Introduction: Decolonial (Re)Visions of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

The henceforward . . . is the future that is made possible in the present, it is the time and space in which we can tumble into something that will be arranged differently, coded differently, so that our locations and labors are more than just who we are to the settler. Henceforward is the start of the future now. —Eve Tuck, Allison Guess, and Hannah Sultan, “Not Nowhere: Collaborating on Selfsame Land.

Speculating in Financial Times

As we write this introduction, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are engaged in consultations with their people concerning a tentative agreement with the British Columbian and Canadian governments over rights and title to unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. The Wet’suwet’en struggle against the Coastal GasLink construction of a fracked gas pipeline, a struggle to protect the land and its relations as well as to uphold sovereignty over that unceded territory, is a particularly vivid instance of the tension between financial futures and the role that the neoliberal state plays in securing those futures, on the one hand, and the alternative futures pursued by Indigenous peoples and their allies on the other. RCMP presence on Wet’suwet’en territory in recent months, their use of “lethal oversight,” and their arrests of demonstrators and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs acting in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, have made clear yet again the links between capitalism and state violence in settler-colonial formations like Canada. The 1997 Delgamuukw decision, the basis for the long overdue negotiations between the Wet’suwet’en and the federal and provincial governments, still gives the state the power to assert sovereignty over Indigenous land for a “substantial legislative objective” such as “the general economic development of the interior of British Columbia,” according to one interpretation of the Supreme Court Ruling (James Tully, qtd. in Coulthard, “Subjects” 451). We are conscious of the ground shifting beneath our feet as we write of the relationship between capitalist/imperialist speculations and decolonial (re)visions of speculative fiction (sf). We, too, are writing into the future, aware that when this issue appears, the future might well look very different from the one we anticipate now on the basis of dystopian projections of longstanding settler-colonial deterritorializations, even as those projections allow for glimpses of a “utopian horizon” (Moylan xii). In addressing decolonial (re)visions of settler-colonial futures, we look to the texts and thinkers on the margins of the literary who in their estranged testament represent variably what made this crisis world possible and speculate on how the dispossessed might build a world from and of other possibilities.

This link between the kinds of speculation that fiction makes possible and the economic speculation involved in the “futures industry” (Eshun 290) produced by “capital’s imagination” (Haiven 93) dates back, in Catherine Gallagher’s account, to the first half of the eighteenth century. Novels came to serve as a kind of training ground for the “cognitive provisionality” necessary for social and economic life under capitalism, a system requiring “competence in investing contingent and temporary credit” (347) in distant futures. Such futures, moreover, were distant in both time and space, for capitalist speculation was already heavily invested in imperial ventures, not the least of which was the slave trade that, Ian Baucom has shown, made possible a particular theory of value and a corresponding system of speculation (16-17). The particular kinds of speculation science fiction engages in can be traced both to these imperial imaginaries and to what John Rieder describes as “the disturbance of ethnocentrism” imperial adventures could occasion: “a perspective from which one’s own culture is only one of a number of possible cultures” (2).

And what of our literary-historical moment? If the rise of “fictionality” coincides with capitalist modernity, as Gallagher has argued, it should not surprise us that in the twenty-first century, marked as it is by the global financial market, predicated on “alien currency from another time” (1), in Aimee Bahng’s formulation, there should be a corresponding rise in speculative fiction. Nor is speculative fiction necessarily at odds with the futures industry, so much as it is part of the broader cultural imagination necessary to its operations. But if fictionality is about practising speculation to contend with capitalism and imperialism, the speculative quality of sf at least potentially heads in another direction—speculation about how and what might lead beyond the social, cultural, political ills that attend the violent subjection of Indigenous and racialized bodies for whom the legacies of colonialism, together with the effects of the current conjuncture, have been especially destructive. Tavia Nyong’o articulates the value of speculative forms to African diasporic subjects in this way: “[W]e speculate because we were objects of speculation: bought and sold, killed and quartered, collateralized and securitized, used, impregnated, aborted, discarded” (101). A Black or Indigenous novum, then, is about reclaiming those embodied histories for an alternative reading of the current moment as well as for charting a more hopeful future.

