‘How to Save the World from Aliens, yet Keep Their Infrastructure’: Remapping the Alien State in Tade Thompson’s Wormwood Trilogy

Peter Ribic


This essay examines science fictional engagements with the postcolonial state in Africa. It begins by arguing that the alien, in both the abstract sense of ‘the stranger’ and the more specific sense of extraterrestrial life, offers an enduring figure in postcolonial writing for representing the historical contradictions and speculative futures of postcolonial sovereignty. Turning then to Tade Thompson’s Wormwood Trilogy—Rosewater (2016), The Rosewater Insurrection (2019a), and The Rosewater Redemption (2019b)—it shows how Thompson both literalizes descriptions of the postcolonial state as an ‘alien institution’ and attempts, in Wole Soyinka’s terms, to ‘remap’ state power. In particular, by fusing the alien body to the state apparatus in the speculative, social democratic ‘free state’ of Rosewater, Thompson’s near-future novels resist projects to ‘humanize’ or de-alienate postcolonial governance, lingering instead with what Tejumola Olaniyan has recently described as the state’s ‘possibilities of strangeness.’ The essay concludes with a broader reflection on the contemporary ‘boom’ in African science fiction. Where recent critics have characterized third-generation science fiction as a break with the earlier forms and commitments of postcolonial writing, it argues for an engagement with the generic and political continuities that obtain across postcolonial literary history.


Tade Thompson; African science fiction; Nigerian literature; postcolonial fiction; the postcolonial state; alien invasion narratives

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