= Volume 33, Part 2 = July 2006
Amy J. Ransom
Oppositional Postcolonialism in Québécois Science Fiction
Examinations of sf literature reveal the colonialist tendencies of a genre that conventionally thematizes empire and colony building and is dominated by writers from imperial powers, in particular the United States and Great Britain. Some recent studies by scholars looking through the lens of postcolonial criticism, however, have observed anti-imperialist critiques in the science fiction of writers ranging from James Tiptree, Jr. (Carollo, Galef) to Kim Stanley Robinson (Markley, Michaels). This article considers, through that same lens, the postcolonial aspects of “SFQ,” the French-language science fiction of Québec, a significant corpus often neglected by Anglophone critics. I argue that the extrapolated futures, other worlds, and alternate histories of Élisabeth Vonarburg, Jean-Pierre April, Jean-Louis Trudel, and other writers of SFQ reveal the same preoccupations with race, language, and political struggle found in the works of writers more commonly referred to as “postcolonial.”1
Québec: postcolonial? As with English-language science fiction, making the articulation between SFQ and the postcolonial is not an unproblematic gesture.2 In addition to the genre’s traditional identification with an ideology of conquest and colonization, there remains the fact that Québec originated as a French colony and stands today as a province of Canada, a fully Western, industrialized, capitalist, first-world nation. As Vijay Mishra and Bob Hodge have argued in their criticism of Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin’s The Empire Writes Back, a major problem hinges upon the applicability of the term “postcolonial” to the cultural productions of so-called settler colonies, such as Canada and Australia, whose populations descend from predominantly European colonists and who, therefore, represent a colonizing rather than colonized group (286). Québec stands apart from these settler colonies, however, in that New France was itself conquered in 1760 by the British Empire. Because of this “Conquest” and the subsequent two-hundred-and-fifty-year struggle for political autonomy and cultural recognition, Québec’s Francophone population has often aligned itself with more obviously postcolonial nations such as India or Nigeria. On the one hand, Edward Said implicitly includes Québec in this category as he comments on the imperialistic drive of the English language in both Ireland and North America (221). On the other hand, Bart Moore-Gilbert observes of its relations with the indigenous Mohawk: “a state like Québec … which seems to be postcolonial from one perspective can be simultaneously (neo-)colonial in its relationship to other groups” (10). Setting aside its relationships with the First Nations, many historians would agree that, at least until the Act of Confederation in 1867, if not until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the province of Québec suffered what Anne McClintock defines as “[i]nternal colonization [that] occurs where the dominant part of a country treats a group or region as it might a foreign colony” (295; emphasis in original).
A number of Québécois politicians, intellectuals, and artists drew upon the concepts of anti-colonialism from former French colonies and argued that the French-speaking population of Québec was, literally and/or metaphorically, a colonized people. During the 1960s and 1970s, Québec’s political and social intellectuals read and commented on anti-colonialist theorists such as Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, and even Che Guevara in the pages of Parti pris and Liberté (Dorsinville, Le Pays 1983, 123-24). Independentist politicians and activists—from the now-memorialized René Lévesque to the terrorist FLQ (Front de Libération Québécoise)—then adopted this discourse of decolonization. In his proposal for independence, Option Québec (1968), Lévesque, co-founder of the Parti Québécois, argues that “[n]ous sommes, économiquement, des colonisés” [we are, economically, a colonized people] (23). Rassemblement pour l’Indépendance Nationale [Assembly for National Independence] leader André d’Allemagne makes, however, a more radical interpretation, arguing in Le Colonialisme au Québec [Colonialism in Québec, 1966] that such colonialism exists at all levels—social, political, cultural, and economic. Working outside the framework of the accepted political structure, the FLQ (circa 1963-1970) based its terrorist activities and propaganda on the belief and rhetoric that Québec was a colonized nation and should seek independence by any means possible, as had the people of Algeria through the efforts of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale).
After 1970 and especially in the 1980s and 1990s, the discourse of colonization became less apparent in political activity, but a few intellectuals began to apply the concepts of the nascent field of postcolonial studies to Québécois society and cultural production. Haitian-Québécois critic Max Dorsinville has published extensively on the connections between Québécois and African-Antillean ideas and letters, including the influence of Aimé Césaire’s and Léopold Sédar Senghor’s concept of négritude [blackness] upon Québécois poetry and the creation of the parallel concept of québécitude [Quebecness]. More recently, Marie Vautier has applied postcolonial and postmodern criticism to contemporary Québec novels in New World Myth (1998). This long political and intellectual tradition of identifying Québec as a colonized society that gained its autonomy—if not its independence—during the Quiet Revolution allows such preeminent contemporary analysts as Fernand Dumont in Raisons communes [Common Grounds,1995] to continue to speak of “le long colonialisme que nous avons subi” [the long colonialism that we have suffered] (75).
It can be problematic to attempt a judgment concerning the “postcoloniality” of a group of texts based upon the political, historical, and/or sociological status of their producing nations and/or authors. We are warned by Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, editors of Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader, that “the extent to which formerly colonised countries can be considered post-colonial is both variable and debatable” (3). To help navigate the waters of postcolonial theory and to provide a brief definition of postcolonialism, this article turns again to Mishra and Hodge. In “What is Post(-)colonialism?” they critique the “homogenizing drive” (289) of the landmark text in postcolonial studies, The Empire Writes Back, which seeks to create a one-size-fits-all definition of postcolonialism that ultimately becomes blurred with the category of the postmodern. Mishra and Hodgedistinguish between two forms of postcolonialism, which they align with differing ideological orientations: an “oppositional postcolonialism, which is found in its most overt form in post-independence colonies at the historical phase of ‘post-colonialism’” and “a ‘complicit postcolonialism’ … an always present ‘underside’ within colonization itself” as the term is more broadly applied to include texts exhibiting many of the traits of postmodernism coming from white settler colonies (284). The notion of complicit postcolonialism allows for the inclusion of texts from both the colonial and postcolonial periods, as well as from writers with a range of racial/ethnic backgrounds. Mishra and Hodge include in their examples of complicit postcolonialists not only the nineteenth-century Anglo-Australians Charles Harpur (1813-1868) and Marcus Clarke (1846-1881), but also V.S. Naipaul (b. 1932) and the Bengali author of the Apu trilogy, Bibhutighushan Banerji (1896-1950) (284).
Seeming to imply that oppositional postcolonialism represents a more accurate or authentic “post-colonialism” (the hyphenated form is found in the OED, indicating a temporal relationship—after a colonial period), Mishra and Hodge identify (without much elaboration) three fundamental elements of concern that set it apart: 1) racism, 2) a second language, and 3) political struggle (286).3 In the white settler colony the colonists are of the same “race” as the colonial power, they speak the same language, and the road to independence will have taken a peaceful route with little or no violence.4 For the literatures of Australia, Anglo-Canada, and other white settler nations, any postcolonialism remains complicit with the culture of the imperial power and any subversion of or resistance to imperialism becomes a discursive more than a political act. In the “Black nations” (276), a colonial system was imposed by white Europeans on individuals of other races/ethnicities, who speak other languages than those of the colonizers, and whose political struggles against the imperial powers may have included violent protest, even war. In the “oppositional” postcolonial literatures of such nations, these themes (racism, language, and political struggle) predominate, implicating the discursive act in the political. The works of contemporary writers such as the Nigerian Chinua Achebe (b. 1938) and the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thion’go (b. 1938) would exemplify this category.
