and on the Margins of the Western World
Milojevic and Sohail Inayatullah
this article, we challenge the hegemony of western science fiction,
arguing that western science fiction is particular even as it claims
universality. Its views generally remain based on ideas of the future as forward time.
In contrast, in non-western science fiction the future is seen outside
linear terms: as cyclical or spiral, or in terms of ancestral time. In
addition, western science fiction has focused on the good society as
created by technological progress, while non-western science fiction and
futures thinking has focused on the fantastic, on the spiritual, and on
the realization of eupsychia—the perfect self.
most theorists assert that the non-west has no science fiction, ignoring
Asian and Chinese science fiction history. As well, western science
fiction continues to ‘other’ the non-west as well as those on the
margins of the west (African-American woman, for example).
while most western science fiction remains trapped in binary
insider/outsider—writers from the west’s margins are creating texts
that contradict tradition and modernity, seeking new ways to transcend
difference. Given that the imagination of the future creates the reality
of tomorrow, creating new science fictions is not just an issue of
textual critique but of opening up possibilities for all our futures.
Science fiction, Non-west, Alternative Futures
fiction has always been nearly all white, just as until recently, it’s
been nearly all male” (Butler ).
“Science fiction has long treated people who might
or might not exist—extra-terrestrials. Unfortunately, however, many of
the same science fiction writers who started us thinking about the
possibility of extra-terrestrial life did nothing to make us think about
here-at home variation—women, blacks, Indians, Asians, Hispanics,
all science fiction western? Is there non-western science fiction? If
so, what is its nature? Does it follow the form and content of western
science fiction, or is it rendered different by its own local
civilizational historical processes and considerations? Has western
science fiction moulded the development of the science fiction of the
‘other’, including feminist science fiction, in such a way that
anything coming from outside the west is a mere imitation of the real
thing? Perhaps non-western science fiction is a contradiction in terms.
Or is there authentic non-western fiction which offers alternative
visions of the future, of the ‘other’?
Paradigms in Science Fiction
Positions and Presuppositions in
Science Fiction, Darko Suvin argues there are three dominating
paradigms of science fiction . The first is the Asimov’s
technocratic, wedded to the notional universe of nineteenth-century
science, from thermodynamics to behaviorism, man as subject and the
universe as an object of cognition. The second model is the classical
stateless socialist vision of utopia as shown in Yefremov’s works; and
the third is the cosmic/mystical spiritual technocracy of Lem . While
Lem might be the most sympathetic to the non-west, all three paradigms
dramatically miss the other—the role of family, of woman, of the
spiritual. They are unable to account for the worldview of the other
within the knowledge categories of the other. Indeed the nature of the
west is such that the other has no identity except as a people to be
colonized, developed or appropriated—to be mapped onto the body of the
Asian and women’s identities often exist in other paradigms. First,
they are concerned about their historical identity. Second, they are
concerned about the collective, the family, as the individual here
exists in a space alternative from the western version. Third, the
spiritual, or the emotional, the softer side of what it means to be
human is more important. This said, it is crucial to note that while
there are deep structures, they are played out differently; it is in
local specific conditions that structures are both created and
expressed—it is history that creates identity. For example, in India
and Islam, the historical struggle has been on the gendered nature of
public and private space, while in the west, it has been between
individualism and the collective, democracy and tyranny.
most anthologies, encyclopedias and histories of science fiction take a
universalistic view of science fiction and posit that non-western
science fiction is non-existent. The authors they select are “nearly
all white…[as well as]… nearly all male”. In addition, it is often
thought: how could it be possible for non-western societies to develop
images of technologically advanced future societies since they
themselves are pre-industrial, pre-modern? For example, although even in
the least technologically developed societies, we see ‘cyborgs’
walking on prosthetic legs—their flesh-and-blood legs having been
blown up by land mines—cyborg as a category which explores the future
(man-in-machine and machine-in-man) has not been imagined, envisioned,
or dreamed of in these societies.
is no conspiracy at work, it is simply that the lenses used by science
fiction writers are those given by deep cosmological codes, in this
case, those of western civilization. Science fiction, which almost by
definition challenges conventional paradigms, has been unable to
transcend its own epistemological limitations.
today's pre-modern societies, the imagination of the future has not
played a part in creating a scientific-technological society, nor has it
helped individuals prepare for it. Rather, technological and scientific
futures come from outside with few warnings. On the other hand,
societies that lead the way in scientific progress also lead the way in
creating spaces where the consequences of that progress can be debated,
in, for example, creating a public debate on the nature of science. Only
writers in western countries, claims Philip John Davies “have had the
luxury of being able to indulge in an orgy of debates over definition,
form, and politics [of science fiction]”. Thus, the current reality
that Euro-American white authors dominate science fiction.
