Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film

By Higgins, David | Extrapolation, April 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film


Higgins, David, Extrapolation


Postcolonial Science Fiction. Ericka Hoagland and Reema Sarwal, eds. Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. viii + 223 pp. 9780786447893 $35.00 pbk.

Reviewed by David Higgins

Science Fiction, Imperialism, and the Third World is the first major anthology of scholarly work focused on sf and postcolonial theory. It joins a recent critical trend exemplified by monographs like John Rieder's Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (2008), Patricia Kerslake's Science Fiction and Empire (2007), and Jessica Fanger's Postcolonialism and Science Fiction (2011), which all examine sf in relation to colonial histories and legacies. Mark Bould and China Mieville's Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction (2009) offers a strong anthology of essays that consider sf in relationship to capitalism and imperialism, but Hoagland and Sarwal's volume is the first collection of sf scholarship which explicitly engages with postcolonial theory as such. It was succeeded in 2011 by Masood Ashraf Raja, Jason W. Ellis, and Swaralipi Nandi's The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction, but in my opinion, Science Fiction, Imperialism, and the Third World is the stronger of these two volumes.

Hoagland and Sarwal's anthology has an extraordinary range of subject matter. The entries are grouped into four categories: Re-inventing/Alternate History, Forms of Protest, Fresh Representation, and Utopia/Dystopia. This categorical division is somewhat awkward, and although the subsections themselves are coherent, the book as a whole feels somewhat scattershot (as though the editors simply collected together all the essays related to postcolonial sf they could gather and merged them together into a single volume). This breadth and range, however dis-unified it may be, nonetheless offers an intriguing selection of entries and topics; I found myself pleased at times to read about texts, issues, and contexts that might otherwise be outside my usual scope of inquiry.

One of the clear highlights of this book is Grant Hamilton's essay "Organization and the Continuum: History in Vandana Singh's 'Delhi'," which begins by offering a strong overview of the intersections between the concerns of sf and of postcolonial literature and theory; this overview is actually stronger in many ways than the framing offered in the Forward and the editors' Introduction. Hamilton reviews the short story "Delhi," one of the most striking entries in Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan's anthology So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy (2004), and he notes that the story explores alternative temporalities that disrupt an imperialist Western organization of time. It is a smart and useful article that I've used with advanced undergraduates in the classroom with great success.

Another star essay that makes the collection worthwhile is Shital Pravinchandra's "Body Markets: The Technologies of Global Capitalism and Manjula Padmanabhan's Harvest." Pravinchandra first draws attention to Harvest, an extraordinary Indian stage play set in an imagined future where third-world subjects lease their bodies to first-world elites for organ harvesting. Pravinchandra's reading of Harvest suggests that the play offers a "postcolonial critique of the harsh socio-economic inequalities created by globalization and exposes the dangerous and predatory effects of the biomedical and digital technologies that accompany the rise of global capitalism" (87). This is a fascinating article both in terms its primary source and in terms of the real-word issues it explores, and it stands out as a clear favorite in the volume.

Three other essays stand out as well. For one, Suparno Banerjee reads Amitav Ghosh's The Calcutta Chromosome (1996) as an exploration of the power of silence and secrecy in subaltern methods of offering hybrid countersciences that disrupt Western technoscientific paradigms. …

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