Largely concerned with creating a new framework for the category previously called Commonwealth literature, both Mishra and Hodge and the authors of The Empire Writes Back refer to a particular colonial power, Great Britain. To clarify the need for a differentiated definition of the postcolonial, Mishra and Hodge point out that
it is especially important to recognize the different histories of the White settler colonies which, as fragments of the metropolitan centre, were treated very differently by Britain, which, in turn, for these settler colonies, was not the imperial centre but the Mother Country. (285)
While they make utterly clear the importance of distinguishing between the “postcolonial experience” of these two different groups, Mishra and Hodge fail to address—although they acknowledge—the experiences of a much wider range of divisions in types of colonialism. This includes the experience of French-speaking Canada, technically a white settler colony, but for whom Britain was never a Mother Country. Because of perceived differences in race (or at least ethnicity), language, and the political struggles for cultural and political recognition on the part of French-Canadians and the province of Québec, that region aligns more closely with the “Black nations” identified by Mishra and Hodge as exhibiting an oppositional postcolonialism than with traditionally defined white settler nations.
Using the three defining themes of oppositional postcolonialism as an organizing framework, this essay examines those themes in a representative set of texts from the science fiction of Québec. While the primary texts selected for this analysis reflect a true cross-section of SFQ, including a range of authors spanning the entire period of the active, contemporary movement from the mid-1970s to 2004, they were also chosen precisely because of their treatment of one or more of the themes of racism, language, and political struggle. It cannot, therefore, be argued that all texts of science fiction from Québec (or Francophone Canada) reflect a postcolonial ideology. The very prevalence of those themes in SFQ (well beyond the dozen or so texts mentioned in this study), however—not to mention their presence in fantasy and so-called “mainstream” literature—supports the contention that at least some elements of Québec’s cultural production demonstrate the oppositional postcolonialism described by Mishra and Hodge. Before turning to a more detailed analysis of specific texts, however, a brief overview of SFQ and its development may be useful for readers unfamiliar with the science fiction of Francophone Canada.
A Brief History of SFQ.5 The sf and fantasy tradition in Québécois literature is a rich one. Indeed, John Robert Colombo has argued that sf writers in Québec came into their own before the rest of Canada (37). It is a commonplace in the field to classify Québec’s first novel, Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, fils’s L’Influence d’un livre [The Influence of a Book, 1837] as fantastic because the influential volume mentioned in its title is an alchemical manual and because it incorporates the retelling of several fantastic Québécois legends. Works of proto-sf appeared at the end of the nineteenth century and through the first half of the twentieth, representing nearly every subgenre known today: near-future cautionary tale (Jules-Paul Tardivel’s Pour la Patrie [1895; trans. For My Country, 1975]), alternate history (Ulric Barthe’s Similia Similibus, 1916), apocalyptic narrative (Emmanuel Desrosiers’s La Fin de la terre [The End of the Earth, 1931]), utopia (Jean Berthos’s Eutopia, 1946), and contact with extraterrestrials (André Ber’s Segoldiah!, 1964).
In the 1960s and 1970s Québec, as elsewhere, witnessed a boom in the popularity of science fiction. Sf themes disseminated through film, fashion, and other cultural media from abroad also influenced literary production at home in Québec, partly as a result of real events such as Cold War concerns, the threat of nuclear war, and the successes (and failures) of space programs in the USSR and the US. A number of “mainstream” authors experimented with the genre, such as the typically Québécois writers Yves Thériault (Si la Bombe m’était contée [If the Bomb Were Told to Me], 1962) and Michel Tremblay (La Cité dans l’oeuf [The City in the Egg], 1969). Those decades also saw the development of sf for children and adolescents—which may well have contributed to the formation of the next generation of writers—with the publication of Thériault’s Volpek and Marcel Gagnon’s Unipax series (Sernine 97), as well as Suzanne Martel’s Quatre Montréalais en l’An 3000 [Four Montrealers in the Year 3000, 1963] and Monique Corriveau’s posthumous trilogy Compagnon du soleil [Companion of the Sun, 1976].6
By the late-1970s a high quality fanzine, Requiem, under the direction of Norbert Spehner, had blossomed into the professional SFQ review, Solaris, which continues in print today under the direction of noted author, Joël Champetier. For more than twenty years it was rivaled by a second professional review, imagine…, founded in 1979 and published through 1997/98. These magazines published stories and criticism by a core of authors who dedicated themselves to sf and fantasy not only for the adult market but also often for the youth series Jeunesse-pop, published by the Éditions Paulines/Médiaspaul. In addition, since the early 1980s a team headed by literary critic Claude Janelle has published (nearly) annually a bibliographical guidebook to publications, L’Année de la science-fiction et du fantastique québécois. While some pioneers such as Jean-Pierre April have not published in some time, a core of principal writers including Élisabeth Vonarburg, Esther Rochon, and Daniel Sernine have since been joined by Francine Pelletier, Yves Meynard, Sylvie Bérard, and others. The group meets annually, awards prizes, and maintains regular contact, personally and through (electronic) correspondence. After brief attempts by several publishers to produce sf lines during the 1980s, in 1996 Éditions Alire began exclusive production of science fiction, fantasy, fantastic/horror, and “polar” [detective/spy] novels for the French-language market, including original works, republications of out-of-print SFQ classics, and translations of the work of Anglo-Canadians such as Guy Gavriel Kay and Nancy Kilpatrick.
A small number of Francophone-Canadian writers from outside Québec, who prefer the term science-fiction canadienne d’expression française [Canadian sf of French expression], supplement the core group who actively identify themselves as writers of SFQ. These include Franco-Ontarian Jean-Louis Trudel, who, in spite of his preference for the more inclusive term, is included in this study because of his highly active participation in the SFQ movement. In addition, there are several writers active today whose work at least occasionally resembles sf in style and/or content, but who have, for a variety of reasons, passively skirted or outright rejected the generic classification of sf: this group includes Nando Michaud and François Barcelo. The texts selected for this study represent most of the key authors of SFQ and some on its margins; some highly pertinent texts have not been included here because they have been analyzed in detail, although in other contexts, elsewhere.7 Some limited reference is made to juvenile fiction because of its integral relationship—it is written by the same authors and dealing with the same themes—with adult sf in Québec.
Race and Racism in SFQ. The concept of race has been central to French-Canadian and Québécois nationalism since the Conquest of 1760, although the use of the term has varied over time and from French to English. Long before the publication of André Siegfried’s The Race Question in Canada (1906), which equates race with what we now call ethnicity, nationalists sought to protect the survival of “la race française” against the threat of assimilation on a continent dominated by the English, “la race anglo-saxonne.” At the extreme left of the independence movement during the late 1960s, Pierre Vallières—drawing deeply from the works of Fanon—viewed French-Canadians as the Nègres blancs d’Amérique (1968; trans. White Niggers of America, 1971), paralleling them with African-Americans and African-Antilleans who had been brought to the New World as slaves. In contrast with the view that French-Canadians have been victims of racism, some more recent separatists have themselves been labeled racist as they argued for a national identity based on the “Québécois de vieille souche” [old stock Québécois] or “pure laine” [pure wool]—that is, 100% French—thus excluding new immigrants. Indeed, Gérard Étienne’s study of the Québécois novel from 1960 to 1980 observes an overt racist tendency, a tendency the Haitian-Canadian writer and critic attributes, however, to a sense of inferiority arising from a perceived state of colonization existing among the French-speaking province’s intellectuals and literati. In contrast, Québec’s contemporary science fiction (from about 1970 to today) almost exclusively adopts a progressive, anti-racist stance, seeking to expose and condemn racism through speculative discourse. Its writers utilize a variety of methods, explicitly depicting the injustice of one race’s oppression of another, or, more implicitly, using allegory. In addition, they often employ the sf trope of the mutant or cyborg who represents a new, hybrid race, offering a potential model for a postcolonial identity that may transcend or render obsolete the problem of racism. An examination of several examples demonstrates the variety of weapons SFQ employs to attack racism.
