This was the question that was running across my mind as I was reading SCIENCE FICTION, IMPERIALISM AND THE THIRD WORLD: ESSAYS ON POSTCOLONIAL LITERATURE AND FILM by Ericka Hoagland and Reema Sarwal.
That, and reading reading James McGrath’s review of So Long Been Dreaming, a text on postcolonialism and fiction.
Don’t get me wrong. I am an enthusiast for science fiction film and now just getting into reading, as well as post-colonial studies, but there has to be a reason why I am so picky when it comes to engaging both, right? I don’t think every book that claims to be “post-colonial” is worth reading just as much as I have to choose Star Trek: Deep Space 9 over the X-Files.
But the thing is, while I grew up watching Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation in my days of learning the awesomeness of reading from Geordi La Forge on Reading Rainbow, the concepts that come with the post-colonial lens may come into conflict with the worldviews espoused by science fiction works. Science fiction has its gatekeepers–even members of the general populace themselves, that maintains a strict whose in and whose out attitude. The genre has to have its purists because it has a distinct history which its adherents wish to protect. Post-colonialism, on the other hand, morphs into whatever genre a writer so chooses. Its about promoting an underlying set of values and habits, whether that is found in readings of sacred texts, novels, speculative fiction, or biographies (Hoagland, page 5).
Science fiction is geared toward the masses, while postcolonial scholarship is done by a small group of academic elites, to put it bluntly (Hoagland, 6). On the other hand, science fiction has this dystopic tradition of fearing colonization which lead to a small band of misfits struggling against THE empire, ala Star Wars. In the 19th and early 20th century, the first of science fiction lit were written to affirm hard science, modernity, and to some extent, a more Cartesian, Enlightenment worldview which emphasized rationality (Hoagland, 21-22). Post-colonials see many of the aforementioned concepts as the enablers of European imperialism. Furthermore, I think that science fiction writers’ addiction to dystopia in favor of a utopian thinking has some real drawbacks, especially considering the exclusive nature of utopias that go goes unquestioned– For more on this see the two essays in Hoagland and Sharmal– “The Shapes of Dystopia: Boundaries, Hybridity, and the Politics of Power” by Jessica Langer and “Octavia Butler’s PARABLE OF THE SOWER: the third world as topos for a U.S. utopia.”
Even given these issues, I somehow still believe that post-colonial theorists would do well to engage sci-fi films, television shows, and books to make post-colonial theory more accessible to the general public.
What say you? Can science fiction and post-colonialism co-exist?