Postcolonialism and Science Fiction: An Excerpt

4210c3cabd31943ec3abeb7120c488f3Over at io9, an excerpt from Jessica Langer's new book:

Most readers will be familiar with the classic oppositional science fiction tropes of the grotesque bug-eyed alien bent on Earthly domination and the beautiful but empty planet, ripe for colonization – or, of course, the dangerous planet whose inhabitants dare to fight back against the lantern-jawed colonial hero. Several studies have addressed the parallelism between historical and science-fictional “alien” encounters, the most comprehensive and recent being John Rieder's exploration of this period in science fiction and history, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (2008). The figure of the alien – extraterrestrial, technological, human-hybrid or otherwise – and the figure of the far-away planet ripe for the taking are deep and abiding twin signifiers in science fiction, are perhaps even the central myths of the genre. They are, to riff on the most famous work of Robert A. Heinlein, one of science fiction's most famous writers, the Stranger in a Strange Land. Aliens, including humans – who are, of course, alien to those aliens – and strange, foreign, other planets – which includes, of course, our own Earth, from the perspective of the alien. What the alien signifies, of course, varies greatly, as does the signification of the similarly central intergalactic terra nullius.

These two signifiers are, in fact, the very same twin myths of colonialism. The Stranger, or the Other, and the Strange Land – whether actually empty or filled with those Others, savages whose lives are considered forfeit and whose culture is seen as abbreviated and misshapen but who are nevertheless compelling in their very strangeness – are at the very heart of the colonial project, and their dispelling is at the heart of the postcolonial one.

How, then, can a genre so steeped in, so built upon, the Stranger and the Strange Land in its diegetic reality work to undo them in our consensus reality, what Darko Suvin calls our “zero world”?

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