Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War: Representations of Nuclear Weapons and Post-Apocalyptic Worlds (Liverpool Science Fiction Texts & Studies)

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9781846317088: Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War: Representations of Nuclear Weapons and Post-Apocalyptic Worlds (Liverpool Science Fiction Texts & Studies)

A good book, addressing itself to a neglected area of an important topic. Williams draws on an impressively broad and diverse range of nuclear texts for his study and has some intelligent observations to make. His readings of literary and filmic texts are detailed and enlightening. -- Daniel Cordle The thesis of Paul Williams's study addresses the racial-and sometimes postcolonial-cultural tropes that arise in primarily nuclear and post-fallout sf. As noted in his preface, the study is centered on an idea articulated by novelist Arundati Roy that nuclear weapons are white weapons of colonialist power. Accordingly, Williams's work also looks to contribute to the growing field of racial and colonialist dialogue that has emerged in sf studies in recent years. Of course, Williams is entering a thoroughly developed scholarly field of atomic sf criticism, and his work is perhaps best paired with Patrick Sharp's Savage Perils: Racial Frontiers and Nuclear Apocalypse in American Culture (2007). Unlike Sharp's more traditional historical framing that covers a few texts in detail, however, Williams canvasses a wide spread of films, hard sf, popular fiction, poems, film lyrics, and speeches that range across five decades. Williams then probes how their aggregate atomic visions register the predominantly "white" role of nuclear futurism. Divided into eight chapters, the middle six of which are organized thematically, then loosely chronologically, Race, Ethnicity, and Nuclear War opens with an overview that details a pre-1945 history of racial ideologies and aerial bombings. Of the seven remaining chapters, four focus principally on American fictive spaces: Chapter 2 looks at how post-nuclear US geographies create "inverted frontiers" where Anglo survivors are the unsophisticated minority (e.g., William Tenn's "Eastward Ho!" [1958]); Chapter 4 examines the African Diaspora in relation to 1950s and 1960s sf in urban spaces such as Philip Wylie's Tomorrow! (1954), and concludes with a discussion of Octavia E. Butler's more recent novel Dawn (1987); Chapter 5 uses the critical lens of black modernity to identify how specific sf and poetry critique contemporary race hydraulics; and Chapter 6 is focused on the role of racial minorities in fiction set within Los Alamos National Laboratory. One of the strongest features of the project is that it catalogues so many atomic sf works that would otherwise be spread across the disciplinary ether. Williams also finds creative ways to read less obvious geographies of postnuclear sf. A case in point is Chapter 3's adoption of Neil Gaiman's idea of "soft places" to characterize the postcolonial Australian outback of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), which feels innovative and holds promise, although the subsequent analysis is centered almost entirely on character development within the film. This chapter begs for some sort of criticalhistorical correlative, such as scholarship on Australia's colonial history or relevant postcolonial scholarship. Moreover, Williams often does not adequately represent and respond to other scholars (in atomic sf and other fields). This oversight is most strikingly noticeable in the subsection of Chapter 5 where Williams addresses racial narratives in Langston Hughes's "Simple" short stories (1940s-1950s) and Ishmael Reed's novel Mumbo Jumbo (1972); in 1995, Ken Cooper discussed the same texts in a book chapter entitled "The Whiteness of the Bomb" (Postmodern Apocalypse: Theory and Cultural Practice at the End, ed. Richard Dellamora) and with more or less the same space, scope, and critical approach. While Williams does note in his introduction that he will try to nuance Cooper's position, in the chapter itself he does not remind readers how similar his approach is, and then mostly parallels Cooper's claims, yet only cites him for sound bites a few times in the section. Similarly, the infusion of pertinent primary or secondary historical sources would have aided in Chapter 6's reading of fiction set at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Williams identifies concerns of Jewish identity in Dexter Master's The Accident (1955), and his analysis would have been enriched by adding how, for one thing, historians and former employees have noted that there was really no concept of Jewish consciousness or identity at Los Alamos until further into the Cold War period. Such points in the book present frustrating missed opportunities for Williams to add substantially to already existing critical race discourse in atomic sf criticism. Although Race, Ethnicity, and Nuclear War covers a wide, eclectic range of texts, what is included and what is omitted in this book is sometimes puzzling. Williams predictably references the uranium-mine denouement of Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony (1977), but curiously overlooks Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973), despite that novel's pervasive, scathing critique of how "bomb ideologies" mold issues of Anglophone modernity, race relations, nuclear weapons use, and colonial redress. Beyond Thunderdome gets an entire chapter, but there is not even a mention of Waterworld (1997), a film with a heroine named Enola (after the nuclear bomber that dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima) and a conclusion set on the "dry land" of a Japanese mountaintop. Perhaps the most interesting new work and the best analytic focus of the book comes in Chapter 7, entitled "The Hindu Bomb." Here Ruchir Joshi's reimagined past and speculative futures in The Last Jet-Engine Laugh (2001) are discussed in relation to other South Asian writers' assessments of the political pressures between Pakistan, Hindu Nationalists, and the Indian pursuit of weapons technology. Williams argues that the racial and religious undertones that accompanied these pursuits of nuclear dominance were still influenced by India's and Pakistan's secondary status to Western nations. The concluding chapter of the book, a coda that synoptically reviews additional films and works of fiction, gestures at the 9/11 rhetoric of nuclear-weapon marshaling, and touches briefly on the War on Terror. My largest concern with the book is the sizeable gaps of time that are spanned and conflated without carefully identifying historical differences. Williams also underutilizes (or omits) large bodies of relevant scholarship. While the writing sometimes felt uneven, I appreciated that Williams admirably avoided the use of jargon-laden prose. And though each chapter could have covered its materials and their themes with greater detail and historical precision, Race, Ethnicity, and Nuclear War serves, in many ways, as an early building block for Williams's future contributions to the field. -- Alan Lovegreen Science Fiction Studies, Volume 39 (2012) 2012 Taking as his epigraph Arundhati Roy's comment that nuclear weapons are the 'very heart of whiteness', Paul Williams' book explores the relations between race, ethnicity and the representation of nuclear weapons in sf and other texts. The work is a significant advance upon recent analyses of race in sf: by combining the perspectives of sf criticism, race theory, postcolonial theory and nuclear criticism, it shows the extent to which the sf imaginary is implicated in social capital and ideologies of white supremacy. The first chapter details the prevalence of racism and racial stereotypes (most of which have previously been studied in sf criticism) in future war fictions, very few of them nuclear. In spite of these shortcomings, the chapter lays the groundwork for the two major themes that Williams traces through to contemporary times: race and war. Moreover, Williams shows how ideas of ghettoization, fears of miscegenation and nineteenth-century eugenics have merged with policies made possible by new technological terrors in the twentieth century. Williams contends that nuclear weapons in sf represent an advance on earlier future war fictions, because they are the ultimate weapons, around which fantasies of destruction and reconstruction, fear of invasion and cultural rebirth may be constructed. For Williams, 'nuclear war decenters white privilege around the world' (128), and his work is an analysis of the ways in which sf texts deal with such decentring. The rest of the book explores, through the image of nuclear war, the continuity of such racial antipathy in sf, and also the adoption and internalization of such stereotypes in texts produced outside the Anglo-American world. The first chapter looks at three post-apocalyptic American stories: William Tenn's 'Eastward Ho!' (1958), Michael Swanwick's 'The Feast of Saint Janis' (1980), and Whitley Strieber and James W. Kunetka's Warday (1984). Williams contends that these narratives perform a function similar to that of the frontier myth found in the Western. By exploring the theme of survival in a harsh landscape, they also channel the social Darwinist myths of an earlier age, including that of Aryan supremacy. Williams suggests these narratives appear to be functionally similar to the Empire narratives of British scientific romance at its heyday, where white supremacy is threatened. Tenn contextualizes American 1950s racism through the presentation of a future where white populations suffer similar racism at the hands of dominant Native Americans who, using the Darwinian motif, have adapted more quickly to the post-apocalyptic scenario. It is the whites who have to return to the ocean, to the mythic Europe of white origins. Warday explores the theme using Hispanic Americans and Native Americans for its inversion, while 'The Feast of Saint Janis' uses a prosperous New Africa as its point of critique. As Williams argues, these narratives apply the stereotypes more often reserved for others to white Americans, underlined by an economic and neo-colonial logic. The world of American consumerism becomes the target: satirical in the case of the short stories; nostalgic in the case of Warday. Some of the later chapters of the book extend this argument in different directions. 'Fear of a Black Planet' describes the concern that a nuclear war might render racial purity a thing of the past. The spectre of miscegenation becomes particularly controversial when d...

