ABSTRACT

Part II demonstrated the significance of recognising race and gender as imbricated performative structures, within a general understanding of the material effects of the “virtual” matrix of ideological identity structures. Part III builds on this conclusion to show how such a recognition can result in reformations of the utopian elements of American SF. Analysing lesser studied works of three well-known contemporary SF authors-Frank Herbert, William Gibson, and Octavia Butler-Part III argues that these texts offer complicated visions of the space and politics lying behind contemporary utopian visions of race and gender in America. The current chapter moves from Herbert’s cautionary tale of the facility of utopian thinking to imperial and white-supremacist practices in The Santaroga Barrier to Gibson’s slightly more hopeful, if ultimately frustrated, vision of a heterotopian reality in his nanotech trilogy (which in turn rewrites Samuel R. Delany’s heterotopian bridge in his Nevèrÿon series). This chapter thus points to the never-ending inversions of utopian thought, and so to the difficulty of effectively critiquing from within the hegemonic structures of sexism and racism in the United States. From there, the final chapter takes this complexity to its zenith in Octavia E. Butler’s Patternmaster series. Unlike the earlier conservative or utopian thinking of a Hawthorne or Lane, but building on the satiric vision of Schuyler, all of these works-written during or after the various civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s-point to the unending work of the social and semiotic shifts required in any sustained critique of racial and gendered hierarchies. Unlike The Matrix, however, these works imply that such shifts can be radical, if ultimately unpredictable. Where Herbert explicitly critiques the dangers of allowing an unchecked, Hawthorne-like conservatismbased on paradoxically transcendental foundations-to structure social policy, Gibson and Butler explore the possibilities inherent in a more grounded, but therefore always shifting, social framework. All three works, meanwhile, code the relations of hegemony and resistance through figures of silence, people who seemingly stand outside of the semiotic constraints of verbal discourse, especially as that is figured within hegemonic social structures. Bringing us full circle to Aminadab’s oddly significant but impenetrable laughter at the end of “The Birth-mark,” these silent characters may seem to signify the lack of voice afforded to the raced or gendered other of

the dominant class, but may ultimately offer the expanded semiotic possibilities that Delany sees in SF, translating them into a social commentary.