Science fiction tells it the way it is (science fiction is colonial fiction): David Crouch, ‘Germ Growers in the Colonial Laboratory’, Science as Culture, 2021


Abstract: Written and set in the Australian colonies, Robert Potter’s The Germ Growers (1892) was amongst the earliest novels that engaged with the theme of extra-terrestrial invasion. It describes the discovery of aliens who breed ‘germs’ in a sophisticated laboratory hidden in the outback with the aim of conquering the human species. The novel’s introduction of these otherworldly interlopers into a setting already host to the political, social and scientific experiments of invaders, puts the colonial preoccupations with settlement and dispossession into sharp relief. Potter’s portrayal of relations between white settlers, aliens, exogenous and Indigenous others, accentuates how anxieties about invasion and contamination, insiders and outsiders, humans and nonhumans were accompanied by the application of scientific knowledge and technological expertise in the establishment and administration of social order. Highlighting the idea of colonies as sites for refining elaborate strategies of coercion and control, the novel provides a situated perspective upon the ways in which the affordances of the laboratory operated as central features of the imperial project and influenced its role in the development of biopolitical governance. In doing so, The Germ Growers brings attention to the archive of colonial fiction as a means of approaching the social and historical contexts that continue to undergird relations between science and culture.

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