A Science Fiction Thesis Fragment: Some Tobias Buckell Love

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I have been inspired by a friend to post something from my academic work in hopes that it will bore you to tears.  Then again, the fragment I plan to post is about science fiction; more particularly, it’s about the work of Tobias Buckell, who I spent half of my thesis talking about.

Here you go:

The cultural and racial fragmentation of the postcolony perhaps highlights the liberative potential of outer space precisely because cultural ownership has been a particularly problematic notion in the postcolony—the European fragment, as I‘ve already pointed out, continuously attempts to (re)formulate itself as the center of knowledge, which makes attempts to separate oneself difficult in the geographically limited Earth.

In Ragamuffin, this is made possible by two spatial orientations: the first is the positing of Caribbean peoples as the last, real threat to the Satrapy, making them no longer the secondary figures they had been formerly in a world dominated by western politics. The second is in the flourishing of human ingenuity in Caribbean spaces, where they are able to not only break themselves from the hold of the Satrapy, but also from a wider postcolonial past. These ideas are interwoven throughout the novel, represented best by the character of Nashara. She is a prime example of human ingenuity at work, since her very biology has been rewritten as threat to the Satrapy and its allies. She has sacrificed her womb in order to become a digital bomb capable of self-replicating over the lamina (a kind of super information network that connects ships together). In so doing, she ceases to be fully human, quickly becoming a series of digital copies; but it also means that she is representative of what the opening of geographical space has achieved for her people (Buckell 105). They are no longer contained in small, resource dependent islands, but on worlds of their own. Chimson is one such world:

“We took Chimson from them with our bare hands,”Nashara said. “And even though they shut us away from the rest of humanity, it was still a glorious thing….You should see what ideas and people flourished as we all jammed together. It must have been like Earth before the pacification, with all those billions of minds so close together.” (Buckell 30)

The Satrapy‘s pension for cutting off its problematic group subjects like diseased limbs, however, proves to be their undoing; it is only through containment that the people of Chimson are able to grow. This process also mirrors the isolationist—or, perhaps, isolation-izing—policies of the old history, which colonialists used not only to limit the potential for aggression and resistance against colonial power—through aggression, imprisonment, and even abandonment—but also to enact economic warfare against indigenous and even former colonial powers—primarily through capitalist exploitation models. It also signals a wider deprivationary political process through which prison camps, serfdom, deportation, and other legal frames are used to deny access to the opening offered by greater access to geographic space (Gottmann 117). But much as galactic empires and even spaceships are defamiliarized spaces or objects, the notion of containment on a planetary scale within Ragamuffin signals the (post)colonial past through radical expansion amidst radical reduction, defamiliarizing our perceptions of the past and present while at the same time embedding their symbols and signals within an imaginary landscape. Because ―access to physical space is at the foundation of all [regulation] of human behavior,‖ the containment of that space determines an individual‘s freedom (Gottmann 117). For postcolonial peoples, space is undeniably central to interaction: ―location is causally significant; it shapes our experiences and our ways of knowing‖ and ―limits the possibilities
available to us, since it helps frame our choices by organizing the habitual patterns through which we perceive ourselves and our world‖ (Mohanty 110). Buckell, however, presents a narrative which disentangles the problematics of ownership in a (post)colonialist world by changing the very dynamics under which such a system functions: the people of Chimson are not stripped of their land, but are instead subjugated or denied access to the enlarged (interstellar) colonial system (Satrapic space). The location, then, is one which has already begun severing the lines of an underlying colonialism which informs the social stratification of the novel.

Don’t say I never gave you nothing.  Feel free to lambaste me with your criticisms in the comments.

P.S.:  My thesis has been accepted and I should have one of those MA degrees shortly.  I am quite excited to mount that sucker on my wall, after which I will bother you with pictures of my degrees.  Why?  Because I’m egotistical like that.  Deal with it.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

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