Utopia: Past or Future
Taking a paradigmatic view, to assert that
science fiction exists only in the west is merely to favour one
particular form of a much wider endeavor. Science fiction thus should
not merely be about the technological as defined in forward time but the
creation of plausible future worlds from a range of civilizational
perspectives . Science fiction is not just about debating the
consequences of scientific progress. It is also about creating utopian
or at least eutopian (the good, not perfect) societies of the future.
This utopian tradition, either in the form of utopias (positive
visioning) or in the form of dystopias (warnings) is highly developed in
the west. However, such a need for utopian visioning does not exist in
societies that have decided that they have already lived their utopia.
For example, in Islamic civilization, there is no central need for
science fiction because the perfect world already existed, this was the
time of the Prophet . There was a perfect democratic state guided by shura
(consultation) and there was a wise, perfect, leader who could unify
society. The problem has been to re-achieve this state, not create other
worlds. In Indian civilization as well, there was Rama Rajya, the
mythical kingdom of Rama, as well the time when Krishna ruled over
Bharat (India) .
African culture, as well, writes John Mbiti, utopia exists in the past.
Time recedes toward the Golden Age, the Zamani
period . It is history then that has been and remained central. This
does not mean these civilizations are not future-oriented but that the
imagination of the future is based on recreating an idealized past .
Centuries of colonization have further influenced the central need to
recover the past, as the past has been systematically denied to them
(either completely erased as with African-Americans or given in a
mutilated form as with western developmentalism, that is, as an inferior
history that must be transformed). By recovering their own authentic
pasts, these societies intend to articulate their own authentic visions
of the future .
In “Black to the Future”, Mark Dery asks: “Can
a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose
energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible
traces of its history, imagine possible futures? Furthermore, isn’t
the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats,
futurologists, and set designers—white to a man—who have engineered
our collective fantasies” .
Given the reality of fractured societies, can science
fiction created outside the west be truly alternative or is it more
likely to remain a poor imitation of western science fiction? Is there
any other alternative to diminishing the influence of American frontier
science fiction except by creating even more violent and even more
virtual future worlds?
Can non-western writers, who are often concerned not
with utopias but with eusychias—the search for the perfect self—make
any sense in the futures and science fiction field? How can cultures
that see the spiritual not as exotic or compartmentalized but as the
foundation of life, implicated in every packet of consciousness, begin a
dialogue with societies imagined in mainstream science fiction, that are
replicas of individualistic, secular American/western visions? Thus not
only is the future constructed differently (it is past, cyclical, spiral
or ancestor-based) but instead of focusing on society, it is the
imagination of the perfect self—the enlightened being—that is
central to the non-west.
reason why non-western science fiction has not developed as a separate
arena of writing because in some cultures the ‘fantastic’ is part of
daily life. Myth has not been separated from lived history. There is
science fiction but broadly understood, with a different space, meaning
and importance. For example, for Indian mystics, other worlds are
realizable through astral travel, and aliens do visit the planet—to
learn meditation from Indian gurus. Moreover, we are all aliens since we
take birth in different planets each life. Krishna lives on Vrindavan,
not heaven, but a real planet in the cosmos . What are considered
miracles by those in the west (bringing someone back from the dead,
walking on water) are simple occult powers one gains from years of
discipline. There are numerous millennia-old stories about astral
travel, aliens, repossession of souls/bodies, and even
mechanical/artificial human beings .
travel is a common topic in as diverse literary traditions such as the
Chinese, Japanese, Australian Aboriginal, Iroquois (Mohawk) Native
American and African. In the Chinese tradition there is a tale titled,
“Chang E Goes to the Moon” (by Liu An, 197-122 BCE) in which a woman
flies to the moon after she steals an elixir of immortality from her
husband . Taketori Monogatari is a 10th century Japanese “space
fiction … in the genre of folklore”  and tells of the Princess
Moonlight who first comes to Earth and then returns to the Moon .
