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  • I bet that, as numerous reports have indicated, LIGO picked up a neutron star collision, with EM traces. D-Brief reports.

  • Neanderthal genes seem to have had a big influence on modern human health. I would be surprised not to have some. National Geographic describes.

  • Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go may evoke crises of bioethics, but I'm not sure it relates to genetic engineering. VICE reports.

  • These apocalyptic visions of technophiles who want to create an artificial intelligence to become god are notable. The Guardian takes a look.

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  • Anthropology.net notes that the analysis of a Neanderthal skeleton from Croatia reveals much common ancestry.

  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait shares some stunning photos of Jupiter taken by the Juno probe.

  • Crooked Timber considers the differences--such as they are--between science fiction and fantasy literature.

  • After a conversation with Adam Gopnik, Cody Delistraty makes a case for the importance of high-brow culture.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes a paper arguing that Earth-like planets can exist even without active plate tectonics.

  • The Frailest Thing's Michael Sacasas argues that operating systems relying on instinct hurt human thought.

  • Language Log considers Twitter post limits for East Asian languages.

  • The LRB Blog considers trench fever and the future of nursing in the United Kingdom.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a study suggesting people actively look out for bad and threatening news items.

  • The NYR Daily examines the reasons why Uber ended up getting banned by the city of London.

  • Drew Rowsome reports on an exciting new staging at the Paramount Theatre of Salt-Water Moon.

  • Starts With A Bang's Ethan Siegel looks at the very low proportion of planets in studied exosystems actually detected by Kepler.

  • Strange Company tells the story of John Banvard, a 19th century American who lost everything in mounting panorama exhibitions.

  • Towleroad reports on how PREP contributed to an 80% fall in new HIV diagnoses in London and wider England.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the worsening of HIV/AIDS in Russia, aided by terrible government policy and bad statistics.

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  • Hundreds of parrots in a Surrey sanctuary are still waiting for permanent homes. Global News reports.

  • NPR reports on how many Uighurs in China find success through their racially mixed appearances, as models.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer explains the rationale behind the Jones Act, with its stiff shipping charges for Puerto Rico.

  • The Chinese Buddhist fangsheng ritual, involving the release of captured animals into the wild, has issues. The Guardian reports.

  • Tyson Yunkaporta's essay takes a look at the appeal of SF/F, and post-apocalyptic fiction, for indigenous peoples.

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  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait shares stunning deep-field pictures of intergalactic space.

  • Centauri Dreams shares the second part of Larry Klaes' analysis of Forbidden Planet.

  • D-Brief suggests that controlled kangaroo hunting may be necessary for the ecological health of Australia.

  • Bruce Dorminey notes a new radio telescope in British Columbia that may help solve the mystery of fast radio burst.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes that quasars can irradiate a noteworthy fraction of potentially Earth-like planets.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money comes out against the idea of giving Amazon massive tax breaks for HQ2.

  • The LRB Blog bids a fond farewell to Saturn probe Cassini.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper suggesting new ideas--hence, new sources of economic growth--are harder to come by.

  • Maximos62 recounts a quietly chilling trip to East Timor where he discovers a landscape marked by genocide.

  • The New APPS Blog is quite unsurprised by news that Russians may have used Facebook to manipulate the US election.

  • At Out of Ambit, Diane Duane bids a fond farewell to colleague Len Wein.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw does not think Australia is committed enough to affordable housing to solve homelessness Finland-style.

  • Roads and Kingdoms reports from the Suwalki Gap, the thin corridor joining the Baltic States to Poland.

  • Peter Rukavina looks at how a storied land rover was recovered from St. Helena.

  • Starts With A Bang's Ethan Siegel lists the top six discoveries of Cassini at Saturn.

  • Towleroad notes fundamentally misaimed criticism of new AI that determines sexual orientation from facepics.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at contemporary Russian fears about the power of rising China in Russia's Asian territories.

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  • Acts of Minor Treason's Andrew Barton reacts to the series premiere of Orville, finding it oddly retrograde and unoriginal.

  • Centauri Dreams shares Larry Klaes' article considering the impact of the 1956 classic Forbidden Planet on science and science fiction alike.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper wondering if it is by chance that Earth orbits a yellow dwarf, not a dimmer star.

  • Drone360 shares a stunning video of a drone flying into Hurricane Irma.

  • Hornet Stories celebrates the 10th anniversary of Chris Crocker's "Leave Britney Alone!" video. (It was important.)

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money wonders if 16 years are long enough to let people move beyond taboo images, like those of the jumpers.

  • The LRB Blog takes a look at the young Dreamers, students, who have been left scrambling by the repeal of DACA.

