Science Fiction and Empire

By Patricia Kerslake | Go to book overview

1. The Self and Representations of the Other in Science Fiction

In his work Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (1978), Edward W Said first academised the postcolonial notion of the Other. For there to be an 'us', he stated, there has to be a 'not-us', an Other, as both subjects define themselves through a mutual process of exclusion. In the demarcation of a place or centre for one culture or individual, there is an automatic displacement and marginalisation of all who stand outside or apart from that place. The opposition between 'us' and 'them', or between man and not-man (or 'Un-man' as C. S. Lewis called his malignant villain in Perelandra. 1943), achieves a central structural tension which Inspires the very Idea of 'alien'. This notion holds true In all domains of SF, and Is especially notable In those texts that invoke Images of an Imposed colonlalisation. Said supported this, saying 'we look for things described by the books so that we (in the end) do not see what Is real, but what we choose to see as real',1 a thought originally discussed by Francis Bacon in Novum Organum (1620). When we see what we think we ought to be seeing and extrapolate assumptions of behaviour based upon such fallacy a form of 'representation' is produced. When one culture imposes its perceptions on another, in that it begins to see the Other not as they are but as, in Said's words, 'they ought to be'2 then the process of representation becomes Inevitable: a choice is made to see a 'preferred' real. It is in the combination of these two ideas – the self ana representations of the Other – that we are first able to locate the fundamentally Important function of the Other in SE

The location of the Other In SF is an excellent place ro begin the identification and explanation of experiments in the use of power and politics, since it possesses an affinity to both the concepts of postcolonialism and the focus of SF texts discussed in works such as Mark Rose's Alien Encounters ( 1981). However, before we can comprehend the nature of the genre's manipulation of the various forms of political, economic and cultural imperialism, it is important that we see exactly what Is being manipulated and why.

The role of empire in SF is a massive form of cultural inculcation, with different factional stances taken at different periods by different authors and for widely differing reasons. Yet all factions, every period and each author share a comparative and basic unit of currency – people. Whether

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