According to Isao Uemichi, her popularity and the desire people have for
her “may eventually turn into a yearning for the better world (the
lunar paradise) to which she returned” .
creation story from the Wong-gu-tha (by Mimbardda and re-told by Josie
Boyle) tells of two Spirit men (from the far end of the Milky Way) and
seven sisters (stars of the Milky way) who were sent to Yulbrada (the
Earth) by the Creator Jindoo (the Sun) to shape it. Woddee Gooth-tha-rra
(Spirit men) made the hills, the valleys, the lakes and the oceans.
Seven Sisters beautified the earth with flowers, trees, birds, animals
and “other creepy things”. Six sisters returned to the Milky Way but
one of the sisters fell in love with the two Spirit men, and so their
special powers were taken away. Two men and the woman became mortal and
they became the parents of the earth, made laws and the desert people
[Aboriginal Australians] . In the Iroquois tradition there is “The
Woman Who Fell from the Sky”  and in Africa, Mrs. Onyemuru,
ferrywoman at Oguta Lake, tells a story of Ogbuide, the Queen of Women
who comes from the moon .
technologically developed societies, spaceships have replaced golden
chariots but desire and myth have remained foundational. Western
literature and imagination—in terms of the fantastic—has moved from
Earth, the mystical world and the past to the future. This desire for
the stars eventually has transformed myth into the reality. It has
entered public space, while in the non-west, tales of the mysterious,
alternative worlds remain in private space, in the Indian tradition, as
secrets revealed to the chela by the guru.
it can be argued that tales of space travel can, at best, claim to be
“only as prototypical predecessors of science fiction because science
fiction is a distinctly modern form of literature” . Having said
this, it is also important to note that while science fiction has
becoming increasingly a popular genre all over the world, not only
prototypical predecessors but also very early works of non-western
science fiction writers are being forgotten or marginalized.
the history of science fiction is written almost exclusively from its
Euro-American history. Indeed, even in two civilizations with their own
indigenous roots, both Wu Dingbo in China and Koichi Jamano in Japan
testify that the development of contemporary Chinese and Japanese
science fiction has been based on western rather than traditional
Japanese writers made their debuts deeply
influenced by traditional western criteria of SF. Instead of creating
their own worlds, they immersed themselves totally into the translated
major works of Anglo-American SF. This is like moving into a
prefabricated house; the SF genre has grown into out culture regardless
of whether there was a place for it .
Non-western Science Fiction: Creating Alternative Worlds
Such then is the blindness to tradition and the
fascination with the west, that non-western writers do not use their
non-western roots as a springboard for their creativity. It is crucial
to remember that while conventional wisdom believes that it is Karel
Capek “the man who invented robots” (the word robot derived from the
Czech word robiti or robata—“to work” or “a worker”)  the ‘robot’ has
been in the Chinese literary tradition since the fourth century.
In Zhang Zhan’s “Tangwen” in Lie Zi (The Book of Lie Zi, written around 307-313) Yanshi a clever
craftsman produces a robot that is capable of singing and dancing.
However, this robot keeps on staring at the emperor’s queen. This
enrages the emperor who issues an order to kill Yanshi. But then Yanshi
opens the robot’s chest and the emperor beholds the artificial human
. Robot stories also appear in 7th and 11th century China
as well .
while the Islamic tradition looks for its utopias in tradition, we have
examples such as Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain who wrote Sultana’s Dream in 1905, a virtually unknown short story that is a
predecessor of better known feminist fiction classics such as, for
example, Herland (1915). Born
in Pairaband, a village in what is now Bangladesh, Rokeya Sakhawat
Hossain was a “courageous feminist writer and activist who worked all
her life to remove what she called the ‘purdah
of ignorance’” . Given that most utopian imaging is political it
comes as no surprise that in Sultana’s
Dream, Hossain challenges the seclusion of women and their exclusion
from political and economic life. In the far-off Ladyland, ladies rule
over the country and control all social matters, while gentlemen are
kept in the murdanas to mind
babies, to cook, and to do all sorts of domestic work. Men are locked as
they “do or at least are capable of doing no end of mischief” .
You can not trust those untrained men out of doors: it is unfair to shut
in the harmless women and let loose the men, remarks sister Sara,
Sultana’s conversationalist from the other world. Women in Sultana’s Dream have the difficult task of rebuilding all of
society, which they do through education and science. In her utopia,
Hossain builds the world without “crime or sin”, where science is
used to service the society, where the Queen aims at converting the
whole country into one grand garden, and where religion is based on Love
and Truth. While Sultana finds herself in an ecotopia, the development
of science is still seen as extremely important. The genius of this
“unusual story” lies in the transformation of an issue—purdah—to
represent “a whole range of patriarchal practices and ideas that shut
out the possibility of another world, a world, … that could easily be
realized if women were allowed to exercise the wisdom and skills they
already have” .