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Ranging across novels and poetry, critical theory and film, comics and speeches, "Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War: Representations of Nuclear Weapons and Post-Apocalyptic Worlds" explores how writers, thinkers, and filmmakers have answered the following question: are nuclear weapons 'white'? Many texts respond in the affirmative, and arraign nuclear weapons for defending a racial order that privileges whiteness. They are seen as a reminder that the power enjoyed by the white western world imperils the whole of the Earth. Furthermore, the struggle to survive during and after a speculated nuclear attack is often cast as a contest between races and ethnic groups. "Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War" listens to voices from around the Anglophone world and the debates followed do not only take place on the soil of the nuclear powers. Filmmakers and writers from the Caribbean, Australia, and India take up positions shaped by their specific place in the decolonizing world and their particular experience of nuclear weapons. The texts considered in "Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War" encompass the many guises of representations of nuclear weapons: the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic weapons, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear tests taking place around the world, and the anxiety surrounding the superpowers' devastating arsenals. Of particular interest to SF scholars are the extensive analyses of films, novels, and short stories depicting nuclear war and its aftermath. New thoughts are offered on the major texts that SF scholars often return to, such as Philip Wylie's "Tomorrow!" and Pat Frank's "Alas Babylon", and a host of little known and under-researched texts are scrutinized too.

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