In 1896, Jagadish Chandra Bose proved science fiction wasn’t a white man’s game


Jagadish Chandra Bose's list of accomplishments is long and inspiring. He was a genius polymath, studying and contributing to the fields of physics, biology, biophysics, botany and archaeology. He also made significant contributions to radio and sonic technology and was hailed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering as one of the "fathers of radio." For his work in radio technology, a crater on the moon was named after him. 

On Wednesday, Bose's 158th birthday, Google published a Google Doodle to honor his achievements and scientific contributions.

Beyond his professional work, however, Bose was also one of the first writers of science fiction. Bose wrote "Nirrudeshar Kahini" ("The Story of the Missing") in 1896 for a writing competition sponsored by a popular hair oil. He won.

Online speculative fiction publication Strange Horizons describes Bose as a "once-in-a-generation scientist." According to Strange Horizons, "Nirrudeshar Kahini" is iconic and valuable as a work of literary and scientific history. It's an intelligent, bilingual and "tongue-in-cheek" story that anticipated chaos theory's famous "butterfly effect." Strange Horizons argues that the changes made to the work between the original and the second version, renamed "Palatak Toofan" ("Runaway Cyclone") and published in 1921, serve as a unique time capsule of colonialism and nationalism in India. The story tells of the sudden dispersion of a cyclone that had been threatening Calcutta.

Science fiction communities often credit Ray Bradbury's 1952 short story "A Sound of Thunder" for the first literary use of the butterfly effect, which suggests that small changes in an initial state can lead to drastic changes in results.

Bose wrote about the butterfly effect in "Nirrudeshar Kahini" more than half a century before American mathematician and meteorologist Edward Norton Lorenz even made the scientific discovery that would eventually lead to the coining of the term. 

A culture war has plagued the science fiction community recently, with men's rights activists attempting to ruin the Hugo Awards for upholding so-called "social justice warrior" ideologies and praising writers who aren't white men. Bose's story (and Mary Shelley's works) serve as a reminder that science fiction has never been a white boy's club.