Samuel Ginsburg

The Cyborg Caribbean: Techno-Dominance in Twenty-First-Century Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican Science Fiction

Rutgers University Press, 2023

170 pages


Reviewed by Giulia A. Oprea 

For over a decade now we’ve seen people and movements utilize technology and social media as means of protesting and resistance. At the same time, we’ve also seen the various ways in which technology and digital spaces have been used to reinforce oppression and enact surveillance by those in power. Samuel Ginsburg’s book explores these ideas within recent Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican science fiction—looking at what he calls “the cultural, political, and rhetorical legacies of techno-dominance and resistance.” Techno-dominance here is defined as “a term for the ways technologies and technology-based rhetoric or imagery interact with, maintain, and facilitate colonization and authoritarianism.” Science fiction has always had a special propensity in in imagining the future and our relationship with technology and if, as Sheila Jasanoff and others have argued, imagining the future is inherently political, then the genre serves as a generative ground to explore the nuances and contradictions of technology, digital spaces, and power. Ginsburg looks at “the political and rhetorical implications of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), nuclear weapons, space exploration, and digital avatars.” Also central to this book is “an idea of shared Caribbean history and cultural traditions.” These islands not only share a related, yet distinct, history of “colonialism, slavery, and authoritarianism in the region,” but they’ve also “been similarly affected by the specific technologies studied in this project.” Ginsburg’s goal in this book is two-fold. On the one hand, he aims to demonstrate how the analysis of science fiction can be valuable in the study of the Caribbean—in particular in relation to “discussions of the effects of colonialism and authoritarianism on concepts of humanity in the region, especially in terms of technology’s role in these processes.” On the other hand, Ginsburg also underscores how generative studies of the Caribbean can be in science fiction scholarship, especially when it comes to the genre’s political potential. The colonial influence embedded in the history of science fiction has been well documented, and Caribbean science fiction provides a rich depository that continues to confront and decenter those legacies because “asserting the right to imagine the future can be read as a decolonizing act  . . .  [especially when] colonizing and authoritarian systems attempt to delegitimize visions of the future by marginalized people.” Ginsburg argues and demonstrates throughout the book that looking at how Caribbean science fiction authors resist oppressive regimes in their work reveals that the structures of techno-dominance aren’t invincible or totalizing, and just as important, their work can not only resist those structures but also “offer opportunities for rethinking and repurposing these technologies of power.”

Ginsburg eases us into the book with a concise and accessible introduction that briefly takes us back in time to the 1972 Miss Universe pageant, introduces us to important terms and concepts he uses in this book, and cites a number of authors, scholars, and theorists whose ideas he engages with—including Samuel Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Walidah Imarisha, Édouard Glissant, Sylvia Wynter, Frantz Fanon, Katherine McKittrick, Donna Haraway, and Joy James. Each of the subsequent four chapters is dedicated to a different type of technology (electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), nuclear weapons, space exploration, and digital avatars) and dives into the history, legacy, and science fictional representations of each one. For example, Chapter Two, “Nuclear Weapons: Missiles, Radiation, and Archives,” is interested in the legacy of nuclear weapons in the Caribbean and what is left out of the dominant nuclear archive. The stories analyzed here seek to contest this narrative by recovering parts of the story that have been left out, like the effects of radiation on bodies. In Chapter Four, “Disruptive Avatars and the Decoding of Caribbean Cyberspace,” Ginsburg looks at three science fiction stories which reckon with cyberspaces and disruptive digital avatars that challenge online repression. His analysis of these stories takes place alongside a discussion of the history and contradictions of the internet in the Caribbean. Ginsburg’s book is well-organized and easy to read—in other words, short, sweet, and to the point. The book avoids jargon and lengthy historical introductions, while also introducing us to remarkable science fiction stories that are worth reading alongside this book. 

Ginsburg’s book offers a thoughtful exploration of technology, power dynamics, and resistance within recent Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican science fiction. His analysis of techno-dominance engages scholars across disciplines such as science and technology studies, Caribbean studies, and postcolonial studies. By examining the political and cultural implications of technologies like electroconvulsive therapy and digital avatars, Ginsburg provides valuable insights for understanding the socio-political dimensions of technological advancements. The book’s focus on shared Caribbean history and cultural traditions adds depth to the analysis, making it relevant to scholars interested in the intersections of colonialism, slavery, and authoritarianism in the region and beyond. Ginsburg’s exploration of how science fiction narratives resist oppressive regimes highlights the genre’s political potential and its role in challenging dominant power structures. 

Overall, Ginsburg’s accessible writing style and interdisciplinary approach make the book appealing to scholars interested in exploring the political dimensions of science fiction narratives. It will particularly benefit those seeking to understand how technology shapes concepts of humanity and resistance within the Caribbean context. Through its examination of techno-dominance and resistance in science fiction, this book contributes to ongoing discussions about the political implications of technology and digital spaces, making it a valuable resource for scholars across various academic fields.