Colonization and colonialism are core to science fiction on so many levels. We can’t get away from the language of colonists and imperialists: “The Final Frontier”, “Discovering New Worlds”, “Settling the Stars”, “Terraforming”. It’s almost as if we haven’t learned any of the lessons of the past 400 years of human history, isn’t it?
There is no “Great Frontier” land of opportunity where we can carve a home for ourselves out of the wilderness at no disadvantage to anybody else. The “New World” you think you’ve found has someone or something living there already, and you can’t settle it without displacing or exterminating them. The “Great Adventure”, the exploration of land where “No (white) Man Has Gone Before”, the landscape-razing and resource-pillaging that our intrepid heroes are indulging in are not such romantic images if you come from a country whose resources have been pillaged, ancestors enslaved, women raped, natives massacred, religion, culture and literatures repressed and replaced by brave white heroes just like these.
Science fiction is a very colonial genre, and by the same token it’s a very white genre—I mean most science fiction is written as if the assumption were that all readers will be straight, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class, Anglophone males. Even in the geekiest sci-fi club in Middle America, that just can’t be true. It shouldn’t be true. That’s such a tiny subset of humanity (not to mention a uniformity that has never existed): I don’t want to write only for them. I don’t want to read fiction that pretends everyone worth hearing about is a member of this absurdly small élite.
But it’s not easy to diversify speculative fiction overnight. It’s hard to find publishers willing to pay the double cost and risk of commissioning a translation that might or might not sell. The literatures of other—even Anglophone—cultures have different genres and conventions, so it’s not always easy to map terms such as “science fiction”, “fantasy”, “horror”, “magical realism” onto texts written in the traditions of, say, Latin America, South-East Asia or Africa. Readers of genres that generically label themselves “Speculative” or “Weird” ought to be in it for the sense of estrangement, but sometimes even a text that would be mainstream in its country of origin is too weird for a Western SF reader.
Add to this the fact that Anglo writers—especially in the “Weird” genres—have long appropriated the cultures, settings and languages of the colonized world as an exotic or orientalizing feature of their work, and it becomes hard for a writer from a non-western culture to break into the mainstream publishing world as an authentic voice of their culture.
Fábio Fernandes is going to guest edit an anthology of colonialism-themed new stories from outside the first-world perspective later this year, to be published by The Future Fire. As we thought about the importance of this theme, the scale of the problem the anthology is addressing, and the fact that most of the authors are likely to be outsiders to the Anglo-American dominated science fiction publishing world, we realized that we needed to spend more money on this project than was in the budget of a small-press magazine.
We wanted to be able to pay a professional rate for fiction, in order to attract the best stories possible and so as to treat the authors fairly. We wanted to be able to buy more stories than normally fill one issue of a magazine. And so we decided to put out an appeal for crowdfunding. Via the Peerbackers site, we are now a good way towards raising $4,000 toward this cost of this anthology. (Whatever happens, even if we don’t quite make the full target amount, the project will now go ahead, and all pledged money will go toward paying authors and artists. But we’d love your support to help us get all the way!)
We feel strongly that the answer is to read, publish and promote these under-represented authors as much as possible in the traditional halls of science fiction and fantasy. This is what we want to do with We See a Different Frontier: to tell the story of the final frontier from the mouths of those who live on the other side of it, who were not explorers and conquerors, but natives and colonized. To use speculative fiction to tell the story of the voiceless and unheard. To take the romance away from the conquering of space and the discovery of new worlds. To see the richness of the world as it really is, not as it would be after an Aryan genocide. To bring everybody into the conversation. I can’t wait to start reading the stories.