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Utopia within Dystopia: Stand on Zanzibar as Speculative Postcolonial Literature

By Megan Livingston

From the Faculty Nominator, Jeffrey Myers:

Megan Livingston wrote this paper for the very first section of English 112, my course on Environmental Science Fiction. The novel she discusses, John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, is difficult because of its experiment of weaving different forms of narrative into a complete vision of what was becoming our world. Megan shows (brilliantly, I think) the mixture of genres that reflects and illuminates the experimental mixture of forms. More importantly, however, she does so for the larger purpose of revealing the threats to and promises for our human existence as unsentimentally seen by Brunner. Thus, the paper transcends the critical and theoretical issues she illuminates to share with her reader an understanding of how Brunner uses these working parts of the book to illuminate our humanity. This is the highest form of criticism. Thank you, Megan!

From the author, Megan Livingston:

The science fiction genre is a forgotten stepchild in the literary family; great writers can be marginalized by their choice to delve into the fantastic, while some excellent speculative novels face an uphill battle to remain within the genre because they are so good that critical praise becomes evidence of transcendence. When one of my classmates shared a video clip of an interview with John Brunner discussing his work, one thing stood out for me against the backdrop of his success and obvious enjoyment of that success: he seemed to have a need to defend the quality of the work and its place within the genre, as if he feared being remembered only as a good science fiction writer and not as a great writer like those who influenced him.

At the start of my search for relevant scholarship for this paper, I felt challenged to locate a conceptual tether that would lead me deep enough into John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar to discover something new within it, or perhaps a new way to understand it. Brunner published the novel in 1968, when many nations in the "global south" were moving towards or had already sprung free from their colonial shackles. I found that using a postcolonial lens to delve deeper into the choices and movements of Brunner's characters created more complex and nuanced revelations in my analysis, and I found myself agreeing with Brunner: the work is more than "just" science fiction, and he was more than "just" a science fiction writer. The tools a writer uses to tell his story should ideally be the best tools for the job - and the exercise of collecting, examining and appropriating each tool within its rightful box is the job of the critically-thinking and open-minded reader.
 

Read: Utopia within Dystopia: Stand on Zanzibar as Speculative Postcolonial Literature

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