This is a delightful collection of short stories. It starts with a scholarly introduction to the history of Black Sci-Fi. And, for once, Black isn’t just limited to mean “African American”. We get a panoply of authors – both modern and historic.
Some of the historic stories – especially W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Comet – are wonderful. A hundred year old sci-fi that is still as relevant today as it was then
Others, are less so. Some of the stories are framed as “proto-science-fiction” – but they’re really alternate history stories. That’s fine, but they’re probably really only interesting if you’re intimately familiar with the history of the USA. As the publisher mentions, the “historical nature of the classic text” means there is a lot of outdated and potentially offensive language. And, while it does make for an uncomfortable experience, I found it particularly difficult to read some of the Antebellum South slang:
“Come ole man, yeh got mautch? light sum dem shavens dah, quick. Ah cah fine de chile heah on dis bed!” said Mammy Judy, on entering the hut and feeling about in the dark for little Joe. “Ailcey, wat yeh done wid de chile?”
Which, to a 21st Century Englishman, makes for a perplexing read!
Perhaps the most interesting historical sci-fi in the collection is 1904’s “Light Ahead for the Negro” by Edward A. Johnson – the first African-American member of the New York state legislature. The story is a thinly veiled political manifesto for how to bring about a socialist utopia in the USA, as told by a time-traveller to the distant year of 2006. Some of its predictions are amazing, and some are just depressing – often within the same paragraph:
His private secretary came in and seated himself at a phonographic typewriter which took down the words in shorthand, typewrote them on a sheet for preservation in the office, and at the same time sent the letter by telephone to its destination.
But my surprise was awakened by the fact that this private secretary was a Negro; not full black, but mixed blood – in color, between an Indian and a Chinaman. I ascertained from this young man that it was now “quite common” for Southern white men of large affairs to employ Negroes for higher positions in their offices, counting rooms, and stores. (They had a precedent for this in the custom of the Romans, who used their educated Greek slaves in this way.)
He also told me that the matter of social equality was not mentioned. He naturally associated with his own people. He simply wanted to do his work faithfully, and neither expected nor asked to sit by his employer’s fireside. In a word, he showed that to give the Negro an education need not necessarily “turn his head.”
The human mind can conceive of wondrous inventions – but is limited in social revolutions by its native paradigm.
The modern stories were much more my speed. An excellent mix of adventure and excitement. Some of them are in the creepy-Lovecraftian style, others are terrifying glimpses into the future. A great collection to dip in and out of.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview copy.