Considering Colonialism

A few years back, I read a great anthology: So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Meehan. Having not really started studying historical analysis or the impact of colonialism back then, I wasn’t entirely clear on what “postcolonial” meant. “Colonial” I got, since as a longtime fan of SFF I’d read scenario after scenario of stories about people from one society establishing beachheads in another, whether as invaders or friendlier visitors. But what was the “post” part all about? Reading the definition didn’t really bring it home… but that anthology did. In its pages I found several of the basic premises of SF reconsidered and re-centered. Instead of Us vs “the Other” there were stories from the Other’s PoV, othering “the us”. These were stories of what-happens-next, picking up where the alien invasion tales of Hollywood usually end; there were stories of Us becoming Them, via assimilation; there were stories of Them influencing Us without really noticing or caring about the results of Their cultural invasion, and vice versa. It took me awhile to process what I read from that anth, and I’m still chewing on it, though it’s been years since I first read it. As you can probably guess, I’m highly recommending this one. (And to whichever of my friends I loaned it to, I want it back, doggone it. ::gimlet eye at the universe::)

I didn’t make a conscious choice to tackle the subject of colonialism in the Inheritance Trilogy. I just developed the worldbuilding in a way that made sense to me. But in the wake of stuff like that anthology, and the fact that I had begun to understand how “isms” operated in intersecting systems, and the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of history that some would call “revisionist” when in fact it’s the stuff I learned in school that was pretty much made up out of whole cloth revised — well, let’s just say that what made sense to me after reading SLBD versus what had made sense before, was very, very different.

As an illustration, let me list some of the worldbuilding differences between the original version of the book that became The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and the version that I wrote 12-ish years later:

  1. (Old version) Most of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms were happily, inarguably Itempan; there was no examination of how most of them became Itempan. The Enefadeh — a term I used to refer only to the mortal worshippers of Enefa — were the only dissident sect. (New version) Most of the world is reluctantly Itempan, and people remember that their ancestors were forced or coerced into the faith. Most of these “converted” cultures have pockets of their old faiths, practiced in secret; the old faiths are varied, one for every god/godling, and sometimes different forms of worship for the same god. The gods themselves have tried to retain something of their old culture despite pressure to conform; in this version of the story, “the Enefadeh” refers to the gods who’ve chosen to remember the old ways and who refuse to submit to Itempas.
  2. (Old version) There was mention of other races, but most had been so assimilated/mixed that all of them except the Amn were “vaguely uniform brown”. The protagonist’s home culture had been fully assimilated in every way, but was just poorer. (New version) The protagonist’s home culture had been forcibly assimilated but managed to retain something of itself — their own language, their own customs kept in secret, their own phenotype — and was poorer as the direct result of policies implemented by the Amn and global bias against those cultures deemed “darkling” (those that had been forced to assimilate, versus voluntarily doing so).
  3. (Old version) The Enefadeh were treated as weapons, yet the Arameri still referred to them as “Lord” or “Lady”, because they’re still gods and deserving of basic respect. Viraine was the one to torture Nahadoth, but he did so without the other Arameri’s knowledge, and for his own purposes. (New version) The Arameri make a calculated and sustained effort to disrespect and dehumanize the captive gods — not just abusing them physically and sexually, but destroying their worshippers and maligning their contributions in doctrine and history, and even refusing to acknowledge that they are gods.
  4. (Old version) The protagonist was male, so I didn’t touch on the gendered aspects of colonialism much — I could’ve really explored what it means to be a man in Darr’s still-mostly-matriarchial culture, but I didn’t. (New version) With a female protag, I could explore the ways in which Darren sexual and reproductive customs have been altered to suit the tastes of the Arameri. Also, in this version I show that Kinneth’s sin wasn’t just marrying beneath her station; she could still have come back to the Arameri for awhile after doing that. It wasn’t until she let Dekarta know she was pregnant — that she had stooped so low as to interbreed with the Other — that Dekarta had her struck from the family rolls. (Note: I didn’t make this explicit in the text because the story is about Yeine’s effort to piece together the mystery of the past; no one knows what happened in the final conversation between Dekarta and Kinneth except them. But I could imply it via the timing, so I tried to do that.)
  5. (Old version) The gods are gods, period full stop. (New version) The gods are gods, but they’re also effectively another sentient species sharing the planet with mortalkind, and there are cultural and power-balance implications to that sort of thing that I decided to explore in this case. For example, mortals gain the power of magic by accident, thanks to interbreeding with gods — and the gods feel threatened by this, which eventually triggers the Gods’ War.

