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mark211Race, racism and colonialism in SFF - thoughts?2016-07-31 00:01:45
mark211Apologies for the title - I realise that is looks a little like the title of an introductory 101 Cultural Studies college course. But this subject was touched upon - albeit briefly - by Quantum Muse regulars Rick Tornello and Wesson at the end of last week's discussion. 2016-07-31 00:04:02
mark211As you probably all know, one part of the heritage of both Science Fiction and Fantasy can be traced back to literary ancestors of the 18th and especially the 19th centuries who were writing about the discovery by Europeans of what to them appeared to be the strange new worlds of India, Australia, the interior of Africa, the American West, China and Japan. H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and - in a different sense - Joseph Conrad are all good examples of this. Their writings often cover encounters with mysterious peoples from ancient civilisations or the challenges and conflicts involved when Europeans encounter people from cultures radically different from their own. 2016-07-31 00:12:49
mark211Science Fiction is full of exploratory encounters with planets and creatures that appear as baffling, weird and wonderful to their fictional cosmonauts as kangaroos, koalas,and duckbilled platypi must have actually appeared to those early Dutch and British settlers as they began to explore the interior of 'Terra Australis' (the 'Southern Earth', or Australia in other words). Quantum Muse's own Timothy O. Goyette's novel "Lockdown" can, I think, be read in this light - though there the analogue is perhaps the American West rather than the South. Tim's novel also explores themes of colonial exploitation and the racism that makes it possible. 'Racism' is also a theme we often see in Fantasy fiction - dwarves and elves are notorious for their antipathy to one another and of the hatred of both towards goblins and orcs.2016-07-31 00:22:36
mark211So, with all that in mind, do you think SFF is a still a good vehicle for exploring these issues - that is, issues of race, racism and colonialism? Why and what do you think helps make it suitable (or not)? Are there any memorable examples from SFF that you think have treated these subjects particularly well or particularly poorly? Be sure to let us know, as always, in the comments below.2016-07-31 00:25:23
RTSCI-FI is a speculative genre. It's a natural science test bed for social and technical ideas.It's a philosophical soap box.2016-07-31 05:38:50
WessonI would have to say that SFF is not a good vehicle for exploring those issues. Maybe it would be in another time, but not this one. Racism has turned into my generation’s ‘Red Scare’ and I think books / movies that try (and often fail) to explore the topic only amplify people’s irrational fear of racists and their fellow travelers. Not to go off topic but this subject also makes me think about all the dystopian sci-fi out there like Hunger Games and Divergent. People seem to have a very ironic fear of dystopia these days and I say ironic because they have in fact created the tyranny they fear through wild suspicions of racism. 2016-07-31 21:29:02
RT@Wesson:

I would have to disagree regarding not a good venue for the topics.I'll come back to it later, I have to go hunt somebodies for a few proposals. RT

