Fluid exchanges in Lagoon

How much simpler would’ve Lauren’s problems been had Ayodele and her people landed in California instead of Nigeria? In light of Ayodele’s self-proclamation of “’I am change” (218), it’s hard to miss the family resemblances between Parable of the Sower and Lagoon in terms of theme and ethos: are not the aliens of Lagoon the very embodiment of the god Lauren describes in Earthseed? Okorafor says if she were teaching Lagoon, she would pair it with Things Falls Apart because “both are First Contact/Alien Invasion narratives. And both are directly connected to our world” (which, I think, are connections to the “real-world” like a missing president or witch-slapping).

I draw attention to Lagoon’s intimacies with these two texts because of another comparison mentioned in all but one of the nine reviews and interviews I read: Lagoon is Okorafor’s rebuttal to District 9. While own Okorafor’s own characterization [her tweet] of the novel as such certainly explains this ubiquity, it still gives me pause: why is Lagoon so often introduced in juxtaposition to District 9? Or, approaching it from another angle, how does this presentation affect the way we read Lagoon, or District 9? What form of cultural capital does Lagoon earn from this juxtaposition? What form of cultural capital does District 9 lose (or gain?)? Echoing Catie, I’m interested in the exchanges in cultural capital in terms of medium (novel/film), but also in terms of nation (Nigeria/South Africa), authorship, genre, and postcolonial/decolonial aesthetics and politics?

Somewhat unrelatedly, I’m also thinking about the messiness of the science fiction/fantasy distinction in this novel. To what extent is this science fiction? I’m not personally invested in distinguishing the two, but I’m curious about the motivations of those who are. For our discussion, Kinitra D. Brooks’s coinage “fluid fiction” might be helpful in thinking about genre in this novel. “Fluid fiction” is a genre of literature, mostly produced by Black women writers, “that purposely blurs the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and horror in a manner that mirrors how black women confound the delineations between race, gender, and sexuality.”

In his review, John Clute writes that the novel establishes its science fiction-ness early in the narrative with “some jump-the-shark escalations of old Disaster technothriller formulas,” which are later abandoned. If, as Okorafor claims, genre is “a WAY of telling a story,” (the how of the story rather than the what, I assume), then is the function of these science fiction “cliches” (Clute’s word) to somehow prime the fantasy of the latter half of the novel? What I’m asking is if the science fiction elements of this narrative somehow extend a form of cultural capital to the supposedly more fantasy-based elements, the more African elements? What are the politics of this fluidity?

Please excuse the 472-word length, but this is the last blog post of my coursework career! Thanks for reading, folks.

fidelity to the Star Wars empire–I mean, canon

I have to eat my words from last class because I’m genuinely enjoying Heir to the Empire. Although my knowledge of Star Wars canon falls within the poor to fair range, the narrative is surprisingly easy to follow thanks, largely, to the notes (in 20th anniversary edition). The author annotations are striking because their function seriously puts pressure on the “para” of this paratext because they so significantly inform the tone, diegesis, provenance, authorship, and interpretation of the narrative. (With a ecopy of Heirtoggling between the text and the annotations is easy, which perhaps contributes to how central they are to my reading—a factor not unworthy of discussion.)

Most striking about the annotations is their chatty and even jocular tone. Many of the annotations exhibit an almost tangential talkiness: Zahn’s surprise that the name “Thrawn” is difficult to pronounce for German readers (ch. 13 n. 3); his recurrent adulation of Han: “Han Solo: master of tact. You gotta love him” (ch. 8 n. 5); his philosophizing about human behavior or attributes of good leadership; his editor’s  hokey jokes about Zahn’s incomplete Physics PhD (ch. 12 n. 5) and praise for the “high-art” of his cliffhangers like: “They’ve got him, too” (ch. 12 n. 6). The effect of these annotations aren’t tangential at all: they make the narrative more fun by engaging the reader conversationally, which is arguably  necessary for the project’s success since the novel must live up to the more sensory-engaging medium of the Star Wars films.

Even the more diegetically-oriented annotations are geared toward maintaining fidelity to the films and the canon more broadly. Zahn repeatedly justifies or explains his authorial choices, addresses cross-canon inconsistencies, and even describes his numerous failed pitches to Lucasfilm. Although the extent to which Zahn takes his justifications is, in my view, extreme,  I get the vague sense that Zahn is only doing what’s expected per Star Wars canon dictums. At once, the notes demonstrate the authorial heterogeneity of Star Wars texts—everyone from the movie makers to fans at conventions—as well as the disciplining influences of Lucasfilm and the fanbase.

Butler’s Gravity

Octavia E. Butler’s novels and short stories demonstrate a robust capacity to animate the world beyond a literary context. Her work has been used as a resource for political praxis in the anthology Octavia’s Brood, and even passages of her novel, Parable of the Sower, serve as the founding doctrine of a religious movement called Earthseed. While it is the case that Butler’s Blackness and womanness has contributed to her writing’s extension into political, religious, and other “real-world” fields, it is the materiality of her lived experience that informs her writing’s animating force. Like Butler, Lauren Oya Olamina, the protagonist of the Parable duology, incorporates her own lived embodied experience into her creative labor by emphasizing the signficance of materiality in reckoning and living the world. I argue that carefully attending to materiality–understood  “as the tense and ongoing work of living within the thickened experiences and sensory orders of daily life”–is essential to the exceptionally animating force behind Butler’s and Lauren’s creative labor (Tompkins 61). In turn, this suggests that it’s more useful to consider the question of Butler’s identity as one of the specificity of a Black woman’s embodied experience rather than resemblance or proximity to a larger group.

