Black Empire: George Schuyler, Black Radicalism and Dieselpunk

blackempire3232011Sometime in the 1930s, a black journalist is kidnapped in Harlem by the charismatic Dr. Henry Belsidius, leader of the Black Internationale–a shadowy organization determined to build a Black Empire and overthrow the world of white racial hegemony with cunning and super science. Journalist George S. Schulyer’s fantastic tale was written in serials in the black Pittsburgh Courier between 1936 and 1938 under the pseudonym Samuel I. Brooks. It quickly found a loyal following among African-American readers, who saw in Dr. Belsidius and the Black Internationale a heroic, sci-fi tale of black nationalism, triumph and race pride. The newspaper was surprised at the serials’ growing popularity, and pushed for more–sixty-two in all. Yet no one was as surprised at the story’s success than George Schulyer who, disdaining what he saw as the excesses of black nationalism and race pride, had written Black Empire as satire.

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Black People on Mars: Race and Ray Bradbury

Prolific science fiction writer Ray Bradbury died this week, at the age of 91. I read my first Bradbury book in middle school–The Illustrated Man— and it *blew my mind.* It wasn’t my first speculative fiction book by any means. I’d long torn through Middle Earth, traveled Narnia, tesseracted across space and time with Meg and Charles Wallace and tried my hand at inventing with Danny Dunn. (Yeah, let those memories sink in). But the stories in The Illustrated Man were on another level–it was like everything I loved about the old Rod Serling hostedTwilight Zone episodes my mother got me into, but on paper…and with words! From the creepy virtual reality nursery story “The Veldt” to the hauntingly sad “The Exiles” (we made Santa cry!) to every-kid’s-revenge story “Zero Hour,” I knew I’d never look at sci-fi the same way again. Most startling of all was a story by Bradbury called “The Other Foot”–startling to my young PoC eyes, because the main characters were something I’d hardly seen before. They were black.

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The Inheritance Trilogy

Someone asked me recently what was the best speculative fiction book I’d read in the past year. Usually, I’d do alot of hemming and hawing as I try to come up with an answer–divided into varied genres and sub-genres and honorable mentions. But this time, almost immediately, I had an answer– The Kingdom of the Gods, book 3 in The Inheritance Trilogy by author N.K. Jemisin.

I stumbled onto the first book in the trilogy The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms years ago by chance in 2010. Someone, somewhere, had mentioned a new black author in fantasy (there are so few it’s a wonder fanfare doesn’t play at the mention), and a female author at that (cue the tubas!). Brief plot blurb: Yeine Darr, an outcast from the barbarian North, finds herself embroiled in a murderous game of royal succession in the floating city of Sky–heart of the Arameri Empire, where gods with seemingly limitless power are enslaved to mortals. Picked up the book and at first was a bit put off. For one, it’s told in first person–a style of writing I just wasn’t comfortable with. Second, here was a black female fantasy writer, and her main characters were decidedly . . . not. But the main protagonist, Yeine, was a POC (i’d later learn based on some derivation of Native American) so I decided to stick with it. And with the introduction of the Nightlord, I was hooked. I finished the first book before I even knew what was happening. Here was a story unlike most fantasy I was used to–with new systems of magic, a fully fleshed out world, and the mind-bending idea of gods as enslaved weapons. The characters were both relatable and unfathomable; the story and plot were engaging; and the prose was plain enviable.

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