Encountering the Sovereign Other: Indigenous Science Fiction

On this episode, we’re joined by Miriam C. Brown Spiers to discuss her book Encountering the Sovereign Other: Indigenous Science Fiction.

Science fiction often operates as either an extended metaphor for human relationships or as a genuine attempt to encounter the alien Other. Both types of stories tend to rehearse the processes of colonialism, in which a sympathetic protagonist encounters and tames the unknown. Despite this logic, Native American writers have claimed the genre as a productive space in which they can critique historical colonialism and reassert the value of Indigenous worldviews.

My guest Miriam C. Brown Spiers book Encountering the Sovereign Other proposes a new theoretical framework for understanding Indigenous science fiction, placing Native theorists like Vine Deloria Jr. and Gregory Cajete in conversation with science fiction theorists like Darko Suvin, David Higgins, and Michael Pinsky. In response to older colonial discourses, many contemporary Indigenous authors insist that readers acknowledge their humanity while recognizing them as distinct peoples who maintain their own cultures, beliefs, and nationhood. The book analyzes four novels: William Sanders’s The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan, Stephen Graham Jones’s It Came from Del Rio, D. L. Birchfield’s Field of Honor, and Blake M. Hausman’s Riding the Trail of Tears

Demonstrating how Indigenous science fiction expands the boundaries of the genre while reinforcing the relevance of Indigenous knowledge, Brown Spiers illustrates the use of science fiction as a critical compass for navigating and surviving the distinct challenges of the twenty-first century. 

MIRIAM C. BROWN SPIERS is an assistant professor of English and interdisciplinary studies at Kennesaw State University. Where she is also the coordinator for Native American and Indigenous studies and teaches in the gender and women’s studies and American studies programs.

Encountering the Sovereign Other: Indigenous Science Fiction is available at msupress.org and other fine booksellers. You can connect with the press on Facebook and @msupress on Twitter, where you can also find me @kurtmilb.

The MSU Press podcast is a joint production of MSU Press and the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University. Thanks to the team at MSU Press for helping to produce this podcast. Our theme music is “Coffee” by Cambo. 

Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg – Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi people. The University resides on Land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw.

Thank you all so much for listening, and never give up books.
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