Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Tyler Bradway

Abstract

Speculative science fiction affords new ways for authors to represent social problems of the modern day in an apocalyptic manner. Authors such as Octavia Butler use science fiction to analyze social injustices revolving around race, gender, and sexuality. Throughout her novel Dawn, Butler uses the posthuman to represent minority groups in the late twentieth century. The posthuman represents those who have moved from humanity towards a new opportunity that is mixed with the potential for struggle. 1 As demonstrated through Butler’s work posthumanism blurs the lines between binaries such as male / female, straight / gay, and consensual / nonconsensual performance. Focusing on the empowering act of sex, agency is deconstructed in science fiction as the influence of the actual alien other transforms notions of power. When a consensual agreement is made, sex can be empowering to the individual. Going beyond the contemporary human into the posthuman of the sci-fi realm the act of sex is transformed. Scholars Luciana Parisi and Federica Caporaso term this transformative sex of the future as “cybersex.” Cybersex is defined as the sexual interactions between the posthuman and alien “others” where genetic and cranial material is transferred and stored into a web of information. The use of cybersex is most apparent in science fiction texts such as Butler’s first novel to the Xenogenesis Trilogy, Dawn. Speculative science fiction allows a space for nonheteronormative people to occupy where they can have a sense of agency that would not be present in a white-centered heteropatriarchy. By normalizing previously believed “abnormal” sexualities, queer themes (such as cybersex) creates a space for multi-identifying types of individuals. Speculative science fiction analyzes past and present social issues involving gender, sexuality, and race which are interwoven into the text’s primary storyline. Butler performs this interconnectedness throughout her novel Dawn where she analyzes various social injustices through a speculative lens. By incorporating elements of power structures with the skepticism of the characters, specifically Lilith and Joseph, surrounding the act of cybersex, Butler’s novel questions notions of authority. The protagonist Lilith has awakened on a space ship orbiting Earth’s atmosphere after being rescued from a nuclear war. Lilith struggles to trust her alien saviors as they are highly skilled gene traders and have performed nonconsensual surgery on Lilith’s body. Following her journey on board the living space craft Lilith becomes the new leader to a rescued group of humans who distrust her and the alien Oankali. Butler’s text utilizes elements of Afrofuturism to parallel the treatment of the humans, in the position of slaves, to that of the Oankali, slave owners. Analyzing how gender, power, and Afrofuturism function in the text is crucial to understanding how cybersex connects these elements to determine whether Butler’s future is utopian or dystopian. Parisi and Caporaso argue cybersex in Dawn is a “new prosthetic extension of human sex, the prolongation of sexual pleasure outside of the limits of the body” (171). However, cybersex in Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy is a means of manipulation through pleasurable stimuli controlled by the alien other of the Oankali. Rather than focusing on the sensation of pleasure the Oankali provide for the human race the Oankali are actually stripping away the people’s agency, essentially enslaving them through the use of cybersex.

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