Book Review: Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color by Joy Sanchez-Taylor

Sanchez-Taylor, Joy. Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color. The Ohio State University Press, 2021

Book review by Christine Garcia, Associate Professor of English, Eastern Connecticut State University

book cover

“‘How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?’ A Review of Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color”

Joy Sanchez-Taylor’s Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color, winner of the 2021 Peter C. Rollins Book Prize, brings together close readings of science fiction written by authors of color that offer compelling critiques of the white gaze, of the genre of science fiction, and of the white gaze within the science fiction genre. Sanchez-Taylor explains, “The stereotype that science fiction is a “white” genre leads people of color either to refuse to engage with the genre, or, like me, to see themselves as oddities or outsiders” (2). Diverse Futures grapples with this reality through close analysis of a range of science fiction written by authors of color while concurrently mapping the potential for the future of the genre.

The structure of Diverse Futures is accessible and interesting, with each chapter framed around a major science fiction trope. For instance, Chapter One, “Space Travel and First Contact Narratives,” explores power structures depicted in science fiction by authors of color to show the effects of colonization from the view of the colonized, using the trope of first contact narratives as the common thread of analysis. Sanchez-Taylor makes the argument that science fiction has told the story of colonialism as “adventure stories” (25) that not only progress narratives rooted in the white gaze while perpetuating internalized racism. Using texts such as Gina Ruiz’s “Chanclas and Aliens” and Octavia Butler’s Dawn as artifacts, Sanchez-Taylor counters these “adventure stories” by demonstrating how these texts and authors “create lessons about the past and present, while also imagining a future where adaptation can exist alongside cultural rebuilding” (54).

Chapter Two, “Race, Genetics, and Science Fiction,” focuses on the tropes of genetic mutation, genetic engineering, and genetic manipulation, critiquing “the history of scientifically justified violence against peoples of color” (10). Sanchez-Taylor argues that authors such as N.K. Jemisin and Larissa Lai use science fiction to question how much of a person’s identity is dependent on the color of their skin or other defining features by centering genetically engineered characters in their science fiction pieces. Logically following analysis of the potential impacts of genetic engineering on humans, the next chapter, “The Apocalypse Has Already Come,” uses the post-apocalyptic setting to disrupt the “race blind future” (10) challenging the “view of cultural intermixture as negative” and imagining “alternative worlds where characters of color are not few and exceptional, but instead are unexceptional norms” (10). Chapter Three uses texts such as Sabrina Vourvuolias’s Ink and Gabby Rivera’s “1.0” to demonstrate how “cultures who refuse to address essentialist cultural views about racial or ethnic purity are doomed to failure” (11).

Chapter Four “‘Our Knowledge is Not Primitive:’ Indigenous and Eurowestern Science” expands the definition of technology, challenging Eurowestern ideas of Indigenous science and culture as primitive, circling back to a foundational aim of the book, to explore “the notion of diversity in futuristic works” which, Sanchez-Taylor reminds, is often “a political statement about what groups of people have the right to exist in the future” (2). Chapter Four focuses on critics and authors such as Toni Morrison, Gerald Vizenor, Mark Dery, and Kodwo Eshun who note that, for cultures such as Indigenous Americans and African Americans, the apocalypse has already happened (23-24). The conclusion, “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?” my inspiration for the title of this review, and originally inspired by N. K. Jemisin’s work, provides a blueprint for using the internet and social media for finding science fiction stories by and for writers of color, such as the ones Sanchez-Taylor examines in Diverse Futures. The conclusion as well as the text as a whole is enlightening while being easy to understand, even for those new to science fiction and its accompanying theories.

Summing up the goal of Diverse Futures, Sanchez-Taylor explains, “I wanted to not only experience a tomorrow where I felt included, but also to explore how authors of color are revising the tomorrow readers of science fiction will encounter” pinpointing this book’s strength as a piece of emergent literary theory.

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