Higgins argues that the depth of science fiction's engagement with imperial themes allows the genre to function as a critical literature of empire. As a literary mode engaged with imperial dream-work, science fiction addresses the operations of imperialism more fully than any other mode of cultural production, and it is from this deep understanding of empire (in both its colonial and neocolonial forms) that the genre produces rich cosmopolitan alternatives to imperial discourse and practice. One example of science fiction's successful interrogation of cosmopolitan concerns can be found in Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels. Unlike the work of many other SF authors from the 1960s and 1970s, Le Guin's extrapolations develop throughout her Hainish cycle beyond a straightforward negative critique of imperialism toward a positive and creative conceptualization of cosmopolitan conviviality. The Hainish novels move from a preliminary critique of imperialism and an exploration of cosmopolitan ethics in the early Worlds of Exile and Illusion novellas (1966–67) to a more fully developed imperial critique and a radical imagining of the possible political shapes of instantiated cosmopolitan conviviality in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). The essay concludes by suggesting that science fiction's celebrations and condemnations of imperial discourse and practice enable the genre as a whole to transcend its own oft-complicit engagements with empire and to generate an imaginative space for the exploration of rich and open-ended cosmopolitan possibilities.
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David M. Higgins; Toward a Cosmopolitan Science Fiction. American Literature 1 June 2011; 83 (2): 331–354. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1266081
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