Check out this great interview with Junot Diaz on Salon (originally from The Boston Review). He discusses his upcoming collection, This Is How You Lose Her, and his Pulitzer-Prize winning debut novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, about which he drops something of a shocker regarding the untold backstory of the novel’s narrator, Yunior. What is particularly intriguing here was the depth of academic thought on psychological colonization which Diaz invested in Oscar Wao, in addition to his powerful explanation of the self-perpetuity of racism today:
How can you change something if you won’t even acknowledge its existence, or if you downplay its significance? White supremacy is the great silence of our world, and in it is embedded much of what ails us as a planet. The silence around white supremacy is like the silence around Sauron in The Lord of the Rings or the Voldemort name, which must never be uttered in the Harry Potter novels. And yet here’s the rub: If a critique of white supremacy doesn’t first flow through you, doesn’t first implicate you, then you have missed the mark; you have, in fact, almost guaranteed its survival and reproduction. There’s that old saying: The devil’s greatest trick is that he convinced people that he doesn’t exist. Well, white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.
Perhaps most exciting, Diaz mentioned he is currently writing a science fiction novel, Monstro. It sounds like an apocalyptic monster flick in near-future Dominican Republic and Haiti, with political undertones related to foreign policy and invasion — not just by aliens, zombies, or whatever his monsters will be, but by governments:
Monstro is an apocalyptic story. An end-of-the-world story set in the DR of the near future. It’s a zombie story. (On that island, how could it not be?) It’s an alien invasion story. It’s a giant monster story. It’s about the Great Powers (China, the United States) attempting to contain the growing infestation by re-invading the Island for, what, the twelfth time? I always say if people on my island know about anything, they know about the end of the world. We are after all the eschaton that divided the Old World from the New. The whole reason I started writing this book is because of this image I have of this fourteen-year-old girl, a poor, black, Dominican girl, half-Haitian — one of the Island’s damnés — saving the world. It’s a book about this girl’s search for — yes — love in a world that has made it its solemn duty to guarantee that poor raced “conventionally unattractive” girls like her are never loved.
As a matter of fact, in The New Yorker’s recent science fiction issue, Diaz ran a short piece titled “Monstro.” For starters, the science fiction issue was good but not great. The Anthony Burgess essay was thought-provoking (and not just because it’s the A Clockwork Orange guy), Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” (written as twitter posts) was also worth the read and even if it wasn’t totally original it had its quirks and commentary, and the issue held what may be one of Ray Bradbury’s last pieces of writing. But overall I personally found the science fiction issue mediocre, lacking original, thought-provoking ideas to present to readers. The New Yorker favored style over content — the stories had interesting ways of saying things but not much interesting or original to actually say. Perhaps this is why, as Aditya Chakrabortty wrote in The Guardian this April, English and American novels today are so gutless.
While I was not blown away with Diaz’s “Monstro,” I am hoping the novel it is a part of will offer something more once Diaz gets a chance to flesh out his ideas throughout a longer work, which he did all too well using fuku and sexual aggression as a metaphor for psychological colonization in Oscar Wao. Indeed, based on this interview, there seems to be a political and social element in Diaz’s upcoming science fiction novel, especially with regards to his fictional treatment of the “Great Powers.” Science fiction has a lot of power; it just needs to be used right. And with a little effort I think Junot Diaz is the man for the job.
Many writers today could take a clue from works such as Alex Rivera’s groundbreaking Sleep Dealer, one of the most thought-provoking movies I’ve scene in a while. It’s the result of a Mexican Philip K. Dick joining forces with William Gibson to make a movie about globalization, identity, and immigration in the near future… with brain computer interfaces, drones, “migrant” workers who simply “plug in” to cross borders, and writers who sell memories in place of words. The central idea works so well as both metaphor and plausible reality — science fiction at its very best. The film could use a bit of an improvement on its low-budget special effects and satisfactory acting, but its direction, story, and screenplay hands down make up for it.
A novel worth mentioning in this context is Mark Budz’s Clade. Despite mediocre writing, Budz details a thought-provoking near future governed by bioengineering, when classes are genetically written into the social construct by corporations and governments. His biopunk future works as an effective metaphor for the illusion of the American Dream and the difficulty of social mobility for both ethnic minorities and the ninety-nine percent, with plenty of hard science and a cast of both Latino and Desi protagonists. It’s nothing amazing in style but worth a read for its intriguing content.