Similarly, in Africa, in the continent locked in its
‘past’, Bessie Head creates through her novels better worlds, for
women, for migrants, for blacks and ultimately all people. In her
fiction she has sought to construct “her vision of the ideal human
society—tolerant, accepting, nurturing” . This vision of a
harmonious and tolerant society focused on agricultural cooperatives
 is a far cry from Bessie Head’s country of origin, South Africa
during Apartheid. As a refugee in Botswana—having fled South
Africa—she builds a vision of society where there is solidarity and
cooperation between different genders, classes and races as an
“antidote to the exclusion of tribe, race, class and gender that
operates in Southern Africa” .
Thai science fiction, we see in the
film Kawow tee Bangpleng
(Cuckoos at Bangplent, 1994, directed by Nirattisai Kaljareuk) 
juxtaposition of the local Buddhist temple with the spacecraft. Writes
commentator, Adam Knee: “ the image of an ancient statue of Buddha
with the craft visible through windows behind it in particular stands as
a striking and fertile emblem for the film, forcing a negotiation
between Asian and alien, ancient and modern, static and mobile” .
The spacecraft sends out a beam that impregnates the local women. The
children born are aliens. Over the length of the movie, writes Knee, it
becomes clear that the goal is to take over the planet, since their home
planet is dying. The local townspeople however remain sympathetic to the
children since they have given birth to them and reared them. They are
their’s, alien notwithstanding. Local monks—who are psychic like the
alien children—as well intervene when the police are about to attack
the aliens, once a series of troubling incidents begin.
adds, and this is crucial in this dialogue between alien and Buddhism:
“The monk continues to try to convince Somporn
[the alien leader], however, of the importance of keeping his emotions
in check, as well as of ‘extending compassion’ to others, along the
lines of Buddhist teachings. Somporn generally scoffs at these
suggestions but… nevertheless grudgingly agrees to let some of the
youths use their alien powers to help the humans when floods threaten
the town. As an indirect result of their exertions, however, the youths
start to fall ill and die; an autopsy reveals that another physical
difference—a lack of a spleen—has rendered them susceptible to
earthly diseases. The aliens realize that the planet will not sustain
their race and that the survivors must return to the ship; [the alien]
Somporn now comes to appreciate the monk's message of empathy and bids
him an affectionate farewell, as do the other alien children to their
sobbing human parents, before ascending to the sky” .
Knee: “The emphasis in Kawow
then—very unlike that of most western science fiction films--is on
local adaptation to rather than expulsion of the alien,
is met in turn by learning and adaptation on the part of the alien. This
is made most explicit in the extensive scenes of interaction between the
abbot and Somporn, the leader of the alien group and correspondingly the
most recalcitrant, as well as the most disdainful of human habits and,
more specifically, the Thai-Buddhist worldview” .
this is partly about Buddhist notions of compassion, it is also
intrinsic to some experiences of colonialism, of responding to othering
by inclusion, instead of continuing the process and becoming like the
dominator. The way forward then becomes an understanding of our mutual
mortality, human and alien.
Fiction as a Marginal Genre
While there is science fiction in all cultures,
it is only the west that has systematized science and fiction, made it
into an industrial endeavor, and created a particular brand of
literature called science fiction. Part of this process has been the
privileging its own from of fiction and seeing the dreaming of others as
irrelevant, as duplication/ replica/extension (Japanese science fiction,
manga and anime) or naive
(feminist science fiction).
However, science fiction itself has also been a
marginal genre. This marginality has allowed and been a cause of its
ability to open spaces for thinking the unthinkable, and exploring
unknown unknowns. The marginality of science fiction in society is in
direct proportion with science fiction’s radicalism. As a marginal
genre, science fiction has explored ideas otherwise not cherished by the
rest of mainstream/conservative society. In Russia/Soviet Union, science
fiction has often allowed spaces for powerful social critique, for
dissent. However, in different periods, Russian/Soviet science fiction
served important social control functions: for example, to spread
Bolshevism among the young, skilled, urban workers prior to the
revolution or to support industrial Five Year Plans during the Stalinist
era . In American movies, as cinema technology advances science
fiction is increasingly losing its ‘edge’ and becoming entertainment
that seeks to reinforce nationalism and the power of the nation-state.