  • The Map Room Blog notes how a Québec plan to name islands in the north created by hydro flooding after literature got complicated by issues of ethnicity and language.

  • Marginal Revolution notes the rise of internal tourism in China, and soon, of Chinese tourists in the wider world.

  • The NYR Daily has an interview arguing that the tendency to make consciousness aphysical or inexplicable is harmful to proper study.

  • Roads and Kingdoms has a brief account of a good experience with Indonesian wine.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell links to five reports about Syria. They are grim reading.

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  • Anthrodendum considers what, exactly, anthropology majors can do job-wise with their degrees. Interesting ideas.

  • Centauri Dreams considers the possible origins of cometary organics in deep space.

  • Hornet Stories talks of anti-immigrant Americans with immigrant ancestors who skirted relevant laws themselves, like Donald Trump.

  • Language Hat considers byssus, an exotic ancient textile and a word with a complex history.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at how the potential for disaster in Florida is worsened by poor planning.

  • The LRB Blog looks at the sad intersection of war, xenophobia, and rising rates of polio in Pakistan (and elsewhere).

  • The Map Room Blog notes an interactive map-related play still showing at the Halifax Fringe, Cartography.

  • The NYR Daily notes a high-profile corruption trial of a former government minister in Moscow.

  • The Planetary Society Blog shares Paul Schenk's story about how he interned at JPL in 1979 for the Voyager 2 flyby.

  • Roads and Kingdoms looks at the search by a Brazilian man for caves in the south of that country.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy asks some interesting questions about the mechanics of Settlers of Catan.

  • At Whatever, John Scalzi remembers Jerry Pournelle.

  • Window on Eurasia notes how Russia is strongly opposed to any Circassian return to their ancestral homeland.

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  • Charley Ross reflects on the story of Carla Vicentini, a Brazilian apparently abducted from New Jersey a decade ago.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog reflects on the concept of anomie.

  • Far Outliers looks at the southwest Pacific campaigns of 1942, and reflects on Australian-American tensions in New Guinea in the Second World War.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reflects briefly on the disaster in Houston.

  • The Map Room Blog links to two interesting longform takes on maps in fantasy.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer considers the extent to which urban policy has contributed to Houston's issues.

  • Roads and Kingdoms tells the story of a Shabbat celebration in Zimbabwe, and of the country's Jewish community.

  • Strange Company tells the story of the mysterious disappearance of Lieutenant Paul Byron Whipkey. What was done to him?

  • Unicorn Booty reports on how the Supreme Court of India has found people have a legal right to their orientation.

  • Window on Eurasia reports on the growing number of Russian citizens with Chinese connections.

  • Arnold Zwicky talks about Tom Bianchi's vintage Fire Island photos.

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  • blogTO notes that the Toronto Reference Library will be holding a huge sale again next week.

  • Inside Toronto profiles Sephora Hussein, new collection head of the Merril Collection.

  • Michael Lyons writes about the importance of the newly-reopened Hanlan's beach on the Toronto Islands.

  • Jake Tobin Garrett argues at Torontoist for the importance of the proposed Rail Deck Park.

  • Emily Macrae argues at Torontoist there is much Toronto can learn from the green--literally--laneways of Montréal.

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Space Marine Primaris Intercessor #pei #princeedwardisland #charlottetown #warhammer40k #wh40k


The new generation of the Imperium's Space Marines, the Primaris Intercessor, has made it to Charlottetown's excellent store The Comic Hunter.
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  • CBC Montreal notes how Andrée Archambault has been leaving books on the Montréal Metro for commuters to find.

  • CBC's Jonathan Ore notes the (perhaps surprisingly) innovative Transformers comics put out by IDW.

  • At The Conversation, Una McCormack writes about how the 13th Doctor being played by Jodie Whittaker fulfills her childhood dreams.

  • At The Globe and Mail, Russell Smith examines why the alt-right hates cultural experimentation and innovation so much.

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Shakespeare, and Caitians #toronto #shakespeare #cats #catsofinstagram #caturday startrek #caitians #worldsofthefederation


Shakespeare, here, is photographed in front of my copy of the venerable 1989 Star Trek reference book Worlds of the Federation, in front of the entry describing the felinoid species of Caitians introduced in the 1970s animated series.

A guy can dream, after all: Why not cats?
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  • Centauri Dreams shares a proposal for the relatively rapid industrialization of space in a few short years using smart robots with 3d printign technology.

  • To what extent, as Crooked Timber speculates, the Arthurian myth complex science fictional?

  • Dangerous Minds shares a lovely middle-finger-raised candle.

