Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Worldcon: Postcolonial SF

Last panel report, unless I manage to dredge up some memories of the Fans Aren't Slans panel (unlikely at this point).

Postcolonial SF
Kat Feete, S.M. Stirling
Much of the verve of early SF came from its transposition in space of the colonial epic, and its echoes still shape modern SF. Has there ever been a postcolonial movement, or at least an undercurrent, in SF?

(Steve Laflamme, listed on the program, did not show.)

Feete: _Sunset Grill_ webcomic, English major

Stirling: born in France, mother lived in Peru, lived all over in world as kid; English, History degree undergrad, law degree but did not practice

Feete: what the heck is postcolonialist SF and what would we call colonial SF?

Stirling: Alan Quatermaine or _She_ for the first; postcolonial more expresses desire than a state, because for life of me can't see what it means

Feete: few things: certainly saw in earlier SF the galactic empire, really British Empire with shinier toys; looking at actual post-colonial movement in English, people who'd been colonized or backlash

Stirling: actually model empire in American SF = Roman

Feete: British modeling on idea of Rome

Stirling: moot point whether can write English against English [colonialism, I think]; Pequots rediscovered identity recently, but don't look "Indian" (paraphrased), speak English, practice Christianity, live in cities


object to periodicity in history, strains come up at different points but seamless web

[paraphrased, because was boggling about earlier]

HR Haggard preferred unopened frontier, _King Solomon's Mines_ native gets to throne, first thing said is keep all white people out

JF Cooper, Leatherstocking always going to other side frontier

postcolonial: Nalo Hopkinson & that sort of thing

_Kim_, Kipling's masterpiece, regarded as Indian novel in India; interesting thing that Hindustani was Kipling's first language, didn't actually like England

Feete: Maori standup comic, Poms are great, they love their country etc, they just won't live in it

Stirling: [anecdote, not transcribed]

Feete: why British Empire has such a lasting mythology: dignity, unlike American empire

audience: start with comparing Stirling's writing, written one very colonialist series and another that treats Indians as humans

Stirling: well yeah

audience (same): but that's the point, often not treated as

Stirling: often they [literally] aren't in SF

audience: _River of Gods_ set in India, doesn't mention colonial Britain except in passing

Feete: Ian McDonald coming from one of earlier English colonial projects (Ireland)

Stirling: keep in mind about English, England is not where originally came from

Feete: SF focus on physical colonialization of planets, seeing backlash against that, Walter Jon Williams' _Implied Spaces_, set with in solar system, no drive to spread across stars

Stirling: read in manuscript, if remember correctly, pocket-universes

Feete: but entirely created by us, not taking over existing places

Stirling: more in nature of vast extension of terraforming concept; excellent book, calls it "Sword and Singularity" fiction

me: recommends Tobias Buckell, David Anthony Durham as post-colonial SF & fantasy; Buckell space opera, Caribbean diaspora, aliens suppressing other races' technological progress; Durham epic fantasy critiquing empire and conquest. Also not happy with idea that Kipling, Cooper examples should be held up as good with regard to colonialism, examples given sound like Noble Savage & myth of empty frontier to me

Feete: if you really want to see a white man dissing British Empire, try George Orwell

also Tobias Buckell really fantastic, really interesting: grow up with as American this idea that going to help these nice native people with techology they need; undercurrent in those books is that Ragamuffins is that able to resist because have been doing it for so long

audience: is urban fantasy or urban noir SF an example of post-colonial--Brunner's _Jagged Orbit_, _Neuromancer_, definitely conflict with protagonist as individual struggling with whims of society

Feete: well . . . interesting thing about lot of cyberpunk that esentially dystopia, no colonialism or drive to, but either we're going to colonize or we're going to die in giant horrible cities, love cyberpunk but not crazy about not getting past that particular dichotomy

recommends Bruce Sterling

audience: Gibson (something) trilogy, stories with Japan ascended to position of dominaion, cultural & economic colonialism [Chad says this could be both the Sprawl trilogy & the one starting with _Virtual Light_]

Feete: yet Japan's influence everywhere and we haven't gotten Japanese, and Japanese people are still having eye surgery

Stirling: we are the 700 pound green amoeba of culture

Feete: split in way talk about colonialism: physical colonialization and appropriation of Other; what do we think about the aliens in SF and seeing postcolonial influences there in way treat as opposed to earlier

Stirling: old saying that aliens aren't really; most are less so than Japanese; most writers are really bad at imagining people very different from selves

OTOH when find someone who can write really alien, like Cherryh, it's kind of offputting, just being enigmatic aliens

idea that aliens should be sympathetic instead of ravening beast pretty old, Weinbaum in 1930s

Feete: don't know, book about little green people in hive mind on another planet, once introduced to idea about individuality and sex decided didn't want to be hive mind (_Rogue Queen_)

[my notes here read "(offensive audience comment)"; I'm glad to say I no longer remember what it was]

Feete: don't write hive minds because Soviets are gone, only reason anyone did; early compared with factory work, anti-capitalist

audience: Alistair Reynolds [has hive mind as] good guys [?]