There’s more, but I think that’s enough of an example. Like I said, not all of this was consciously, deliberately constructed in the new version of the story/world. It’s just the kind of worldbuilding that makes sense to me now.

So, obviously I now have a taste for postcolonial SFF. I still don’t have a ton of free time, but when I do, recommendations for interesting worldbuilding would be welcome! Any suggestions?

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35 Responses »

  1. I’m STILL not sure I understand what postcolonial means. Would you say that Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy was postcolonial in that it takes place *entirely* after the “invasion” (which can barely be called an invasion) and is all about the merging of “us” and “them”?

    Also, it’s interesting to think of every interaction between one species and another as “colonial”. Except for where the evocation was obvious, like Cameron’s Avatar, I didn’t really see it that way in most SFF.

  2. Oh oh, how about Alien Nation? Does it count if the “they” are the main ones suffering as a result of entering “our” space?

    And what if “they” did not willingly, but rather out of desperation? I’m sure any xenophobe, like those in A.N. and “nativists” amongst real life populations could see any immigration as “invasion”, as colonialism (though in the latter case the irony is ridiculous), but where do we separate the two?

  3. Us becoming Them, via assimilation

    In Walter Jon Williams’ comedy series about Allowed Burglar Drake Maijstral, the humans were curb-stombed by the Khosali and then given a place in the empire. Centuries later the Empire hit a bump and a human-dominated sphere split off. Its people still preserve many of the Khosali social niceties (including the Allowed Burglar thing, which appeared as an attempt to reconcile “the Emperor can do no wrong” and “our current Emperor is a klepto”; you can steal stuff but only if you steal it with style).

    It was not all one way: the Khosali picked up from humans an obsession with the Elvis Presley/Pat Garrett/Priscilla Presley (?) romantic triangle.

  4. Great post. Would it be awful if I suggested one of my own books? I’d actually really like your opinion of it, since it addresses a lot of the same concepts and themes in the background.

    “The Burning Sky” is a steampunk adventure set in an alternate Morocco, which is the most technologically advanced nation in the world and has a complex history of being colonized and invaded. The action takes place inside the matriarchal culture, so most of the heroes, villains, and professionals in general are women.

    I’d be happy to send you the ebook, if you were interested.

  5. It’s worth noting that a story that successfully turns “us” into the “other” can be really, profoundly disturbing to read. It leaves you feeling like you’re unsure of the ground you’re standing on. I read C. J. Cherryh’s Faded Sun trilogy a long time ago (early 1980s, I think) and the impression it left still lingers. I was hugely impressed by her ability to paint the alien Mri, and unsettled by the degree to which the human protagonist absorbs/is absorbed by their culture. Years later I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about him as a character, or what she hoped I’d feel.

  6. I would consider Joan Slonczewski’s work to be postcolonial and feminist (not all postcolonial work is feminist, and of course most feminism is not postcolonial)!

    http://biology.kenyon.edu/slonc/slonc.htm

    http://www.davidmswitzer.com/slonczewski/

    She’s a biology professor, and her worldbuilding is incredible, not only at the biological/environmental level, but the cultural level.

  7. So, not sure if this is a relevant point, but: the English language seems to me to be ill-equipped to describe non-white people in positive terms, or in terms that are fully detached from racism at the very least. By which I mean, non-white people are by no means a ‘uniform brown’, and yet it’s hard to describe the subtleties of colour in English because the language tends to feel either laboured or loaded. So the story I’m writing right now features a language which, having been dominant at a time of great cultural/racial intersection, has specific, positive terms for different types of non-white skin colour which have subsequently passed into common usage.

