Frozen Journey: Science Fiction, Blacks, Race, and the Limits of Speculative Practice

John Gordon Russell


This paper examines the pre-afrofuturistic representation of blacks in science fiction, who for much of the genre’s history have been presented through the distorted prism of racial stereotypes. I argue that despite characterizations of the genre as progressively liberal, its engagement with issues of race and racism has largely been, like the larger society of which it is part, characterized by alternating periods of stasis and momentum. When the genre has dealt with race and racism, it has generally preferred to do so in the form of allegory and metaphor in which alien and robotic others substitute for real-world others. Moreover, despite its lofty “sense-of-wonder” pledge to explore vast, uncharted imaginative ideoscapes, when it comes to race, the genre has traditionally been remarkably grounded, rearticulating rather than subverting tired tropes, its depiction of blacks and other people of color mired in predictable clichés not sublime paradigm shattering, visionary splendor, In the end, the treatment of race in science fiction has largely articulated an abstract, intellectual antiracism that does not necessarily apply to an authentic racial tolerance toward actual racial or ethnic groups and by an inability to write beyond the very intolerance it ostensibly critiques.

Full Text:



Adler, Margot. “Belafonte Puts Rev. King’s Notes Up for Auction.” NPR, 10 Dec. 2008, Accessed 26 Nov. 2014.

BBC News. “Buddhist Monk Charged with Raping Girl in 1970s.”, 19 Sept. 2011, Accessed 1 May 2015

Beal, Francis M. “Interview with Octavia Butler: Black Women and the Science Fiction Genre.” The Black Scholar 17, 1986, pp. 14-18.

Bendego DE “Reunion, 5 Aug. 2012, YouTube,

=qK81t3QCDWo. Accessed 30 Aug. 2015.

Bernardi, Leonard Daniel. Star Trek and History: Racing toward a White Future. Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Bould, Mark. “African Science Fiction 101,” 5 Feb. 2015, african-science-fiction-101. Accessed 26 Mar. 2016.

Candelaria, Matthew. “The Overlord’s Burden: The Source of Sorrow in Childhood’s End.” Ariel, vol. 33, no. 1, 2002, pp. 37-58.

Chude-Sokei, Louis. “The Uncanny History of Minstrels and Machines, 1935-1923.” Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy, edited by Stephen Johnson. University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.

Clarke, Arthur C. “Reunion.” The Wind from the Sun. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End. Del Rey Books, 1990.

Clute, John and Peter Nicholls, eds., The Science Fiction Encyclopedia. St. Martin’s Press. 1993.

Clute, John. “Race in SF.” The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Mar. 2015, Accessed 28 Mar. 2015.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Books. 2008.

Davin, Eric Leif. Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965. Lexington Books. 2005.

Delany, Samuel R. The Silent Interviews. Wesleyan University Press, 1994.

Delany, Samuel R. “Racism and Science Fiction.” The New York Review of Science Fiction, vol. 10, no.12, Aug. 1998, p. 1 and pp. 16-20.

Dery, Mark. “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and

Trica Rose.” In Flame Wars; The Discourse on Cyberculture, edited by Mark Dery. Duke University Press, 1997, pp. 179-222.

Dodai, Stewart. “Racist Hunger Games Fans are Very

Disappointed.” Jezebel, 26 Mar. 2012, Accessed 8 Feb. 2014.

General Rylee, “Flawed 1950s Anti-Racism: Childhood’s End.” Going Rampant, 25 July 2010, end-flawed-1950s-anti-racism.html. Accessed 10 May 2016.

Govan, Sondra Y. “The Insistent Presence of Black Folk in the Novels of Samuel R. Delany.” Black American Literature Forum, vol. 18, no 2., 1984, pp. 43-48.

Hartman, Ivor, ed. AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers. Story Time Publishers, 2012.

