Science fiction (SF) emerges as a distinct literary and cultural genre out of a familiar set of world-famous texts ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (1966–) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–) that have, in aggregate, generated a colossal, communal archive of alternate worlds and possible future histories. SF’s dialectical interplay between utopian optimism and apocalyptic pessimism can be felt across the genre’s now centuries-long history, only intensifying in the 20th century as the clash between humankind’s growing technological capabilities and its ability to use those powers safely or wisely has reached existential-threat propositions, not simply for human beings but for all life on the planet. In the early 21st century, as in earlier cultural moments, the writers and critics of SF use the genre’s articulation of different societies and different possible futures as the occasion to reflect on our own present, in ways that range from full-throated defense of the status quo to the ruthless denunciation of all institutions that currently exist in the name of some other, better world. SF’s global popularity has grown to the point where it now looms quite large over cultural production generally, becoming arguably the most popular narrative genre in existence, particularly in the sorts of SF action spectacles that have dominated the global box office of the first two decades of the 21st century. It has also become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the things we used to think of as SF and the advanced communication, transportation, and entertainment technologies that have become so ubiquitous and familiar that we now take them for granted, as well as the growing prevalence of political, economic, and ecological crises now erupting out of the pages of our science fictions, like our very worst dreams come to life.
Yoon Sun Lee
The goal of narratology is to construct models or statements that apply universally to narratives as such, or to recognized types of narrative, defined primarily through formal characteristics. In contrast, Asian American literature is defined by reference to a social group with a concrete historical existence. Though the two enterprises may seem to have little in common, their rapprochement can be productive. Categories from both classical narrative theory as well as more recent cognitive narratology can help identify and compare important features of Asian American narratives. Conversely, Asian American literature shows how narratology can build on the knowledge that narrative is a social practice, and that its formal analysis requires the consideration of power, kinship, diaspora, and racial embodiment, as well as gender. For example, the relation between the narrator and narratee plays a major role in canonical works of Asian American literature; narratological analysis benefits from examining how this relation is shaped by generational and spatial dislocation, as well as claims to referential truth.
Michael H. Whitworth
Though “literature and science” has denoted many distinct cultural debates and critical practices, the historicist investigation of literary-scientific relations is of particular interest because of its ambivalence toward theorization. Some accounts have suggested that the work of Bruno Latour supplies a necessary theoretical framework. An examination of the history of critical practice demonstrates that many concepts presently attributed to or associated with Latour have been longer established in the field. Early critical work, exemplified by Marjorie Hope Nicolson, tended to focus one-sidedly on the impact of science on literature. Later work, drawing on Thomas Kuhn’s idea of paradigm shifts, and on Mary Hesse’s and Max Black’s work on metaphor and analogy in science, identified the scope for a cultural influence on science. It was further bolstered by the “strong program” in the sociology of scientific knowledge, especially the work of Barry Barnes and David Bloor. It found ways of reading scientific texts for the traces of the cultural, and literary texts for traces of science; the method is implicitly modeled on psychoanalysis. Bruno Latour’s accounts of literary inscription, black boxing, and the problem of explanation have precedents in the critical practices of critics in the field of literature and science from the 1980s onward.
Michelle N. Huang
Is the posthuman postracial? Posthumanism, an interpretive paradigm that unseats the human individual as the de facto unit of literary analysis, can be a powerful tool for Asian American literary studies when deployed with attention to critical race theory and literary form. Throughout American literature, Asian Americans have frequently been figured as inhuman—alien, inscrutable, and inassimilable. Representations of Asian Americans as either sub- or superhuman populate many genres, including adventure literature, domestic realism, comics, and science fiction. This trope, which combines yellow peril and model minority stereotypes, forms a through line that runs from depictions of Asian Americans as nerveless 19th-century coolies to 21st-century robotic office workers. Manifesting both threat and promise for America, posthuman representations of Asian Americans refract national and racial anxieties about the fading of the United States’ global influence as Asian nations, especially China, become political and economic superpowers. Rather than directly refuting these characterizations, Asian American writers have creatively engaged these same thematics to contemplate how developments in science and technology produce different ways of understanding the human and, concomitantly, engender changes in racial formation. Novelists, dramatists, poets, and artists have all deployed posthumanism in order to conduct imaginative experiments that challenge expectations regarding the typical purview of Asian American literature. Several nodes of inquiry that demonstrate the importance of posthumanist critique for Asian American literary studies include race as an index of humanity, the mutability of race through biotechnology, the amplification of racial inequality through infrastructure, and the reproduction of race through algorithmic culture. In the wake of early 21st-century ecological disaster and biotechnological fragmentation, examining the evolving relationship between Asian American racialization and posthumanism continues to provide important insights into how race is structured by the changing boundaries of the human and, in turn, demonstrates that the posthuman subject is never “beyond” race. In addition to offering an overview, this article provides a case study regarding the stereotyping of Asian Americans as robotic.