    Given my own whiteness, I’m entirely nervous about writing this, even though (or perhaps because) none of my protagonists are white. But it still feels like an important thing to me, because language reflects culture, and so it feels like the main reason ‘black’ is used as a catch-all term for non-white, even when the people being referred to might be any shade darker than tan, is as an antonym for normal. But if one culture of non-white people who already had a rich colour vocabulary began to interact with other non-white people, it felt sort of natural to give them a more specific lexicon than ‘lighter than dark but still darkish brown’. So hopefully that works? I don’t know. Anyway, point being: colour language feels important to me.

  8. Kermit, my understanding of “postcolonial” is possibly a bit simplistic, but basically it’s stuff that picks up where the traditional SFF narrative usually leaves off. After the invasion has been fought off by the intrepid ragtag band, after the West (or East or whatever) is won, after the starship Enterprise has moved on to the next planet where it’ll accidentally violate the Prime Directive, after the alien-infested colony has been nuked from orbit (’cause it’s the only way to be sure). It looks at the implications of contact between cultures — First Contact and otherwise, intentional or accidental, malicious or benign or mixed-intention — whenever there’s a power differential involved. I don’t have Hopkinson and Meehan’s book handy to look at their definition, but that’s mine.

    I would call Butler’s DAWN colonial, because it’s about a human woman dealing with an alien colonization. But I would call ADULTHOOD RITES and IMAGO postcolonial, because they’re about what comes next.

  9. I’m still exploring the whole postcolonialism concept myself, so I may be a little off-base, but here’re some books I’ve read/heard about that might be described as post-colonial:

    –Probably unnecessary to say it, but Nalo Hopkinson’s novels; I’ve only read Brown Girl in the Ring, but from the descriptions I’d guess her others do as well.

    Embassytown, by China Mieville (I think it’s a theme he touches on often, but I couldn’t swear to that, because I’ve only read this one and The City & the City.)

    –I *think* a fair amount of Cherryh’s work does; The Faded Sun trilogy was already mentioned, and I’m pretty sure the Foreigner sequence hits some of those same notes, and I only got through the first third of it but I believe Downbelow Station is also in the same mental head-space.

    –Octavia Butler’s also already been mentioned; I’ve only read Wild Seed in her Patternist series, but judging from the descriptions I think the chronologically later books might fit.

    –Maybe some of James Tiptree Jr.’s short stories? Like “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side”? (Though from that angle perhaps a number of stories about the perils of falling in with the faerie could be interpreted through a post-colonial lens. . .)

    –It feels like there’s some element of colonial and/or post-colonial discourse going on in Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, with their system of races mentoring other races in a Culture-imposed hierarchy, and the whole set-up of Special Circumstances and their interventions, but none of the specific novels I’ve read (I’ve only read two though) have foregrounded the issue.

    –A few of the stories in Chesya Burke’s collection Let’s Play White, like “The Unremembered” (though that’s my least favorite story in the collection, alas!)

    –Samuel Delany’s Neveryon stories — it really should NOT have taken me so long to think of these. “The Tale of Old Venn” is all about postcolonial issues, as it’s mostly a conversation between two characters about the changes the imposition (from a more “civilized” culture) of coined money and writing are wrecking in the “barbarian” culture.

    –I feel like that’s the direction several of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels were going, but I can’t quite think of a specific title that addressed it head on. The stories were always too individually focused. . . but the whole Against the Terrans section of the chronology is about the conflicting desires of the Darkovans to assimilate into the high-tech space-faring branch of humanity and retain their own culture.

    –I think it’s one of the things going on in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga; again, it’s not always foregrounded, but Barrayar was isolated for several hundred years and then suddenly reexposed to a galactic culture that had moved beyond it (technologically, at least) in the meantime; so in the books set on Barrayar at least there’s always stuff in the background about the wrenching social changes that recontact has brought. The book it’s most foregrounded in is Barrayar.

