Academic journal article Extrapolation

An Alien Nation: Postcoloniality and the Alienated Subject in Vandana Singh's Science Fiction

Academic journal article Extrapolation

An Alien Nation: Postcoloniality and the Alienated Subject in Vandana Singh's Science Fiction

Article excerpt

Over the last fifteen years Indian science fiction in English has been foregrounding futuristic discourses on the nation and its developing social mores. One major theme to come out of these discourses has been the specter of an alienated postcolonial subject caught in the flux of historical eddies. Rather than finding a grounded existence in the national culture, such subjects are shown as torn by the forces of a gendered and capitalist economy in the throes of rapid industrial progress; they are caught in the lure of better lives as immigrants in the "first world" as well as by the traps of traditional Indian values. Vandana Singh's works repeatedly explore such estrangements through science fictional and fantastic tropes, and call attention to the different types and levels of alienation that haunt the people who negotiate their surroundings and identities in this new world order.

In the context of such explorations of alienation, Michelle Reid's comments on postcolonial science fiction become very pertinent. In "Postcolonial Science Fiction" Reid claims that science fiction can effectively express fundamental postcolonial concerns yet be different from its mimetic counterpart. She points out that the estranging capabilities of science fiction allow it to debunk the history of the real world and create worlds unburdened by colonial oppression - where colonization never happened, or where real world power relations are reversed and re-examined. She argues that the theme of colonization of other planets is very important in this respect and that the use of the alien as a representation of the Other is a potent trope for examining identity politics - racial, cultural, national, and gender related. Reid argues, "This strategy of literalizing otherness can encourage the mainly white, Western science fiction audiences to examine prejudices and assumptions that they might be reluctant to face head-on."

Although it can be argued that Reid does not acknowledge the gap between the real refuting of colonial ideology and merely providing a fantasy of escape, it is undeniable that radical estrangements used in science fiction are conducive to both purposes. This view is echoed by Uppinder Mehan in his "After Thoughts" in So Long Been Dreaming, the first anthology of postcolonial science fiction and fantasy, and also by Singh herself in "A Speculative Manifesto" (included in The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet). Both Singh and Mehan argue for speculative literature that would allow postcolonial authors to imagine futures different from the hegemonic Western pattern. Although postcolonial science fictions sometimes create fantasies of escape, more often than not these works genuinely question all ideologies of domination, including those of colonial, neo-colonial, and nativist origins. In the Indian context, such works as Boman Desai's The Memory of Elephants (1989), Amitav Ghosh's The Calcutta Chromosome (1996), a number of works by Manjula Padmanabhan (inlcuding Harvest, 1999 and Escape, 2008, etc.), Ruchir Joshi's The Last Jet-Engine Laugh (2001), Rimi ?. Chatterjee's Signal Red (2004), Priya Sarukkai Chabria's Generation 14 (2008), and Anil Menon's The Beast with Nine Billion Feet (2010) use science fiction in dealing with many of these postcolonial conditions in a poignant manner - often focusing on the individual's disconnection from and conflict with the larger society.1

Rewriting colonial histories and reinvesting colonial tropes with new meaning are well-known modes of wresting agency from the colonizers.2 Almost all recent scholarship on the generic aspects of postcolonial science fiction, such as by Ericka Hoagland and Reema Sarwal (2010), Masood Raja and Swaralipi Nandi (201 1), and Jessica Langer (20 11), concur that when such tropes are made literal, as in science fiction, the process of taking control becomes even more explicit. As Hoagland and Sarwal put it, "the Third World writers [...] are using the genre to reimagine themselves and their world, to 'set the record straight' by dismantling the stereotypes that science fiction in part has helped to support, and in essence 'strike back' at the empire" (6). …

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