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.
Stephen Hong Sohn
Asian American speculative fiction is an admittedly unwieldy literary category. This body of literature includes such diverse works as Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager, and S.P. Somtow’s Darker Angels. Central to analyzing such works is identifying their key genre conventions, which primarily involve reality-defying elements or tropes employed in fictional worlds. Chu’s Time Salvager, for instance, envisions a future temporality in which individuals can use time travel technologies. Three generic figures common in Asian American speculative fiction—the ghost, the vampire, and the cyborg, respectively—are depicted in Lan Samantha Chang’s Hunger, Julie Kagawa’s The Immortal Rules, and Ken Liu’s “The Regular.” Crucial to understanding Asian American speculative fiction is the need to scrutinize the manner by which the protagonists of these fictions attain incredible power through supernatural abilities. The influence these characters hold also comes with the burden of responsibility, leaving them to wrestle with ambivalence and moral choices to protect or to harm, to recognize or to dismiss. In this sense, Asian American speculative fiction can be fruitfully analyzed through the social justice paradigms that have long dominated critical and scholarly conversations.
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.