Contrast the 1980’s Blade Runner
with the late 1990’s Independence
Day or Starship Troopers.
While packaging itself as a ‘pure
entertainment’ American science fiction continues to serve social
control functions. One is to prepare and de-sensitise the populace for
the consequences of post-modern global capitalism. For example, the
movie Gattaca, created as a
‘what if this continues’ type of scenario still serves the social
function of supporting continued eugenic efforts (present since the
beginning of the colonisation) of excluding the different and creating a
perfect (white) human being.
The other function is what Marx has called to
“dull the blade of class (and gender and minority’s or postcolonial)
struggle”. For example, movies like The
Matrix, Deep Impact, Armageddon, Independence Day,
Mars Attacks apart from using
conservative and overdone man-the-hero-saving-the-world theme are there
to teach us that we should be happy with our present (social) order as
the future can be much worse. High-tech progress may lead to disaster.
Catharsis and relief comes after the threat to our
future-as-the-continuation-of-the-present has been successfully battled
and defeated. The meteor, or the comet, or aliens, or artificial
intelligence or any other ‘Other’ who threaten the powerful male
elite (usually combining male scientists, brilliant male outcasts and
government) are after combat defeated. Patriarchy, liberalism and
statism win, claiming to have liberated all and everyone.
However, there are many levels to the discourses
under operation. The Matrix,
for example, can be read as a metaphor for our present lives and
societies (focused on material advancement) and as a call for the
spiritual, in which the veil of ignorance is removed and enlightenment
revealed, with all limitations seen merely as Maya,
illusion (similarly to Contact).
Yet these subtle spiritual meanings are drowned by the masculinist focus
on power battles. For example, Keanu Reeves can be read as a clever
programmer within the western frame or from a non-western Tantric, Vedic
or Buddhist frame as a bodhisattva,
returning to liberate our selves trapped by technocracy and materialism.
The medium becomes the message, massaging us into a light speed of
violence. These movies certainly fail to become a tool that can
“subvert the central myths of origin of western Culture with their
longing for fulfillment in apocalypse” . Ultimately, Reeves or Neo becomes neither programmer nor bodhisattva,
instead sacrificing self for the good of peace, becomes the Christ
savior returned. The Matrix Revolutions – even as it challenges
notions of life, machine, human and virtual – is foundationally
Christian (sacrifice and Christ the savior) and Western technological
(we make tools and thereafter they make us).
However, it does attempt to challenge the ego of the West
(linear, crisis based, technological) with the alter-ego of the West
(feminine, green, organic). The Oracle thus becomes the gaian shakti figure countering
the male architect of the Matrix and hyper-masculinity of Machine city
(and its sperm-line machines swarming Zion). Thus some layering is
there. However, if other cultural myths had been used as resources, far
more depth would have been possible. But other cultures are not seen as
real unto themselves.
another role current mainstream science fiction plays in American and
subsequently global society is to ‘other’ difference. This is most
often done by projecting difference onto the alien. Our terrestrial
differences are not owned, rather, they are exported into outer space
(foreign space). The alien does not only help create our identity (in
terms of the binary oppositions) but is also seen as a danger to us and
should consequently be exterminated. The ‘othering’ of the
difference can also be done through picturing the other in total
submission. One example is The
Handmaiden’s Tale, a powerful feminist critique transformed into
voyeuristic feast for patriarchal males and serving a similar social
function as the pornographic, The
Story of O. It also
encourages us to think that our current patriarchy does not look that
bad after all. Women are also the monsters of the future, writes Rosi
Braidotti in her essay, “Cyberteratologies,” aptly subtitled,
“Female Monsters Negotiate the Other’s Participation in Humanity’s
Far Future.”  Argues
Braidotti:” Contemporary social imaginary .. directly blames women for
postmodernity’s crisis of identity. In one of those double binds that
occur so often in regard to representing those people marked as
different, women are portrayed as unruly elements who should be
controlled – represented as so many cyber-Amazons in need of
governance.”  Women as monster becomes the future, with the
solution that of Superman and the Superstate taking over the role of
birthing and caring.