Holmes, Anna. “White Until Proven Black: Imagining Race in Hunger Games.” The New Yorker, 30 Mar. 2012,

proven-black-imagining-race-in-hunger-games. Accessed 15 Dec. 2015.

Howard, Stephen and Carl Geister. The History of a Voyage to the Moon. Lockwood and Co, 1864.

Jakaitis, Jake. “Two Cases of Conscience: Loyalty and Race in The Crack in Space and Counter-Clock World.” In Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations, edited by Samuel J. Umland. Greenwood Press, 1995.

James, Thea. “Cover Matter: On Whitewashing.” The Book Smugglers, 2 Oct. 2010, matters-on-whitewashing.html. Accessed 27 Mar. 2013.

Koontz, Dean. Demon Seed. Bantam Books 1993.

Lavender Isiah III. Race in Science Fiction. Indiana University Press, 2011.

Lavender, Isiah III, ed. Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction. University of Mississippi, 2014.

Le Guin, Ursula. The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace Books, 2000.

Linwood, Jim. Letter. Inca 4 Golden Nuggets and Rocks. Feb. 2009, http://efanzines. com/Inca/Inca04.pdfed. Accessed 12 May 2015.

Lundwall, Sam J. SF: What It’s All About. Ace, 1971.

Mondo Boloko. “Mondo Boloko—Arthur C. Clarke’s Reunion.” Dailymotion, 2 Sept. 2015, Accessed 28 Aug. 2016.

Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. Routledge, 2002.

Ogawa Takashi. Yakusha atogaki [Translator’s afterword] translated by Ohba Massaka Firippu K. Dikku no sekai: kieru genjitsu [The World of Philip K. Dick: Disappearing Reality]. Atelier Peyotl, 1991a, pp. 277-282.

Ogawa Takashi, “Dikku ga ikita 60-nendai [Dick and the ‘60s].” Eureka, January 1991b, pp. 127-133.

Okorafor, Nnedi. “African Science Fiction is Still Alien.” Nnedi’s Whahala Zone Blog16 Jan. 2014, Accessed. 12 Mar. 2015.

Pfeiffer, John. “Black American Speculative Literature: A Checklist.” Extrapolation, vol. 17, no. 1, Dec. 1975, pp. 35-43.

Pounds, Michael C. Race in Space: The Representation of Ethnicity in Star Trek and Star Trek; The Next Generation. The Scarecrow Press, 1999.

Raymond, Janice. The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Teacher’s Press, 1994.

Resnick, Michael. “Introduction.” In Under African Skies, edited by Michael Resnick and Gardner Dozois. DAW Books, 1993.

Riedle, John. Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press, 2008.

Author. 1998.

Author. 2008.

Author. 2011.

Author. 2013.

Scherer, Burkhard. “Macho Buddhism: Gender and Sexualities in the Diamond Way.” Religion and Gender, vol. 1, no. 1, 2011, pp. 85-103.

Silverberg, Robert. “Political Correctness, One: Minority Hypersensitivity.” Reflections and Refractions: Thoughts on Science Fiction, Science and Other Matters.Underwood Books, 1997, pp. 352-354.

Silverberg, Robert. Introduction. In James Tiptree, Warm Worlds and Otherwise. Del Rey Books, 1975, pp. i-xv.

Thomas, Sheree, ed. Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diasopra. Warner Books, 2000.

Thomas, Sheree, ed. Dark Matter: Reading the Bones. Aspect, 2004.

Tuvel, Rebecca. “In Defense of Transracialism.” Hypatia, vol. 32, no. 2, Spring 2017, pp. 263-278.

Valby, Karen. “Team Hunger Games Talks: Author Suzanne Collins and Director Gary Ross on Their Allegiance to Each Other and Their Actors.” Entertainment Weekly, 7 Apr. 2011, Accessed 31 Mar. 2015.

Williams, Paul. Only Apparently Real: The World of Philip K. Dick. Arbor Books, 1986.


  • There are currently no refbacks.