So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy
, (eds.) Nalo Hopkinson, Uppinder Mehan
So much of science fiction (and, sometimes less overtly, fantasy) has been, and continues to be about colonisation: colonising other planets, moulding other species into a human-led or human-structured federation or empire or whatever, aliens coming to colonise Earth, tow interstellar cultures struggling to see who gets to colonise the other/Other, noble kings or Dark Lords or good old North American spaceboys colonising other towns, cities, countries, empires, planets, galaxies, universes…
At the same time, so much of our history has been, and even in a postcolonial world (postcolonial in some places with respect to political systems, anyway - I have my doubts as to whether we’re anywhere near postcolonialism on a cultural or economic way) continues to be about the fact of, and the effects and consequences and reverberations of, colonialism and imperialism right here on Earth.
And so, it seems to make perfect sense to collect the voices of people writing out of a postcolonial personal, cultural, historical experience who are writing in, or around, or near, a genre that that’s colonisation as one of its enduring themes, and that is dominated by peoples who here on Earth – and in science fiction and fantasy visions – have been traditionally among the colonisers.
As co-editor Nalo Hopkinson notes in her introduction,
Arguably, one of the most familiar memes of science fiction is that of going to foreign countries and colonizing the natives, and as I’ve said elsewhere, for many of us, that’s not a thrilling adventure story; it’s non-fiction, and we are on the wrong side of the strange-looking ship that appears out of nowhere. To be a person of colour writing science fiction is to be under suspicion of having internalized one’s colonization.
Hopkinson goes on to respond to Audre Lorde’s famous dictum that “The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house”:
In my hands, massa’s tools don’t dismantle massa’s house – and in fact, I don’t want to destroy it so much as I want to undertake massive renovations – they build me a house of my own.
Or as co-editor Uppinder Mehan writes in his afterword,
One of the key strategies employed by these writers is to radically shift the perspective of the narrator from the supposed rightful heir of contemporary technologically advanced cultures to those of us whose cultures have had their technology destroyed and stunted. The narrators and characters in these stories make the language of the colonizer their own by reflecting it back but using it to speak unpleasant truths, by expanding its vocabulary and changing its syntax to better accommodate their different worldviews, and by ironically appropriating its terms for themselves and their lives. Postcolonial visions are both a questioning of colonial/imperialist practices and conceptions of the native or the colonized, and an attempt to represent the complexities of identity that terms such as “native” and “colonized” tend to simplify.
The postcolonial stories on offer in this volume are grouped around five themes: the body, future earth, allegory, encounters with the alien, and imagining the past.
Contributors to the collection include both those who are primarily known as writers of science fiction and fantasy, such as Karin Lowachee, Tobias S. Bucknell, Sheree R. Thomas, Larissa Lai, Greg van Eekhout, Ven Begamudré, Nisi Shawl and Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, and writers who are as well, or better known for their plays, poetry, literary fiction, work in other genres, or fiction that blurs the boundaries, such as Andrea Hairston, Suzette Mayr, Eden Robinson, Vandana Singh, Tamai Kobayashi, Wade Compton, Celu Amberstone, devorah major, Carole McDonnell, Opal Palmer Adisa, and Maya Khankhoje.
As a white woman of settler heritage, I found a lot in this collection to think about. As a reader, I found a great deal to enjoy, and some writers new to me whose books I’m now very eager to read.