UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Feminist science fiction's prophetic metaphors : the destabilization of gender and race in Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber and Susan Palwick's Shelter Dickeson, Maxwell Andrew


In this thesis, I argue that science fiction's ability to reflect upon the moment in which it is written by exploring an imagined future or alternate reality allows it to problematize and destabilize restrictive understandings of social norms such as race and gender. While science fiction's reputation as a "literature of ideas" often masks a tendency for texts in this field to fall back on oppressive norms in their portrayals of gender and race, an emergent, growing body of work within this field is specifically feminist and-or anti-racist. Much of this progressive science fiction (or "sf") imagines worlds in which existing repressive norms are overturned or vastly different. However, the two novels I read closely in this thesis, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson (2000) and Shelter by Susan Palwick (2007), envision futures in which the norms of race and gender that persist in the early twenty-first century have shifted, but remain fundamentally unchanged. Rooting my understandings of gender and race as artificial cultural constructions in the work of scholars Judith Butler and K. Anthony Appiah, I contend that, in imagining societies in which restrictive social norms are re-enacted, these texts critique such norms by highlighting the harm that can result from allowing ingrained assumptions regarding social categories such as gender and race to stagnate. Further, I argue that these two novels offer alternate visions of gender and race that destabilize these concepts through their deployments of science-fictional signifiers of otherness, specifically intelligent machines and aliens. Both novels portray these science-fictional beings as living race and gender in ways profoundly unlike the humans who encounter them, forcing each text's human protagonist to re-evaluate the roles gender and race play in establishing what Butler calls a culturally intelligible identity. My reading of sf texts as both extrapolating from their moments and employing sf tropes as metaphors of difference also insists on the importance of viewing these two approaches to sf, the extrapolative and the metaphorical, as implicated within one another, rather than treating them as separate reading and writing strategies as has prevailed in much sf scholarship to date.

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