01/03/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
Science Fiction, Imperialism And The Third World edited by Ericka Hoagland and Reema Sarwal. pub: McFarland. 223 page indexed small enlarged softcover. Price: GBP 31.50 (UK), $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-4789-3.
check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com
Right from the introduction, I found this book, ‘Science Fiction, Imperialism And The Third World’, to be challenging me in many issues, some of which are likely to be developed as editorial points which is always a good sign. Probably the strongest point made is that Science Fiction is dominated by western culture and its conveyer of the superior class that is likely to branch out into the galaxy with no sign of the third world which is quite a valid point although where the odd western author has tried this, there have been some spectacular mistakes as well, simply because they didn’t research the subject properly (indeed, I took a couple books apart in review a few years ago for making mistakes about the Muslim culture only because we know so much better these days). The real problem is that, for the most part, western writers reflect their own culture and the audience they are selling to and you tend to follow the leaders or significant characters of same and the third world tends to come off second best, unless members of same are rising up through the ranks. Added on top of that, it’s also a write what you know and if you have to introduce a real third world culture, you also have to be mindful of what you are describing let alone an SF aspect of the story. I know from a contact in Russia that there are very few home-grown SF or fantasy novels over there and especially in their home language preferring English language versions. For the third world countries, our genre still has to sell to their home audience first before branching out abroad and probably explains why we don’t see many of their books, let alone few translated into English. Having a book like this to give insight, let alone some titles to look up in the bibliographies is going to open up this field for many of you who want to pursue this avenue.
Oddly, amongst the examination of our genre in the third world, there is also a look off-world with Pat Murphy’s ‘The Vegetable Wife’ where Dina Pharaoh Francis explores the metaphor of wife abuse with an added twist. The same is done with Robert Heinlein’s ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’ in the chapter by Herbert G. Klein metaphorically looking it a blueprint for revolution. In many respects, I think this is going off-centre to the main argument but it might have been seen as given some hooks to encourage some readers to buy the book.
It’s with the third world subjects addressing problems they have and see where it goes, as with things like selling body organs in Shital Pravinchandra’s ‘Body Markets’ chapter that things are really interesting. This covers the prospective recipient keeping an eye on your life style to a man getting around this by ensuring his wife’s secret lover replaces himself by name change as a means to get rid of him. I think that plot would work with some variant in any country but it does demonstrate some tropes can be transposed anywhere.
Interestingly, some of the definitions used come from our side of the world. Isaac Asimov’s comment the understanding and respect for science rationalism is a marker for good SF. Although in another chapter, Tom Disch’s comment that SF is a branch of children’s literature should have many of you scratching their heads as there is a definite difference to the two age ranges even in SF. Then again, further on, Ursula LeGuin’s assertion that SF is not predictive but descriptive should bring up further conflicts in your head. I’d have been more inclined to have had someone amongst these fourteen writers pick up on the fact that SF is a genre diverse enough to accept all these rationales together and consider them all to be right and wrong at the same time. If it works in quantum mechanics...
In some respects, I wish latter chapters had stayed as focused as the initial chapters and not entirely sure if they were put in give something for western readers to hook into with something they know or the authors getting stuck as to what should be covered. I’m surprised that Ian McDonald’s stories set in a future India wasn’t covered simply because he got the flavour of how it reflects present day India culture right. These stand out simply because no one from our side of the world has gone in such a direction.
Another problem that should have been explored is that the less progressive third world countries don’t have much time let alone have the necessary creative people to write fiction, let alone Science Fiction or a potential audience who can afford to pay for books, assuming they have a level of literacy. In our safe western zone, we take it for granted that the majority can read and forget that this would be a novelty in the most impoverished areas of the third world or am I reading the definition too widely? With the more progressive third world countries, there is still an odd balance between religious belief and scientific knowledge that also needs to be studied because SF has a cynicism that questions everything and such conflicts don’t allow that to happen.
I should point out that despite these gripes, this book is a step in the right direction for an exploration of how Science Fiction is dealt with in other parts of the world and, hopefully, we might seen further books on this subject to make you think. As you can see from my reaction to this book, I have been thinking. You might as well, too, after reading this book.
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