1

In one of the introductions to a collection of his short stories, Asimov reminisced with his time with Astounding Science Fiction.

He commented that he always suspected that Campbell, the editor of Astounding thought of men in space as basically white men in space. Strange really, as SF, when it works well, is about investigating the human condition like all other great works of fiction. And it seems bizarre to ignore the human condition of everyone else on this Earth. (Perhaps not so bizarre when one contemplates the everyday racism of that era and which Asimov was far too circumspect to mention).

I'm curious as to what the first published science-fiction in either the UK or the USA that starred a non-western character in the role of the protagonist.

Obviously, aliens or robots don't count.

7
  • What does count? I'm sure there are stories dating way back that just don't even bring up the geneology of the protagonist (or other characters). Attribution of any characteristics is left to the reader.
    – SteveV
    Jun 4 '20 at 17:11
  • @SteveV: if a character was named Brian one can assume, I think, that it is a white westerner. If for some reason the character was black, that would be so unusual that one would expect the author to comment on this. What's hard to understand as earliest? I mean, I don't think Jules Verne or HG Wells had any non-western characters. Jun 4 '20 at 17:18
  • 2
    The correct tag is history-of, not story-identification. Do not switch the tags again.
    – Null
    Jun 4 '20 at 17:28
  • What I am saying is that most people understand identification to mean "I have this specific thing in mind. What is it?" With history-of questions, you have no specific thing in mind. You want to understand the development of the genre. In fact, people usually do not really want the name of the work so much as the year.
    – Adamant
    Jun 5 '20 at 5:21
  • @Adamant: What's with the l'authorianiste No? If you, Null, and TheLethalCarrot were interested in tagging clarity, then the obvious solution is to add a tag, first-story-of. Instead, you seem to be much more invested in pedantically enforcing tedious tagging rules. Like I said, bureaucratic conformiste. Jun 5 '20 at 5:37
6

This is an incomplete answer because I am unable to find any text to quote. That said, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction's Race in SF page suggests Herrmann Lang's The Air Battle (1859). (This being the earliest, of those listed, that seems to include overt SF elements, and that is listed in the ISFDb.)

I found a short description of the book that says:

The novel presents in short compass a remarkable portrait of a world several millennia hence, long after European civilization has been destroyed by floods and earthquakes and other Disasters; the peace-loving black rulers of the country of Sahara dominate Africa, and in a final battle with other powers utilize their great heavier-than-air machines – the first sf use of such devices as Weapons – to establish a beneficial world-wide Pax Aeronautica, which may be first instance of the use of air power in this sense.

user14111 found a much longer review in Science-Fiction, The Early Years (page 420) on Google books. While confirming that the 3 main characters are white, there is at least 1 major viewpoint character who is not:

Subplots are concerned with the adventures of Jakadox, a Saharan [black] boy who speaks future Cockney. He escapes captivity among the Madeirans, lands inadvertently on an island inhabited by blue-skinned savages who propose to burn him alive, then escapes to England, where he is instrumental in the downfall of the wicked Jonas.

Jakadox gets married at the end, which seems to confirm his status among the heroes of the book.

11
  • That's great. Thanks. It would be nice to know what the story and the characters were about. Too bad you haven't discovered anything you can quote. Jun 4 '20 at 17:27
  • 1
    @MoziburUllah Now that that's solved, I wonder what's the earliest non-western story (any genre) starring a western character? The earliest Asian story starring a non-Asian character?
    – user14111
    Jun 5 '20 at 7:28
  • 3
    An honorable mention should go to "Prince Dakkar, son of the Hindu raja of Bundelkhand, and a descendant of the Muslim Sultan Fateh Ali Khan Tipu of the Kingdom of Mysore" aka Captain Nemo (introduced in 1870 in "20 000 Leagues", identified in 1875 in "Mysterious Island"), if only because the OP so angrily insisted that Jules Verne could not have non western characters (Verne is French of course, but then the OP brought him up himself). Jun 5 '20 at 15:07
  • 1
    If another example is needed, J. A. Mitchell's 1889 The Last American, while 35 years later, has the advantage of having the full text available at Project Gutenberg, and all the viewpoint characters are non-western, being Persians exploring the ruins of postapocalyptic America in the 30th century.
    – user14111
    Jun 5 '20 at 21:55
  • 2
    @Eike Pierstoff, I think you should add that as an answer.
    – Jetpack
    Jun 5 '20 at 22:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.