Salvaging Utopia: Lessons for (and from) the Left in Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017), The Deep (2019), and Sorrowland (2021)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how writing can make a difference in the world, and even more so about what academic writing has to do with it. Though barely a start, some of my own reflections and research on this topic are now available in the form of this Open Access (i.e. free) article on activism, Rivers Solomon, and the utopian work of salvage. The article is part of a special issue on ‘Post-Utopia in Speculative Fiction’, available through the MDPI Journal Humanities, which examines various histories and ways forward for utopia in contemporary SF/F. From the article abstract:

In response to this special issue’s question of whether mainstream science fiction has become stuck in presentism and apocalypticism, this article examines how utopia is expressed and salvaged in the work of Rivers Solomon. Using three of Solomon’s novels and the theoretical lenses of black utopia studies and salvage-Marxism, I suggest that scholars and activists should approach this question from a different perspective. While Solomon’s novels may seem dystopian from the perspective of liberalism or whiteness, they can also clearly be placed within the long, if marginalized, history of leftist and black utopian thought. Likewise, where the ‘traditional’ utopia (a concept I interrogate) is often imagined as grounded in hope and futurity, black utopia and salvage-Marxism reject these concepts as counterproductive to the actual work of social justice and utopia-building. Despite their presentism and apocalypticism, then, I argue Solomon’s novels are very much utopian: they simply locate their utopian desire in radical kinship and salvage, rather than universalism or futurity.

You can read the full piece at this link.

I also gave a related talk at the London Science Fiction Research Community’s annual conference on ‘Activism & Resistance’, which featured Solomon as a guest creator. You can access a copy of my slides here.

Leave a Reply