This piece is part of a series on visionary fiction we’re running on OneZero to examine how future culture can affect change now. In her companion feature about the growing genre, Walidah Imarisha, author, educator, and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, explains how stories about the future are imperative to helping us build a better one. (Stories like Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild, which we also published in full.) Here, Imarisha gives us a reading and viewing list of works of visionary fiction that will help us get our minds into gear.
Visionary fiction is fantastical art that helps us understand and challenge existing power structures — and supports us in imagining paths to dreaming and resting more just worlds and futures. It is intricately connected to community organizing and liberation movements. It centers the narratives, vision, and leadership of those who are marginalized and oppressed, especially those at the intersections of identities. Visionary fiction helps us imagine different relationships to power, and change within that art is decentralized, collective, nonhierarchical, and anticapitalist.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all visionary fiction, or of all radical speculative fiction. Rather than seeing these suggestions as the definitive word, instead, think of it as a few different starting points, a choice of doors to enter in through, knowing there is so much more waiting for you.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Anything by Octavia E. Butler could go here honestly — Butler’s work informed so much of my conceptualizing of visionary fiction (we even named our anthology Octavia’s Brood in honor of her!). Her work has always been prophetic and prescient, but it is eerily relevant today, especially the 1993 Parable of the Sower and its sequel Parable of the Talents, which begins in the early 2020s in a dystopian world dealing with climate catastrophe, economic devastation, and even a presidential candidate who runs on the slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Fire on the Mountain by Terry Bisson
Set in an alternate world where John Brown’s Harpers Ferry rebellion against slavery was successful, the Black nation Nova Africa is set to land a (Black) astronaut on the moon in 1959. This book always reminds me one moment holds all futures within it, and that we have the power to choose.
Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (volumes 1 and 2) edited by Sheree Renée Thomas
This two-volume collection changed my life when I was a teen and first read it. It is an iconic collection, encompassing so many incredible Black writers. By including works from historic Black writers like George S. Schuyler and Charles W. Chesnutt, even speculative fiction stories written by the famed Black scholar W. E. B. Du Bois from the 1920s, it disrupts the narrative that speculative fiction/sci-fi is unrelated to Blackness, and instead firmly shows Black people as some of the most visionary sci-fi creators, on and even more importantly off the page. Dark Matter is a multiverse in and of itself.
M Archive: After the End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
The second in a trilogy, I’d encourage you to read all of them. Alexis is an incredible public intellectual whose writings and organizing around abolition have educated me for decades. In M Archive, she expands on the world of her short story “Evidence” from Octavia’s Brood, and brings her liberated poetical style to imaginings of a post-cataclysmic world, rooted in the notion of Black archival life as a fundamental key to liberation.
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older
These fantastical stories set in the past centering marginalized communities help us both imagine what was, what is, and what will be. The collection is rooted in counternarratives, and allows a reimagining of the past that places those who have been pushed to the edges of both history and speculative fiction at the center. That is one of the principles of visionary fiction, and the reclamation of a part rooted in rebellious possibilities is a vital tool for today’s social movements.
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
This book, which I read in high school, was the first that allowed me a complete vision of what a liberated communal but still imperfect futuristic society could be. It was the first place I read gender-neutral pronouns, thought about collective childcare, saw consensus taking place.
Visionary fiction also exists in every medium, beyond books, as well. Two examples in film:
Sorry to Bother You, 2018
No spoilers, but this Black surrealist speculative film is rooted in direct action, mass protests, community organizing, and radical Black politics. It is even more relevant today than when it was released. Created by organizer Boots Riley of the revolutionary hip-hop group the Coup.
Born in Flames, 1983
This documentary-style science fiction film is set after a socialist democracy has been established in the United States. It embodies so well the understanding that unless those who sit at the intersections of identities are centered, real liberation is unattainable.
This is an amazing list of even more related films:
Visions of a Future Beyond Capitalism
35+ Revolutionary Films to Watch While Under Quarantine
And this list of historical and current Black sci-fi by Nisi Shawl is truly educational: