Can Science Fiction and The Post-colonial Co-exist?

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?

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11 thoughts on “Can Science Fiction and The Post-colonial Co-exist?

  1. I’m only pointing this out because I’m concerned people might question your status as a sci-fi guy, but LeVar Burton played Geordi La Forge on Star Trek.

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  3. Hey there – glad you liked the collection, and my contribution to it! FYI, if I may engage in a bit of shameless self-promotion, my book Postcolonialism and Science Fiction comes out in December and discusses a lot of these issues, particularly the conflict between the rationalist scientific paradigm of the imperialists and the worldviews of colonized people.

    You might also be interested in John Rieder’s book Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction, to which my book is sort of a sequel, and does what it says in the tin.

    – Jessica

      • My pleasure, and apologies for taking so long to reply!

        You could probably get a review copy by offering to review one of the texts for an academic journal like Extrapolation or Science Fiction Studies. Alternately, you can always contact the publisher of either book and ask if they’ll send you a copy to review on your blog; they may very well say yes.

  4. I’ve recently been introduced to both genres and find that they are uncannily similar: to the extent that they are both responses to the effect of modernity (colonialism or technology) on society, and enable one to articulate one’s orientation, or the need to reposition oneself within given coordinates (e.g. in a post-colonial context, the subject has to re-orientate one’s relationship to the world because of the opposing colonial Other that threatens to redefine a civilization that he has become accustomed to. In the context of SF, the reader and characters are placed in a fantasy space – with aliens, avatars, and the like – that interestingly (ironically?) articulate human concerns in a parallel universe). This is still a broad idea, and I’m working out my thoughts on the issue but yes – am glad to find that I’m not alone in making these connections

  5. Hi i’m sathiyaseelan, research scholar from India, as i have to pursue my research into science fiction: strongly decided i have to read Jessica madam Post Colonialism and Science Fiction. If u give so much ideas about post colonial writers and important works, journals, articles and publication, it will help my research. i hope u madam

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