Sunday, December 06, 2015

University professors uncover new sci fi story by W.E.B. Du Bois

If you’re an avid reader of science fiction by big name authors like Ben Bova, Robert Heinlein, and Ursula Le Guin, you may have heard that the earliest African-American writer in the genre is Samuel Delaney. He was an early one who has definitely made a big contribution to the genre. However, there was one who predated him by several decades. Because he was more known for his non-fiction on race issues of his time, most people would not think W.E.B. Du Bois wrote science fiction among other fiction genres. Scholars have already known about W.E.B. Du Bois’ science fiction that often served as social criticism especially in light of technology. One of these stories is “The Comet”. But two university professors opened a Du Bois scholar’s version of a “Christmas gift” earlier this year but news media started reporting on it only since the beginning of the month. The “gift”: a short story by Du Bois entitled “The Princess Steel” that may be his earliest science fiction work to date.

Britt Rusert, professor of African-American literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Adrienne Brown who is a University of Chicago professor discovered Du Bois’ “The Princess Steel” in an archives box packed with short fiction of various genres, including science fiction, states a article. According to “io9”’s Charlie Jane Anders, the story was originally titled “The Megascope: A Tale of Tales”. Rusert and Brown “have dated [it] to 1908 and 1910—much earlier than any of Du Bois’ other speculative fiction,” explains

According to Slate, the story involves a black sociologist who looks into the past with a device called a “megascope”. Through the megascope, he sees a mythic society where an African princess, called the Princess Steel, is imprisoned by an imperial character known as “The Lord of the Golden Way”. He steals the princess’s silver hair that he discovers to be made of steel and uses it to establish a global-wide mill industry. Slate says the story is an important link in Afrofuturism, a social criticism movement against racism and poverty that often uses science fiction by black storytellers as a tool to teach about these issues.


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