  • The Dragon's Gaze looks at the interactions between atmospheres and rotation for super-Earths and Venus-like worlds.

  • Joe. My. God. notes Wikileaks' call for Trump's tax returns.

  • Language Hat shares some words peculiar to Irish English.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that the words of Trump are meaningless.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cown considers some scenarios where nuclear weapons may end up being used.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog looks at births and deaths in Russia between 2000 and 2015.

  • Savage Minds considers, inspired by the recent Michel Foucault read-in protest to Trump, the relationships between Foucault's thinking and racism.

  • Window on Eurasia calls for a post-imperial Russian national identity, argues that Trump's assault on globalization will badly hurt a Russia dependent on foreign trade and investment, and wonders what Putin's Russia can actually offer Trump's United States.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell offers a unique strategy for journalists interested at penetrating Trump's shell: trick them into over-answering.

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  • Beyond the Beyond links to a US military science fiction contest.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly notes that journalism is meant to offer criticisms of the president.

  • Crooked Timber has an open forum about the inauguration.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos from seminal 1980-era London club Billy's.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper reporting on a superflare on brown dwarf EPIC 220186653.

  • A Fistful of Euros' features Doug Merrill's meditations on 2009 and 2017.

  • Language Log looks at the etymology of the Vietnamese name "Nguyen."

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at Donald Trump's desire for a military parade.

  • The LRB Blog looks at Donald Trump as a winner.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a book on the economics of skyscrapers and notes a skyscraper boom in China.

  • Steve Munro looks at buses and their distribution on TTC networks.

  • Transit Toronto looks at how Exhibition Place work will complicate multiple bus routes.

  • Window on Eurasia notes low levels of Russian productivity, shares a Russian argument as to why Russia and the United States can never be allies in the long term, looks at counterproductive Russian interference in Circassian diaspora institutions, and shares argument suggesting Trump's style of language explains why he wants to forego complicated multilateral negotiations for bilateral ones where he can dominate.

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Wired shares excerpts from a recent interview with Bruce Sterling on what science fiction can teach its readers about fascism, and about what science fiction has to learn about itself.

“There’s a kind of rhetorical trick that goes on in science fiction, and in fascism, that kind of says, ‘Don’t really worry about what this means for the guy next door,'” Sterling says. “That it’s so cool and amazing that you should just surrender yourself to the rapture of its fantastic-ness.”

As an example he cites the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which astronaut David Bowman is transformed into a superhuman entity called the Star Child. Sterling says the image is so striking and awe-inspiring that few viewers ever think to ponder the potential downsides of the Star Child.

“It’s not like anybody voted on the space baby,” he says. “It’s not like an ethics commission wrote on the space baby. It’s not like anybody says, ‘What if the space baby turns out to be cruel to certain ethnic minorities?'”

Sterling believes that it’s important to retain your ability to be moved and inspired, but equally important to be selective about the images and ideas that you choose to invest in.

“If you don’t have a sense of wonder it’s like you’re dead inside,” he says. “But your sense of wonder can be used to trick you. You can have a sense of wonder over a thing that’s basically a conjurer’s trick, or a con job, or a rip-off.”
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Charlie Stross has completed the grimdark vision of 2017 that he had begun last week. I linked to the first two parts on New Year's Eve.

Let's try to do better, eh?

October Theresa May resigns as Prime Minister of the UK after a delegation from the 1922 Committee pay her a visit with baseball bats. Boris Johnson, one-time leader-in-waiting, bribes his way onto one of the few still-flying airliners bound for the United States and tweets in mid-air about his intention to request political asylum and re-assert his US citizenship. The aircraft is intercepted over the Atlantic and shot down by F-15s acting at the request of President Pence (who really doesn't want to give BoJo a shot at making his run in 2024).

An elderly back-bencher is prevailed upon to do the honorable thing and accept the office of the Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, thereby freeing up a seat for a by-election. On the basis of the theory that when you're up to your nose in shit the only way out is to take a deep breath and dive, Nigel Farage is fast-tracked as candidate for the by-election and, upon election, is promptly shoved through the door at Number Ten: at his first interview with the monarch he is told "you broke it, you fix it". (His subsequent plaintive requests for Jimmy Saville's phone number go unanswered.)

In the wake of the September melt-down, Germany's Bundestag elections produce huge voter swings to the AfD (from the CDU) and the Greens and Left (from the SPD), with the Pirate Party passing the critical 5% threshold for the first time. The AfD, taking heart from what they perceive as a swing to the right in global politics, go one step too far by openly calling for the rehabilitation of Adolf Hitler and are banned by the constitutional court; a Green/Left/Pirate coalition is formed and announces its intention of moving to leave the World Trade Organization to permit a sweeping regime of nationalization of banks and financial institutions and emergency measures to keep industry and agriculture going.