2016-08-01 06:06:09
GordonRowlinsonI just finished a novel Downward to the Earth by Robert Silver berg. It is a Sci Fi story with a colonialism theme. Thinking it over I think that colonialism and race is a strong theme. It taps into our desires for races to break free from opprission. However I think it is a hard idea for a writer to pull off. You have to create an interesting, and creative Sci Fi culture.2016-08-01 19:59:11
IronspiderWhile I can't claim to have read any books that directly tackled the issues of racism and colonialism, I suspect they're implicit in quite a few speculative works. At the most basic, perhaps, would be Howard's 'Worms of the Earth', where the Pictish warrior Bran Mak Morn defends his people from Roman colonialism. I very much doubt that Howard was thinking about Romans colonising Britain as a specific issue - it's merely a suitable background on which to hang a story. Then we could look at Poul Anderson's Flandry novels (and other associated output), where Flandry unsuccessfully tries to defend an empire. Any work that contains an 'empire' implicitly implies colonisation and its attendant racism - I can think of no empire that didn't put the benefit of its original citizens over the wishes of those being colonised. Maybe there's an historian out there who can provide an alternative view or details on any truly altruistic empire. In fiction there is, I suppose, Bank's Culture, but even that requires the services of 'Special Circumstances'. Equally, though, I doubt many authors have set out to be deliberately either racist or colonialist, except where the shock value adds to their reputation or advances an agenda - Hubbard's Battlefield Earth, for example. As always. I welcome knowledge to the contrary.2016-08-02 04:39:56
WessonI’m going to get myself into trouble in this discussion, though I promise I’m not trying to be combative. Ironspider, I would argue that that almost every empire in history was altruistic – that was the problem. Empires weren’t born evil, they became evil in their misguided attempts to improve the world. The Imperial Japanese thought they were freeing China from Western influence. Nazi Germany thought they were uniting Europe under Aryan Leadership. There is a haunting quote from Adolf Hitler that reflects this: “This self-sacrificing will to give one’s personal labor and if necessary one’s own life for others is most developed in the Aryan. The Aryan is not greatest in his mental qualities as such, but in the extent of his willingness to put all his abilities in the service of the community. “ . I’ve got a laundry list of Nazi slogans echoing the same altruism such as: “You are nothing; your people is everything” and “The common good becomes before private good”. The worst crimes in history were influences by anti-individualists like Plato and Kant but we’ve been tricked into thinking selfishness is the problem. 2016-08-02 15:39:34
IronspiderWesson - well yes, I dare say many colonising forces started out with 'good intentions' - the British thought they were civilising the natives of the countries they colonised. I was thinking more of the outcome - in Australia, for example, over a span of years, the British killed, enslaved and kidnapped the children of the aboriginal people. The assumption was that any race that walked around a desolate country almost naked and living directly off the land could never be part of a civilised society. The aboriginal men were killed, the women basically enslaved and, up until the 50's (I believe) aboriginal children were taken from their homes and fostered by white families - as a way of forcing them to integrate. I've not come across such activities in any science fiction or fantasy books I've read, though quite a few fantasy stories do seem to feature massive wars, with the victors staking a claim to the territories they've conquered. There are the old cliches of enslaved serving girls for the heroes to save. Perhaps, taking a different slant, racism is only such if the intent was the driving force. Many had a go at Norman Spinrad for 'The Iron Dream', a story featuring an alternate history version of Adolf Hitler, who writes a science fiction novel about a fictionalised Aryan master race, and part of the story (witin-a-story) dealt with the persecution and destruction of non-Aryan peoples. I can't make any guesses about Spinrad's reasons for writing the novel, but should the content be considered racist, regardless of the intent?2016-08-02 23:25:52
mark211@Ironspider: "I doubt many authors have set out to be deliberately either racist or colonialist," Oh, goodness that wasn't what I suggesting at all with these questions. In fact, I was thinking quite the opposite - Tim's novel 'Lockdown' for example has the main protagonist actually side with the local alien populace against his human crew who are trying to exploit the natural resources of the planet. A similar dynamic happens in the second half of Conrad's 'Lord Jim' and then there are various western analogues to that e.g. the movies 'Little Big Man', 'A Man Called Horse', 'Dances with Wolves' and so on. There have been novels that have pushed a racist agenda no doubt (I think the original Dr Fu Manchu novels were based on the praranoid idea of a Chinese infiltration of and eventual dominance over the US for example), but in general I would say not.2016-08-03 10:23:53
mark211@Wesson: "I would argue that that almost every empire in history was altruistic – that was the problem. Empires weren’t born evil, they became evil in their misguided attempts to improve the world." Although I think there is something in that, I think it's important to remember that just as many empires come about by accident rather than design - the design element comes a good deal later as a retrospective rationalisation for what in many cases has already happened. The British and Dutch Empires absolutely fit that bill, with most of its colonial expansion driven by trade and specifically by the East India Company. Although military actions were often involved, they were of quite a different character to the more aggressive military conquest of the early expansion of the Islamic world, the Spanish conquests and the French under Napoleon. In every case though, I think there is an interesting element of story-telling going on - either as a way of giving a coherent rationale to a whole series of ad hoc decisions or as presenting a coherent rationale as to why young Frenchmen should want and need to gad about the whole of Europe colonising it from Spain to Germany, from Holland to Italy.2016-08-03 10:34:33
DaveSF tends naturally to allegorise all types of 'ism's under the (provisional) umbrella term 'anthropogenocentrism'(Think of the movies Alien Nation, District 9, and the Martian Chronicles series). 2016-08-06 16:23:01





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