In a 1975 essay titled “American SF and the Other,” the great science-fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin took her genre to task. Science fiction, she began, centers on “the question of The Other—the being who is different from yourself. This being can be different from you in its sex; or in its annual income; or in its way of speaking and dressing and doing things; or in the color of its skin, or the number of its legs and heads.” In American science fiction, she noted, human aliens—women, people of color, the poor—mostly got sidelined or subjugated by space aliens, who, in turn, mostly got murdered or had their planets colonized. Enough, Le Guin wrote. Time to make the genre truly face the future. In order to do that, writers needed to take an anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-colonial approach to their work. They had to consider “such deeply radical, futuristic concepts as Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.”
Two recent literary science-fiction novels, Pola Oloixarac’s Dark Constellations and Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift, add the increasingly radical concept of privacy to Le Guin’s list. Oloixarac is Argentine and Serpell is Zambian, and both set their novel in their country of origin, creating post-colonial futures in which surveillance poses disturbing new threats. Their stylistic approaches are disparate—Dark Constellations is a slim allegory written with a chat forum’s acrid wit, while The Old Drift is a sprawling epic that unfolds with the wild detail of a Hieronymus Bosch painting—but the novels share a provocative core idea: that colonialism was a massive invasion of privacy, and that technology is on track to rival it.