• AK Press

I could listen to Walidah Imarisha talk about intersections between science fiction and social justice forever. Imarisha, who co-edited the new sci-fi anthology Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements (due out from AK Press in April 2015) and teaches at Portland State, makes a simple, but convincing argument for science fiction as a tool of social justice: World-building, of any kind, is basically what people do when they identify injustice and seek to change it.

At the Independent Publishing Resource Center Friday night, Imarisha sat down with fellow professor Grace Dillon, for a Q&A moderated by Mercury pal Sarah Mirk. Imarisha and Dillon talked at length about Star Trek ("mainstream sci-fi at its best and at its worst"), the sci-fi authors they first connected with (Imarisha: Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time; Dillon: Ray Bradbury), the revolutionary potential of science fiction, and ways in which science fiction sometimes makes outer space look "a lot like our world in all the jacked-up ways," like "a wagon train to the stars"—with the colonial mindset that implies.

Imarisha also spoke up about the recent injustices in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, praising the activism of black youth in particular in protesting police brutality in recent weeks. "The leadership of black youth has been incredible," she said, noting that black youth involvement in direct action against racial profiling and police brutality is a powerful "[rejection of] respectability politics."

Science fiction, like most genre fiction, is often pushed away from the "literary" label. The result is that genre fiction is relegated to a strange corner away from so-called "serious writing." This, of course, is a false dichotomy, and you probably already know that if you've read Octavia E. Butler's science fiction or—to call up another genre—Patricia Highsmith's "suspense" novels (or any really bad "literary fiction," for that matter, which as much its own genre as romance or horror). These aren't pulpy, disposable stories, and framing them that way makes about as much sense as slapping a Fabio Harlequin romance cover on Pride and Prejudice. That doesn't stop it from happening, and sometimes it seems that writers and critics get so caught up in trying to legitimize genre fiction by explaining what it's not doing that we forget to address what it does particularly well. That's what makes the work Imarisha and Dillon are doing to shed light on how science fiction actually functions especially important.