Jacques Benoit’s Les Princes [The Princes] (1973), a relatively early work, exposes racism’s absurdity through the parody of its clichés. The “Coquins” [Naughty/Malicious Ones] are a blueish-colored pariah race with thick, greasy lips and protruding ears. Known for their promiscuity and fecundity, they bear their young in litters. Furthermore, “le travail, au sens où on l’entend généralement, est chose inconnue pour eux” [work, as it is generally understood, is unknown to them] (17). Above all, their presence is signalled by a unique and indescribably offensive odor. For that reason they have been legally enclosed inside their own ghetto. Indeed, popular belief holds that the genetic monsters prevalent in Benoit’s imaginary city result from pregnant women’s frightened encounters with Coquins (20). A decade later, Esther Rochon’s “Au Fond des yeux” [In the Depths of the Eyes, 1985] explores human racism and proposes redemption from it through the depiction of the massacre, secret survival, and final emancipation of the extraterrestrial Voulques. In La Ville Oasis [The Oasis City, 1990], Michel Bélil allegorizes Québec history, implying that a form of racism has been involved in Anglophone-Francophone relations in Canada. In the imaginary world of Razzlande, the dominant species, the razz, is divided into two races, the upper-class azurs and the oppressed turquoises.
To demonstrate further the range and complexity of the problem of race in SFQ, I have chosen three texts for more extended analysis: Alain Bergeron’s “Le Prix” [The Prize, 1995] Jean-Pierre April’s “Le Vol de la Ville” [The Flight/Theft of the City, 1980] and Sylvie Bérard’s Terre des Autres [Land of the Others, 2004].
Bergeron’s “Le Prix,” a Lovecraftian tale told from the point of view of a space conquistador, depicts the pillage of a planet occupied by an apparently subservient race of beings called Elfes. The space pirates display a typical imperialist scorn toward the conquered: “Nous les avions méprisés en bloc, dès les premiers instants” [We despised them as a whole, from the first moments] (196); “Les Elfes se ressemblaient tous” [The Elves all looked alike] (197).8 Their leader refers to “Le Grand Elfe” as an “animal” (199), a member of “une espèce indigne de survivre” [a species not worthy of survival] (199). He is rightly suspicious when, after four weeks of pillage and murder, this Great Elfe leads him to a door, telling him that it will reveal “le prix qui doit venir récompenser toutes tes peines” [the prize that should come as recompense for all of your efforts] (198). The self-described “conquérant” [conqueror] (200) refuses to open it. Increasingly obsessed, however, by the idea that perhaps great riches do lie behind the door, he returns with his crew on the eve of their departure. They enter and, for what seems like an eternity, descend a long, dank passageway. As his crew members abandon him one by one, the leader realizes too late that he has entered the world of the dead and that his body has begun gruesomely to decay. When, finally, the passage rises and he exits to survey the ruins of the planet devastated by his men, including his own ship now buried in desert sands, he perceives that the Elfe’s prize is an empty one. Leaving him with the fruits of his efforts, the indigenous Elfes have had their revenge on the racist conquistadors:
Vivants, ils n’auraient rien pu faire contre nous. Mais morts maintenant, réunis tous ensemble en une armée de spectres, ils avaient l’éternité devant eux pour célébrer leur triomphe [Living, they could have done nothing against us. But now dead, reunited together in an army of specters, they had all of eternity before them to celebrate their triumph]. (211)
Bergeron’s story provides an example of the anti-colonialist critique common in SFQ as it depicts the racism inherent in conquest and the bittersweet revenge of the oppressed who will haunt their conqueror to the end of time. The author turns the clichés of racism against the racist, as his arrogance leads him to his demise; this empowerment of the victims of racism, however, remains problematic, as they achieve revenge only after their own genocide.
A more complex treatment of the problem of racism in Québec’s past, present, and potential future appears in “Le Vol de la ville” by one of SFQ’s foremost writers, Jean-Pierre April. Inspired by Jean Drapeau’s comment, which April cites in an epigraph, that Montréal’s Olympic Stadium should be “Quelque chose de qualité, qui pourra entreprendre un voyage dans le temps et porter aux générations futures le message d’une époque” [Something of quality that could undertake a voyage in time and bring to future generations a message from our era] (71), April literalizes the words of the city’s former mayor in this satirical allegory. He imagines the island of “Moréal” being towed into space by a craft disguised beneath a new super stadium. The ship has been developed in secret by the Mu-T, earth’s oppressed mutant race, with the assistance of a shipwrecked crew of extraterrestrials, the Maïaniens. A playful and fanciful tone camouflages the seriousness of April’s exposé of racism and stereotype in his treatment of the Mu-T. On Earth, they are “maltraités par les humains, rejetés comme des bêtes de labo devenues gênantes” [mistreated by humans, rejected like laboratory animals that have become a burden] (82). Gifted with an unnoticed intelligence and superhuman health, strength, and physical beauty, they develop their own artistic culture. Moréal’s dictator-mayor Drapo XII lets himself be convinced to sponsor new Olympic games to showcase the Mu-T’s abilities and, ostensibly, to fight racism. His own innate racism appears in his fears that the Mu-T’s prowess will show the human spectators “la faiblesse de leur race malade, condamnée par la pollution industrielle et les multiples maladies de civilisation” [the weakness of their sick race, condemned by industrial pollution and the numerous illnesses of civilization] (89) and in his attitude that it would be best to “canaliser la force des Mu-T dans le spectacle, sinon ils prendront la seule place qui leur permettra de vivre en paix, celle du plus fort” [channel the Mu-T’s strengths into these spectacles, otherwise they would take the only place that would allow them to live in peace—that of the fittest] (83).
Clearly, Drapo XII’s description of the Mu-T recalls stereotypical attitudes toward African-Americans (good athletes and entertainers), but it might also fit the Québécois, whose international successes have been hockey players, Céline Dion, and the Cirque du Soleil. In addition, the Mu-T may be read as a metaphor for Montréal’s rising number of international immigrants attacked by hyper-nationalist French-Canadians. This blurring of the lines of allegory, this confusion of who symbolizes what that we find in April’s story, “disallows an us/them critique,” as Marie Vautier observes of a similar postcolonial treatment of race and racism in François Barcelo’s La Tribu [The Tribe, 1981], a work that some have argued skirts the edges of science fiction (214). The Mu-T are blacks, are French-Canadians, are Néo-Québécois immigrants. In addition, stereotypical Québécois characters in the text, such as Drapo XII, are literally racist as well as standing in allegorically for “racist” Anglo-Canadians.
This ambivalence, this ability to see and attack both (or more) sides of a problem, makes April’s text truly postcolonial, as does his proposal for a solution to the race problem. Once the spaceship takes off with the city, the Maïaniens, the Moréaliens, and the Mu-T, now forced to wander the galaxy together, set aside their differences:
Dans la ville volante nous avons vécu les mêmes aventures. C’est la vie qui forme les êtres, on n’est plus ni humain, ni maïanien, ni quoi que ce soi de platement planétaire. On voyage, on est en devenir et, chaque fois qu’on se pose sur une planète, on se définit différemment, on vit un nouveau jeu [In the flying city we have lived the same adventures. It’s life that forms people; we are no longer human, nor Maïanien, nor anything that’s simply planetary. We travel, we are becoming, and each time that we land on a planet, we define ourselves differently, we live a new game]. (99)
Although the story itself is not set in an explicitly colonial context, the creation of a common culture and April’s invocation of a métis or hybrid identity, reflect a theme found not only in many works of SFQ, but also in the postcolonial criticism and theory of such noted figures as Said, Bhabha, and Spivak. In The Wretched of the Earth (1961), their precursor Frantz Fanon proposes the necessity of a dialectical synthesis whereby out of the pre-colonial past and the reality of colonization a hybrid present can be formed. Homi K. Bhabha’s Location of Culture (1994) argues that, while hybridity demonstrates colonial power to transform culture and identity, it also can subvert that same colonial power by transforming it in return (112).