Yet another way in which the othering of the
difference is done is by ridiculing the Other. One example is in the
highest grossing movie in 1999, Star
Wars: Episode One, The Phantom Menace. One can get a sense of the
worldview of Lucas and others by simply analysing the accents and sites
of action. The Jedi Knights speak with western (a mix of British/West
Coast American) accents (that is, in terms of today’s categories of
accents, no accent at all). They are the highest of humanity. The lowest
are those who live on the planet Tatooine. They are made to look like
Muslim Arabs. But they are just uncivilized and not to be worried about.
The danger comes from the Trade Federation. They speak with a mixture of
an East Asian and Eastern European accent, the twin dangers to the
west—East Asia in terms of creating a new economic system, and Eastern
Europe as the (orthodox, not reinvented) traditionalism of the west. And
what of Africans and Islanders? They are, of course, not quite real, as
in all mythologies, friendly natives, slightly silly, happy-go-lucky (in
Star Wars, the Gungans, the underwater race on Naboo). Of course, this
typology was denied by Lucas, as it should be, how could he see the air
he breathes, fish cannot deconstruct water, and the west is unable to
see the world it has penned. But while it appears that the mythic
brilliance of the movie is that real evil comes from within, from the
west itself, in the form of the desire for more power, the emperor
(Senator and later Emperor Palpatine); this, however, ends up being a
jingoistic concern with democracy, with the American way of Life.
Essentially it is a battle of democracy against despotism, with the good
guys a mixture of Californian pop mysticism and true democracy, and the
bad guys as foreigners and as those who engage in trade wars. The latest
Star Wars installment thus even as if it appears that it is venturing
into worlds far away, in fact, reinscribes present constructions of self
and other, west and Non-west.
This analysis is not meant as a contribution to
postmodern cultural critique but as a pointer of dangers ahead. Our
collective imaginations become deadened as Star Wars becomes the
naturalized form of science fiction. Other cultures see themselves as
less, and either seek vengeance through religious extremism or create
schizophrenic personalities in which they other themselves. Globalism
continues it march onwards, reducing the possibility of alternative
futures, particularly from others. Current science fiction forgets that
we are all migrants to the future.
Frank Herbert’s Dune
(the 2001 TV/video
release as well as the earlier 1984 movie) appears to move away from
this construction of the other, by empowering the freman, the others in
the movie. However, at a deeper level, the other is either ridiculed or
seen as the romantic warrior, the mystic—Orientalized. Removed from
civilization, the freman are intimate with the desert, and develop a
mystic bond with the spice. Their mystical power is countered to the
technological prowess of the Emperor and the House of Harkonnens. And
yet, they do not find their salvation through their own agency, but it
is the ‘white’ Paul Atredis (as Lawrence of Arabia has done on this
planet) who comes and saves them. He does go native, however, taking the
freman name of Muad'Dib.
It is not in them to develop or be victorious, it takes the
overlord, the ruling class to provide freedom. Their ‘humanity’ is
denied to them. And, their freedom does not transform the structure of
feudalism but continues class rule, however, it is now the kinder House
of Atredis that will now rule Thus, what appears as victory for the
warrior and mystical freman is in fact a continuation of colonization.
It is traditional linear macrohistory—The Orient cannot develop
through its own creativity, it must be developed by the civilized. The
style of speaking, the clothes all make clear that this is a battle
within Europe (the emperor versus the Harkonnes versus the Atredis) with
the freman (Bedouins) merely the backdrop to their cosmic intrigue. And
nature—the worms—they are of course conquered by Paul Muad’Dib
Atredis. With nature conquered, the non-west liberated, the evil powers
in Europe defeated—and the spice (oil) safe—humanity can once again
prosper. The empire is dead. Long live the empire.
Space to High Noon
Far more obvious is how Star Wars and other
science fiction functions to ‘push the western frontier’. Gregory
Pfitzer claims that the most persistent myth in American culture, that
of the frontier, has shown remarkable resilience since its firstly
emerged in the 18th century .
In our times, what was once projected westward is now simply projected
upward and outward .
“Western cowboys [are transformed] into space cowboys, high-noon
gunfights into celestial shootouts, and frontier expansion into the
politics of space ownership on the high frontier” .
Pfitzer concludes that such outdated frontier mythologies are doing
American society damage: they do not help shape beneficial cultural
self-images, bear little relationship to present realities and threaten
to bind people too tightly to highly conventional, form-bound
ideologies. He believes that new mythologies need to be considered,
mythologies that will serve the culture better, especially those that
“reverse exploitation and racism while prescribing more realistic
avenues for public action” .
