Decolonial Speculative Fiction and Fantasy

Decolonial speculative fiction and fantasy is a sub-genre of SFF that emerged in the late 1960s alongside decolonial movements across the world, and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. While part of a global boom in science fiction publishing, it represented a break from what Naomi Alderman has called the “SF masculine space cowboy epic” of the 1960s (in Russ, 2016: v). The 1970s saw a proliferation of SFF narratives registering an international crisis of authority. As well as the downfall of European imperialism, post-war US financial hegemony was under threat after the breakdown of Bretton Woods, the global condemnation and financial disaster of the Vietnam War, transnational socialist movements in 1968, and the 1973 oil crisis. The irrecoverable diminishment of the Soviet Union as a viable political alternative was yet to come, as was the establishment of neoliberalism proper. Decolonial SFF of the period was in conversation with both Russian SFF and Latin American magical realism, and is allied to the concerns around African-American belonging registered in Afrofuturist art, film, music, and fiction, partly through Pan-Africanism, as well as contemporary Indigenous Futurisms.


The generic malleability of SFF affords both formal and figurative space for narrative to process the anachronisms of worlds estranged by and through the transformation of global politics, and the reorganisation of “periphery” and “core” into a geopolitics of rapid urbanisation. Decolonial SFF tilts rather than overturns the social orders it conjures by twisting and loosening metaphors, analogies, empiricism, and epistemologies found in realism, and through this changing what Rolando Vázquez calls “oppressive grammars of power” (2009). While decolonial SFF is often forged out of alternative lifeworlds and technological innovations in ways comparable to other SFF sub-genres, these are used as platforms on which to stage social scenes specific to decolonial concerns. These include: explicit invocation of anti-racist and anti-colonial theory; the intersections of marginalized identifications and their attending violence; world-building in wasted imperialism; tensions between decolonial nationalism and post-war internationalism; the inheritance of colonial epistemes – and more broadly, the coloniality/modernity paradigm; anxieties around planetary death as a result of industrialisation; and the ecological alliances and alternative knowledge-systems that might make survival possible.


Decolonial SFF is part of a broader recuperation of SFF by writers from colonized territories (former or current), often reclaiming mythologies and indigenous history appropriated by colonial and imperial anthropology, and incorporating modern narratives of oppression. It is part of postcolonial science fiction; “de”colonial here refers to the way texts often foreground processes of decolonization – both imaginatively and in terms of material infrastructure. Its specific contribution to the genre is its consideration of the challenges of radical change at a transnational level, which involves confronting and dismantling the material processes, social identifications, and political ideologies that have characterized global capitalist relations of (re)production. And through this, remembering and forming other ways of living together, in other possible worlds.


Essential Reading

Benjamin, Ruha 2015. ‘Black to the Future: In Memoriam‘ Discover Society 

Dery, Mark. 1994. “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose.” In: Flame Wars: The Discourse of Counter-Culture. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Dillon, Grace. 2011. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Hopkinson, Nalo, and Mehan, Uppinder (Eds). 2004. So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.

Jae, Johnnie, Lapensee, Elizabeth, Little Badger, Darcie, and Roanhorse, Rebecca. 2017. “Decolonizing Science Fiction and Imagining Futures: An Indigenous Futures Roundtable.” Strange Horizons.

Langer, Jessica. Postcolonialism and Science Fiction. London: Palgrave, 2011.

Mehan, Uppinder. “Teaching Postcolonial Science Fiction.” In: A. Sawyer et al (Eds.), Teaching Science Fiction. London: Palgrave, 2011.


Further Reading

Bould, Mark. 2017. “African Science Fiction.” LARB, Oct 2 2017.

Mukherjee, Pablo. 2012. “Ivan Vladislavić: traversing the uneven city.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 48 (5). 472-484.

Rieder, John. Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2008.

WReC (Warwick Research Collective). 2015. Combined and Uneven Development: Toward a New Theory of World-Literature. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.



Russ, Joanna. 2016 (1976). We Who Are About To… London: Penguin.

Vásquez, Rolando. 2009. “Modernity, Coloniality and Visibility: The Politics of Time.” Sociological Research Online, 14(4) 7



  1. What are “oppressive grammars of power” and what are some of the ways decolonial SFF breaks them down?
  2. How do decolonial SFF texts trace differences between “world” and “globe”?
  3. What is the difference between “decolonial” and “postcolonial”, and can SFF process the gap between theory and praxis, independence and decolonization, and politics and culture in usable ways?
  4. What can decolonial SFF offer contemporary social movements focused on decolonizing education, in terms of the content, characters, and chronology of modern global history?
  5. Is it problematic to group distinct cultural movements – Afrofuturism, Indigenous Futurisms, de/postcolonial SFF, magical realism – into comparable sub-genres? Does talking about genre mobilise or reduce these texts’ transformative visions of past, present and future?
  6. What are some ways in which decolonial SFF texts adapt older forms of SFF (not just those classified Western), recuperate pre-colonial mythologies, and incorporate narratives of oppression?  How do they work?
  7. How does decolonial SFF complicate and interrogate the dominance of the Cold War as the prevailing story of post-war globalism?


Submitted by Lara Choksey

+ Show Comments