Thinking things through: On acts of resistance and our own SF

Since the publication of the first part of Translations, Mother Tongue and Acts of Resistance, I continue to think of resistance and what it means. I am also thinking of it in terms of how it applies to decolonial work and the process of decolonization, to science fiction and how I position myself in relation to genre as well as the work that I do outside of genre.

I am grateful for the conversations that I am able to have with thinkers and doers and also thankful for the access that I am given to work that is being produced by mindful writers inside and outside of genre.

I find myself thinking of acts of resistance and how the history of my country is one that is filled with these acts. Because we have been colonized and occupied time and again. Because our language, our culture, our ways have been devalued, erased and overwritten time and again. Because we were subjected to a Martial rule where dissenting voices were suppressed or eradicated. Because we have known there is always a cost to speaking out.

Even in this field that we love, even in this genre that we like to think is so progressive and free, there is a price to pay. But while I am not the bravest person in the world, I find it an act of cowardice to allow other people to engage in the struggle on my behalf. Even if the only thing I can do is raise my voice, it is the thing I will do. If by doing so, other people see and take heart from it, then it is enough. (If it angers people, well, that’s a given.)

At this moment, there are so many conversations going on around science fiction. We are dissatisfied with the state of genre. We want something better. We want to destroy it. We want to change it. We want diversity. We want more visibility. We want many things and a lot of these things are good and wonderful and worthy things.

These are worthy and good conversations. These are essential and necessary conversations.

But I do wonder how we see science fiction. Is it a walled-in garden of paradise where only approved members can enter? Is it a place where we must walk carefully because “god forbid we step on the toes of sleeping deities”? (And who are these deities anyway?) Is it a place where you need membership in SFWA, BSFA, or whatever other organization in order for your voice to count? Are the important writers only those who appear on awards lists? Are the important stories only those included in Year’s Bests?

I ask these questions, because if this is how we look at science fiction, then it seems to me that it’s narrower and more confined than the science fiction in my mind.

When I wrestle with questions like these, I go back to the work of people whose work I’ve chosen to take with me in this journey. I go back and remember what it is that I love about this genre and why I wanted to write in it.

I think of Octavia Butler writing about how science fiction called to her because it was so wide open, and I think of the limitless sky that has no margins but simply changes its aspect depending on where we are situated. And I think: yes, that’s the science fiction I want to be part of. A sky that’s filled with many different stars, with constellations and galaxies, a view that changes depending on where I’m situated. A sky where everyone has the freedom to tell their own story and where there are no margins because how do you put margins on the sky?

I want that sky that is brilliant and filled with the light that comes from everywhere.

Things have changed since Octavia Butler’s time. The internet has made it so that we see bigger portions of the sky–and yet for all that, we are still limited.

We’re hindered not only by our inability to read work written in original languages, but we’re also hindered by how establishment already exists and its narratives and its traditions are rooted in a colonialist and imperialist past.

I find myself wondering: How can we possibly dream within a structure that has historically viewed us as being less than human?

Audre Lorde once said that the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house. We like that quote. We like saying it to each other but do we truly understand what that means in the context of what we are trying to do?

I think that if we want to produce a science fiction that is as wide and as broad as the sky, if we want the freedom to spread our wings and dream in those skies, then perhaps it’s time to look into ways of building a new kind of science fiction–one that doesn’t rely on the Master’s tools–one that doesn’t look to establishment for validation or recognition.

I don’t know what that science fiction would look like, but it excites me to think of that freedom. I want to embrace it and I want to be part of it.

As Afrofuturist author, editor and publisher Bill Campbell says: We don’t need to sit at their tables because we got our own.

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*(I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t feel any particular need or any strong desire to belong to any kind of hegemony. I do value this community that has welcomed me. I value the friendships I have made and the truth I have seen in people who encourage and surround me. The passion to bring change about–that moves me. For all its flaws, Science Fiction still has my heart.)

**Nin Harris has written a brilliant and ferocious post which I highly recommend. Do take the time to read it. The link is here.

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8 thoughts on “Thinking things through: On acts of resistance and our own SF

  1. I ask these questions, because if this is how we look at science fiction, then it seems to me that it’s narrower and more confined than the science fiction in my mind.

    I think it is narrower and more confined. The science fiction in our minds is shaped by our introduction into the genre. If you start with (for example) Octavia Butler you enter into a world where POC and women are normal, both as writers and characters. If you then enter the community as a writer the reality is very different. It’s a world where Octavia Butler is the exception not the rule, a great many writers and characters are white men, and which needs anthologies like Long Hidden and Women Destroy Science Fiction to redress that imbalance. For a genre that’s supposedly forward-looking, sci fi is remarkably backwards in its attitudes at times.

    • Thanks for reading and for commenting, Cheryl. What you say is true, but I do think that there is an increasing desire towards broadening and widening. it’s been gaining momentum for quite sometime now. I think it’s amazing that resistant/critical works are being published and accepted well. In my speculative brain, I can’t help but think about how the field will look ten years from now, for instance.

      Right now, we look too much to the US and to the West for validation. I personally question the need to be validated by the West.–it’s a fraught question though as I see how this kind of thinking is also alive in EU countries where the US or the UK continue to be the measuring sticks for “excellence in writing”.

      Being someone who loves Octavia Butler, I want Octavia to be the rule and not the exception.

  2. Reblogged this on The Infinite Library and Other Stories and commented:
    Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.” In this important essay Filipino Speculative Fiction Writer asks what is resistance and what it means,how it applies to the process of decolonization, and to science fiction.

  3. Very interesting. These challenges exist in every genre. But we must keep writing. Too many fall before they put a pen to paper. Thank you for these thoughts.

    • Aw. Thanks for reading, Candy. Yes, we must indeed keep on writing. I continue to wish for your continued success and look forward to seeing many more follow in your footsteps.

  4. Really interesting post, Rochita, with parallels to the publishing industry in general. I think (hope?) that the industry is changing to a point where existing structures (for example, SFWA approved publishers, and so forth) are only one of several viable channels (“viable” in this case just meaning that, as a writer, one can get some validation/readers, wherever they may be). To riff on your “Master’s tools” statement, hopefully as other structures emerge, there will be room not just for different voices, but structures built on entirely different foundations, that overlap with but are distinct from the SFF community that I see online.

    My knee-jerk reaction is to say that it has to be (?) individuals outside existing structures that build new ones, and in the meantime, it’s a task to be taken on by those interested in science fiction “as wide and as broad as the sky” to seek it out, and when those new structures appear, either support or participate, as seems right and is possible.

    • Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful response to my post, Steven.

      >>My knee-jerk reaction is to say that it has to be (?) individuals outside existing structures that build new ones

      This is indeed what I mean. That it is to us (who live on the margins) to create our own structures and not rely on what is already there.

      With regards to the publishing industry in general, I am also hopeful. I see that change is taking place. I don’t expect change to take place at lightspeed, but every little step forward is an improvement.

      And yes, there are excellent initiatives that have already been done which to me demonstrate sf in resistance. I could write an entire post on that one. 🙂 I feel that all these things combined form a movement that brings us closer and closer towards change.

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