The new hard-left German government with it's Grumpy Cat logo is greeted with horror in the United States and is denounced in Moscow as Communism. However, when the new regime in Berlin announces its intention of forgiving all personal debt owed by Greek borrowers (denominated in the collapsed Euro, hence not worth very much at all) and to institute a universal basic income scheme throughout the EU and work to abolish wage slavery for all it buys them a lot of friends. The situation is very murky, and made murkier by the slow, unanounced withdrawal of Russian tanks from the Baltic region and their re-appearance further south.


(October gets much much worse, and as for the remainder of the year, well.)
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  • Anthropology.net looks at the genetics of how the Inuit have adapted to cold weather.

  • 'Nathan Smith's Apostrophen shares the author's plans for the coming year.

  • Beyond the Beyond's Bruce Sterling shares Margaret Atwood's commitment to fighting for freedom of expression.

  • Crooked Timber asks its readers for recommendations in Anglophone science fiction.

  • D-Brief notes the discovery of the human mesentery.

  • The Dragon's Gaze looks at the protoplanetary disk of LkCa 15 disk.

  • Far Outliers looks at some lobsters imported to Japan from (a) Christmas Island.

  • Joe. My. God. notes Janet Jackson has given birth.

  • Language Hat examines the contrast often made between indigenous and immigrant languages.

  • Language Log looks at the names of the stations of the Haifa subway.

  • Steve Munro notes Bathurst Station's goodbye to Honest Ed's.

  • The Planetary Society Blog examines the Dawn probe's discoveries at Ceres in the past year.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at how the permafrost of the Russian far north is melting and endangering entire cities, and contrasts the prosperity of the Estonian city of Narva relative to the decay of adjacent Ivangorod.

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Over his blog Antipope, Charlie Stross has a future timeline--so far, up to two parts--imagining what it would be like for 2017 to turn out worse than 2016. So far, the timeline's pretty grim, giving us an idea of what perhaps we should work to avoid.
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  • blogTO notes that after the Berlin attack, the Toronto Christmas Market has upped its security.

  • D-Brief looks at how roads divide ecosystems.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes that WD 1536+520 apparently has solar levels of rock-forming elements.

  • Language Log examines central European metaphors for indecipherable languages.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is diffident on the question of whether Sanders could have won versus Trump.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at the recent depreciation of Canada's natural resources.

  • The Planetary Society Blog talks about a recent essay collection noting the strides made in planetary science over the past quarter-century.

  • Cheri Lucas Rowlands shares photos from her trip to Hawai'i.

  • Seriously Science notes Santa's risk of personal injury.

  • Torontoist looks at a University of Toronto professor's challenges to a law on gender identity.

  • Whatever's John Scalzi likes what Disney has done, and is doing, to Star Wars.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russians might want fascism but lack a leader and argues Western defeatism versus Russia is as ill-judged now as it was in 1979.

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I originally posted this essay at r/daystrominstitute, drawing it from a post I made on Tumblr.

Lots of fans of Star Trek have expressed disbelief, or concern, at the suggest that religion is mostly a dead letter among humans (and perhaps other species) in the 24th century. Isn't this just a presumption stemming ultimately from the doctrinaire atheism of Gene Roddenberry? Why, they ask fairly, would a type of belief system that has been enormously common throughout human history vanish in the space of a few centuries?

Roddenberry's prejudices on the subject of religion did bias him. I'm not unconvinced that the future of religion in Star Trek is inaccurately depicted, despite this depiction's origins. One influential recent study of religion in society, Norris and Inglehart’s 2004 sociology study Sacred and Secular, took a look at patterns of religious belief in developed Western societies. They made the compelling argument that religious belief is most popular in societies marked by insecurity, that the subjective psychological comforts of religion were most popular in insecure societies. They suggested that much of the gap in religiosity between the United States and western Europe, for instance, could be explained by the fact that the United States does not have a comprehensive welfare state. In a very real sense, religion focused as a coping tool for people faced with severe stresses, whether as a morale-booster or as some sort of institutional support via charity and the like. Nothing in the model suggests that this model would not work with other, non-Western societies.

We know that by the 22nd century, the Earth is stable, at peace and unified and verging on the utopian. What happens to religion when the entire world has a comprehensive welfare state, something more complete than what a given western European country has now? What about the future of this world? What role does religion play when no one has been terribly insecure for decades, generations, even centuries? Can religion attract anything but a niche audience in this sort of environment? I think there's a real argument to be made that no sizable number of 24th century people on Earth or any other stable human world would feel particularly compelled by religious perspectives, not with materialism that has been so consistently successful for centuries.

