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Black and Brown Planets

Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction

Edited by Isiah Lavender
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Black and Brown Planets
    Book Description:

    Black and Brown Planetsembarks on a timely exploration of the American obsession with color in its look at the sometimes contrary intersections of politics and race in science fiction. The contributors, including De Witt D. Kilgore, Edward James, Lisa Yaszek, and Marleen S. Barr, among others, explore science fiction worlds of possibility (literature, television, and film), lifting blacks, Latin Americans, and indigenous peoples out from the background of this historically white genre.

    This collection considers the role of race and ethnicity in our visions of the future. The first section emphasizes the political elements of black identity portrayed in science fiction from black America to the vast reaches of interstellar space framed by racial history. In the next section, analysis of indigenous science fiction addresses the effects of colonization, helps discard the emotional and psychological baggage carried from its impact, and recovers ancestral traditions in order to adapt in a post-Native-apocalyptic world. Likewise, this section explores the affinity between science fiction and subjectivity in Latin American cultures from the role of science and industrialization to the effects of being in and moving between two cultures. By infusing more color in this otherwise monochrome genre,Black and Brown Planetsimagines alternate racial galaxies with viable political futures in which people of color determine human destiny.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-068-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Coloring Science Fiction
    (pp. 3-12)

    As long as I can remember, science fiction (SF) and race have been tangled together in my thoughts.

    My earliest memory is waking up in my father’s arms, a light rain falling on my face, as he carried me into the house. At some point in the summer of 1977, I fell asleep during the trash compactor scene ofStar Warsat the Grandview Drive-In located in Angola, New York. I had missed the epic light-saber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, though I saw Han Solo shoot the green-skinned Greedo first! I remembered the strange greenness of Greedo’s...

  5. PART ONE. Black Planets

    • THE BANNEKERADE: Genius, Madness, and Magic in Black Science Fiction
      (pp. 15-30)

      Over the past decade, Afrodiasporic intellectuals have called for new images of black genius in relation to science and technology. Given science fiction’s status as the premier narrative of technoscientific modernity, it is perhaps no surprise that these same intellectuals have consistently turned to the genre for stories of black genius. For example, while African American artist and cultural critic Stanley Crouch suggests that black artists can capitalize and improve on the images of genius already found in SF film, his scholarly counterpart, Ron Eglash, shows that at least one such artist is already doing just that: “The development of...

    • “THE BEST IS YET TO COME”; OR, SAVING THE FUTURE: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Reform Astrofuturism
      (pp. 31-47)

      A strongly skeptical analysis of theStar Trekfranchise’s liberal astrofuturism (the idea that an American advance into a wide-open space frontier might solve social and political problems) uncovers the ways in which it fails to fully realize the political hopes it proclaims.¹ It can be argued that Trek’s principal failure is in visualizing a future that is more than merely an extension of Euro-American hegemony into the final frontier. Daniel Bernardi argues that the show’s “liberal humanist project is exceedingly inconsistent and at times disturbingly contradictory, often participating in and facilitating racist practice” (“Star Trek” 211). The program cannot...

    • FAR BEYOND THE STAR PIT: Samuel R. Delany
      (pp. 48-64)

      Written in 1965 and published in 1967, Samuel R. Delany’s early novella “The Star Pit” presents for its reader an intergalactic narrative landscape in which a final, unbreakable constraint has been imposed on the ability of certain people to achieve. Humanity has expanded off Earth into a thriving network of extrasolar colonies, only to find that travel beyond the limits of the Milky Way galaxy causes insanity and death in nearly any human being who attempts it. Only a select elite have the capacity to transcend this barrier and freely travel the wider universe, in all its unimaginable and indescribable...

    • DIGGING DEEP: Ailments of Difference in Octavia Butler’s “The Evening and the Morning and the Night”
      (pp. 65-82)

      Society often fears diseased bodies. Victims are marked as Other and made to suffer by healthy citizens, who often degrade and stereotype these people in ways that have similar social impacts to race and racism because hale citizens dread contamination. Octavia E. Butler’s story “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” (1987) investigates societal responses to genetic disease and fears of the Other. Set in the near future, the story, which has not received the critical attention it merits, depicts people suffering with a hereditary disease who are forced to live apart from society in protective wards and are...

    • THE LAUGH OF ANANSI: Why Science Fiction Is Pertinent to Black Children’s Literature Pedagogy
      (pp. 83-98)

      A current Kindle television commercial adroitly addresses my notion that SF is especially pedagogically pertinent to black children. The commercial portrays a black boy who cannot contain his excitement when he tells his grandmother that he wishes to use his new Kindle to read about “wizards,” “vampires,” and “magic zombies.” Although marketing rather than pedagogy is most certainly this commercial’s goal, its creators correctly indicate that black children love fantastic genre fiction. The boy, after all, does not tell his grandmother that he cannot wait electronically to peruse texts about slavery and civil rights. He clearly wants to use his...