    Gah, long comment is long. Sorry! Thanks for the post! (Also, I *really* need to get my hands on that anthology. . .)

  10. Er, sorry for the complete irrelevance of my comment. I was Drunk In Charge Of The Internet last night. Bad Foz!

  11. It’s really fascinating to read the comparisons between old/new versions. Really really fascinating.

    What about trying to imagine and create a world with a different base narrative from the colonialist one we know? Is that colonialism, post colonialism, or something else? You’re doing that a bit in The Killing Moon, I think.

  12. I read Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy as a sort of SFnal spin on the conquest of Mexico, with Lillith playing a role analogous to La Malinche. But I’m not sure this was what Butler herself intended. The whole subgenre of “aliens take over our planet but it’s really for our own good to keep us from wiping ourselves out” seems uncomfortably close to the colonialist rationalization “white people are governing this colony but it’s really for the natives’ own good”. Was Butler just following the tropes of that subgenre, or was she commenting on it?

  13. Joseph,

    Unfortunately, the same crazy work schedule that makes it hard for me to keep up with my pleasure reading means I don’t really have time to read stuff for commentary/critique. So I’ll have to pass. That said, steampunk can have some really interesting postcolonial things to say, if it’s handled right. I think an awareness of actual history and a willingness to acknowledge its ugliness is crucial — so it’s hard to say whether yours fits the bill based just on a synopsis. What do your readers think of it so far?

  14. Foz,

    Oh, gotcha. I have to admit, I was trying to parse whether you were making a point about colonialism and language, and having trouble figuring it out. :)

  15. Kate,

    I think your Spiritwalker Trilogy is a non-colonial narrative. The Malians didn’t come to Europe to take over; they came as refugees, and only by assimilating into the population — and giving as much as they took — did they gain the power to conquer. So the social hierarchy of your Europe isn’t based on outsiders vs insiders, Us vs. Them, invaders & invaded — instead it’s an essentially internal power struggle, with some members of a society mistreating other members of that same society. You’ve done the same thing in — erk, spoiler — um, the Caribbean. A colony is involved, but they’re almost peripheral to the internal power struggles of the host society.

    The Killing Moon is definitely colonial, in part because it’s borrowing from aspects of our real world history that involved colonization on several levels. But I can’t talk about that just yet. :)

    And likewise I can’t talk about Naomi Novik’s latest Temeraire book, but she’s been doing an interesting thing in that series, increasingly depicting a world where colonialism has failed. In the latest book, they visit a New World (well, South America) where colonialism never managed to take root at all. There’s been contact, with devastating consequences, but not colonization. But I’d count it as an example.

  16. Seth,

    Hard to say what Butler intended, but I read Xenogenesis as very much a commentary on that colonialist rationalization — a very obvious commentary on the issue, really, to the degree that Lilith pretty much says so at varying points. And the effects of that colonization during and after the fact (e.g., the fact that the colonizers eventually realize they’re doing something wrong, and the way the children wrestle with the issues of both colonizers and colonized) make the parallel even more explicit.

  17. I only read the first 3 or 4 chapters of The Killing Moon. I felt it might be commenting on colonialism but not quite in the expected ways, if that makes sense. But I would need to read more of it to create a more extensive analysis. Hmmm. Wonder if I’ll ever be able to get an advance copy . . . .

    I guess one of the things I have been trying to do with Spiritwalker is make the point that colonialism is only one way things could have gone, that it wasn’t — as we like to say here in the USA — a form of manifest destiny.

  18. Lol, yeah, the mental processes were firing on an unreliable set of cylinders by that point. I’m sure I wanting to say something meaningful about language and colonialism, but it just sort of… went.