The hybrid also figures centrally in Sylvie Bérard’s brilliant first novel, Terre des Autres.9 The text reveals the inherent complexity of race relations in the colonial/postcolonial setting through its depiction of the interactions between humans and darztls, the indigenous sentient lizards of Sielxth; this planet has been named Mars II by its colonists because of its similarity to the red planet. Bérard brutally depicts the racism each group feels toward the other, showing how colonialism dehumanizes both groups involved in such a system and how it problematizes both individual and group identities.
The human colony on Mars II arrives by accident, apparently meaning only to land for repairs; like the Native Americans in the New World, the darztls at first help the humans adapt to the hot, arid climatic conditions of Sielxth. Even in the early days of positive relations, however, each group expresses prejudices about the other. The narration of the first human born on the colony recalls, through a child’s eyes, the hypocrisy of the adults around her who accepted help, but who also would “dire de moins belles choses des autochtones, décrire la peur et le dégôut qu’ils leur inspiraient, et parfois parler d’assimilation et d’extermination” [say less attractive things about the natives, describe the fear and disgust they inspired in them, and sometimes speak of assimilation and extermination] (3). Revealing that racism is a learned trait, she then recounts her spontaneous reaction to her first glimpse of a darztl at a dinner hosted by those same adults: “Qu’il est beau!” [How beautiful he is!] (4). Subsequently, relations begin to break down and the darztls initiate kidnapping raids, believing that their victims would be rescued and that the humans, realizing they were no longer welcome, would leave the planet. Unfortunately, this cultural misunderstanding results instead in a system of institutionalized slavery on the part of the darztls and open antipathy on the part of the humans who, in turn, begin to kidnap darztls for intelligence purposes. Outright war breaks out and the darztls unknowingly cause what they least desire—the permanent installation of humans on Sielxth—as the colony’s mother ship lifts off to evade a darztl attack, abandoning the majority of the human population with no means of departure.
Viewing humans through the eyes of the darztls, Bérard employs a familiar strategy to critique human society, in particular the clichés of race prejudice, in two pseudo-documents, “Le Problème humain” [The Human Problem] and “Le Code humain (extraits)” [The Human Code (excerpts)]. In the first, the darztl’s special envoy to the humans reports back about the new arrivals on Sielxth:
Les humains sont des animaux, ils n’ont aucune dignité.… Les humains n’ont aucune manière, ils ne sont pas civilisés.… Les humains n’ont aucun goût.… Ils ne sont pas evolués.… [O]n dirait une espèce troglodyte …. Les humains sont pareils à la vermine [Humans are animals; they have no dignity.… Humans have no manners; they are not civilized.... Humans have no taste.… They are not evolved.… [Y]ou might call them a troglodyte species…. Humans are like vermin]. (5-7)
In the second, excerpts from the darztl laws regulating slavery are modeled on the real French Code noire; they classify humans as moveable property, mandate death for any human who raises a hand against a darztl, and deny humans possession of personal goods (243-44). Attributing to both groups the same racist clichés, Bérard reveals the falsity of any essentialist racist remarks. Making humans—the colonizers—into the enslaved group, Bérard disrupts the traditional power dynamic of colonialism.
Bérard’s novel reads like a page out of Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism (1955), which argues that “colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him” (13; emphases in original). While the literal colonizers on Mars II are the humans, the darztls establish a colonial-like power relation with those they have enslaved, and the institution of slavery transforms “un peuple tranquille, libre, à la fois individualiste et profondément uni” [a peaceful, free people, both individualistic, yet profoundly united] (115-16), into brutes. Khlearmt, a former slave driver, explains:
Il se crée comme un effet d’entraînement et nous nous retrouvons dans le rôle de maître à frapper sur d’autres êtres vivants sans plus trop avoir conscience de ce que nous faisons. Tout cela devient abstrait, machinal [Something like a side effect of training is created and we find ourselves in the role of master, beating other living beings without really being conscious of what we are doing. It all becomes abstract, mechanical]. (209)
The slave drivers who mechanically beat humans for little reason and cut off their feet for attempting to escape, the personal slave owners who obtain sexual pleasure from their slaves, and the slave catchers who take pleasure in abusing escaped slaves—carrying them like merchandise in sacks strapped to their mounts—are as degraded as the humans whom they have enslaved.
But many of the humans on Mars II are not the simple victims of the lizard slave masters; they, too, reveal their power for hate and brutality in Bérard’s narrative. From the various rogue nomad humans who capture darztls for food to the colonial government that supports the kidnapping of darztls for biological experimentation, the humans appear bestial in their treatment of the indigenous species of Sielxth. The nomads are presented through the perspective of a captive darztl who is kept alive as a renewable meat source because of her reptilian powers of regeneration, as they
semblaient prendre un plaisir malsain à la tailler en morceaux et à la voir souffrir, car chaque fois qu’elle perdait connaissance ils attendaient qu’elle recouvre ses sens pour couper le morceau suivant.... L’odeur de chair grillée, sa propre chair, parvenait jusqu’à elle [seemed to take an unhealthy pleasure in cutting her up in pieces and seeing her suffer, for each time she lost consciousness they waited for her to return to her senses before cutting the next piece.… The odor of grilled flesh, her own, reached her nostrils]. (305)
It is the colonial government, however, whose activities are perhaps the most inhuman. It fosters an institutionalized racism, but also mandates and experiments with racial and cultural exchange. Bérard illustrates the complexity of this situation and its inevitable impact upon individual identity through the character of Chloë Guilimpert and the question of hybridity.
Guilimpert, an agent in the human colony’s defense agency, represents the colonial order. The reader first meets her as she gives a lecture to the provisional government leaders about attempts to infiltrate and gain intelligence on the society of the “barbares” (60) through social and genetic experimentation. At first it was thought that spies could be raised, and so darztl infants were brought up and assimilated as humans with the intent to send them back into darztl society. This failed because the difference between species was so great that the inability of adopting families to bond with the alien infants—attributed by Bérard’s text to an inherent racism—often led to neglect and even to mistreatment. Next, using genetic engineering, colonial scientists sought to transform adult humans into darztls. Of these “hybrides” (69), many did not make it to the final phase of the experiment because of the psychological burden of their new form, perceived by humans as “repoussant” [repulsive] (71). In a variety of passages, Bérard suggests the monstrosity of the hybrid, the stigma borne, the inability to adapt when an individual is neither one thing nor another—a description of the colonized individual reminiscent of Frantz Fanon’s Peau noire, masques blanches [Black Skin, White Masks, 1952]. The one member of this hybrid group who finally qualified for insertion into darztl society was immediately detected as foreign and killed. As a last resort, the group experimented with new technology that allowed the downloading and storage of a human personality separate from its body. Guilimpert volunteered for her own personality to be inserted into the body of a kidnapped darztl.
