Science fiction

Emily A. Maguire*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Is there a Latino/a science fiction? Latino studies scholar Lázaro Lima thinks not. In a 2009 online essay, Lima laments the lack of a tradition of science fiction in Latino/a literature: “There are no Octavia Butlers or Samuel Delanys, as in the African American tradition, no Laurence Yeps or S. P. Somtows, as in the Asian American Tradition, to engage in a sustained critique of the ideology of the genre as it pertains to a future subject position yet to be imagined; an ideation of Latino futurity that has not yet achieved an ideology of form in the present.” For Lima, an absence of both Latino/a authors and characters in the genre is evidence that Latino/a writers have been too focused on the past, specifically on “making their relationship to the state historical.” He asks, “By haunting the cultural sphere of the past, do we depoliticize the possibility for a viable Latino future?" (Lima 2009). For him, an absence of Latino/a science fiction narratives portends negatively for Latino/a futures in a larger (political) sense. Lima’s principal complaint is difficult to dispute: few Latino/a names appear in the English-language “canon” of science fiction writing. Yet his observation that Latinos/as have been inactive in science fiction production is not entirely accurate, and relies on two assumptions. First, it implies that science fiction writing (or, for that matter, science fiction cinema) takes place within certain limited parameters, specifically those of the English-language science fiction “genre” novel or film. Second, it presupposes that science fiction is necessarily an imagining of the future, when it can just as easily be seen as a comment on a present situation as it can be the envisioning of a future society. In fact, as critics such as Antonio Córdoba and Juan Carlos Toledano Redondo have shown with respect to Latin American science fiction, the genre may be equally used to engage with past events or to comment on present political systems and urban environments. Latino/a literature has more often been associated with the techniques of magical realist, perhaps because, as Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy Faris observe, magical realism texts can contain a cultural component; in the case of Latino/a magical realism, the magical elements in Latino/a texts are frequently identified as both Latino/a and as disruptive of dominant conventions and perceptions (Parkinson Zamora and Faris 1995: 3). Magical realism is also, as Faris notes in another essay, a technique in which “history is the weight that tethers the balloon of magic” (Faris 1995: 170), making it an ideal strategy for exploring the relationship between Latinos/as and national or regional histories. Despite the lure of magical realism, however, Latinos/as have, for some time now, been employing elements of science fiction, drawing on and responding to the work of predecessors and contemporaries writing in both English and Spanish. Their texts often do not correspond to limited notions of what constitutes science fiction writing (or what constitutes Latino/a literature!), which may explain why some of these texts have failed to receive mainstream attention and/or critical recognition. Latino/a interventions into science fiction have stimulated innovations in novelistic and cinematic forms, as well as in the corpus of Latino/a fiction, precisely through the unconventional ways in which they have made use of the language and apparati of science fiction, both to mine the problematic yet productive tension between science fiction and magical realism and to introduce Latino/a cultural elements into the science fiction genre itself. Any discussion of how science fiction is taken up by Latino/a writers and film- makers depends necessarily on how science fiction is defined. While we may think of spaceships, distant planets, and extraterrestrials to be the standard tropes of science fiction, critics have sought to provide for a more expansive understanding of the genre’s possibilities. Darko Suvin separates science fiction writing from both naturalistic literature and form genres such as myth, fantasy, and fairy tale by identifying it as “literature of cognitive estrangement” (Suvin 1972: 372, emphasis in original). The premise of a science fiction narrative may be completely unknown or strange, but it is developed in a way that is coherent with the “rigor” of scientific systems (Suvin 1972: 374). (This is also what separates science fiction from magical realism, which presents elements of the fantastic as “real” with no explanation of the phenomena.) Science fiction writer Samuel L. Delany carries Suvin’s ideas still farther; for him, science fiction constitutes not merely a different genre, but a different language: “A distinct level of subjunctivity informs all the words in an SF story at a level that is different from that which informs naturalistic fiction, fantasy or reportage” (Delany 1978: 10). While realism can be said to describe “what has happened,” and fantasy describes “what could not happen,” science fiction’s difference, according to Delany, operates through the way in which it describes - with verisimilitude - a reality that “has not [yet] happened,” thereby expanding the relational capacities of certain descriptive language and creating what he terms “violent nets of wonder” (Delany 1978: 13). (The awesome yet possible environment that science fiction posits thus contrasts with magical realism, which could be said to incorporate elements that “could not happen” into a realist framework of “what has happened.”) Since its emergence in the 1970s, Latino/a science fiction has explored numerous aspects of cognitive estrangement, from the creation of full-scale Latinos/a inflected worlds and alternative realities more accommodating to Latinos/as, to the imagining of dystopian futures that use science fiction’s “violent nets of wonder” to comment on present Latino/a experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781136221613
ISBN (Print)9780415666060
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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