Visions of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fifteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

By Allienne R. Becker | Go to book overview

12
The Emphasis on the European Contact Situation in the American Science-Fiction Novel's Representation of Culture Tammy D. McJannet

From archaeological studies on prehistoric trade such as Creel "Bison Hides in Late Prehistoric Exchange in the Southern Plains" ( 1990) and Headland and Reid "Hunter-Gatherers and Their Neighbors from Prehistory to the Present" ( 1989) to analyses of European colonialism's impact on modern peoples such as Bohannan and Curtin Africa and Africans ( 1988) and Wolf Europe and the People without History ( 1982), the study of culture contact and its impact is common in anthropology. Culture contact is also a major theme in science fiction. Indeed, science fiction is popularly conceived of as the literature of alien beings and alien worlds-- incorporating the different and strange--in which contact with the "Other" serves to aid us in understanding ourselves. Confining myself to novels written for an American audience, I examined twenty representative works in which first contact between peoples was an element in order to discover something of how culture contact is depicted in science fiction. I found that, although use of the "Other" introduces important exotic elements and illustrative contrasts into the culture contact situation, sixteen of the twenty novels make reference to the history of contact between Europeans and aboriginal peoples during the global expansion of Europeans throughout the past five hundred years.

These novels incorporate many different facets of this history. Some refer to elements of its earliest phase. Two separate comparisons to Columbus occur in Farmer The Lovers ( 1979), for instance. Alluding to the explorations of the native insectoid species, mention is made of "the first wogglebug Columbus" (49-50). In the second reference, the human protagonist, a linguist named Hal Yarrow, compares the leader of the first human campaign to Columbus and wonders "will the story be the same?" (54) It is not clear what aspect of Columbus' legacy he refers to, however given the genocidal plans of the human leaders (140) he may presume that the natives of Ozagen will suffer annihilation as did the Arawaks whom Columbus first contacted ( McNickle26-27). The total decimation of aboriginal populations is a great tragedy

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