Friday, August 28, 2015

Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice MovementsOctavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements by Walidah Imarisha

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Octavia Butler was the first well-known African American woman author of science fiction. Her work, always set in dystopic times and places very closely modeled on the contemporary US, nevertheless imagined other possibilities, including novel approaches to race, gender and species inter-relations. For example, Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) uses the stories of an empath, a woman crippled by the pain of others, to argue that hope and regrowth must be possible, even at what seems to be the end of time. The book begins with words of wisdom from a holy book called Earthseed: The Books of the Living: "All that you touch is change. All that you change changes you."

Butler died in 2006; since her death, her influence and readership have continued to grow; indeed, those words of wisdom from the beginning of the Parable of the Sower have become an activist mantra of sorts, particularly among activists of colour in American cities. Octavia's Brood is at once a book and a project designed to introduce Butler's radical imagination to generations of new readers and activist-artists.

Octavia's Brood, the book, begins with Detroit-based co-editor adrienne maree brown's proposition that "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice a world that doesn't exist yet." A tangible, printed companion an online presence ( and a series of workshops, in which participants are invited to write science fiction as a part of their organizing and social justice work, Octavia's Brood is about the ways that art and culture allow us to time travel, to imagine others' lives, to revisit history, to cultivate alternative futures and alternative lives. Walidah Imarisha, Oregon based co-editor of the volume with adrienne maree brown, argues that science fiction is already at the root of survival for many people of colour in the contemporary americas: "And for those of us from communities with historic collective trauma, we must understand that each of us is already science fiction walking around on two legs. Our ancestors dreamed us up and then bent reality to create us" (5).

The collection is uneven--the idea of activism as science fiction is stronger than many of the stories that result from science fiction writing workshops with activists and social justice workers. But this does not really matter. As adrienne maree brown writes, "we hold so many worlds inside us. So many futures. It is our radical responsibility to share these worlds, to replant them in the soil of our society as seeds for the type of justice we want and need" (278). There is much to learn here.

Octavia's Brood is an important and necessary book, a crucial tool for teaching, thinking and (re)imaging past, present and future.

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