UPM Staff Pick: Black and Brown Planets

UPM Acquisitions Editor Vijay Shah choose Isiah Lavender’s stellar Black and Brown Plants, a collection of essays on race and science fiction, as his reading recommendation from our Spring catalog. Below he explains why.

Science fiction has been really blowing up lately. In the past, science fiction has tended to look very white, recall the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a racial minority, it is exciting to think about black and brown peoples in space. Black planets! You might remember the title of Public Enemy’s fierce album back in the 1990, Fear of a Black Planet.

No doubt, I find Afrofuturism rather creative, imagining a future where blacks are actually in power. I definitely want to read the late great African American writer Octavia Butler’s novels, namely Kindred, and have heard a lot about Nalo Hopkinson, originally from Jamaica. Plus, I just attended a grand conference on science fiction at Jackson State University, one of Mississippi's historically black universities.

Lavender’s volume also covers Latino and indigenous science fiction—the brown planets, if you will. Considering how indigenous peoples have been exterminated in the last 500 years since Columbus’ arrival, we realize what a radical act is it to project them as controlling their own destiny in some futuristic realm.

Currently, Lavender and I are working together on a splendid follow-up, focusing on Asian science fiction. Recently, I read Chang-Rae Lee’s superb novel On Such a Full Sea, so feeling very stoked by this kind of sequel!

Black and Brown Plants: Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction is now available in paperback. Isiah Lavender III, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is an assistant professor of English at Louisiana State University.