American science fiction stories, such as U.S. historical narratives, often give central place to white, Western male subjects as noble explorers, benevolent colonizers, and border-guarding patriots. This constructed subjectivity renders colonized or cultural others as potentially threatening aliens, and it works alongside the parallel construction of white womanhood as a signifier for the territory to be possessed and protected by American empire—or as a sign of empire itself. Popular cultural narratives, whether in the world of U.S. imperialism or the speculative worlds of science fiction, may serve a religious function by helping to shape world-making: the envisioning and enacting of imagined communities. This paper argues that the world-making of American science fiction can participate in the construction and maintenance of American empire; yet, such speculative world-making may also subvert and critique imperialist ideologies. Analyzing the recent films Arrival
(2016) and Annihilation
(2018) through the lenses of postcolonial and feminist critique and theories of religion and popular culture, I argue that these films function as parables about human migration, diversity, and hybrid identities with ambiguous implications. Contact with the alien other can be read as bringing threat, loss, and tragedy or promise, birth, and possibility.
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