So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy Paperback – Apr 1 2004
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Science fiction has always led the way when it comes to exploring identity, with many writers offering radical reconstructions of sexuality, gender, and race. But for all its experimentation and theoretical diversity, the genre has been dominated by a remarkably narrow selection of voices, with its mainly white authors writing largely from a European tradition. The result is a lot of uncharted literary space, a void that So Long Been Dreaming fills by using the tropes and conventions of sci-fi to explore the legacy of colonialism--both in history and in the genre itself.
Co-editors Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan have selected writers from marginalized groups and asked them to use "massa's tools"--"stories that take the meme of colonizing the natives"--to rewrite the narratives of colonization and oppression. The result is an entirely new way of looking at science fiction and its presuppositions, one that offers a view from a parallel but profoundly different universe. Rising to the challenge, many of the writers collected here have appropriated familiar cultural models. Suzette Mayr adapts the Irish folk tale of the selkie--a mermaid-like creature--to explore notions of cultural displacement in "Toot Sweet Matricia," while in "Rachel" Larissa Lai highlights the ways in which the film Blade Runner glosses over issues of race. Tamai Kobayashi morphs Western social and cultural theories in "Panopte's Eye," a story of identity control in a post-apocalyptic military society in which Michel Foucault's panopticon makes a guest appearance. Nor is history itself exempt, as Eden Robinson uses the tensions of the Oka crisis and the fisheries disputes as source material for "Terminal Avenue," an examination of the psychology of assimilation.
The stories cover such a wide range of material--space opera, dimension travel, myth and fairy tale, fantasy, magic realism--that the anthology resists attempts to categorize it. It is not entirely science fiction, not entirely fantasy, not even entirely postcolonial literature. And this resistance is largely the point of So Long Been Dreaming. Such boundaries belong to the past, the anthology suggests, but we're living in the future now. --Peter Darbyshire
Lest postcolonial in the subtitle intimidate, let it be noted that this is a strong anthology that, regardless of thematic concern, showcases authors with some real experience of colonization from all over the world. Given that so much sf is concerned with encounters with the other or alien intending domination, the genre and colonialism are, of course, not strangers. The book's five sections are "The Body," the last of whose contents, Larissa Lai's fascinating "Rachel," glimpses a readily familiar character; "Future Earth," including Vandana Singh's "Delhi," in which one Aseem is unstuck in the city's timestream; "Allegory," which features a particularly chilling and timely presentation of enforced otherness in Wayde Compton's "The Blue Road: A Fairy Tale"; "Encounters with the Alien," in which Greg van Eekhout's "Native Aliens" questions the nature of being alien; and "Re-imagining the Past," with Tobias S. Buckell's "Necahual," about a soldier in a "liberation army" more concerned with making a pure-human society than with living with the no longer purely human and the natives of colonized planets. Regina Schroeder
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But on the other hand, the stories here are almost uniformly haunting and incredibly thought-provoking for informed readers of any culture. Karin Lowachee and devorah major really make the aforementioned humans-colonizing-aliens motif work in exciting ways. Tobias S. Buckell offers an intriguing space war with a Mesoamerican twist, and Opal Palmer Adisa brings redemption in an alternative history of slavery. Wayde Compton creates a marvelously updated version of a piece of old African folklore, to illustrate post-human discrimination, while Larissa Lai finds the inherent humanity and prejudice of supposedly inhuman robots. The most moving tale here is by Celu Amberstone, in which humans who have been forcibly relocated by aliens to a new planet try to connect with this strange new Earth in a Native American fashion. As with any collection of stories by different authors, some submissions here work better than others, with preachiness being a common drawback. But overall, this is an especially stirring collection of tales that tackle shopworn sci-fi and fantasy concepts from fresh non-Western viewpoints, offering the reader new ways of looking at the past, present, and future of the real world. [~doomsdayer520~]
Wayde Compton's "fairy tale" is almost too beautiful to describe. A "growing ball of light as bright as a sky full of half moons" appears to our hero and tells him that his name is Mr. Polaris. By the way, the hero is called Lacuna and thus describes the position of writers of color, often, marginalized within the already marginalized community of science fiction. That is, it's a world filled with its own rules and domains, yet those in charge of the dominant culture regard it with skepticism and even violence, based on the fear of losing their own Antaean strength--the exploring strength of the colonizer.
The blind Victorian writer Celu Amberstone contributes a diaristic and chilling account of a mother-daughter relationship gone tragically wrong. In this brief and pointillistic tale, the daughter is called "Sleek" and she is almost like the spirit of the mother before society's pressures (and the pressures of colonization) took the free will out of her. The months and the days are each given beautiful and poetic names. The penultimate entry will bring tears to your eyes--even if you are a rock.
I wish I had time to list all the stories and what makes them good. Before I sign off I could add that, although Compton and Amberstone are both Canadian, the anthology has many writers from other parts of North America too, including the USA, as well as from other parts of the world. This world--our world. The editors have skillfully suggested to their readers the ways in which all science fiction embodies aspects both of colonizing and post colonialist teleology. It's an eye opener. Hooray for Arsenal Pulp for bringing us the news in this handsome and durabe volume.
Like any anthology some stories in this collection were fantastic, some were great, and many were good. Some of the stories felt like they ended to soon,or were rushed, and perhaps they are snippets of fuller stories to come by these amazing authors.
Though I am a life long Sci-Fi Fantasy, speculative fiction reader it is a treat to be introduced to a wide range of writers looking at SF/F from a different viewpoint and culture, it is always a treat to read new authors I have not discovered yet.
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