Why sci-fi keeps imagining the subjugation of white people

Reverse colonial sci-fi don’t always have to be anti-imperialist, though. Ender’s Game, both film and book, use the invasion of the superior aliens not as a critique of Western expansion and genocide, but as an excuse for those things. The bugs invade human worlds, and the consequence is that the humans must utterly annihilate the alien enemy, even if Ender feels kind of bad about it. Olympus Has Fallen runs on the same script, as a North Korea with impossibly advanced weapons technology lays sci-fi siege to the White House, giving our hero the go-ahead for torture, murder, and generalized carnage. In Terminator, as well, the fact that the robots are treating us as inhumanly as we treated them doesn’t exactly create any sympathy. Instead, the paranoid fear of servants overthrowing masters just becomes a spur to uberviolence (as shown in Linda Hamilton’s transformation from naïve good girl to paramilitary extremist). The one heroic reprogrammed Terminator, who must do everything John Connor tells him even unto hopping on one leg, doesn’t inspire a broader sympathy for SkyNet. Instead, Schwarzenegger is good because he identifies with the humans totally, sacrificing himself to destroy his own people. Terminator II is, in a lot of ways, a retelling of Gunga Din.

On the one hand, then, the reverse colonial stories in sci-fi can be used as a way to sympathize with those who suffer under colonialism. It puts the imperialists in the place of the Tasmanians and says, this could be you, how do you justify your violence now? On the other hand, reverse colonial stories can erase those who are at the business end of imperial terror, positing white European colonizers as the threatened victims in a genocidal race war , thereby justifying any excess of violence. Often, though, sci-fi does both at once—as, Rieder argues, Wells does in The War of the Worlds, which both sympathizes with the oppressed and suggests that survival-of-the-fittest colonial exploitation is natural, inevitable, and unstoppable (there is, after all, no talking to the Martians—or, therefore, to the Tasmanians?).

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