Aliette De Bodard on Science Fiction and Non-Western/Non-Anglophone Countries

Aliette De Bodard currently has an essay up on Asimov’s entitled Thought Experiments: The View from the Other Side: Science Fiction and Non-Western/Non-Anglophone Countries. Here’s an excerpt:

Given all of this, it is not surprising that science fiction (in the way we usually mean it—I will come back to this later), a genre steeped in progress and what it would all mean for the future, is so deeply Western in its beginnings. Works of genre in this time period include H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (a tale of an Englishman going forward into the future) and Jules Verne’s novels (meant both as thrilling adventures and didactic books, where it is common to find an entire chapter of scientific infodumping).

Of all the countries that might have challenged the Western domination, the biggest ones—China and Russia—were mired in various political and economic difficulties that prevented them from ascending as world powers. There is, however, one notable exception to the Western domination of science.

Japan reached a crisis point in the second half of the nineteenth century. Beset by foreigners and in danger of being swallowed politically, the country found itself a new leader in the person of the Meiji Emperor, and a new government that believed that the key to the Japanese future lay in the understanding of Western science and methods. To that end, the Iwakura Mission toured Europe and the US for two years, studying the Western system. In the wake of this, commissions were set up to decide which parts of the Western modernization were in keeping with the Japanese spirit, and which needed to be modified.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Japan has a history of science fiction almost as old as that of the West. The scientific romances of Wells and Verne find their counterparts in those of Shun¯o Oshikawa and other writers of the era.

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