Book-length studies on blackness in speculative fiction and media remain few, and andré m. carrington’s Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction is a welcome addition. carrington grounds the study in his own role as both critic and fan, and seeks to “establish a basis in the interpretation of popular culture for a more expansive understanding of what it means to be Black” (2). What is most compelling about this work is the range of media that it covers—“novels, short fiction, memoirs, performance, film, television, comics, amateur publishing, and works circulated on the Internet” (2). carrington eschews a restrictive sense of the speculative in order to cast a wide net and critique representations of blackness in the popular imaginary.
The Introduction, “The Whiteness of Science Fiction and the Speculative Fiction of Blackness,” lays the necessary theoretical foundation for the book, including the author’s definition of speculative fiction, his critical race and feminist priorities, the implications of genre, and a “chiastic” approach to speculative fiction as a white cultural tradition that nonetheless facilitates creative and empowered interpretations of blackness. Indeed, carrington explicitly resists “paranoid reading” (a term borrowed from Eve Sedgwick) and recourse to defensive and combative analysis where the genre and its potential shortcomings are concerned. With a careful and thoughtful Introduction in place, carrington takes the reader on a remarkable journey over the course of six chapters—the genesis of black science fiction fandom, the political and cultural resonance of Nichelle Nichols and her Star Trek character Lieutenant Uhura, the subversive incarnations of Marvel’s Storm, the crossover success of the black-owned Milestone Media, which produced the [End Page 81] comic book series Icon, the novelization of Deep Space Nine, and fan fiction on marginalized black characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Harry Potter series.
carrington’s own pleasure in these case studies comes through in his close reading. He provides sociohistorical contexts and literature reviews, but also creative attention and intellectual curiosity. The fact that some of these examples may be more obscure to readers—the work of the 1950s’ black SF fan-fiction writer Carl Brandon (an alter-ego for the white SF fan-fiction writer Terry Carr), or the radical Milestone storyline in which the teenage black superhero Rocket becomes pregnant and considers an abortion—merely adds to the value of this study. On the one hand, the texts and examples may seem strung together and the leap from Brandon to Nichols and from Nichols to Storm, and so on, potentially jarring. On the other hand, the weaving together of media, fictional characters, writers, and actors serves the overall investigative project on speculative blackness. Whether the reader claims specialization in science-fiction studies pertaining to race or not, they will learn something from this book.
For all that the work is exhaustively researched and current in its agenda and scope, there are periodic oversights or simply curious omissions. For example, there is no mention of the work of Adilifu Nama, whose respective monographs, Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film (2008) and Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes (2011), are arguably the primary extant studies on “speculative blackness.” I concede that carrington is doing very different work, but the author could make that point more explicit in contextualizing his own contribution to these fields of study. In shoring up the theoretical scaffolding of the book, the author sometimes compromises the clarity and accessibility of his prose. For example, in “Dreaming in Color: Racial Revisions in Fan Fiction,” the lengthy preamble on fan-fiction scholarship and theories of race and diaspora is somewhat heavy-handed, and delays the highly original close reading of characters such as Kendra in Buffy and Angelina in Harry Potter (as they have been reimagined by fandom).
But these are minor criticisms of what is otherwise an engaging read. For the most part, carrington minimizes jargon and successfully balances his role as academic critic with his role as fan. The author’s own participation in media fandom, his involvement in the Remember Us archive, and his interest in revisionist and reparative strategies all add depth to the study. The coda reminds the reader of the need to “appreciate the relationship between Blackness and speculative fiction by assessing them in terms of the historically distinct circumstances of their equally strange careers as the focus of intellectual endeavors such as African American and American studies, literary criticism, media studies, and areas significant to the production of knowledge across the arts and sciences.” The author modestly positions his work as a launching point for future “revisionist interventions” (238), and encourages the reader to sustain these kinds of inquiries into racial representation in the speculative genre. Speculative Blackness makes an important contribution to ongoing conversations (both in the academy and in fan culture) about race and science fiction.