s format. Grab Spyfunk! as soon as possible from MVMedia, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. It is a treat for anyone who picks it up or snatches it from the grasp of one’s enemy. Sneakily…of course.
Ryan Files is a writer, editor, and poet discovering new artistic opportunities in Arizona. This creative writing teaching artist is the author of Half Dollar Moments, a poetry book featuring an eclectic blend of pop culture and black history. Ryan’s current projects can be found at fileswrites.com.