Imagining Radical Futures: A Review of “Octavia’s Brood”

When I finished reading Octavia’s Brood, I was at a loss for words. I knew I had to somehow make my thoughts coherent to write this post, but all I really wanted to do was run around waving the book in people’s face shouting “Read this! Absorb this! Take this in and truly imagine all of the radical possibilities this book offers!” Mostly I just wanted to flail and shout “Read it now!” to everyone and no one all at once.

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For those of you who haven’t heard about this book yet, the full title is Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, and it is an anthology edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha. The title is a reference to Black science-fiction author Octavia Butler (as well as a reference to her Xenogenesis trilogy, also known as Lilith’s Brood), and the book was recently included on io9’s “Most Essential Science Fiction and Fantasy Books in April.” The official release date was March 15th, but it’s still making its way to store shelves in some places.

Imarisha uses the phrase “visionary fiction” to describe these works, and if you want to know more about it in her own words, I highly recommend you read her article in Bitch magazine, “Rewriting the Future.” As she defines it in the introduction to Octavia’s Brood, “Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the arc always bending toward justice.” It would be very hard for me to pick just one of the pieces from Octavia’s Brood as a favorite, in part because of the great diversity in subject. There’s everything from time travel to zombies to space colonies of people with disabilities.

(L-R) Co-editors Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown with contributor Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha at the 2015 INCITE! Color of Violence conference (Source)
(L-R) Co-editors Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown with contributor Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha at the 2015 INCITE! Color of Violence conference (Source)

It’s rare that a book feeds me so deeply as a reader, and a writer, and an activist. Sometimes a book like bell hooks’ remembered rapture will come along, and touch both the writer and the activist, or beautiful prose like Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion will bring life to both the writer and the reader. But Octavia’s Brood hits a level that I don’t believe I have experienced before. I want to read more things like it, and write things like it, and help create beautiful radical collaborative texts like it.

Octavia’s Brood really does feel like the book I’ve been waiting for, but now that it’s here all I can think is: I want more. So many of the stories made me wish they were just an opening chapter, or even a really thorough outline of a longer work. Morrigan Phillips’ “The Long Memory” felt like such a brief glimpse into a world where memories are held only by a special class of people known as Memorials that I found myself imagining turned into some sort of quartet a la Tamora Pierce. Bao Phi’s “Revolution Shuffle” was the kind of zombie story I enjoyed enough that I felt like I could actually make it through a whole novel about these characters. Mia Mingus’ “Hollow” made me crave seeing a world full of “UnPerfects” brought to life on screen, and portrayed by actors with all sorts of diverse bodies and abilities.

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If I haven’t made it clear enough already – I highly recommend this book. Obviously if you’re someone who is not a fan of any of the genres that normally fall under the category of “speculative fiction” – this might not be your usual cup of tea. But if you consider yourself an activist, and someone invested in building a better future, I would ask you to take a chance on Octavia’s Brood. At the very least, read the Introduction. I suspect you won’t regret it.

If your local library takes suggestions of book purchases, be sure to suggest Octavia’s Brood, so that it can make its way into the hands of others in need of inspiration! You can order your own copy from the publisher, AK Press, here. Please note that orders may be delayed because of a recent fire in their warehouse.

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