Alternative Americas: Science Fiction and Speculative Futures
As a genre that posits a reality beyond what we currently know or experience, science fiction allows us to imagine alternate ways of being, forms of technology and knowledge, and human futures—both utopian and apocalyptic. This course will trace how and why science fiction in the Americas has emerged as a mode of narration with which to confront contemporary crises. Placing science fiction texts created by Caribbean, Native American, African American, and Latin American artists into conversation with one another, we will explore how these artists turn to stories about zombies and robots, time travel, utopias, and apocalypse (among others) to confront long histories of colonialism, slavery, and racism, and to create speculative or hypothetical futures that posit alternatives to those histories.
To understand what is at stake in imagining alternate worlds and futures for Native, African American, Latinx, and Asian American writers, we will examine novels, stories, films, graphic novels, video games, and other media and will draw on methodologies from literary and media studies, art history, critical race studies, and more. Questions we will consider include: How does science fiction engage the colonization of the Americas? How do science fiction genres draw on and transform contemporary science, both as a possibility of freedom and to critique a field that has been used to constrain some peoples’ freedoms? What alternative Americas do these artists envision, and how do they differ from present or historical realities?
Sample Readings and Media
Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)
Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17 (1966)
Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom (2016)
Nnedi Okorafor, Binti (2014 )
Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves (2017)
Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God (2017)
Rebecca Roanhose, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” (2017)
Ted Chiang, The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010)
Lysley Tenorio, “Monstress” (2012)
Charles Yu, Sorry Please Thank You (2012) or How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010) or Third Class Superhero (2006)
Ken Liu, “The Paper Menagerie” (2011)
Karen Tei Yamashita, Through the Arc of the Rainforest (1990)
Franny Choi, Soft Science (2019)
Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, eds. A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction From 25 Extraordinary Writers (2019)
Samuel Delany, “About 5, 750 Words”
Daniel Heath Justice, “Indigenous Wonderworks and the Settler Colonial Imaginary”
Kyle Powys Whyte, “Indigenous Science (Fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral Dystopias and Fantasies of Climate Change Crises”
Art by the following Indigenous artists: Santiago X (architect/Indigenous futurist), Andrea Carlson (painter), Elizabeth LaPensée (game designer), Debra Yepa-Pappan (mixed media)
Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Danis Goulet, Wakening (2013)
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival (2016)
Greg Pak, Robot Stories (2003)
Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer (2009)
Michelle Huang is Assistant Professor in Asian American Studies and English. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary Asian American literature, posthumanism, and feminist science studies. Her current project, “Molecular Race,” examines posthumanist aesthetics in post-1965 Asian American literature to trace racial representation and epistemology at nonhuman, minute scales.
Juan Martinez is Assistant Professor of creative writing and contemporary literature in the Department of English. He is the author of Best Worst American: Stories, and his current work explores the fantastical in the coast of Colombia. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, McSweeney's, TriQuarterly, Mississippi Review, NPR's Selected Shorts, and The Perpetual Engine of Hope: Stories Inspired by Iconic Vegas Photographs.
Kelly Wisecup is Associate Professor of English and a co-director of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. She researches and writes on Native American literatures, early American literatures, and science and literature in the Atlantic world. She has taught courses on protest and the Native American novel, colonialism and disease, race in the early Americas, and science and literature. She is the author of Medical Encounters: Knowledge and Identity in Early American Literatures (2013) and is currently working on a book on early Native American literatures and their relations to colonial sciences of collecting.Back to top