    On a hopefully more relevant note, where does the oppression of magical/alien races fit into the postcolonial discussion? The first epic fantasy I ever read – the Axis trilogy by Sara Douglass – featured a world where two magical races, the winged Icarii and the forest-dwelling Avar, had been conquered, dethroned, exiled and demonised by human interlopers. Though humans still retained their primacy at the end of the series, all three races had reconciled, the stigmas between them broken. And there’s a lot of SF where humans make outposts on alien planets whose inhabitants are seen as lesser; the ‘Dinis of Anne McCaffrey’s Tower and the Hive series springs to mind, because even the characters who support them generally view them as entertaining, sentient pets, despite their clear intelligence and technological capabilities (the fact that they look like one-eyed, walking teddybears doesn’t help).

    It seems like a fairly consistent habit of SFF is to create one of two scenarios re alternative races: either human beings are in charge, with other peoples put there to make the setting more exotic (or, if oppressed, to regain their agency in a way that doesn’t actually undermine human authority) or the non-humans are Nasty Oppressors who must be completely overthrown. And while I understand the strong compulsion to write stories about our own species, it always strikes me as something of a cheat in SFF – which is after all about possibility – to always prefer ourselves to any imagined species.

    Which is part of why Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy absolutely blew me away with its awesome: it’s the only story I can think of where we’re genuinely forced to feel conflicted about allegiance to our own species.

  19. NK, I’ve been getting a lot of positive responses. Readers say that they like the matriarchal culture, and the overwhelming number of female characters, and that the heroine has a husband and child at home.

    One of my favorite early reviews: “Additionally, as a female reader, I was pleasantly surprised that Lewis’s world was a matriarchy and the major characters were female yet the book was not overrun with stereotypical female “character pitfalls”. I don’t run across this very often.”

    And an odder comment (from a woman in South Africa): “I was amused to realise that in this novel the majority of roles are reversed. The women work and the men stay at home. Very amusing.”

    I’m curious why she called it “amusing” twice.

  20. Postcolonialism is really a term used by academics to refer to what happens to colonies after colonialism proper ends. But it’s really a term that is always already premature, since colonialism never ended; it changed faces. Some countries still have colonies. Some colonies were never let go (i.e., Hawaii, which was made a State against the wishes of the natives). France and England still own colonies. America still owns colonies. Global corporations are now the colonial empires at work.

    But we still use postcolonialism to talk about the “after effects” in nations which have become independent, even though many of them aren’t actually independent. Many of the Caribbean islands, for example, are influenced heavily by U.S. multinational tourist corporations. Hotel companies and the like. Many African countries are still trying to get out from under multinational lending agencies which have direct ties to the very countries that once colonized them.

    And yet despite all that, I still say I study postcolonialism…weird, no?

  21. Foz,

    I remember reading the Tower & Hive series, but I don’t remember any sentient local life. O.o In fact I don’t remember anybody leaving the tower. Maybe it’s just been too long since I read it, or maybe I stopped after the first book or two… can’t recall.

    Anyway, there are several good examples of authors writing non-human species well enough to hook us human-centric readers — someone upthread mentioned C J Cherryh, and she’s always been good at stuff like that. I agree that the Faded Sun trilogy does a fantastic job of viewing human colonization through the eyes of “the other”, and that the Foreigner universe is thoroughly postcolonial — doesn’t even start until the human colony has been established for decades, tried and failed to conquer the alien world, and has been licking its wounds for awhile. And yes, Butler. Science fiction tends to handle the colonial and the postcolonial better than fantasy, IMO — possibly because it’s named and embraced there versus in this genre.

  22. Joseph,

    Sorry, should’ve been clearer. I meant, how do your readers respond to the postcolonial elements of your narrative?

  23. Interesting post there.

    Perhaps I am interested, because where I come from (Singapore, btw), we are still experiencing after effects of colonialism (by the British). I am Chinese, my forefathers came from China, but I think and speak in English. My identity is one of hybridity – straddling many worlds. I agree with Shaun that colonialism still exists, or that the mentality is still pervasive.

