Raja, Masood Ashraf, Jason W. Ellis, and Swaralipi Nandi, eds. The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011. 225 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-0-7864-6141-7. $40.00.
The editors of The Postnational Fantasy set themselves a daunting and ambitious task, claiming that their collection "places itself at the nexus of current debates about nationalism, postnational capitalism, the reassertion of third world nationalism and its cosmopolitical counterparts, and the role of contemporary science fiction and fantasy in challenging, normalizing, or contesting these major conceptual currents of our times" (14). The contents of the collection include a brief foreword by Donald M. Hassler, an introduction by two of the co-editors, Masood A. Raja and Swaralipi Nandi, and twelve essays divided into three sections, each containing four essays. The first section examines ways in which postcolonialism can be applied to the study of the sf genre, while the second section concentrates more specifically on notions of nation and ethnicity in sf. The third section focuses on emerging trends in the fantastic in an attempt to illustrate the transition from questions of nationalism to a discourse of postnationalism. Perhaps what is most pleasantly surprising about the collection is that for the most part, it is successful in achieving the editors' stated outcome of presenting a collection that is "not only an investigation of science fiction studies in the light of postcolonial theory but also an enrichment of postcolonial canon by incorporating science fiction and fantasy as forms and genres worthy of inclusion in what is called the postcolonial counter-canon" (9).
Before continuing to extol some of the virtues of this text, it should first be noted that the collection of essays begins with a foreword by Hassler that for all its brevity nevertheless succeeds at starting off on a strange and jarring note. While the foreword features celebratory comments regarding how "massively important" the collection seems to Hassler, and his "joy and delight in being able to share in the launch," it also posits an argument that seems at odds with the work of the rest of the collection (1, 3). Namely, Hassler asserts: "Clearly, the origins of science fiction are in the strong nationalism of the American frontier so that now, in the postmodern era, as the American Empire spreads the taste for SF globally the genre changes in response to its new environment" (1). This American-centric construction of the past, present, and future of sf as originating in and necessarily defined by the colonialism and imperialism of the US is most certainly out of step with the content of the rest of the collection. Moreover, this construction seems particularly unusual given the fact that only a paragraph later Hassler makes reference to non-US examples such as Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, French writer Jules Verne, and Japanese manga, all while uncritically and inaccurately categorizing such international activity as the "globalization of the American genre" (2).
The other disappointment of the collection is the lack of substantive fantasy content, with one notable exception. Despite the title of the text, and assertions in the introduction that the collection looks at both sf and fantasy, the essays are almost exclusively focused on sf. The only chapter that takes fantasy as its primary focus is the essay "Engineering a Cosmopolitan Future: Race, Nation, and World of Warcraft" contained in the final section of the collection. While this essay, written by co-editor Jason W. Ellis, may be the only essay in the collection devoted exclusively to fantasy content, it nevertheless succeeds in providing a thoughtful and nuanced reading of the politics and pedagogies of cosmopolitanism in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft, and in doing so provides a strong but solitary fantasy component to the collection. …