Stirling: Vinge does a lot of hive minds too

Feete: treatment of the alien, see evolution in social consciousness, from dichotomy of ravening hordes or saviors; are seeing aliens as people, but then once doing, have to face up to coming on to their planet or their coming to yours, creates dilemma

new _Battlestar Galatica_, hasn't watched, heard that interesting thing is that Cylons sharing planet with humans and not trying to kill each other

[tangent on Hiroshima]

me: Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman series, spoiler to explain, but considers this problem

Feete: Ursula Le Guin

audience: _Singularity Sky_, colonial society invaded by infovore

Feete: Charlie Stross does bureaucracy better than anyone else in field right now, sending up a lot of concepts of colonialism & power structures

[if I hadn't already decided that everyone would be happier if I didn't read more of Stross's fiction, this would interest me. Perhaps there's a Readercon panel in it?]

a lot of time SF is not best place to look at this, too enamoured of shiny things

fantasy: Howard & Tolkien, two founders of modern fantasy; interesting because Howard didn't like civilization very much, thought it was wimpy; Tolkien wrote books about civilization, going & taking things back from the nasty orc hordes

lot of bad fantasy in 1950s where people trying to do both things as once, doesn't work at all

fantasy typically been whiter & more colonial than SF, with some very interesting exceptions

Stirling: fantasy tends to draw on pre-modern tropes, Tolkien of course understood Dark Age barbarian heroics a lot better than Howard

contrasts in _LotR_, Elves, Gondor, Rohan; very great chain of being re: societies

Feete: very hierarchial society, except hobbits somewhat sideways

Orcs, always struck her as essentially the bad soldiers

interesting thing about fantasy, sometimes SF, have post-colonial colonialization; people oppressed in one place & one time, go somewhere else & have culture back, but sometimes pushing someone else's culture out (historically accurate)

Stirling: Tolkien actually does, layers of history & migration

[the following is verbatim from my notes at the time. the last part was not stated but was my interpretation of why it was being said]

blah blah AmInd tribes pushed each other out of places blah blah tribal names for each other blah blah everyone's racist so it's all okay blah blah

audience: Tolkien found Orcs problematic too

Stirling: corrupted Elves

Feete: does say something about times that when twisted became dark & hairy

still hear people say, just didn't see the good ones!; as author, cop-out, your story, doing pretty grave disservice

a lot of what post-colonialism about, seeing as real people not obstacles

_Things Fall Apart_, Chinua Achebe, good start to postcolonial fiction, not epitome but greatly passionate & pretty easy read

reimagining _Jane Eyre_ from Caribbean woman POV: _Wide Sargasso Sea_

[I don't think I'd ever registered that the mad wife in the attic _was_ Caribbean.]

audience: as reader, didn't see good ones because you [author] didn't write, your choice is the point here; early examples: LeGuin, _Word for World is Forest_. What about Marge Piercy's _Women on Edge of Time_, which may be more metaphorical, about trying to take over mind

Feete: one of great fears, particularly Western world, lose identity

[me: irony!]

colonialization of internal, esp _1984_

audience: critical that woman in _Edge of Time_ is Latina

Feete: _Ragamuffin_ in particular, examines those choosing to colloborate

audience: ecology concerns, post-colonialism also reaction to that, not change environments but adapt?

Feete: interesting, some purely selfish, don't want to die; do eventually see people talk about wanting to save things because there not useful etc.

_Uncharted Territory_ Connie Willis, sneaky in number of ways

audience: horrible colonial trope, they did it, so we're just doing what they did (example given: humans landed on planet, tiptoeing around, hero lands and says hey, they stole this planet! great, slaughter them all)

Feete: Maori interesting example because by time got there, British Empire had consciousness, and Maori fought back thus got some respect, still oppressed but have identity left

obligatory haka mention, looks silly until sit in front of people doing it

audience: on metaphorical level, ecology was colonized by economics & is starting to use weapons against them


My reactions at the time were: who thought it was a good idea to put S.M. Stirling on a panel about post-colonialism, because *really*; and I didn't feel I learned a lot new, which is too bad because I know almost nothing about the topic. Going back over the notes, there was a little more information that I remembered, but it still strikes me as a badly underused oportunity. Also no-one explicitly mentioned _So Long Been Dreaming_, which is a whole anthology on the subject (including me, to be fair, because though I'm aware of it I haven't read it), though Nalo Hopkinson's name was mentioned in passing.

Tags: anticipation 2009, con reports, cons, worldcon

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  • Pumpkin Scissors vol. 1 (anime)

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