Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. All organizing is science fiction.
– Walidah Imarisha, Introduction, Octavia’s Brood
Every now and then, you pick up the sort of book that encompasses your beliefs in a way that makes you want to wrap yourself up in it while simultaneously flinging your meager savings at the writers or editors to make them generate more of the same so that you can keep reading it for the rest of your life.
Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements is that kind of book.
Anyone who has talked about literature with me—online or in person—has likely heard my ongoing laments of the constant pitfall of science fiction and fantasy: the opportunity to do so much creative world-building so often squandered to in favor of falling into the same tropes and power structures that we see every day. Why does it seem so much harder to imagine a world without rape than a world full of dragons? Why do alien species from alternate dimensions still fall into a sexual binary, complete with a somehow sexually compatible female for our rugged starship captain to seduce? The opportunity to write amazingly subversive worlds seems to be too difficult for most mainstream science fiction and fantasy writers. Yet Octavia’s Brood presents a wonderful alternative:
“Visionary fiction” is a term we developed to distinguish science fiction that has relevance toward building new, freer worlds from the mainstream strain of science fiction, which most often reinforces dominant narratives of power. Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the arc always bending towards social justice. (4)
Visionary fiction veers away from the usual vein of sci-fi, which so often plays into the typical Western fantasy narratives of militarism, individualism, and all the other (frankly) shitty and oppressive tropes that the people of space and/or the future could be using their shiny new scientific and social knowledge to dismantle, but don’t—usually because the authors are generally the ones who benefit from those oppressive structures in real life. In sharp contrast, visionary fiction—written by Butler and the many writers who have followed in her stead—takes a different route, exploring “the intersections of identity and imagination, the gray areas of race, class, gender, sexuality, love, militarism, inequality, oppression, resistance, and—most important—hope” (3).
I’m only about halfway through this amazing anthology, lent to me by my wonderful brother-in-law Lev (which is the only reason the entire thing isn’t slathered in highlighting and pencil marks—I’m caring for it properly, I promise!), but I’ve already been captivated, again and again, by the worlds that the contributors have created. From post-zombie-apocalypse America to a river in Detroit consuming gentrifiers who take the city from its natives, fallen angels in Harlem taking out immigration agents to shapeshifting runway models protesting beauty standards, Octavia’s Brood has pulled me in with stories that capture the themes of intersectionality and social justice, liberation and activism, and that yearning, inherent in every person from childhood through old age, to keep reaching, reaching, reaching for the stars.