Skip to main content

Afronauts: On Science Fiction and the Crisis of Possibility

  • Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra

This essay investigates the critical function of science fiction (SF) tropes in SF and non-SF works by and about Africans. It begins with the assertion that works that invoke SF tropes, even if they are not properly speaking SF, can productively be read within the frame of SF. It then analyzes the ways in which writers and visual artists use speculative technological advances to explore the systematic marginalization of the African continent in the world-system. Drawing on Darko Suvin, Raymond Williams, and Fredric Jameson, it illustrates how these works use the cognitive estrangement characteristic of SF to posit a break in established systems of thought; this is, ultimately, a utopian gesture. Works discussed include Deji Bryce Olukotun’s Nigerians in Space, Sony Labou Tansi’s Life and a Half, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow, Cristina de Middel’s The Afronauts, and Frances Bodomo’s Afronauts.

Hide All
Afronauts . Directed by Frances Bodomo. New York: Powder Room Films, 2014.
Berthelot, Francis. La métamorphose généralisée: Du poème mythologie à la science-fiction. Paris: Éditions Nathan, 1993.
Bhabha, Homi K. “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” in The Location of Culture (1994), 121131. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Bould, Mark. Introduction to Africa SF, edited by Mark Bould, 715. Vashon, WA: Paradoxa, 2013.
Bould, Mark. “The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrofuturism and Black SF.” Science Fiction Studies 34.2 (2007): 177186. Accessed February 17, 2016.
Bradshaw, Katie. “Frances Bodomo.” BOMB Magazine. July 9, 2013. Accessed January 25, 2016.
Canavan, Gerry. “Decolonizing the Future (Review Essay).” Science Fiction Studies 39.2 (2012): 494499. Accessed January 25, 2016.
Carstens, Delphi and Roberts, Mer. “Protocols for Experiments in African Science Fiction.” Scrutiny 2 14.1 (2009): 7494. Accessed May 13, 2016.
Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan Jr. “The SF of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway.” Science Fiction Studies 18.1 (1991): 387404. Accessed February 1, 2016.
De Middel, Cristina. The Afronauts. Madrid: Self-published, 2012.
Delaney, Samuel R. Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, (Rev. Ed.) Middleton. CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2012.
Dery, Mark. “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose,” in Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, edited by Mark Dery, 179222. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.
Ferguson, James. Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
Ferguson, James. “Of Mimicry and Membership: Africans and the ‘New World Society.’Cultural Anthropology 17.4 (2002): 551569. Accessed November 12, 2015.
Heinlein, Robert A. “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction” (1948), in Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy: Twenty Dynamic Essays by the Field’s Top Professionals, 511. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1993.
Hoagland, Ericka and Reema, Sarwal. eds. Science Fiction, Imperialism, and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.
Hollinger, Veronica. “Genre vs. Mode,” in The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, edited by Rob Latham, 139154. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014)
Hopkinson, Nalo and Uppinder, Mehan. eds. So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp, 2004.
ITN Source.“Zambia: Zambian Astronauts Train for Moon Trop—Interview with Space Academy Director.” Accessed March 15, 2016.
Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. New York: Verso, 2005.
Keogan, Shonna. “‘Afronauts’ Feature Film Poised for Lift-Off, Thanks to Sloan Grant.” NYU News (blog). May 8, 2015. Accessed January 25, 2016.
Kerslake, Patricia. Science Fiction and Empire. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011.
Labou Tansi, Sony. Life and a Half, Translated by Alison Dundy. BloomingtonIN: Indiana University Press, 2011.
Langer, Jessica. Postcolonialism and Science Fiction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Madrigal, Alexis C. “Old, Weird Tech: The Zambian Space Cult of the 1960s.” The Atlantic. October 21, 2010. Accessed November 21, 2014.
MacDonald, Ian P. “The Cybogre Manifesto: Time, Utopia, and Globality in Ngugi’s Wizard of the Crow.Research in African Literatures 47.1 (2016): 5775. Accessed April 5, 2016.
Mbembe, Achille. On the Postcolony. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
Moudileno, Lydie. Magical Realism: Arme miraculeuse for the African Novel?Research in African Literatures 37.1 (2006): 2841. Accessed May 13, 2013.
n.a.“Zambia: Tomorrow the Moon.” TIME magazine. October 30, 1964.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Wizard of the Crow. Translated by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. New York: Pantheon, 2006.
Olukotun, Deji Bryce. Nigerians in Space. Los Angeles: Unnamed Press, 2014.
Olukotun, Deji Bryce. “Meeting my Protagonist.” Slate. September 19, 2014. Accessed March 1, 2016.
Patterson, Kate. “Meet the Filmmaker: Frances Bodomo.” Sloan Science & Film (blog). May 6, 2015. Accessed April 5, 2016.
Pratt, Mary Louise. “Modernity and Periphery: Toward a Global and Relational Analysis,” in Beyond Dichotomies, edited by Elizabeth Mudimbe-Boyi. 2148. Albany, NY: SUNY, 2002.
Rieder, John. Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008.
Seymour, Tom. “Cristina de Middel: Lady Isn’t Waiting.” British Journal of Photography. March 30, 2016. Accessed May 5, 2016.
Smith, Eric D. Globalization, Utopia, and Postcolonial Science Fiction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.
Trinidad, Erik R. “Donations to a Country Going to Mars.” The Global Trip (blog). April 18, 2004. Accessed February 15, 2016.
Williams, Raymond. “Utopia and Science Fiction,” in Culture and Materialism, 196212. New York: Verso, 1980.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry
  • ISSN: 2052-2614
  • EISSN: 2052-2622
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-journal-of-postcolonial-literary-inquiry
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed