Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. This month’s installment is a call for the appreciation of Samuel R. Delany’s first published novel, The Jewels of Aptor. Written in Delany’s teens, Aptor was first published as an Ace Double in 1962, when the author was twenty. But that version had been shortened to fit the Ace Double format; for its 1968 solo edition fifteen cut pages were restored.
Fiction and Excerpts 
Our focus this column is on “The Comet,” a science fiction short story by W.E.B. Du Bois. Yes, as I note in the original Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction, that W.E.B. Du Bois: the well-known and recently misspelled critical thinker and race theorist. “The Comet” was first published in 1920 as the final chapter of his autobiographical collection of poems and essays Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil. Though nowhere near as influential as Du Bois’ monumental The Souls of Black Folk, Darkwater was popular and well-received. But by the time, almost a century later, that author and editor and Sheree Renee Thomas was compiling her own groundbreaking book, the anthology Dark Matter 1, she found this early and prominent work of science fiction languishing in completely undeserved obscurity.
On International Women’s Day, several of the best writers in SF/F today reveal new stories inspired by the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted”, raising their voice in response to a phrase originally meant to silence.
The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the day of March 8th. They are collected here.
Series: Nevertheless She Persisted
I don’t want to inflict vertigo on you, but in this installment of a deeper dive into my Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction we fly from the far past of 1887 and “The Goophered Grapevine,” to a novel of the nearly now.
Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett could be categorized as the hardest of hardcore science fiction: aliens, spaceships, supercomputers–it has them all. Yet the lasting impression left by this brief but monumental 2014 novel is one of ethereality. Empires fall, towers melt into the air, and in the end only the most beautiful of ephemera abide: love and stories.
As I explained in this column’s first installment, this series is an expansion of my Fantastic Stories of the Imagination article titled “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” This new column delves more deeply into each of the 42 titles on that list. Deciding not to do that in forward or reverse chronological order, I began with Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day (1988) because of the special place it holds in my heart. Now I’m going to look even deeper into the past and switch things up to talk about “The Goophered Grapevine” by Charles W. Chesnutt, a 19th-century story that deserves our attention because of its brainy convolutions.
About a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published my article titled “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” In the spirit of Charles W. Eliot’s 51-foot shelf of Harvard Classics, I listed 42 short stories and novels that I deemed essential reads for students of Black science fiction and fantasy. This new column will delve more deeply into each of the titles on that list in turn.
My original list is chronological. But I’m going not going to begin this series of columns at that list’s beginning. Nor am I simply going to reverse the list and back up on those 42 titles from its end. Time is not the point here. Meaning is. I give Mama Day (1988) primacy of place in this series because it means some very personal things to me.
In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!
Steep: a word redolent of depths. I buy and dry and cut and stir together certain ingredients, then steep them. Drown them. Beneath just-boiled water they release their essences to mingle pleasingly.
For my work I write. For my play I blend teas.
Words are powerful magic. Finding a word—polyamory—to describe my romantic and sexual relationships made it possible to tell people what I was doing: my friends, my family, my lovers, and most importantly, myself. I was a college dropout when I first encountered the term polyamory, which we’ll define here as the conscious romantic and/or sexual involvement of three or more consenting adults.
The comic book which introduced me to the name of this concept, and which I read so eagerly, has gotten lost somewhere in my forty-plus years of raggle-taggle relocations. Its main character was named Polly, and I think the front cover was mostly black…. At any rate, it left me longing for further literary examples of this newly validated category of human behavior: stories about kissing and hugging and making love with everybody, without guilt or shame. Which I both wrote and found.
Series: Five Books About…
Nisi Shawl’s Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.
Told from a multiplicity of voices, Everfair manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Available September 6th from Tor Books. Read an excerpt below, and check out another sneak peek at the novel at the Tor/Forge blog!
Cyberpunk. It’s about cybernetics, neuroscience, nanotech, and transhumanism—and much more than that. The upcoming anthology from Hex Publishers, Cyber World, looks at how the technological changes we all face have inspired new stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires. All this as Homo sapiens evolves—or not—into its next incarnation.
Some of the most talented science fiction writers of today contributed to Cyber World, which presents diverse tales of humanity’s tomorrow. Today six of those authors answer the question “What are the best and worst aspects of cyberpunk, as either a reader or a writer?” Read their answers and tell us your own thoughts in the comments!
Series: Cyberpunk Week on Tor.com
Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation.
Edited by Hugo Award winner Jason Heller and Joshua Viola, Cyber World presents diverse tales of humanity’s tomorrow, as told by some of today’s most gripping science fiction visionaries. We’re pleased to reprint Nisi Shawl’s “The Mighty Phin,” a story set in her Amends universe, where prisoners must attend mandatory virtual therapy sessions with the artificial intelligence Dr. Ops. Cyber World is available November 2016 from Hex Publishers.
Series: Cyberpunk Week on Tor.com
People have always had sex. Even in the Victorian era, a time synonymous these days with prudery and abstinence, sexual acts were committed.
In one of the period’s most infamous cases, popular author Oscar Wilde was tried and jailed for the “gross indecency” of making love with other men. Yet Wilde wasn’t alone in his support of “Uranian” (same-sex) relationships. Poet Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s lover and originator of the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” (echoed in this post’s title), was also a proponent of the well-known Uranian movement. Since steampunk so often draws on Victoriana, we should find Uranian interests represented in a fair number of steampunk stories, right? Plus, the overtness of sexual markers such as corsets in steampunk, and the tendency of the genre’s authors to imagine modern attitudes into their versions of the past, should make queer steampunk common enough that multiple examples are easy to find. Right? Right?
Series: Steampunk Week
In front of maybe two hundred people, I said you could call steampunk a reactionary literature. I vowed to do my bit to head off the danger by writing a steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo. I told Michael Swanwick he would beg on his knees to read it.
This was last October at the 2009 World Fantasy Convention. I opened my big mouth during the panel “Why Steampunk Now?” while quite visible, seated on a nice, high dais next to Michael, Ann VanderMeer, Liz Gorinsky (gorgeously costumed), and Deborah Biancotti. I’d come to the con because of my two award nominations1, and I’d been stuck on this panel on a topic about which I was anything but an expert. And which actually rather squicked me.
Because while steampunk’s nonliterary components—fashion, art, music—are some of the most diverse scenes around, steampunk books and stories I was familiar with often seemed nostalgic for an imaginary vanished age of whiteness. Almost without exception they glorified British Victorian imperialism. They did this despite the fact that many of the cultural, scientific, and aesthetic elements steampunk celebrates had been appropriated from nations the British Empire conquered, and the related fact that the machinery steampunk focuses on had primarily been maintained by nonwhites.
Series: Steampunk Fortnight
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