Black Empire Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

There is little evidence to suggest that Schuyler was especially conversant with science-fiction conventions. Although Black Empire appeared during the beginnings of a boom in American pulp science fiction, Schuyler was never closely associated with this school. Schuyler wrote a variety of popular fiction in serial form, mostly romantic melodrama, to supplement his income as a columnist and editor. Schuyler’s aesthetic sensibility is shaped by a number of factors, including 1930’s horror films, back-to-Africa movements, and speculative fiction generally. He had no special attachment to the science-fiction genre and often spoke contemptuously of this genre and its audience.

Black Empire is a fascinating document. Although Schuyler despised racial chauvinism, he was generally sympathetic with any historical movement designed to challenge the imperialistic rule of the European powers. A pan-African conspiracy is something that Schuyler considered worth imagining. Black Empire is representative of the aspirations of many African Americans of the time, who were severely hit by the Depression and were victims of American racism. Black Empire in its original newspaper publication had almost an exclusively black audience that would have appreciated fantasizing about an end to white supremacy and the revitalization of the African continent. This was especially true in the light of black public outrage over the Italian attack on Ethiopia and American unwillingness to come to Ethiopia’s aid.

Later in his career, Schuyler became a notorious conservative. Some scholars have speculated that Schuyler’s construction of Dr. Henry Belsidus is prophetic of his own latent authoritarianism. Black Empire is prophetic in far more important and stirring ways. Like the best of futurist fiction, it is uncannily accurate (although chillingly so) in its prediction and description of the days to come. The world of Black Empire includes fax technology, solar energy, hydroponic agriculture, underground bunkers, and, shockingly, mass death by gassing. The novel as a whole is a populist fantasy that imagines the end to worldwide white supremacy through the application of black genius.