Isiah Lavender III, a professor in the English department within the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, was recently quoted in a Smithsonian Magazine article about a science fiction dictionary that showcases science fiction’s impact on pop culture.
Lavender, who’s also co-editor of the science fiction journal “Extrapolation,” said the dictionary could help in the academic analysis of concerns, like the economic and social issues echoed in authors’ portrayals of robots. For example, Isaac Asimov’s 1941 “Laws of Robotics” could be seen as imitating the Jim Crow laws that restricted the lives of many Black Americans at that time, he said.
“Having these origin dates in mind can help a student or scholar build a framework to analyze something like the concept of the racial ‘other’ where robots and androids—as well as aliens—are stand-ins for oppressed peoples,” Lavender said.
The dictionary quotations were largely taken from mid-1900s pulp magazines and don’t reflect the diversity of the science fiction world. For example, many current Black science fiction writers like N.K. Jemisin or Nalo Hopkinson aren’t mentioned, Lavender said.
“From the little bit that I have explored in the dictionary, it comes across as a tool that supports a monochrome future envisioned by the golden age editors of the SFF magazines,” he said. “So, it’s problematic in that way.”
The article continued to describe the dictionary as a streamlined way to see how vernacular has evolved over time, and that it’s still a work in progress.