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Reviewed by:
  • Postcolonialism and Science Fiction by Jessica Langer
  • Paweł Frelik
Jessica Langer, Postcolonialism and Science Fiction. New York: Palgrave, 2011. 188pp. £55.00 (hbk).

In the last decade or so, sf seems to have exploded in terms of quality as well as quantity. While the former cannot really be predicted or computed in any way, the latter can be explained in two ways. Despite the crisis narratives that the genre periodically issues, there are objectively more authors, more texts and more opportunities than ever before, and the flowering of a number of media and forms associated with digital technologies has grown the number of sf texts even more. On the other hand, the explosive growth of sf as a field can be ascribed to a radical recalibration in the perception of cultural production, which used to be predominantly Anglophone and Francophone. As the definitions of sf changed and the Internet expanded the horizons of knowledge, the field has discovered and brought into its fold a wealth of bodies of texts previously unnoticed or unrecognised. Many of them have originated in the non-Western countries and regions and been since discussed in the context of the theory and practice of postcolonialism.

While many such texts are not readily available, either because of the lack of translations or due to finance-related publishing circumstances, the critical [End Page 280] conversation about them has been steadily growing. The most important contributions include John Rieder’s Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (2008), Patricia Kerslake’s Science Fiction and Empire (2011) and the special issues of Science Fiction Studies on ‘SF and Globalization’ (edited by David Higgins and Rob Latham) and of Paradoxa on ‘Africa SF’ (edited by Mark Bould). Extrapolation has also published a number of articles on off-centre fiction and will soon have an issue on Indigenous Futurisms. Finally, there are two collections of essays focused on the postcolonial fantastic: Ericka Hoagland and Reema Sarwal’s Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film (2010) and Masood Ashraf Raja, Jason W. Ellis and Swaralipi Nandi’s The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction (2011). Still, Jessica Langer’s Postcolonialism and Science Fiction is the first comprehensive attempt at ordering the intersections of postcolonial theory and sf – and a highly successful one, too.

When approaching the book, it is important to remember what it is not and never aspired to be. It is definitely not a historical overview or an encyclopaedic compendium, which would be almost impossible given the shifting definitions and the fact that we are still in the process of discovering multiple modalities of fantastic (in both senses of the word) non-imperial and indigenous voices. What Postcolonialism and Science Fiction offers instead is a toolbox of concepts and approaches that will help those new to the field to understand it and offer a fair handful of interesting insights to those already familiar with the contours of critical conversations. Consequently, the book is not divided chronologically or geographically, but conceptually. Following a short introduction explaining postcolonial theory, each chapter is organised around a selected concept, which is first briefly recapitulated and then explicated using several primary texts.

Chapter 1 focuses on the role of geographical and historical contexts, for which Langer, very interestingly, provides examples of Canada and Japan, two countries that have been both colonisers and the colonised at various points in their histories. Chapter 2 takes up the questions of diaspora and locality, which is very appropriately backed up by Salt Fish Girl (2002) and Midnight Robber (2000), two novels by writers whose very lives embody the diasporic dimension: Larissa Lai, an American-born writer of Asian descent, who did graduate work in Great Britain and is now a Canadian citizen, and Nalo Hopkinson, an Afro-Caribbean writer who has lived in Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Canada and the United States. Appended to the discussion is also a reading of the three versions of Komatsu Sakyō’s Japan Sinks (1973), a work which thematically engages territorial displacement. The third chapter comprises the discussion of [End Page 281] race and identity and their intersections with the concept of nation. The...


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pp. 280-284
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