Through the miracle of future technology that sf allows, Bérard literalizes the aphorism, so pertinent in a discussion of American postcolonialism, “Don’t judge me until you have walked a mile in my moccasins.” The racist human Guilimpert becomes a darztl. She successully integrates herself into their society, and, seeing it, realizes how wrong the human stereotypes of the sentient reptilians have been. She fulfills her mission, returns as scheduled to human society, is debriefed and returned to her human body, but all in a state of reverse culture shock. She realizes how deeply the experience has transformed her—how much of the darztl she has internalized—when, learning of the decision to destroy the inert darztl body she had incorporated, she kills her commanding officer as an act of self-defense. Indeed, she convinces the court-martial that her punishment should be to return her psyche to “her” darztl body; she will join the small colony of human-darztl hybrids who have survived earlier experiments. In the end, with this move, Guilimpert founds a Village that may be the future of Sielxth, a utopian site where darztl and human—escaped slaves and those who reject the slave society—establish a new colony in which both races can live together as equals.
Terre des Autres is perhaps one of the most sophisticated comments on racism and colonialism not only in SFQ, but in all of science fiction. Bérard, who has a doctorate in literature, has first-hand knowledge of contemporary postcolonial criticism and uses it deftly in her writing. She presents clearly not only the indigenous people’s condemnation of the colonization of their world—they describe humans as “[d]es usurpateurs qui sont venus envahir notre monde … des gens que nous avions accueillis dans notre monde en toute candeur” [usurpers who came to invade our world … people we welcomed in our world in all candor] (114)—but also the humans’ realization of the wrongs they have done through the “Grande Oeuvre de la colonisation, de la contre-colonisation, de la lutte à la contre-colonisation” [Great Work of colonization, counter-colonization, and the battle against counter-colonization]. One of the more enlightened humans weeps over
l’incommunicabilité entre les peuples, sur le mal que nous nous faisions, de part et d’autre, sur la disparition prochaine d’une civilisation, sur notre victoire dérisoire de petite collectivité mesquine … sur les cent ans de lutte armée à venir, sur les cent années qu’il faudrait encore aux humains pour terraformer cette planète, pour refroidir son climat, pour anéantir cette espèce [the inability of different peoples to communicate, the evil we do to each other, here and there, the coming disappearance of a civilization, our derisory victory as a paltry little community … the hundred years of armed battle to come, the hundred years it will still take for humans to terraform this planet, to cool its climate, to eliminate this species]. (55)
Second Language in SFQ. Just as Québec’s history has been viewed as a struggle for the survival of the French “race,” battles over language—both internal and with Federal Canada—have been central to political struggles in Québec, reflecting Mishra and Hodge’s second element of “oppositional postcolonialism.” As it represents the vehicle of transmission for cultural identity, language is central to the writings of many oppositional postcolonial writers. Colonial powers have conventionally indoctrinated indigenous peoples to believe in the superiority of the language of the colonizer—often English or French—and have punished the use of indigenous languages. In the postcolonial period, discussions over language have been central to the nation-building process as new governments have been forced to choose between a range of local languages and a common colonial language. Writers debate over the choice of language for publication, as seen most prominently in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s decision to stop writing in English—the language of the oppressor—in favor of his native Gikuyu.
Preservation of the French language has been central to French-Canadian nationalist movements since the Conquest; it remains central to the Province of Québec’s bids for autonomy and sovereignty. It can be argued that Québec’s postcolonial era began with the Quiet Revolution, a period of reforms during the 1960s that substituted the secular provincial state for the Catholic Church as guarantor of the position of French in its cultural, educational, and economic systems.10 In some ways, the restoration of French as the language of power in the province allowed it to break colonial, or at least colonial-like, ties with English Canada. It resulted not only in a cultural renaissance, but also in the departure of many Anglophone-Canadians, in particular from Montréal. Reflecting the historical concern for the survival of the French language and culture in English-dominated North America, many SFQ texts emphasize the importance of language in encounters with extraterrestrials, in depictions of earth’s future, and even in alternate and future histories of Québec itself. Yves Meynard’s “La Rose du désert” [The Desert Rose, 1992] expresses the fear of the eventual loss of French in Canada through its depiction of a long-dead first-person narrator’s encounter with a woman from future generations who can no longer speak his language. In the enigmatic society of Agnès Guitard’s Les Corps communicants [Communicating Bodies, 1981], a whole range of languages and codes, including extrasensory perception, must be mastered in order to communicate, and the novel highlights, as do so many other SFQ texts, the importance of language in the construction of reality. It is Jean-Louis Trudel, a bilingual Franco-Ontarian, whose works best demonstrate the problems of dealing with a second language in Canada. Although his experience comes largely from outside Québec proper, he now lives in Montréal and has been an active participant in the SFQ movement since its early days, hence my inclusion of a “non-Québécois” writer in this analysis of SFQ.
The title of Trudel’s “Report 323: A Quebecois Infiltration Attempt” (1991) refers to the Canadian government’s interrogation of an unnamed prisoner accused of hacking into its defense system for the purpose of espionage.11 Set in Ottawa in an alternate near future in which Québec has separated from Canada and panic after retaliatory anti-French violence has sent thousands of Franco-Ontarian refugees fleeing across the border into Hull, this story—published in an English-language review before it appeared in French, but written in both languages—highlights how language, just as much as race, can serve as a marker of difference and oppression.
The narrative opens with the interrogation by Canadian police of one of the many arm-banded “temporary workers” who each day cross the Outaouais River back into Ottawa from the independent state of Québec: “In English!” shouts a guard (20). Translation software is installed to facilitate communication, but the protagonist, considered uncooperative for speaking French, suffers police brutality throughout his interrogation. Then when he speaks English, he is also castigated: “Don’t fuck up the machine by speaking English when you’re supposed to speak French” (20). The protagonist expresses his anger at the simplistic, dualistic, black-and-white thinking that has resulted in his being placed in this situation. Second-person asides foreground the irony of his situation: a former citizen of Ontario forced, simply because he speaks French, to move to Québec and treated by the police like an invader in his own home:
(You want to spit in his face. Always the same orthodoxies, the same unbreachable categories, the same abhorrence of mixities. Purity laws. Religious or ethnic cleansing. Crossbreeds have no home, on either side of the border, provincial yesterday, national today.) (20)
Aware that he has already been judged guilty because he is a French speaker, he accuses his jailers of altering his confession: “Vous voulez montrer que les Québécois sont incapables de vraiment parler français” [You want to prove that Québécois are incapable of really speaking French] (23). First targeting the stereotype that Canadian French is not good French, the author reloads to attack the stereotype that insists that all Canadians who speak French must be Québécois, as seen in the dialogue between interrogator and interrogated:
— Fucking Pepsi! I won’t tell you anything! You stole our country!
— Merde, je n’ai jamais été Québécois ... [Shit, I was never Québécois ...].
— If you speak French, you’re a Quebecker.
— Non, je suis Franco-Ontarien [No, I’m Franco-Ontarian].
— Ce mot… That word doesn’t exist anymore. There’s only Canada and Kaybec! (25)
The complexity of Anglo-Franco relations appears clearly through the speech of the guard—who turns out to be a bilingual Anglophone from Montréal. In the same breath he labels the accused with the derogatory slang term for French-Canadians (Pepsi) and then invokes the notion touted by liberal Federalists that Québec’s presence made Canada what it was, gave it its unique identity as the ideal of the bilingual, bicultural society.
Trudel does not reserve his implicit criticism only for Anglo-Canada. Québec nationalists are also objects of his irony as we learn that the new state spells its name K-a-y-b-e-c. It turns out that the protagonist has been arrested in part simply to provide material for one of the common prisoner exchanges between the two neighboring states. The guard tells him he will be swapped for “Christopher Dubinski. He was arrested in Nicolet when he ordered a chien chaud instead of a Wiener. Hell, you damn people change your mind about your language every ten years!” (25) The text lampoons the plethora of language regulations in Québec and the back-and-forth discussion over acceptance or rejection of certain Anglicisms common to Québécois French that set it apart from standard international French. The reader also learns that in the neighborhoods of Québec where French-speaking refugees from Ottawa have settled, the narrator’s children are beaten up in school because they don’t have the “right” accent. In this cautionary yet humorous portrayal, the bilingual Franco-Ontarian demonstrates the complexity—and often the absurdity—of language politics in contemporary Canada.