    Colonialism is tied to imperialism. There are still empires in this world. So, my vision of a SFF world is where hybrids, be it language, culture or race straddle and try to negotiate the nuances and unspoken picket fences of their world(s).

  24. Shaun,

    That was a useful explication of post colonialism, thanks.

    And thanks for mentioning Hawaii. Most USAians don’t know the history of Hawaii. The petition against annexation has a number of interesting facets. It was signed by as many (or almost as many) women as men (perhaps more), and attests to the high degree of literacy in the Native Hawaiian and mixed Hawaiian population in 1897, including among women.

    Nora – I agree that sf seems to handle these issues possibly better than fantasy. Maybe the defaults in fantasy hit harder without people examining them as much? I dunno.

  25. Shaun,

    All good points about colonialism in the academic sense — but I do think there’s a difference between colonialism-as-real-world-issue (and yes, very much still in existence) and colonialism-as-literary-device/subject.

    For awhile, the tropes of colonialism were all we ever seemed to get in science fiction. Many of the Golden Age works were all about Us going to other planets to explore and conquer Them (both the planet and its people), or Them coming here to start shit, or Us boldly going elsewhere to mess up other peoples’ lives unintentionally. Or if the stories weren’t about that, they were about How Strange Those People Are. It used to be comparatively rare to see what came after, or stories in which They stopped being Them and became merely them, or us.

    But even though these colonialist narratives are going out of style in science fiction, I would say those tropes are still very much prevalent in fantasy. So much of fantasy is about terrifying encounters with the other (and in some cases, like Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, they’re even named the Others) in which people must conquer/resist/steal from/prepare to face that which is different. So many fantasy others are impossible to reason with, impossible to communicate with, impossible to treat as people; they are animals, or intelligent but Always Chaotic Evil and have nothing resembling free will or recognizable morality. There are still relatively few fantasy stories which go beyond this — or go far enough beyond it to be postcolonial, anyway. And that’s in part because so many fantasy stories are adhering to a colonialist literary tradition. For example, Tolkien’s LotR (arguably the parent of most modern epic fantasy) was thoroughly colonial, in ways that were probably necessary to suit Tolkien’s Christian-influenced good vs evil moral binary. For example, no one in the trilogy still questioned whether the elves were superior and/or deserved to have their own territory and keep their knowledge/magic to themselves. (The Numenoreans did once and got spanked for it by God; nobody else even tried.) No one gave any thought to trying to free the orcs. No one tried to figure out whether peaceful coexistence with Mordor was possible, and no one had any reason to try; apparently Mordor didn’t even trade with other nations, let alone have diplomatic relations.

    That kind of good vs evil, Us vs Them, quintessentially colonialist binary does not, cannot, realistically explore how multiple groups of intelligent, free-willed beings might interact. But it’s a literary tradition in fantasy — not just because its most famous writers repeatedly tackle it, but because readers want it. So it’s hard to escape.

  26. Kate,
    I admit to oversimplifying the Hawaiian issue, but it is one that Americans should be aware of and taught in schools. But to suggest that the U.S. acquisition of places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico is, at best, problematic and, at worst, wrong to children and young people doesn’t sit well with the fictive patriotic establishment that would have us all believe that the U.S. can commit no wrong. And this is precisely why things like postcolonialism, regardless of its accurateness as a label, continues to shine a light on the pervasiveness of colonialism. Those who challenge the authoritative structure of colonial agents are marginalized as “intellectuals” or “unpatriotic” or are otherwise ignored. It’s really terrifying that our young people simply don’t know what has gone on in this country and elsewhere in the last 200 years (or the last 60 for that matter). I don’t see that changing, though. I went through a long process of realization when I went to college and started seeing how all the lines connected. That’s the kind of stuff I should have been learning when I was in middle school and high school…

    Anywho! On the subject of postco fiction, I am trying to put together a postco science fiction class for Spring. No idea if they’ll let me teach it or stick me with a survey course, but if people have suggested texts (novels, short stories, plays, or poetry), throw them at me!

