DeFalco, Amelia, Curious Kin in Fictions of Posthuman Care

Amelia DeFalco, Curious Kin in Fictions of Posthuman Care (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023) 224 pp. £65.00 Hb. ISBN: 9780192886125

This book gives all its key terms serious play in service of its exploration of ‘forms of care that resist […] human exceptionalism’ (26). Ranging through curiosity’s interest and strangeness, the biological connections and physical divisions of kin, fictions in several media, and a breathtaking array of posthumanist framings, to the combinations of feeling and action encompassed in care, the introduction sets up a field seemingly too vast for a single volume. All this is supported with deft and clear presentations of what could have been a staggering array of theoretical framework; DeFalco ensures that her reader does not stagger, using a conversational tone and clear presentation.

Curious Kin clearly emerges from DeFalco’s earlier work on aging, care, and ethics, with emphatic focus on posthuman connections. Each chapter takes up a different range of posthumanity, from robots to non-human animals to clones to the colonized. Chapter one, on care robots, takes up not only fictional exemplars (particularly the care robots in the film Robot and Frank and the television series Real Humans) but also the reality of the kinds of robots already on the market and the human needs—particularly affective needs—which care robots are built to address. Turning to human-animal connections, especially those that blur the boundaries between humans and other animals, the second chapter continues its focus on affect, with close readings of several stories of ‘feral children’ setting up a thoughtful consideration of touch and ‘tactile bonds beyond the animal’ (69). Chapter three opens with the discontinuation of technical support for the popular robot dog Aibo, connecting this to extractivist criticisms in order to read Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) and the MaddAdam trilogy (Margaret Atwood) with attention to what has been deemed disposable.

In the fourth chapter DeFalco brings the analytical force developed through close reading of beings who are easily recognized as not-human to bear on people who are human but have been denied full humanity. She demonstrates, in politically useful framing, how Black lives have been denigrated as not mattering. Working from critical race theory (and starting from an orienting overview to both the Black Lives Matter movement and Black studies scholarship), DeFalco focuses on Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, a realist novel. Here the ‘curious kinship’ under central consideration is between a boy and his dog, a relationship in which the boy both loves and profits from the dog: ‘Skeetah’s intimacy with China [the dog] hints at an alternative vision [of care] in which affects intensify, thrive, and multiply in response to engagement’ (151). Ward, in DeFalco’s reading, creates a connection between posthumanism and decolonization.

Frequent, careful, and extensive close readings demonstrate and clarify the argument and its stakes throughout the book. The chapters are both self-contained and accumulating toward a clearly stated and supported conclusion. As the argument builds, in DeFalco’s conversational and inviting style, so do connections to a wide range of existing scholarship and tracks are laid for connections to related scholarship as well as current urgently needed engagements. The BSLS Book Prize has been well earned.

Jenni Halpin