The problem of language also appears in Québec’s most ambitious work of science fiction, Élisabeth Vonarburg’s Tyranaël pentalogy (1996-97), which recounts in epic proportion earth’s colonization of a planet named Virginia, its subsequent struggle for independence, and the vicissitudes of postcolonialism for its society. Early in her career, one of the future heroines of Virginian independence is told by her Earthling boss, who speaks only anglam—the official language of Earth and its colonies, whose name obviously derives from Anglo-American—“On parle civilisé ici” [we speak properly here] (Jeu de la perfection, 146). The incident recalls not only Québécoise mainstream writer Michèle Lalonde’s poem “Speak White,” a revolutionary depiction of the connection between race and language in Québec, but also its prior inspirations in the work of African writers—for example, in Bernard Dadié’s condemnation of the colonizers’ use of language to control and humiliate the colonized in his novel Climbié (1956; trans. Climbie, 1971). Discussions about a national language also occupy Virginians about to undertake the political struggle for independence, the third characteristic theme of Mishra and Hodge’s “oppositional postcolonialism.”
Political Struggle in SFQ. Political opposition to a colonial regime stands as a key marker in Mishra and Hodge’s distinction between the complicit postcolonialism of the white settler nation, which achieved full or partial sovereignty through peaceful means, and the experience of the “black nations,” whose history reveals political struggle first for rights against institutionalized racism and then for independence. Political struggle for freedom and autonomy in the face of an imperialist or authoritarian oppression is also a central theme in a large portion of Québec’s sf and fantasy production. Reflecting Québec’s own history of nationalism and its various bids for autonomy and even sovereignty, not only does SFQ repeatedly depict imaginary societies in conflict, but it also often explicitly imagines outcomes for the politically strained relationship between Federal Canada and its French-speaking province that have resulted from a complex colonial history.
Although this study is concerned primarily with contemporary SFQ, it is worth mentioning an early speculative novel by a Franco-American immigrant to Québec, Jules-Paul Tardivel’s Pour la patrie (1895). In what is, arguably, Québec’s first sf text, as well as its first separatist novel, the protagonists of Pour la patrie work through the system of representative government for political justice. With a future England reduced to powerlessness and faced with inevitable decolonization, Canada must choose among the status quo, legislative union for East and West Canada, and Separation. Not suprisingly, in order to ensure French Canada as the preeminent home of Catholicism in North America, the answer for the protagonist of Tardivel’s novel is peaceful separation.
Political struggles and struggles for independence fill the pages of contemporary SFQ. Jean-Michel Wyl’s powerful Québec, Banana State (1978) illustrates how Québec’s separatist struggle might give rise to a fascistic terrorist state if aided by the wrong allies.12 Monique Corriveau’s pioneering trilogy, Le Compagnon du soleil [The Companion of the Sun, 1976], depicts the rebellion of the oppressed pariah class of the Lune noire [Black Moon], who are forced by the privileged Compagnons du soleil to live a completely nocturnal existence. Following in Corriveau’s footsteps, Francine Pelletier concludes her more recent trilogy, Le Sable et l’acier [Sand and Steel, 1997-99] with the struggle to open up the closed society of Vilvèq—an allegorical future Québec—and obtain recognition for the outcast survivors of an ecological holocaust who live in the Désolation that surrounds it. While Jean Dion clearly reveals his political intentions in writing “Base de négociation” [A Basis for Negotiation, 1992], a realistic near-future cautionary tale that overtly addresses the issue of political conflict between Federal Canada and the state of Québec, even a seemingly apolitical sf/espionage adventure novel such as Joël Champetier’s La Taupe et le dragon (1991; trans. The Dragon’s Eye, 1999) features the political struggle for independence from Earth by a Chinese extraterrestrial colony.13 It is Vonarburg’s Tyranaël pentalogy, however, that best exemplifes how political struggle permeates narratives of SFQ within the context of the colonial and postcolonial situations.
In the 2000-odd pages of the five Tyranaël novels, Vonarburg explores almost every aspect of colonial and postcolonial political projects. When an expedition from a dying Earth arrives on the planet they will name Virginia, they find all the structures of an advanced civilization in place, but no trace remains of the indigenous people now referred to as the Ancients. A referendum on Earth decides that more colonists should be sent to this planet in the system of Altair. By the time this second wave arrives, however, the survivors of the first expedition, who have settled in quickly to create a home for themselves, feel a certain ambivalence towards them. At first glance, Vonarburg’s depiction of colonialism in Les Rêves de la Mer (1996; trans. Dreams of the Sea, 2003), the first volume of the series, appears to be a kinder, gentler version.14 Not only does the democratic process ratify the decision for extraterrestrial colonies, but also the ethical dilemmas of colonialism appear to have been removed with the disappearance of the indigenous Ancients. The reader soon realizes that this is not the case, however, as the new Virginians are increasingly haunted by the former inhabitants of the world they have taken over. Instinctively realizing the danger involved or simply desiring to repress any knowledge of these “indigènes” [natives], the colonial government begins to deny permission to archeological expeditions seeking to learn about the civilization of the Ancients (205-206).
In Le Jeu de la perfection (1996; trans. A Game of Perfection, 2006), the series’ second volume, the planet itself has had an effect on the humans from Earth, and the children of the first colonists begin to be born with special extra-sensory and telekinetic powers—powers also belonging to the original inhabitants, the Tyranéens. Realizing their difference from the original Earth-born settlers and angry about the economic exploitation of their planet, a key group of these mutants forms an Independence party: “on se rappelle qu’on est Virginien, que les ancêtres ont été des colons, et qu’il est donc tout à fait intolérable d’être des colonisés” [we remember we are Virginian, that our ancestors were colonists, and that it is therefore intolerable to be colonized] (149). On the surface, they work through the legitimate channels of an electoral system of government, but there are suspicions that their candidate’s victory has been manipulated. As Vonarburg depicts the “heroes” of independence hiding their mutant abilities and using them to adopt new and powerful identities, she ensures that an air of moral ambiguity persists throughout her depiction of the process of colonialism and independence. This is seen even more clearly in the third volume of the series.
While Le Jeu de la perfection describes an experience typical of the white settler colony, the third novel, Mon Frère l’ombre [My Brother the Shadow, 1997], explores the pitfalls of the post-independence era in a manner that parallels the experience of many nations in Africa and other so-called third-world regions. An authoritarian faction takes over on Virginia by exploiting the fear and hatred of the Virginians—who are by now almost all mutants—for the non-mutant descendants of a post-independence Earth invasion: “les futurs Gris, ont manipulé et utilisé les Terriens pour se débarasser de leurs frères ennemis, et se sont ensuite posés en libérateurs en éliminant les Terrriens” [the future Grays manipulated and used the Earthlings to get rid of their enemy brothers and then posed as liberators by eliminating the Earthlings] (248). The surviving Terriens are restricted to ghettos, which they are allowed to leave daily as cheap labor; they and many other Virginians are kept under control by the regular distribution of a drug called râcle. The colonial system has perpetuated a never-ending cycle of political struggle in Vonarburg’s depiction of Virginia; while the Grays maintain control by terror and manipulation, a resistance group has not stopped fighting them since they took power. Thanks to the Grays’ propaganda, however, this civil war remains secret until volume four, by the end of which not only the resistance army of Secessionists (276) but also the ordinary citizens of Virginia want peace and rights (318).