Heather J. Hicks
From 1950 to the 2010s, the genre known as apocalyptic fiction has grown in prominence, moving from the mass-market domain of science fiction to a more central position in the contemporary literary scene. The term “apocalyptic fiction” can be understood to encompass both depictions of cataclysms that destroy the Earth and texts that portray the aftermath of a disaster that annihilates a nation, civilization, or all but a few survivors of the human population. The term itself finds its roots in the book of Revelation, and while contemporary apocalyptic fiction tends to be largely secular in its worldview, important traces of the Christian tradition linger in these texts. Indeed, while apocalyptic fiction has evolved over the past sixty-five years in response to historical transformations in Western societies, much of it remains wedded to Revelation’s representation of women as the cause of apocalyptic destruction. The material of the 1950s reflects Cold War anxieties about nuclear war while presenting sexually liberated women as implicated in the same modernity that has created the atomic bomb. People of color are also depicted as threats that must be contained. The apocalyptic fiction of the 1960s registers a fascination with genetic, social, and literary mutation, ambivalently treating a variety of “others” as both toxic and potentially useful ambassadors to some new, postmodern condition. The 1970s see the emergence of feminist apocalypses, works that react against the sexist tendency to conflate female power and sexuality with apocalyptic menace. The 1980s introduce the “American apocalypse,” a subgenre that imagines a disaster befalling America in specifically economic terms. The 1990s, meanwhile, find combinations of the feminist and American apocalypse, while also beginning to bring environmental peril into focus. From 2000 forward, there is a renewed interest in broader, more global disasters, in part informed by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Formally, this is the era of the “metapocalypse”—apocalyptic fictions that are self-reflexive about the conventions of the genre, including those involving gender and race. Nonetheless, several of the novels in this period still unapologetically introduce figures that recall Jezebel and Babylon from Revelation. Finally, the period since 2010 has seen a revived emphasis on economic collapse precipitated by neoliberal capitalism as well as the anthropocene.
Latinofuturism describes a broad range of Latina/o speculative aesthetics and an emerging field of study. In addition to referencing a broad spectrum of speculative texts produced by Chicana/os, Puerto Ricans, Dominican Americans, Cuban Americans, and other Latin American immigrant populations, Latinofuturism also includes innovative cultural productions stemming from hybrid and fluid borderlands spaces such as the US–Mexico border. The umbrella genre of speculative fiction (SF), moreover, indexes the companion genres of science fiction (sci-fi), horror, and fantasy. Instead of approaching these genres separately, SF recognizes the ways in which these genres overlap, blend, and mutually inform one another. As Shelley Streeby notes, the umbrella genre of the speculative is especially useful in analyzing Latinofuturist texts that self-consciously appropriate and blend genres in a manner evocative of the mestizaje animating Latina/o culture. The broader category of SF further enables us to unearth, remap, and focalize how Latina/os have contributed to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, as well as related subgenres. Through employing the speculative, Latinofuturist texts articulate a grammar of the subjunctive, daring to ask and imagine, “what if?” Latinofuturism builds upon Catherine Ramírez’s foundational prism of Chicanafuturism, which denotes cultural production that redeploys the technological in relation to cultural identity, and, in doing so, interrogates and effaces boundaries between primitive and modern, the past, present, and future, as well as the human and non-human. Propelling Latinofuturism is the disordering aesthetic of rasquachismo, a working-class Chicana/o sensibility of creative recycling or making do. Latinofuturist writers and artists do not passively consume received forms of the speculative, but instead creatively repurpose them toward emancipatory ends. In addition, Latinofuturism draws inspiration from Afrofuturism, as articulated by scholars such as Mark Dery, Alondra Nelson, and Ytasha Womack. Whereas Afrofuturism foregrounds the African diaspora and the legacy of slavery in regard to new media and the technological, Latinofuturism focuses on migrations within and across the Americas and beyond. Prevalent themes in Latinofuturism include indigenismo, mestizaje, and coloniality, which operate to question narratives of progress and technological advancement as well as to render more radical visions of the future. However, as Isabel Millán argues, Afrofuturism and Latinofuturism become tightly knit when considering Afro-Latina/o speculative productions. More broadly, Latinofuturism must be also situated within US ethnic and global subaltern futurisms as the experiences of people of color in the United States and throughout the world are interwoven through histories of bodily and epistemological violences systematically omitted from narratives of progress and technological advancement. Importantly, Latinofuturism, along with other ethnic futurisms, share a radical reimagining of a collective future that blurs colonial binaries, making collective space to imagine and enact otherwise.