The kind of comparative work across Indigenous and Black speculation that we undertake in this issue also strives to address the challenge of comparing across the differences between “stolen land and stolen labor” that Mark Rifkin identifies (Fictions 1)—differences that we frame, in speculative terms, as those between the experiences of alien invasion and alien abduction. These are differences of structural positioning within the settler states of Canada and the US that for Indigenous peoples are about land and national sovereignty, not (or not only) racialization (Rifkin, Fictions 5; Byrd xxiii-xxiv). The distinct, and no less structural, racializing of Blackness is linked to the history of slavery in the Americas, the reproductive logic governing labouring bodies working to preserve the racialized difference that allowed some bodies to be made into property, thus making “the loss of sovereignty . . . a byproduct rather than a precondition of enslavement” (Sexton 591). We look to the kinds of futures pursued in solidarity that Eve Tuck, Allison Guess, and Hannah Sultan articulate in our epigraph, and by the possibilities embedded in exchanges about Idle No More and Black Lives Matter in Canada (Simpson, Walcott, and Coulthard). We ask what the possibilities for bringing such struggles “into relation” might be, and for breaking down the “silos” between Black and Indigenous struggles (Simpson, Walcott, and Coulthard 88). We ask, also, how we might think about the possibilities for racialized immigrants and settler allies to work in relation with Indigenous and Black peoples and movements. The contributions assembled here, then, consider Black and Indigenous speculations, but also the positions of other racialized immigrant histories and current migrant and refugee struggles, while striving to avoid “lazy parallels” (Rifkin, Fictions 3) or a typically Canadian “multicultural” paradigm that would obscure the structural violence of the settler states we inhabit. We strive to work in relation ourselves across Indigenous and settler divides and in solidarity with Black Canadians. Lou and Maureen would like to thank Suzette Mayr for her contributions to this special issue in its early stages. Her scholarship and her own speculative fiction have explored the relations of race, sexuality, and the myth and horror that simmer under our everyday.

Decolonial Speculation

Under settler colonialism, the political violence that, in Judith Butler’s terms, engages in the “derealization of the ‘Other’” (33) is, in more ways than one, aboriginal, always tending to the “elimination of the native” (Wolfe 387). Through doctrines of terra nullius and the ideological fantasy of the “vanishing Indian,” to say nothing of the gendered legal constructs of “Status” under the Indian Act in the Canadian context, colonial/nationstate violence tends always and perpetually toward the production of the “interminably spectral” (Butler 34), the Indigenous lives that must always be negated, denied in advance and yet which are strangely persistent and thus in need of killing again and again. What better manifestation of this “zombie imperialism” (Byrd 225) than those “paraliterary” (Delany, Shorter 188) forms like horror, fantasy, and science fiction, and what better means of reversing course, of imagining resistance, as Mi’kmaw filmmaker Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum (2019) makes evident? These genres that Amitav Ghosh has recently characterized as “generic out-houses” (24) likewise serve to refigure the lives and histories of those “conscripts of modernity” (Scott) forcibly yoked to the “imperial planetarity” that for Jodi Byrd marks the transformation of European conquest in the direction of Enlightenment “scientific rationalism” and “humanist articulations of freedom, sovereignty, and equality,” projects whose coherence depends on the production of “savages” as the “abjected horror” against which the settler-colonial order exerts and defines itself (xx-xxi).

In accounting for the complex intimacies the settler-colonial, liberalorder project has forged in the lands that became Canada, Iyko Day attends to the “triangulated” (19) relationship between settler, immigrant, and Indigenous peoples in an effort to understand how settler colonialism enacts its racializing violence differentially. In her contribution to this issue, Larissa Lai addresses the complexity of her position as the daughter of Hong Kong Chinese who immigrated in the 1960s. Not only does she strive to “understand what it might mean to be a good un/settler,” she addresses her relationship to those whose historical experiences in the settler colony that became Canada are akin to alien invasion or alien abduction by proposing that the relation of Hong Kong Chinese to colonialism makes them “subjects of abandonment,” and perhaps also “time travellers” and “spaceport denizens.” Importantly, Lai also distinguishes her position, despite the strong connections she feels, from the history of lo wah kiu in Canada, thus further complicating the triangle.

Nor is there only one triangle to consider in the North American context. Tuck, Guess, and Sultan (among others) write about the historical antagonisms settler colonialism produced among—while also reproducing these discrete categories—settlers, Indigenes, and Blacks (see also Wilderson; Sexton), in view of settler colonialism’s “remaking of land and bodies into property” (3). In fact, these triangulated relationships might better be conceived as a quadrilateral one: comprised of Indigene, settler, immigrant, and arrivant, to follow Byrd in her use of Kamau Brathwaite’s term for those enslaved by and indentured to settler-colonial endeavours in the Americas. Refusing to be bound by these violent histories, Indigenous, Asian Canadian, and Black Canadian writers, filmmakers, and artists have found in science fiction, fantasy, and horror the tools for a “parallax view” (Byrd riffing on Žižek)—both cosmic distance ladder and political principle—with which to challenge the imperial planetarity that continues to sustain settler-colonial states like Canada and the US.