As we have seen in this brief examination, Vonarburg’s Tyranaël series deals with all three of Mishra and Hodge’s elements of oppositional postcolonialism: racism, language, and political struggle. Her work is typical of the corpus of SFQ in its treatments of these and other tropes of postcolonial literature. Although the status of Québec (and Canada) as postcolonial societies remains problematic—as Marie Vautier and others point out—it seems clear that postcolonial theory and methods of criticism can be applied fruitfully to some elements of Québec’s cultural production. Indeed, the complexity of Francophone Québec’s situation, as both a settled colony (by the French) and a land colonized by another group (the British/Anglo-Canadians), renders it particularly rich for study and creative speculation. That complex situation clearly informs the extrapolated future/extraterrestrial solutions to the problems of colonization and postcolonialism proposed by writers of SFQ such as Élisabeth Vonarburg and Sylvie Bérard. A situation must be created in which all groups can “get along” because all the lines have been blurred (who is indigenous? who is a settler?) and because there is no turning back.15 Interestingly, the speculative proposals of SFQ writers such as Jean-Pierre April, Vonarburg, and Bérard bear more than a passing resemblance to those hybrid societies described by postcolonial theorists.16
Of interest here may be the question of the wider application of postcolonial models to science fiction in general. As we have seen, science fiction has offered the Francophone writers of Canada a particularly rich form through which to examine issues of concern both to the French-speaking province and to French-speakers outside Québec, concerns that parallel those of postcolonial fiction and theory. The ability to literalize metaphor, to speculate on the future, and to play with the boundaries of the real and the possible allows for the exploration of such themes with greater freedom, perhaps, than is possible through realist narrative. In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said argues that postcolonial writers are occupied with “imaginatively reformulating” their world (134), offering the reader “potentially revised visions of the past tending toward a post-colonial future” (212). The sf writers of Québec share this preoccupation; their work, like that of other postcolonial writers, represents the efforts of a people seeking, in the words of Gayatri Spivak, to “construct the explanations that establish its so-called cultural identity” (8).
The (often contested) trend to generalize postcolonialism and to apply it more broadly to nations such as Canada, the United States, and even Great Britain—after all, do we not all live in a postcolonial world?—inevitably raises some broader questions that only a handful of sf critics have begun to address. I have argued that contemporary sf from Québec may be viewed as postcolonial. Can postcolonial criticism be applied sucessfully to other science fictions? In addition to the studies cited in the introduction to this article, a growing number of scholars have been connecting sf to the postcolonial in a variety of ways. Critics such as Claire Chambers and Somdatta Mandal have examined (respectively) the science fiction of postcolonial writers Amitav Ghosh and Satyajit Ray. On a broader scale, while Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. contends that sf—at least American, British, German, French, Japanese, and Soviet sf—supports the project of Empire, his landmark essay “Science Fiction and Empire” would not have been possible without the basic principle of postcolonial criticism that exposes and analyzes the mechanisms of imperialism. In the end, perhaps the writers and not the critics should decide whether sf is an appropriate tool for postcolonial discourses. As the recent publication of Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan’s anthology, So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy (2004), suggests, postcolonial sf does exist. Whether postcolonial sf plays by the same rules or abides by the same definitions as “classical” sf produced in imperialistic (or formerly imperialistic) nations such as those analysed by Csicsery-Ronay, remains to be seen. An initial step towards answering that question appears in Ralph Pordzik’s The Quest for Postcolonial Utopia (2001), which makes a forceful argument that postcolonial writers are actually rewriting the rules for utopia, sf’s sister genre. My hope is that the present study will not only raise greater interest in the sf of Québec, but also that it will provoke further discussions of sf’s relationship to postcolonial theory and its potential as a discourse that contests and subverts ideologies of domination (such as colonialism and imperialism), allowing us in the process to envision a more tolerant and harmonious future.
1. Use of the acronym SFQ is not uncontroversial. The argument has been made that to apply the label “science-fiction québécoise” to the works of Jean-Louis Trudel (a Franco-Ontarian now living in Montréal), Élisabeth Vonarburg (a French immigrant to Québec), and even to Sylvie Bérard (a native of Québec now living and teaching in Ontario) may be a misleading oversimplification. I am using “SFQ” in the most inclusive sense possible in this article both because the vast majority of French-language sf published in Canada is published in Québec and because French-language sf authors working elsewhere in Canada typically have a connection with the core group of writers born and/or living in Québec.
2. This term is adopted from Carl Freedman’s examination of the articulations between sf and critical theory in Critical Theory and Science Fiction.
3. The problem of “authenticity” provides postcolonial theory with another area of intense debate, but that is a topic for another article.
4. “Race” is in quotation marks to indicate the problematic and inaccurate nature of the term. More accurately, they share the same skin color. They may be ethnically different, which has historically resulted in varying levels of prejudice and discrimination, as seen, for example, in the situation of Irish immigrants to the northeastern United States.
5. For more thorough discussions of this topic, including plot summaries of many key works of SFQ and its precursors, see the articles by Jean-Louis Trudel, Jean-Marc Gouanvic, Daniel Sernine, Joël Champetier, and Marc Lemaire in Andrea Paradis’s edited collection, Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature (1995). The publication status of that collective volume, produced in conjunction with an exhibit at the National Library, tells of Canada’s continued legal status as “colonized”: copyright for the text goes to “Her Majesty the Queen [Elizabeth II of England] in Right of Canada.”
6. Daniel Sernine points out that although its content and style appear more appropriate for adolescents, nothing in the way that the trilogy is packaged suggests that it is not adult sf (98); and so this work often appears (as in the last section of this present essay) in discussions involving non-juvenile sf.
7. See in particular my analysis of Jean-Louis Trudel’s “Remember, The Dead Say,” Élisabeth Vonarburg’s Reluctant Voyagers, Jean-Michel Wyl’s Québec, Banana State, Jean Dion’s “Base de négociation,” and Denis Côté’s “1534” in “(Un)common Ground: National Sovereignty and Individual Identity in Contemporary SF from Québec.”
8. Translations are my own unless otherwise indicated in the Works Cited.
9. A translation of Bérard’s novel by Sheryl Curtis will soon be published by Edge SF & F (Edmonton); the following translations are mine.
10. Thanks to one of SFS’s outside readers for reminding me that the Quiet Revolution sought not only to consolidate power in the provincial state in order to protect the position of French culture but also to secularize those systems.
11. Since the time of writing, Baker’s “The Politics of Language in Science Fiction from Québec” has suggested some similar conclusions about Trudel’s story.
12. See note 7.
13. See Baker’s “Syncretism: A Federalist Approach to Canadian Science Fiction” for a more thorough analysis of Champetier’s novel, as well as a discussion of Daniel Sernine’s Chronoreg (1992).
14. To date only the first two volumes have been translated. Translations of citations from Le Jeu de la perfection are my own.
15. Since both referenda for sovereignty-association—Québec’s bids for independence—have failed, this would seem to be the position taken by the majority of those in Québec.
16. I am thinking of those theorists, such as Spivak, Said, and Bhabha, who, although they may have been born or have family origins in third-world, undeniably “postcolonial” countries, nevertheless admit their own embeddedness in the West, having immigrated, been educated, or been employed there. They cannot turn back and therefore they tend to reject one-sided, nativist, and/or essentialist solutions to postcolonial societies.
April, Jean-Pierre. “Le Vol de la ville.” La Machine à explorer la fiction. Chroniques du futur 2.Longueil, QC: Le Préambule, 1980. 71-106.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, eds. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989.