More recently, the frontier has gone from space to virtuality.
Some examples of how this is being done exist
even in American society. For example, recent versions of the popular
series Star Trek (Voyager and Deep
Space Nine) challenges many of our old mythologies and given
identities. And even more so is
the work of African-American authors, for example, Samuel Delany and
as “the only African-American woman writing science-fiction” Octavia
Butler's work challenges not only patriarchal myths, but also capitalist
myths, racist myths, and feminist-utopian myths .
She also challenges “the binary oppositions of alien and non-alien,
insider and outsider, masculine and feminine”,  undoing the essentialisms of tradition and modernity. Butler’s
characters seem to face the same issue and dilemma: “they must force
themselves to evolve, accepting differences and rejecting a world view
that centers upon their lives and values, or become extinct” .
While in most science fiction the alien is seen as the (potential)
destroyer of the human race, for Butler, aliens can save and improve the
human race and also themselves. Cooperation is necessary, as often the
only alternative is extinction. But the other is both external and
internal. “The self and the other cannot exist separately. They are
defined by one another, a central part of each other's identity”,  and there is even the “desire for the alien, the other, for
difference within ourselves” . Butler’s work seem to suggest that old
mythologies that produce “the hierarchies of center and margins, of
colonizer and colonized, of alien and other, no longer provide an
appropriate or adequate vocabulary with which to articulate the
possibilities for change” .
In the words of Octavia Butler:
Human Beings fear difference… Oankali
crave difference. Humans persecute their different ones, yet they need
them to give themselves definition and status. Oankali seek difference
and collect it. They need it to keep themselves from stagnation and
overspecialization…when you feel a conflict, try to go the Oankali
way. Embrace difference. 
Politics and Futures of Science Fiction
“‘Fantasies’, of course, are never
ideologically ‘innocent’ texts” .
But fantasies, including science fiction ones, can serve conservative
ideologies that promote old divisions and interests of the dominant
social/cultural/racial/gender group. Or they can serve ideologies which
would unable us all to move forward and create truly innovative future
societies. Science fiction images do not merely reflect our current
anxieties and desires. Through their powerful visualisation they create
the need for what is seen and encourage efforts to duplicate in the
future, science fiction’s déjà
vu. The litanies of our lives crave for myths to give them meaning.
In turn, myths help create future litanies, as either their extensions
or their oppositions. Science fiction and how it ‘others’ us, how it
continues a particular civilization’s domination by assuming others do
not have a science fiction or defining itself in exclusive terms (such
that other cultures visions are merely the naively impossible) becomes
part of the naturalising discourse of domination. However, science
fiction with its focus on creating alternative world, on liberating us
from our own mythologies, limitations, plays a pivotal role in
liberating us from our own slaveries.
Political-Economy of Imagination
left alone, science fiction will continue its present role in supporting
the cultural project of the only surviving ‘Empire’ at the beginning
of the Third millennia (as time counted by the west).
on the reasons for the explosion of science fiction and space fiction in
our time, science fiction writer Doris Lessing claims that this
explosion is happening because the nature of the human mind is
undergoing an expansion process, it is being forced to expand .
She further states that science fiction and space fiction writers must
explore “the sacred literatures of the world in the same bold way they
take scientific and social possibilities to their logical
conclusions…[We] make a mistake when we dismiss [sacred literature of
all races and nations] as quaint fossils from a dead past” .
The rich traditions of many people of the world will make such science
and utopian fiction of the future enormously exciting. It will be able
to express the voices of peoples silenced by hundreds of years of
western monoculture, of world capitalism. Science fiction can be a
medium for not only subversion but also for the development of the
Writes Marge Piercy on feminist science fiction:
…” One characteristic of societies imagined by feminists is
how little isolated women are from each other. Instead of the suburban
dream turned nightmare in which each house contained a woman alone and
climbing the walls, or the yuppie apartment house where no one speaks
but each has perfect privacy in her little electronic box, the societies
women dream up tend to b a long coffee klatches or permanent causal
meetings. Everybody is in everybody else’s hair .. society is
decentralized .. nurturing is a strong value .. communal responsibility
for a child begins at home.”  The vision is certainly pastoral
with Earth Rolling along. 
