Writer of academic science fiction Dominic Alessio says his interest in science fiction lies in connecting it to contemporary issues and to understanding the past

Dominic Alessio is always happy to be in the company of science-fiction enthusiasts, despite the fact that his wife teases him about his interest. A professor of History and Dean of International Programmes at Richmond University in London, Dominic says his interest in sci-fi lies in connecting it to contemporary issues and to understand the past.

I was actually researching tourism in New Zealand, the way they would promote themselves as an ideal utopian world to attract settlers to their far-flung locale. And that concept is what took me to look into sci-fi and imperial history and eventually to sci-fi utopianism, he says.

An academic, and historian at heart, Dominic prefers the comfort of hard facts and research, drawing parallels between science-fiction and contemporary topics such as the far right, gender and women’s studies and world history.

He brings up New Zealand’s move to give women voting rights and frequently cites James Cameron’s movies as examples of the effects of imperialism and capitalism. “Avatar has been picked up by so many groups in the context of protest. We’ve seen tribes in India protesting against the mining company Vedanta and Palestinians dressed like the Na’vi raise their voices against Israeli settlers. This is the subliminal message in the movies that anyone can pick up, and since James Cameron himself has said the same in interviews, it is evidence for a historian like me.”

Among the many works to Dominics’s credit are Easter Island And The Lost Continent Of Mu, Total Recall Pacific Style: Science Fiction, Colonialism and Pacific Literature and Hindu Nationalism And Post Colonialism In Indian Science Fiction: Koi.. Mil Gaya.

But it is when he talks about the work which he has edited and given an introduction to, The Great Romance, that he exudes a sense of intensity. Dominic was working on the book, written in 1881 under the pseudonym ‘The Inhabitant’, when the book’s supposedly-lost second volume was uncovered in a library in New Zealand. “This is a book that detailed faster than light travel in 1881, even before Einstein mentioned it in 1905. There are descriptions of airlocks and spacesuits and shuttles before any scientist came up with them. So in that way sometimes science-fiction shows you the way forward.”

Dominic says that he would love to publish non-academic science fiction some day when he has more time, but is “not brave enough” yet.

But ask him what his all time favourites in the genre across all media are, and he is ready with an answer, “In books it’s the 19 century stuff, H.G. Wells, Frankenstein and all that. In movies it would have to be Alien, Aliens and Blade Runner, because of the issues they tackle - imperialism, what it is to be human and what it is to love.”