Sunday, March 02, 2014

Revisiting "African Sci-Fi ≠ Western Sci-Fi"

A great 2013 article on African science fiction "African Sci-Fi ≠ Western Sci-Fi" by Curt Hopkins examines some of the issues facing contemporary African science fiction today and what I think many of us would consider to be positive directions it's taking. It has many implications for Lao science fiction, fantasy and horror. I hope many of our emerging writers give it some strong and serious consideration.

Although written almost a year ago, its central premise remains relevant. Like many countries in Africa, Laos too was bombarded with ideas that mechanization was the same as civilization. 

Laos saw the lingering and corrosive specter of such ideas during the pushback in Luang Prabang, when locals wanted to use development funds from UNESCO's World Heritage Site designation to build skyscrapers of glass and concrete. They considered wood "the construction material of the poor," disregarding the fact that it was these classic wood structures and the idyllic ancient architecture that earned this designation in the first place.

The idea that Africans can connect machinery with a sense of extraction and exploitation resonates with me as I watch foreign mining, animal trafficking and deforestation taking place unhindered by any concerns for sustainability.

Toyin Agbetu's comment "African sci-fi literature often differs from Eurocentric visions of the future in that it often normalises spiritual beliefs alongside often contrary views on what is regarded as technological development,” also struck a chord with me that I think we may already be seeing in many of the works of Lao writers in diaspora.

How will that ultimately manifest itself? I am uncertain, but would approach the idea with great curiosity.

I look at the work of writers like Minister Faust, Saladin Ahmed, and Sofia Samatar and am quite encouraged by the ground we can break, but also remain acutely aware of the ground we must still cover.

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