Octavia’s Brood is needed in a time when our imaginations are under assault. Despite the revolutionary potential of the genre, sci-fi is often guilty of reproducing current social patterns and power dynamics. However, within this anthology of 21 stories, we are shown alternative ways of imagining through the genre of ‘visionary fiction’. Visionary fiction is science fiction that centres the marginalised and promotes grassroots change. The worlds created in this collection are not only beautiful, challenging and hopeful but also explicitly radical.
Inspired by the life and work of sci-fi writer Octavia E Butler, Octavia’s Brood continues her legacy of challenging understandings of race, sex and power in sci-fi. In Adrienne Maree Brown’s The River, we are confronted with the racialised nature of gentrification through a supernatural fable. In Tara Betts’ incredible Runway Blackout, the modelling industry and society at large are discussed through the story of a Therianthrope, or shapeshifter, who rebels against a system that upholds white standards of beauty. The socially engaged fiction in the collection subverts classic sci-fi tropes. Each story is at once creatively sublime and politically radical, and all offer hope.
Octavia’s Brood persuades the reader to empathise with a future or alternative self. It is in this that visionary fiction has such radical potential in challenging our actions now, by giving personhood to those in the future. I have not read another collection of science fiction stories that place so many social issues at the heart of their narratives, rather than on the peripheries. Through this, the collection suggests that it is our individual and collective imaginations that are a central site of struggle and radical change. Through each story, new possibilities for reimagining the future are born.
Adrienne Maree Brown’s words in the concluding essay highlight one of the most powerful messages of the collection: ‘We hold so many worlds inside us. So many futures.’ Through each story we are at once transported to an alternative future or reality, while being invigorated into changing the present. While the stories and writers all speak for themselves, one central theme is that in order to change the world, we must collectively reimagine it. The reassuring words that echo throughout are those of Octavia E Butler herself, that ‘the only lasting truth is change’.