Review of Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color

Review of Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color

C. Palmer-Patel

Joy Sanchez-Taylor. Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color. Ohio State UP, 2021. New Suns: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Speculative. Paperback. 188 pg. $29.95. ISBN 9780814257975.

By probing works of science fiction by authors of color, Joy Sanchez-Taylor’s Diverse Futures addresses an incredibly necessary missing facet of science fiction literature and criticism. While there have been a number of critical works that focus on specific cultures and locales, Sanchez-Taylor takes on the incredible task of finding common ground between narratives from a variety of different cultures and racial identities (all published in the US and Canada in the English language). Rather than taking a survey approach, Sanchez-Taylor focuses on themes that decenter a Eurowestern perspective on science fiction. She approaches this undertaking deftly and sensitively. It would have been easy for an academic to conflate connections and thereby homogenize cultures, but Sanchez-Taylor avoids this pitfall with a notable hesitancy throughout the book. While a hesitant tone is not usually a quality to aspire to in a scholarly text, I use this assessment here not as a critique, but in praise: her tone serves as a useful model to other scholars who may be examining identities with which they themselves may not identify; rather than authoritatively sweeping these gaps under the rug, Sanchez-Taylor recognizes her own limitations and biases in a conscientious way.

The monograph begins with an introduction that acknowledges that the act of defining science fiction itself is charged with Eurocentric overtones, as the demarcation of ‘science’ and ‘rationality’ are generally taken from a Eurowestern point of view. This problem of definitions continues as Sanchez-Taylor expounds on debates of more culturally specific genre labels such as Afrofuturism alongside considerations of nomenclatures of peoples and cultures themselves, such as Latinx. In a footnote, Sanchez-Taylor clarifies, “I recognizes that any catch-all descriptor comes with issues, so I am choosing the term that is, to date, the most contemporary and inclusive term available” (16). This remark not only exemplifies Sanchez-Taylor’s care towards her chosen subject, but also an awareness of the ways that language and subtext may shift in the future.

The meat of the monograph is spread over four chapters which arguably may be read out of order, with each chapter further divided into sectioned themes and motifs. As a result, the text would work well in the classroom as sections can be selected to suit the topic of discussion at hand. For instance, chapter 1, “Space Travel and First Contact Narratives,” is sectioned into alien invasions, first contact and colonial relations, interplanetary diaspora and adaptation, and decentering the human. Overall, the chapter focuses on the inevitable colonization themes of space exploration and alien contact narratives. Sanchez-Taylor presents several authors of color who further the boundaries of these themes by complicating the role of alien as Other, focusing on examples that pose the alien as benevolent or malevolent colonizer/explorer rather than as a colonized entity mistreated by humans. Chapter 2, “Race, Genetics, and Science Fiction,” turns to considerations of how narratives of science and technology can be used to perpetuate race discrimination. Here and throughout all four chapters, Sanchez-Taylor effectively integrates close reading of fictional texts with examinations of real-world historical narratives, critical theories, and legal factoids. Spanning a range of examples from nineteenth century Social Darwinism to more recent trends such as genealogy and common sites such as AncestryDNA, these examples are set alongside reflections on documented medical apartheid, experimentation without consent, and eugenics, all of which demonstrate the ways in which scientific language has been historically used to justify the subjugation of peoples of color. This seamless blending of fictional analysis with real-world politics is one of the main strengths of the monograph, as it leads the reader away from hypothetical thought and theory into making connections with the experiences and mistreatment of real people and cultures.

The references to real events throughout also place the text as a valuable contribution to science fiction studies, as it situates and contextualizes many science fiction texts that are too often read in a vacuum. For instance, in chapter 3, “The Apocalypse Has Already Come: Post-Apocalyptic Landscapes,” Sanchez-Taylor begins with illustrations of colonial history and how “Eurowestern colonizers justified their colonization of peoples […] based on the argument that “certain races and ethnicities were more prone to criminal behaviors” (86). She uses the example of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1911; grounding race crimes in such legal history then allows Sanchez-Taylor to provide additional context for the ongoing interrogations of citizen and resident rights and freedoms, raising the issue of the culture of surveillance and containment in the U.S, which she then parallels in her exploration of dystopic fiction. Sanchez-Taylor then moves to zombie narratives, presenting another form of the supernatural Other but this time as a means to question the characters’ (and thus the audience’s) human superiority. Reminding the reader that “[t]he zombie figure was born of colonial slave violence” (107), Sanchez-Taylor presents the zombie as a sanctioned fantasy of racial violence and argues that these narratives force the audience to evaluate their own parallels with both human and zombie. The ongoing theme of decentering the Eurocentric view is expanded in Chapter 4, “‘Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive’: Indigenous and Eurowestern Science,” which continues the conversation begun in the introduction, that of the problems of defining science fiction—and science itself—through a Eurowestern lens. Here Sanchez-Taylor presents an important and timely global issue, that of climate change, by considering the global-connectedness views of Indigenous peoples with the more anthrocentric approach of Eurowestern scientists. The chapter thus adds further nuances to analyses of climate fiction, focusing as it does on the ways in which primarily Westernized science and technology has contributed to the climate crisis.

There are few moments throughout the monograph which could have benefitted from early signposting of the connections between racial disparities and problems of gender, sexuality, and class struggles. A reader familiar with science fiction criticism (presumably the target audience of the book) would have immediately made these connections themselves before Sanchez-Taylor draws her arguments to include these considerations. But this criticism is one I make as a content editor, and it does not detract from the strength and value of the overall monograph. Indeed, if I have one quibble with the text, it is of an opportunity lost: while the monograph is an absolute essential for science fiction students and scholars—especially as universities move globally to decolonize the classroom—the book would also have been equally valued, if not more, if aimed at postcolonial critics. Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color is not simply a book that recognizes and acknowledges important contributions of peoples of color in the science fiction genre (as the subtitle might indicate), but instead highlights how each text contributes to a meaningful and impactful examination of postcolonial or diasporic struggles and identities. Consequently, Sanchez-Taylor misses a golden chance to promote critical considerations of science fiction literature in more traditional ‘literary’ fields, a goal that might have been easily accomplished through minor repacking. That said, while the monograph is not overtly pitched toward postcolonial critics, it would still make a meaningful addition to a postcolonial module or courses dedicated to discussions of global literatures and identities. And, of course, it should also be on the recommended reading list for any science fiction module, as it serves as a fantastic primer for any scholar of science fiction who wishes to approach the genre with postcolonial conscientiousness.

Charul (“Chuckie”) Palmer-Patel is founder of Fantastika Journal (, a journal that brings together the genres of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Gothic Horror, among others. Her first monograph, The Shape of Fantasy (Routledge 2020) investigates the narrative structures of Epic Fantasy, incorporating ideas from science, philosophy, and literary theory. The monograph has been shortlisted for the Mythopoeic Award twice. Her next research project, The Mother-Hero, interrogates power structures depicted in contemporary American Fantasy Fiction, specifically investigating the place of women within these structures. You can find out more about Palmer-Patel at

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SFRA Review is the flagship publication of the Science Fiction Research Association since 1971.

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