  27. N.K.,
    Have you read John Rieder’s Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction? A very interesting book which looks into how colonialism influenced SF literature.

    I agree that there are shifts in representation, though. In many cases, for the good.

  28. NK,

    Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anyone really comment on the cultural exchange or conflict issues in the books. There are tons of little details, like foreign place names, conflicting political parties, conflicting religions, immigration, mixed art forms, local versus foreign fashion/food/culture, changing gender relations, changing class structures, etc.

    They’re all details in the world-building, but not major themes of the story itself. It’s possible readers are assuming that the country is “supposed” to be that way rather than being the product of a complex and disruptive history.

    Readers have commented on the depth of historical detail, but I haven’t seen anyone really engage the issues. Yet!

  29. Shaun, how I love the phrase “fictive patriotic establishment.”

    At the Bishop Museum recently with a friend, I went to a presentation in which the nice young man was doing a kind of faux narrative history as if he were a guy born mid 1800s and relating his personal history to us. He did not pull his punches (although actually he did) but when he got to the annexation, and said “and then the Marines invaded” (or something, but clearly critical and framing the US intervention in a negative light) 3 people got up and walked out. I was shocked. But not shocked, if you see what I mean.

    Nora, I need to dust off that “Savage Other” post and do the revisions, because you are so right about the narrative that is still embedded within so much of the fantasy tradition — or perhaps almost all of it, since even in attempting to write post colonialist or non colonialist fantasy, we’re still writing against or in discussion with the colonialist tradition.

    Which, now that I think of it, is one reason I enjoyed Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo so much. To me it fit within a non colonialist tradition by and large.

  30. Kate,
    It always amazes me how people run away from the truth in order to maintain their utopian vision of “how things are.” I get the sense that too many people in this world don’t take the saying “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” seriously. We really should. It’s not about whether one nation is more evil than another. Every nation is made up of people, and people are flawed. So we make mistakes. Lots of them. But we’re capable of learning from them…so long as we talk about them. *sigh*

    An interesting anecdote, since you provided one: I once had a college student ask me, after a long discussion of the causes of the Second World War, the following — “We were at war with Germany?” Yup. Very much so…twice…

    Oh, and I’ll have to follow you to see that “Savage Other” post. Sounds interesting. I’ve been trying to think about how to write about (post)colonialism in fantasy. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the European Model, but it would be interesting to top about issues of occupation through fantasy. Kage Baker explored it a little bit in The House of the Stag, which is kind of an allegory for a lot of different kinds of colonialism and imperialism. One of my favorite books, for sure.

  31. On the topic of Tolkien’s fantasy and it’s brethren, have you read Jacqueline Carey’s Sundering books? I think she’s at least making a start on trying to turn the trope of the quest fantasy on its head and making people think about it.

    If you haven’t read it, she’s essentially telling the same plot as Lord of the Rings, but from a viewpoint on the other side. She doesn’t try to make saints of them, and she didn’t change the ending, so it’s a rather tragic story, but she does do a very good job of making the people who are normally cast as the villains *people*, not pure evil cardboard cutouts that can be killed without consequence.

  32. Studying postcolonialism in an aca context as well, in application to steampunk, and I’ve found there’re so many ways to take the term:

    – a time period “after colonialism”, in which case, postcolonialism is also the study of neo-colonialism;

    – a theory of difference with a retro-historical angle–which means postcolonial theory is vague partly because each different region has its own specific context, so trying to paper over an overarching theory to account for it all is gonna fail, pretty much;

    – an approach which centers the traditionally “Other” in colonial narratives (forex, I consider “Effluent Engine” a postcolonial steampunk story)

    (and I’m sure I’m missing something.)

    Right now, I’m reading Karin Lowachee’s Gaslight Dogs as a postcolonial text. It uses the US settler vs. Natives narrative in a secondary world setting, so it fits in with my thesis that steampunk is perfect as a vehicle for postcolonial SFF because of the historical / regional specificity that enables an understanding of how the political power dynamics between various (racial/geopolitical) groups come to be.