Just checking in on one of my more favorite sites, Nerds of Color, and saw the news that the long-awaited sci-fi anthology Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction From Social Justice Movements is close. Very close.
There are any number of reasons why this is such good news, not the least of which is Octavia Butler. Period. Those who know simply know. As a young black kid who has always loved anything scifi, fantasy, otherworldly, and just plain weird and not normal, Octavia Butler was a beacon. She let me know that I wasn’t alone and that it was OK to include myself in this crowd where we were so few. Just like Jimi Hendrix let me know not only that black folks could belong in rock music but that we could own it. She also taught me how science fiction, civil rights and issues of race could interact in an extremely powerful way that didn’t interrupt the story or turn what could have been a good story into a thinly veiled book-length speech.
Understand that the way I was taught as a writer was that story is paramount and trumps everything else. Let the story tell itself, because if you try and start with a message and then drape a thinly-woven story over its shoulders you’re gonna have something that feels about as credible as a scarecrow in a three-piece suit. But then when I would read stories by my early childhood favorites like The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, I could see so plainly even then that science fiction and fantasy was often about so much more than wild and fanciful flights of imagination and different worlds.
But there were very few science fiction stories where issues of race were ever touched upon except in the most remote sort of way, and even then there were never any non-white characters. As much as I loved sci fi this absence was never enough to turn me off of the genre since most other genres ran a far distant second place. Truth be told, as a kid I really didn’t even notice nor did I care. I just liked having my imagination scratched.
But as I got older and (much) more conscious, this sort of thing became more and more apparent to me. And then along came Octavia Butler’s Kindred….
I didn’t put down my other early favorites, but I will say that from that point on pretty much everything changed inside my sci fi world. Before Octavia Butler, science fiction to me was the outside looking in. Octavia invited me inside and told me to look up. Then out. Then all around.
I never knew science fiction could do that.