Guilt, guns, girls and ghettos: Adjacent futures in selected postapartheid fantasies
Since 1994, a growing number of South African writers of young adult and crossover fiction have experimented with science fiction and fantasy as tools for anticipating potential futures. In this article, three of these works are considered: The Slayer of Shadows by Elana Bregin, Zoo City by Lauren Beukes and The Mall Rats series consisting of Deadlands and Death of a Saint by Lily Herne. The texts are initially briefly contrasted with two texts by authors based in the USA: Lauren St John’s The White Giraffe and Sarah Pinsker’s “The Trans-dimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province” to show that the three local writers’ engagement with the South African present enables them to resist, in varying degrees, prevalent Western tendencies to see positive African futures in terms of either an idealised pre-colonial past or as the result of redemptive agency by external forces. Although almost twenty years separate the Bregin novel from the others, there are clear similarities between them: each is written by a white woman (or women) and each places a young female protagonist within a crumbling, violent and resolutely urban environment. Paradoxically, the future worlds the authors create are at once both profoundly unfamiliar and recognisably South African, perhaps lending credence to Darko Suvin’s view that good fantasy gives rise to “cognitive estrangement” (4) by which the reader is freed to explore troubling issues such as guilt and complicity at a safe emotional remove. By foregrounding and contrasting the presentation of divisive contemporary themes such as gender, race, guilt and violence in these novels, it is hoped to establish whether the repressed fears/desires they articulate are in any way indicative of social attitudes to either present experience or imagined futures and whether such attitudes have changed significantly in the twenty years since the first democratic elections.
Keywords: Futures literatures, science fiction, South African English Literature, youth literature.