Work Cited

Tompkins, Kyla Wazana. “’You Make Me Feel Right Quare’: Promiscuous Reading, Minoritarian Critique, and White Sovereign Entrepreneurial Terror.” Social Text, vol. 35, no. 4, 2017, pp. 53-86.


some downsides of the imagination

In “A Response, by Ansible, from Tau Ceti,” Le Guin writes about her distaste of critical approaches to The Dispossessed that reduce “fiction to ideas,” ideas that the reader is guided to understand as the “methodical,” “didactic intention” of fiction.  Le Guin defies the critical tendency to treat her novel as programmatic, as her  “treatise” and not fiction, an exaggeration of the political and philosophical bend to her writing that, she admits, causes her to overcorrect and “speak[] of composition as a pure trance state.” Although Le Guin rejects the binary of aesthetics vs. political/social theory, I’m curious how she exactly views the relationship between her work and the political. Her writing is like an “imaginary house” that is “fundamentally aesthetic and which, in being so, fulfills an intellectual or rational design,” suggesting that any political or social program her writing depicts is secondary to the architecture of the aesthetic house. In other words, her novels are didactic, though she’s not the one doing the teaching; that role is left to aesthetic form, which is significant insofar as it eschews the solidity of dictates and leaves open the doors of the “imaginary house.” 

These emergent lessons of aesthetic form help us make sense of the freedom Le Guin finds in “nameless things” and “writ[ing] of the imagination”: they represent change without the directedness of “the idea of progress,” pointing to “other ways of being…of a larger reality.” Reality itself, then–the reality of social and political worlds, and the reality of realism and literary prestige–is not sufficient for freedom. Freedom is found outside of (cultural) capital and market commodity, i.e., the world as it exists. While this perspective is one that animates my own love for and belief in SF, I wonder if the rules of the game have changed.

To illustrate this, I compare what Le Guin writes in “A Response” to what she says in her 2017 interview. In 2014, Le Guin states, “I still read everything as novels, including history, memoir, and the newspaper”; in 2017, she modifies her view of nonfiction when she writes, “there’s an indifference toward factuality that is encouraged in a lot of nonfiction. It worries me…” (“Writing Nameless”).  In the former example, Le Guin suggests that she reads nonfiction with an awareness of a “novelistic ‘thickness of description’ that prevents simplistic, single-theme interpretation,” however, three years later, she appears to critique just such an “indifference toward factuality.” Now, I acknowledge the fundamental difference between writing with this “indifference” as opposed to reading with it, but if freedom is an aesthetic act of distantiation that engages the “symbolic elements that are not fully accessible to rational thought,” then freedom, on either end, is a subversion of factuality (“A Response”).  What would lead Le Guin to such a revision? What does it mean when politics begin from a location “not fully accessible to rational thought”?

Scientifiction: certainly, definitely not “sex-type” pulp literature

Luckhurst describes Hugo Gernsback’s efforts to legitimate SF in Amazing Stories, where Gernsback distinguishes “scientifiction” as “‘literature which requires more intelligence and even more aesthetic sense that is possessed by the sex-type reading public’” (63).  Why focus on “sex-type”? Perhaps elevating scientifiction is a matter of elevating its content above the belt. 

What entails “sex-type” pulp? Perusing Wonder Stories (which Wikipedia tells me was also founded by Gernsback), one finds sex to be a recurring theme, except it’s mostly located in the back of the issue (much like the porn section of by-gone video rental stores). On page 1327, there is a quiz, entitled “What Is Your Knowledge of Science?” posing reading questions based off the stories in the issue: question eight asks, “What is polyandry? (Page 1245).” The question points the reader to the story employing the term, where women “were seldom beautiful or attractive” and “romantic love [and] strong passion were unknown things” (1245). Perhaps pulp is not “sex-type” as long as the women depicted are not sexy

Nevertheless, Wonder Stories is concerned with sexy sex, at least in the advertisements: “Get a 17 Inch Bicep” (1335); “The Greatest Sin of all is total IGNORANCE of the most important subject in the life of every man and woman–SEX…‘MODERN EUGENICS’” (1336); and in the Classifieds: “LONESOME FOLKS!  Dandy little ladies, desirable gentlemen, everywhere, will marry”; “SWEETHEARTS–do you want one?”; “ESCAPE from your lonely existence. Valuable information free” (1340). Though these items address sexy sex, they are framed in utilitarian terms: big biceps mean physical strength, practical knowledge of sex and access to sex is good eugenics (a wildly fraught term underscoring the undeniable significance of racial coding of sex discourses–let’s talk about this). Perhaps, then, scientifiction is not “sex-type” pulp because even its engagement with sexy sex is in service of serious ends. 

Finally, we can posit that “sex-type” pulp entails references to sex—be it intercourse, sexuality or love—that are not intended to be serious or related to knowledge proper. Therefore, legitimate literature like scientification only discusses sex in relation to philosophical, reproductive, or biological knowledge.  In this context, “The Conquest of Gola” represents a refreshing addition to what appears to be a white male dominated publication. This is precisely the kind of engagement with sex that I would expect from scientifiction: a story of technical mastery that complicates (“queer[s]”?) normative understandings of gender, social hierarchies, and human embodiment. The contextualizing paratext, however, doesn’t read Stone’s “‘queer’” story as seriously as a work of scientifiction presumably should be read since it is a “story that you cannot help but enjoy and chuckle over” (1280). Is it humor or is it critique? Or, perhaps the question of sex, at least in a story that denaturalizes white human male supremacy, shouldn’t be taken seriously after all?