Charles Tan and the Problem of Labels: “Tell Me About _______ Science Fiction”

Names can be cages, We seldom realize it but when we speak or think, we do so in terms of languages and images which we didn’t invent. Words and names which were given to us by our society; words and names, which for many in the developing world, come from the language of former colonial masters. Charles Tan writes a great article on the issue of labeling Science Fiction with terms like “Filipino SF, Singaporean SF, Malaysian SF, etc.” Here’s Charles’ post from the Skiffy and Fanty Show:

The Skiffy and Fanty Show

As someone who’s asked to talk about Filipino science fiction and fantasy, and after listening to several podcasts (including the Skiffy and Fanty show) interviewing authors who eventually end up representing their country/continent/ethnicity, one question that inevitably gets asked is how they would describe science fiction or fantasy from their country: “What is Filipino speculative fiction?” “What is Chinese science fiction” “What is Carribean fantasy?” The interviewers have good intentions (and I’m one of those people who’ve used that particular phrase numerous times), but the more I think about it, the more problematic the question becomes.

At the root of the question are certain assumptions and privileges people take for granted. The first is that they are coming from a Western paradigm, where Western literature is at the center. The answers and responses of the interviewee will always be compared and contrasted to concepts and ideas from Western literature, because…

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