Through this dissertation, US speculative fiction is examined as a discourse on migration under the assumption that the imagined worlds are predicated on the real world cultural context. Each of the chapters focused on a popular and awarded work in which a migrating “other” was defined as evil and analyzed the ways in which the work subverts that message and, by extension, the real world metanarratives of “othering.” Each of the works could easily be the focus of entire dissertations on their own, but analyzing them together allows for a broader context of speculative fiction and issues around US migration. While the works analyzed here may appear different on a surface level, each of them “speculate about circumstances quite different from our own, [to] confront problems relevant to present reality. Engaged works of speculative fiction may present other realities, but their alternative worlds will comment on this world” (Gill 81). Usually, the only differences between the genres of science and fantasy are matters “of rhetoric: the way an idea is introduced, the vocabulary used to describe it, the manner in which it is made in an element of the story” (Strategies of Fantasy 111). Saga balances the different terminology between the warring fantasy and science fiction planets within, actively depicting how closely related the use of science and magic is in speculative fiction from the first time it is used: the two sides attempting to destroy Hazel’s family just after she was born with either energy from laser guns or magic from swords and staves (Vaughan 17).
In each of the works analyzed, a speculative culture is created within a different, imagined history and location; the speculative culture forms a different world view and depicts “others” as outsiders to the culture. The commentary on real world migration comes from analyzing the imagined “other” and their interactions with the culture. In Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, the free folk are trapped outside of civilization by an ancient Wall and rhetoric which strips them of humanity as they flee a supernatural threat; depicting that the true threat is not the immigrant, but what is forcing them to flee their home. In American Gods by Neil Gaiman, old gods are dying out while new gods rise, representative of lost heritage to the expectation of immigrant assimilation into American culture. In Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, an interracial family is forced to seek refuge because their love undermines the racism fueling the intergalactic war; a testament that racial social constructions are arbitrary as it depicts their plight as asylum seekers. Brian Attebery defines speculative fiction’s ability to create symbols with some distance to reality as allowing moral and emotional truths to be told which “the conscious mind cannot grasp or fears to face” (Stories About Stories 21). If, as Janelle Marie Evans suggests,
“it falls to the arts to create both a new framework for encompassing humanity and a new language whereby that same humanity may be examined, discussed, and— eventually— understood, without the incorporation of an arbitrary measuring tool or scale of comparison, which must necessarily define some of falling short of what is required to be included in the definition of humanity” (Evans 145-146)
then the works of speculative fiction, in their use of symbolism, are already making an effort to encompass humanity through varied invented ethnicities and alien races. Recognizing the exploration of “the other” as they cross borders is taking the depictions in the works seriously.
In speculative fiction, the real world is taken and reformed in an imaginative sense, allowing for more thoughtful and meaningful experiments of morality, empathy, and societal structure than can be provided through the kinds of thought experiments usually provided by ethicists and other philosophers (de Smedt and de Cruz 64). The context provided by speculative fiction provides enough distance from reality to create powerful symbols which, ideally, bring about a greater understanding of the real world and a greater empathy of the real people in it. Literary speculative fiction, through its use of imagination, allows the reader to examine worlds of specifically chosen values; through this examination, the reader has the ability to examine the gap between reality and the created world. Through the imagined visualizations, the reader explores options for what a better world could look like. Instead of seeing people as irreconcilably different due to national, ethnic, or racial boundaries, readers of speculative fiction are exposed to faults in culture formation which creates these boundaries. By crossing the borders of reality into speculative fiction, learning to be empathetic for characters who are distinctly different, the reader will ideally be more willing to view real people who are different with empathy. The popularity of the works, including the awards earned, recognizes how successful their creators are in these explorations. This ideally means that the messages of empathy are taken seriously as the works spread; that they will not be seen as diminished by their use of the imagination.
The greatest obstacle to this goal is the fact that speculative fiction is often derided as “fluff” with no insight into reality.
“those who don’t or can’t read fantasy consider themselves superior to it and to the rest of us— as if color-blind people were to declare the use of red and green to be an aesthetic defect. The tremendous popularity of popular fantasy texts only tends to make those color-blind people even more resentful” (Stories About Stories 1).
While there are works of speculative fiction which are “non-literary,” works in other genres fall short of literariness without limiting others; the worst works of the western genre do not diminish Cormac McCarthy’s. What makes the works of speculative fiction unique is their ability to ease discussions of “the other,” including representations of migration. These discussions expound on the real cultural implications of these stories. “Whether fantasy can effect political change or not is ultimately beside the point… these novels perform the critical work of symbolic action, denoting the public work of private imagination” (Saldívar 595). While there is a recent movement of considering speculative works seriously, there is still a relative lack of academic works within the genre and more study needs to be done in creating frameworks for understanding how speculative fictions depict truths about reality. This analysis hopefully paves the way for more serious academic work in speculative fiction which considers its texts as cultural artifacts created within a cultural context with the ability to create an awareness of cultural powers, including identity formation and exclusion.
(Thank you for reading!)
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