Science Fiction, Colonialism, And the Plot of Invasion (1). By Extrapolation

Science Fiction, Colonialism, And the Plot of Invasion (1).

By Extrapolation

  • Release Date: 2005-09-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines

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In her classic essay "The Imagination of Disaster," Susan Sontag comments that "from a psychological point of view, the imagination of disaster does not greatly differ from one period in history to another. But from a political and moral point of view, it does" (224). The formulaic nightmares Sontag wittily summarizes in post-WWII popular science fiction films like The Blob, The Mysterians, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers certainly bear a strong generic similarity to science fictional disasters from the nineteenth to the early twenty first centuries--including, for instance, invasions by alien forces wielding hyper-advanced weaponry, primitive monsters and environmental cataclysms unleashed by scientific experiments gone awry, and threats of collective extinction by war or plague. According to Sontag, human psychology determines a relatively fixed set of anxieties that express themselves in such fictions of disaster, while social variables such as politics and morality determine that a wide range of topical significance will attach itself to them. Let us begin by asking, however, whether the basis for the continuity in representations of catastrophe, at least within the relatively restricted area of cultural production that comprises the history of science fiction, is something other, or at least something more, than psychological. For enslavement, plague, genocide, environmental devastation, and species extinction following in the wake of invasion by an alien civilization with vastly superior technology--all of these are not products of the fevered imaginations of science fiction writers but rather the bare historical record of what happened to non-European people and lands after being "discovered" by Europeans and integrated into the capitalist world economy from the fifteenth century to the present. In fact, the lexicon of science-fictional catastrophes might profitably be considered as the obverse of the celebratory narratives of exploration and discovery, the progress of civilization, the advance of science, and the unfolding of racial destiny that formed the Official Story of colonialism. The proposition this essay will explore, then, is that the repetitious quality of science fiction's vocabulary of catastrophe is based in large part on the strong and pervasive relationship science fiction has continuously borne to the political and ideological realities of colonialism. And if this is so, it should also help us to understand how and why the political and moral aspects of science fiction disaster have changed during the genre's history. "Progress" and Emergent Science Fiction