Baker, Neal. “The Politics of Language in Science Fiction from Québec.” Contemporary French Civilization 28.1 (Winter 2004): 33-53.
_______. “Syncretism: A Federalist Approach to Canadian Science Fiction.” Extrapolation 42.3 (2001): 218-31.
Bélil, Michel. La Ville oasis: Chroniques de Razzlande I. Montréal: Logiques, 1990.
Benoit, Jacques. Les Princes. Montréal: Les Éditions du Jour, 1973.
Bérard, Sylvie. Terre des Autres. Lévis, QC: Alire, 2004.
Bergeron, Alain. “Le Prix.” Corps-machines et rêves d’anges. Collection Rafales: Récits de science-fiction. Hull, QC: Vents d’Ouest, 1997. 195-212.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Carollo, Kevin. “Tiptree’s Colonial Imagination: The Ambivalent Home of a Haploid Heart.” Extrapolation 39.3 (Fall 1998): 219-35.
Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. 1955. Trans. Joan Pinkham. New York: Monthly Review, 1972.
Chambers, Claire. “Postcolonial Science Fiction: Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 38.1 (2003): 57-72.
Champetier, Joël. “Solaris: Twenty Years of Québec Science Fiction.” Ed. Paradis. 212-18.
_______.La Taupe et le dragon. Montréal: Québec/Amérique,1991. Trans. Jean-Louis Trudel. The Dragon’s Eye. New York: Tor, 1999.
Colombo, John Robert. “Four Hundred Years of Fantastic Literature in Canada.” Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Ed. Andrea Paradis. N.p.: Quarry Press & National Library of Canada, 1995. 28-40.
Corriveau, Monique. La Lune noire: Compagnon du soleil 2. Montréal: FIDES, 1976.
_______. L’Oiseau de feu: Compagnon du soleil 1. Montréal: FIDES, 1976.
_______. Le Temps des chats: Compagnon du soleil 3. Montréal: FIDES, 1976.
Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan. “Science Fiction and Empire.” SFS 30.2 (July 2003): 231-45.
Dadié, Bernard. Climbié. Paris: Seghers, 1956.
D’Allemagne, André. Le Colonialisme au Québec. Montréal: Les Éditions R-B, 1966.
Dion, Jean. “Base de négociation.” Solaris 101 (Spring/Summer 1992): 6-17. Rpt. Escales sur Solaris. Ed. Joël Champetier and Yves Meynard. Hull, QC: Vents d’Ouest, 1993. 75-105.
Dorsinville, Max. Caliban without Prospero: Essays on Quebec and Black Literature. Erin, ON: Porcepic, 1974.
_______.Le Pays natal: Essai sur les littératures du Tiers-Monde et du Québec. Dakar: Nouvelles Éditions Africaines, 1983.
Dumont, Fernand. Raisons communes. 1995. Montréal: Boréal, 1997.
Étienne, Gérard. La Question raciale et raciste dans le roman québécois: Essai d’anthroposémiologie. Montréal: Balzac, 1995.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. New York: Grove, 1968.
Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2000.
Galef, David. “Tiptree and the Problem of the Other: Postcolonialism versus Sociobiology.” SFS 28.2 (July 2001): 201-22.
Gouanvic, Jean-Marc. “A Past, A Future…: Québec Science Fiction.” Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Ed. Andrea Paradis. N.p.: Quarry Press & National Library of Canada, 1995. 66-75.
Guitard, Agnès. Les Corps communicants. Montréal: Québec/Amérique, 1981.
Lalonde, Michèle. “Speak White.” Défense et illustration de la langue québécoise, suivi de Prose et Poèmes. Paris: Seghers/Laffont, 1979. 37-40.
Lemaire, Marc. “A Short History of the Science Fiction Magazine Imagine….” Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Ed. Andrea Paradis. N.p.: Quarry Press & National Library of Canada, 1995. 219-230.
Lévesque, René. Option Québec. Montréal: Les Éditions de l’Homme, 1968.
Mandal, Somdatta. “‘Professor Shonku’: The Science Fiction of Satyajit Ray.” Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies 5.1 (Fall 1997): 91-99.
Markley, Robert. “Falling Into Theory: Simulation, Terraformation, and Eco-Economics in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian Trilogy.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 43.3 (Fall 1997): 773-99.
McClintock, Anne. “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term ‘Post-colonialism’.” Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. 291-304.
Meynard, Yves. “La Rose du désert.” Orbite d’approche. Montréal: Ianus, 1992. 41-60. Rpt. La Rose du désert. Québec: Le Passeur, 1995. 9-54.
Michaels, Walter Benn. “The Shape of the Signifier.” Critical Inquiry 27.2 (Winter 2001): 266-83.
Mishra, Vijay and Bob Hodge. “What is Post(-)colonialism?” Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. 276-90.
Moore-Gilbert, Bart. Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. London: Verso, 1997.
Paradis, Andrea, ed. Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. N.p.: Quarry Press & National Library of Canada, 1995.
Pelletier, Francine. Issabel de Qohosaten: Le Sable et l'acier-3. Beauport, QC: Alire, 1999.
_______.Nelle de Vilvèq: Le Sable et l'acier-1. Beauport, QC: Alire, 1997.
_______.Samiva de Frée: Le Sable et l'acier-2. Beauport, QC: Alire, 1998.
Pordzik, Ralph. The Quest for Postcolonial Utopia: A Comparative Introduction to the Utopian Novel in the New English Literatures. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.
Ransom, Amy. “(Un)common Ground: National Sovereignty and Individual Identity in Contemporary SF from Québec.” SFS 27.3 (November 2000): 439-60.
Rochon, Esther. “Au Fond des yeux.” Espaces Imaginaires III. Trois Rivières, QC: Les Imaginoïdes, 1985, 83-107. Rpt. Le Traversier. Montréal: La Pleine Lune, 1987. 139-88.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. 1993. New York: Vintage, 1994.
Sernine, Daniel. “Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Young.” Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Ed. Andrea Paradis. N.p.: Quarry Press & National Library of Canada, 1995. 96-104.
Siegfried, André. The Race Question in Canada. 1906. Trans. Eveleigh Nash. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1966.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorti. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999.
Tardivel, Jules-Paul. Pour la Patrie. 1895. Montréal: Hurtubise HMH, 1989.
Trudel, Jean-Louis. “Report 323: A Quebecois Infiltration Attempt.” Canadian Science Fiction 10 (1991): 23-26. Rpt. Prairie Fire 67 (1994): 20-26.
_______.“Science Fiction in Francophone Canada (1839-1989).” Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Ed. Andrea Paradis. N.p.: Quarry Press & National Library of Canada, 1995. 51-65.
Vallières, Pierre. Nègres blancs d’Amérique. Montréal: Parti pris, 1969. Trans. Joan Pinkham. White Niggers of America. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1971.
Vautier, Marie. New World Myth: Postmodernism and Postcolonialism in Canadian Fiction. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1998.
Vonarburg, Élisabeth. L'Autre rivage: Tyranaël-4. Beauport, QC: Alire, 1997.
_______.Le Jeu de la perfection: Tyranaël-2. Beauport, QC: Alire, 1996.
_______.La Mer allée avec le soleil: Tyranaël-5. Beauport, QC: Alire, 1997.
_______.Mon frère l'ombre: Tyranaël-3. Beauport, QC: Alire, 1997.
_______.Les Rêves de la mer: Tyranaël-1. Beauport, QC: Alire, 1996. Trans. Howard Scott. Dreams of the Sea. Edmonton: Tesseract, 2003.
Williams, Patrick and Laura Chrisman, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.
Wyl, Jean-Michel. Québec, BananaState. Montréal: Beauchemin, 1978.
Back to Home