The Work of (the) Genre(s)

The potential for reconceiving settler-colonial histories and the current neoliberal-imperial conjuncture that Indigenous and racialized citizensubjects have found in these “generic out-houses” brings us back, for a moment, to Ghosh’s banishment of science fiction, fantasy, and horror to “the humbler dwellings that surround the manor house” of “serious fiction” (24). If these forms have been cast out of serious literary study, they have only flourished in the realms of film, visual culture, and music, often reaching mass appeal as in the case of Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler, 2018) and, on a smaller scale, A Tribe Called Red. The work of genre, though, is not only against the formalization of a literary canon according to exclusionary aesthetic rubrics. The taking up of the paraliterary genres also marks out a critique of temporality and furthers the challenge to Eurochronology posed by the Black and Indigenous intellectual and creative traditions. As several of our contributors show, sf allows for temporalities, plural, rather than the singular temporality, the “abstract, homogeneous measure of universal movement along a singular axis” that Mark Rifkin characterizes as “settler time” (Beyond Settler Time 2). The Indigenous critiques of the Anthropocene that Moritz Ingwersen takes up in “Reclaiming Fossil Ghosts” in this issue can be seen as a fairly direct riposte to settler time, as Ingwersen suggests. The temporal imagination that Black, Indigenous, and other racialized writers bring to their decolonial (re)visions includes the longue durée of the Black radical tradition and the Indigenous teachings that ground contemporary resurgence and make the past an imaginative resource in and for the present. These strategies open up new and unanticipated possibilities for social life. As Kara Keeling observes of Black freedom dreams, “the long arc of Black existence contains within it imaginative formulations of ‘futures past’ that might be accessed now” (35). Miasol Eguíbar-Holgado pays attention, in her contribution, to the way Nalo Hopkinson’s Salt Roads both reaches back as far as fourth-century Alexandria, and intercuts this time and place with two other historical moments more evidently linked to the Middle Passage in ways that avoid reproducing a linear progress narrative, or what Michelle Wright calls a “Middle Passage epistemology” (5), for understanding Blackness.

If sf is the genre of estrangement, in which technological innovations and futuristic settings defamiliarize the position of the present, then what Indigenous and Afrofuturism represent is an estranged estrangement of the future. If the utopic is the impulse that orients sf writers to the future, as a critique of the present, it follows that these narratives cast from the position of the typically alienated would have a modified impulse. Tom Moylan identified the critical utopia of 1970s feminist sf, but suggests we can also speak of critical dystopia. There is also space to consider how Black, Indigenous, decolonial, postcolonial, and anti-colonial sf think outside the utopic/dystopic. When asked her views on utopia in a 2001 interview, Nalo Hopkinson said, invoking Octavia Butler, “Utopia is dead; dynamic tension reigns” (47).

Dynamic tension is a useful analytic for thinking through the range of speculative fiction subgenres or modes of narrative and meaning making, in relation to each other, such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, and those that slip out and in between such classifications. Perhaps there is no greater tension amongst these as that between science fiction and fantasy. Fantasy is often understood in its non-modified (i.e., Western) iteration as a fundamentally nostalgic or at the very least backward-looking genre more aligned with the “once upon a time” of fairytale. Science fiction, as Samuel Delany emphasizes in his essay “The Necessity of Tomorrows,” is fundamentally about the future, not as a metaphor for the present but for the exploration of all that is foreclosed and immanent (13). Delany stresses that all literatures, mundane or queer, are also genres of reading. That is, each genre is not just a mode of representation but a mode of interpretation. The ways in which each genre references this or another world prompts not only different questions but different kinds of questions. There is a spatial sense to this questioning and this generic difference. Fantasy situates narratives in timeless or ancient geographies while science fiction looks to “new worlds” such as outer space or to futures transformed by so-called advanced technology, both tendencies can be articulated through colonial logics but in diverging temporal trajectories. Indigenous and Afrofuturist genre fiction, however, might indicate a smudging of these differences. For instance, Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (2000) describes a “Caribbeanpunk” extraterrestrial twin planet system in which cyborgs understand the alternate “indigenous” dimension partly in terms of Taino oral stories. Interestingly, in her work on Nalo Hopkinson, Grace Dillon points to how the figure of the Indian has in itself been utilized to limn the generic boundaries between fantasy and sf (23). The distinction is framed by Fredric Jameson by reference to the “thinking of Indians” (61)—his spin on Lévi-Strauss’ theorizing of la pensée sauvage—in a manner that is revealing and revealed here. If, in the Western idiom, science fiction can be distinguished from fantasy by the presence of technology in the former and magic in the latter, how might non-Western forms of science fiction and fantasy disrupt these normative dichotomies?