  6. PART TWO. Brown Planets

    • HAINT STORIES ROOTED IN CONJURE SCIENCE: Indigenous Scientific Literacies in Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire
      (pp. 101-116)

      Several years ago Robert Warrior (Osage) spoke at the Native Student and Community Center at Portland State University in Oregon. Almost digressing from his prepared comments on social justice issues, he brought up his advocacy for the decolonization and restoration of Freedman peoples to their Cherokee bands and for recognition of Seminole Black Indians as accepted members of the Seminole Nation. Was he amplifying his own views in “Native Critics in the World: Edward Said and Nationalism” or echoing Taiaiake Alfred’sPeace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto(2009)? Both sources call for a new generation of native leaders who will...

    • QUESTING FOR AN INDIGENOUS FUTURE: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony as Indigenous Science Fiction
      (pp. 117-130)

      Recent studies have highlighted how science fiction functions within asystemof genres: discussions of whether a text is “science fictional” enough to be included in the genre have been left behind, along with the taxonomic definitions of genre that supported them. A text that includes science fictional elements is now understood to be engaged with—and a part of—the genre, whether or not science fiction is the “primary” or “dominant” genre of the text. In this new approach to science fiction, it becomes possible to reexamine a host of texts that were previously excluded from critical consideration for...

    • MONTEIRO LOBATO’S O PRESIDENTE NEGRO (THE BLACK PRESIDENT): Eugenics and the Corporate State in Brazil
      (pp. 131-145)

      Monteiro Lobato’sO presidente negro; ou, O choque das raças(The Black President; or, The Clash of the Races) (1926) figures prominently among the Brazilian utopias to emerge in the early twentieth century, a time of incipient industrialization.¹ Although Brazilian utopias written during this period do not form part of the established literary canon, they nonetheless speculate about a future in which Brazil might become a new technological power, raising the standard of living and health of its citizens. Published during a time when the country was outgrowing the political structures of the First Republic (1889–1929) and the leadership...

      (pp. 146-162)

      The narrative strategies of science fiction are germane to political critique, as they enable writers to couch mundane social and political issues in the invigorating rhetoric of speculation.¹ Going where “no man has gone before,” SF writers explore not only imaginary and extraterrestrial places but contested sociopolitical spaces as well. As Tom Moylan has argued, the “fictive practice” of imagining alternative worlds, which always already extrapolate from existing ones, “has the formal potential to revision the world in ways that generate pleasurable, probing, and potentially subversive responses in its readers” (43). The SF subgenre cyberpunk, the focus of this essay,...

      (pp. 163-176)

      Like many emerging technologies, virtual reality calls for metaphor.¹ The “frontier” and “colonization” have proven to be some of the most durable. The frontier metaphor appeared early in cyberpunk fiction with William Gibson’s novel,Neuromancer(1984), in which the protagonist Case is identified as a “console cowboy” (28). The frontier metaphor also found its way into the writings of virtual reality developers such as Thomas A. Furness III, who stated, “As pioneers, we are obligated to pursue the development of virtual interface technologies in a systematic way and leave a technology base and tools as a legacy for others to...

    • A DIS-(ORIENT)ATION: Race, Technoscience, and The Windup Girl
      (pp. 177-194)

      As a part of popular culture, science fiction’s imagined futures have always engaged questions of race—either through direct treatment of racial politics or more commonly through the absence of people of color. In fact, if, as John Rieder argues in his influentialColonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction(2008), the ideological basis of colonial practice is central to much of early SF, then it is also inevitable that “some of the racism endemic to colonialist discourse is woven into the texture of science fiction” (97). SF’s emergence as a predominantly white, male tradition is reflected in narratives that...

      (pp. 195-198)

      In 1988 or thereabouts, Americanist Philip J. Davies asked me to contribute to a book he was editing,Science Fiction, Social Conflict, and War(1990). I offered to write him a piece either on race in American science fiction or on violent revolution. To my consternation, he asked me to write both, which I duly did: I presume they filled what seemed to him to be gaps in the book. The invitation had come at a time when I had begun to do serious work in science fiction (even though my actual job was teaching medieval history). I was editing...

    • YELLOW, BLACK, METAL, AND TENTACLED: The Race Question in American Science Fiction
      (pp. 199-222)

      The “race question,” the problem of the relations between different “racial” groups, has been in existence in North America since the earliest contacts between Europeans and Amerindians. With the arrival of other ethnic groups, above all African slaves, and with the rise of nineteenth-century science, which perceived those groups as biologically distinct races and ready to be ranked in terms of ability and potential, the “race question” took a very different form. In some circumstances during the history of the United States it has been the occasion of considerable political and social turmoil; it has always been simmering beneath the...

  7. CODA

    • “THE WILD UNICORN HERD CHECK-IN”: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction Fandom
      (pp. 225-240)

      In 1998, Samuel R. Delany published an article, “Racism and Science Fiction” inThe New York Review of Science Fiction; the article was later reprinted in Sheree R. Thomas’s anthology,Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora(2000).1 Delany’s article inspired the formation of the Carl Brandon Society, announced at the 1999 WisCon, the oldest and only feminist science fiction convention. The group named itself after “Carl Joshua Brandon,” a 1950s fictional black fan invented by Terry Carr and Peter Graham whose hoax existence was maintained for two years. The Carl Brandon Society’s mission is “to...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 241-244)
  9. Index
    (pp. 245-250)