For humans, there's also the question of how religion ended up. Some of the most secularized societies nowadays are those which had the most thorough-going religious regimes beforehand, and which saw a counter-reaction against religious institutions. Sometimes, as in Québec in the 1960s, this was triggered by the simple incapacity of religious institutions to offer a way forward in an increasingly cosmopolitan world. Sometimes, this was triggered by the revelation of crimes committed by religious figures of note. Clerical sex abuse scandals come to mind as exactly the sorts of things which have led people to lose faith in established religions. Worse can happen than mere sexual assault, of course: genocide, say, or general dictatorship. What happens to a religion when the actions and values of its hierarchy conflict with what followers think is right? We know the answer: The best-case scenario from the perspective of the religion is that people stop paying attention to it, and the worst-case scenario is that people become actively hostile to it.

Is there any reason to think that, in the terrible 21st century of the Star Trek universe, religions would have acquitted themselves well, would have proven their value? Or is there reason to think, based on what we have seen in our own world, that religion might become another thing to be tossed out for the future's sake?

Would other species have undergone similar experiences? Maybe, if their histories were at all similar to humanity's, with religion as a belief system that served its purpose in its day before negative consequences became too unignorable. I wonder if Vulcan might have undergone this sort of secularization in the aftermath of the conflicts leading up to Surak, for instance. (Were the Romulans religious dissenters?)

It's worth looking at the experience of the Bajorans, who are generally depicted as being religious and being fine with that. How are they different? Most notably, they have a religion that does demonstrably describes reality, complete with god-like entities whose existences have been confirmed by multiple external observers. Before the confirmation of the Prophets' existence, Bajoran religion seems to have been helped by what may be a lack of religious oppression: Women seem to have just as many rights as men, for instance, as evidenced by the two female kais we see, Kira’s confusion in “Rejoined” over why Jadzia Dax cannot get back together with Lenara Kahn suggests to me that homophobia is not an issue on Bajor, and the ease with which the d'jarra caste system was dropped suggests it also was not an integral component of the religion. I suppose this is not a surprise: If anyone could design a workable religion for a culture that has been enormously stable and successful for tens of thousands of years, the Prophets who see beyond linear time could.

There almost certainly are minorities of humans who continue to cling to the old faiths, minorities in the main human worlds and perhaps relatively more substantial populations on different colony worlds. Other civilizations with their own histories may follow the path of humanity, or do otherwise. Perhaps if there's a sufficiently convincing religion, one that seems true and that seems to offer convincing gains, it might actually gain converts. (The Bajorans may soon be making lots of new followers outside their species.) By and large, though, I would argue that the highly secularized future of Star Trek is a perfectly plausible future. How many people need a god to offer them comfort in a near-utopia?
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Journalist Kate Heartfield's essay for Article Magazine, "Decolonizing the future", provides an exciting take on how indigenous writers of science fiction are rewriting the genre, on imagining futures for their peoples and their cultures.

Wshe was in eighth grade, Darcie Little Badger read in a book at school that the Lipan Apache people — her own people — were “extinct.”

“Like dinosaurs!” she would joke on Twitter years later.

Now she’s an oceanographer who specializes in phytoplankton genetics and a writer of speculative fiction. In one of her recent short stories, “Né łe”, a Lipan Apache veterinarian travels to Mars.

“It really is for me all about the survival aspect,” she explains. “As I was growing up and reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, I wasn’t really seeing Native characters. That made me wonder why not. Are they all gone, or are they forgotten? This hit me really hard because my tribe really struggled for a long time to survive and is really still struggling… That act of existing, in a science fiction story, in a futuristic setting, is a triumph of endurance to me and it does go against the narrative of colonialism that we really don’t exist.”

The concept of “the future” only exists in the present. It can be shaped by the same colonial structures and narratives that shape the North American present, or it can affirm Indigenous land and sovereignty.

This global, multidirectional work of decolonization has always been a part of the science fiction (SF) canon it critiques — Afrofuturism, for example, has a long literary tradition. It’s long been part of the work of First Nations, Métis and Inuit writers. But Daniel Heath Justice, a speculative fiction writer himself and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture, says the Indigenous science fiction of North America is now coming into a “golden age.”

“One of the battles that Indigenous writers had for a long time was to have their work seen as real literature and I don’t think we have that same struggle now in the same way. It’s ongoing but I don’t think it’s as acute as it was. So I think now a lot of writers may feel a little bit more comfort in going into genres that may or may not have been seen as having a lot of literary merit for a while.”

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