Other genres are not so much speculative as ruminative. Horror is a genre typically associated with monsters, hauntings, and murder—qualities making it, in Byrd’s view, the defining genre of the new world which, when taken up by Indigenous authors, is written by those who are supposed to be ghosts. As Eve Tuck and C. Ree put it, “Settler colonialism is the management of those who have been made killable, once and future ghosts—those that had been destroyed, but also those that are generated in every generation” (642). To put it slightly differently, settler colonialism is itself a type of horror, and is imagined in those terms in Indigenous fiction, film, and visual art—Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013), Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach (2000), and Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler’s Wrist (2016) (one of the works Ingwersen takes up) are key instances. “Haunting,” Tuck and Ree continue, “is the relentless remembering and reminding that will not be appeased by settler society’s assurances of innocence and reconciliation” (642). Despite the constitutively different racializing of Black bodies in the Americas (Wolfe 387), for African Americans and African Canadians, too, “horror is not a genre, but a structuring paradigm” (Poll 70). While often those structuring horrors are presented in realist narrative forms, Esi Edugyan’s recourse to a kind of haunted house and gothic doubles in The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004), a novel about the contested relationship to prairie land of both Black pioneers and recent Ghanaian immigrants, and David Chariandy’s use of the figure of the soucouyant to link Afro-Caribbean history and antiBlack racism in Canada in his first novel, Soucouyant (2007), suggest that Black Canadian writers, too, are invested in using the genre to critique the structuring paradigms.

George Elliott Clarke contributes a different perspective to matters of the mysterious by tracking the occultist thinking that inspires Afrocentric revisionist histories, such as work by Charles R. Saunders and Frank Yerby whose speculative historical works “produce Africas (plural) that contest (via marginalization) Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman conceptions of black people.” The occult, he reminds us, is not just an invocation of magic but also refers to hidden knowledge transmitted surreptitiously—and also obscured by malicious intent.

The temporal transformations and reorientations of the decolonial visions discussed here and throughout the issue are integral to orientation to space and place. These genres effectively make geographic revisions possible. What Afrofuturism, Indigenous futurism, and Asian futurism “all highlight,” Aimee Bahng points out, are “modes of exchange that move beyond national cultural traditions” (8). In this sense, she argues, speculative fiction is to be regarded as “a transnational counterpoetics” (8). Several of the works our contributors take up may be read in this light.

Planetary Futures

If, as Glen Coulthard has asserted, “[f]or Indigenous nations to live, capitalism must die” (“For Our Nations”), what does this say about what it takes for the planet to live? As those familiar with The Great Derangement1 will know, Ghosh’s larger purpose is to call for a (re)new(ed) realism capable of imaginatively confronting the climate crisis—a crisis that, in his view, has not been accorded a sustained treatment in “serious” fiction because realism does not easily accommodate the improbable and the extraordinary, so focused as it has tended to be, since the late eighteenth century, on the ordinary and the everyday. Yet, the extraordinary and improbable—the states of exception—are everyday realities for those perpetually thrust out or onto the margins of liberal-order settler states. The extraordinary facts of climate crisis and the exceptional lives of the colonized and the marginalized in settler states feature explicitly in the speculative fictions of the Indigenous writers Moritz Ingwersen takes up. Omar El Akkad’s debut novel American War not only addresses the extraordinary violence the climate emergency is likely to unleash, it also extrapolates from our present moment the probable, if also exceptional, events that refugee crises precipitate. These questions are taken up as well in his conversation with Phanuel Antwi and Y-Dang Troeung in this issue. In the hands of Indigenous, Black Canadian, and racialized immigrant artists (identities not always so easily unentangled), the genres that better accommodate the extraordinary, then, become not a means of escaping the real so much as a new literary locus for the work of serious fiction. It is in this spirit that Jordan Peele, director of Get Out (2017), has characterized his film as “a documentary.” Similarly, Jeff Barnaby attests that Blood Quantum (2019) is equally informed by Night of the Living Dead (dir. George Romero, 1968) and Incident at Restigouche (dir. Alanis Obomsawin, 1984).

Decolonial visions are capable of an oppositional production of the planetary. This involves, as we have traced in this introduction, transformations of space and time. The generic modes of science fiction, horror, and fantasy are modes of speculation paradoxically beholden to the profit-driven publishing market while straining to imagine worlds built outside capitalist accumulation and colonialism. This is sf ’s distinction from the work of financial speculation driven by opening and gaming more markets. Whether through the register of haunting, revised history, or futurism, decolonial genre fictions are narratives against the destruction of so-called progress, what Julie Livingston calls “self-devouring growth.” Black radical traditions, past and present, and Indigenous struggles against the settler state and creative practices of resurgence offer instances of the kind of radical imagination that decolonial speculative fiction takes up alongside its engagement with the outsized realities of current crises. The “radical imagination,” Kara Keeling argues, “works with and through what exists in order to call forth something presently absent: a new relationship between and within matter” (34). This “calling forth” of the “not-yet” is the futurism of the radical imagination, and decolonial science fiction, fantasy, and horror are some of the modes for doing this imaginative work.


1 For Canadians, Ghosh’s title has a resonance with colonial struggles that Ghosh seems unaware of, but which is felicitous for our purposes in this issue.


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