course, authentic futures are limited by the nature of the market. For
example, in Latin America “most science fiction is brief, embodied in
short stories rather then in novels…[which] … is due to the fact
that it is more feasible to publish short fiction than to publish longer
stories, as the editorial industry as well as the market is limited”
is also a great danger of producing “fragmented and inconsistent
images … from the modern and premodern eras … interwoven with new
and surprising cultural elements” —of becoming cultural and “literary imposters as New Age
Pipecarriers for any and all of The Nations” creating colonising
visions that would surpass even the traditional ones.
lumping all non-western science fiction into one entity means submerging
it into the category of ‘the Rest’ as defined by the Empire. It is
therefore also important to remember that even within the category of
‘the Rest’ different others have different status, role and image
being ascribed to them. The best
science fiction undoes the defining categories it begins with.
apart from ‘responding’ to dominant future images produced in the
west as well as looking at possible prototypes or cultural predecessors,
non-western science fiction writers need to fill in the empty spaces,
create alternative histories and imagine past visions of the future as
if they had been written.
the reality is that “Black Women do not have time to dream”, argue
Miriam Tlali and Pamela Ryan . While we should look at the conditions that have prevented Black
Women from dreaming, black women of today can reinvent these past future
images for their foremothers. Some of those visions have been expressed
in traditional cultures, some in past and present grass-root women’s
movements in the Third World; movements that are simultaneously
challenging poverty, racism and colonisation as well as gender
subordination. While indigenous history has been often erased and the
technocratic visions of tomorrow reign supreme it is never too late to
rediscover one’s own original direction.
Fiction and the Future of the Other
mainstream science fiction has not done so well writing the other, even
though ultimately everything it is about is the other. This precisely
because science fiction has largely become framed by one culture. And
this is why it is important (while acknowledging the danger of being
lumped into ‘the Rest’) to encourage the search, valorization, and
publication of science fiction (in its broadest sense) around the world.
is also important to see the future, science fiction, within the
historical and cultural terms of other civilizations, not merely
rescuing them within the dominant themes of the west, but also
developing the process of an authentic conversation and dialogue about
self and other; space and future; alien and human.
do this we must rescue dominant science fiction from its own
paradigmatic blinders, showing how it continues the project of
one-culture hegemony. What must be encouraged is a dialogue of visions
of the future and past across civilization, such that authenticity from
each civilization can lead to a new universal of what it means to be
human and not human.
This of course holds true not only for science
fiction but also for futures studies (utopian studies, etc) as well as
scholarship in general. Nothing could be more important as we create a
world for future generations for all of us. The desire to dream is the
universal endeavor of us, humans, appearing all over the globe, even at
the most unexpected places (for example, woman writing science/utopian
fiction in Bangladesh at the very beginning of the Twentieth century).
To culturally appropriate this desire and submerge into not only one
genre, but also one history and a few themes is to deny the realities of
our terrestrial past, present and future lives. We can dream otherwise.
Butler O. quoted in Wolmark J. Aliens and Others: Science
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Iowa City: University of Iowa Press; 1994:28.
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The site states: Science fiction is really sociological studies of the
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Discussion with Frederik Pohl over lunch, April 15, Seattle,
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El-Affendi A. Who Needs an Islamic State? London: Grey Seal,
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Case F I. Negritude and Utopianism. In: Jones ED, African
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See Inayatullah S. Toward a Post-Development Vision of the
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See Galtung J, Inayatullah S, editors. Macrohistory and
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Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose. The
South Atlantic Quarterly 1993;
See, Back to Godhead. The
magazine of the Hare Krishna Movement. PO Box 255, Sandy Ridge, NC,
For example, the first known description of the ‘robot’ comes
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Stories of the Dreaming: http://www.dreamtime.net.au/seven/text.htm
Gunn Allen P. Spider Woman's Granddaughters: Traditional Tales
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Tharu S, Lalita K:167
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Rosi Braidotti, “
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Ibid. Exact quote citation missing.
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earlier version of this paper appeared in Futures (Vol
35, No. 5, 493-507).
Ivana Milojevic is a postdoctoral research
fellow at the Graduate School of Education, The University of
Queensland, Brisbane, 4072. email@example.com.
Her forthcoming book for Routledge is titled Postwestern
and Feminist Futures of Education.
Sohail Inayatullah is Professor, Tamkang
University, Taiwan and University of the Sunshine Coast. He is co-editor
of the Journal of Futures Studies
and Associate Editor of New
Renaissance. His books published in 2002 include: Understanding
Sarkar; Transforming Communication; Questioning the Future; and, Youth
Futures. firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com,