An author who has always inspired me is, Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006). Up to the point where I discovered her, I’d read a lot of the classic stories and authors, such as Arthur C Clarke and Robert Heinlein. They were the authors who were on the reading lists for the science fiction classes I took in college.
After college I found women authors in the genre. That’s when I started reading Ursula LeGuin, Anne McCaffery, Vonda McIntire…and Octavia. I was excited because not only did I have a space as a woman, but as a black woman. Finally I could see myself in these stories.
These days it might seem odd that those voices weren’t on my reading lists. I hadn’t known that other voices existed. Now – thankfully – the doors are open for different storytellers to be represented in science fiction and its sub-genres.
A winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, Octavia E. Butler was a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. She also attended the Clarion Writers Workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers.
There’s so much I can say about her books, but I’ll resist making this an extra-long post and share my favorites.
Bloodchild and Other Stories includes her award-winning novella, Bloodchild. It deals with a recurring theme in her work about humans who leave Earth to find refuge from unjust systems. On this particular planet the humans have had to make an arrangement with the inhabitants as a condition of being able to stay. Actually the sacrifice they make is quite startling. It left me questioning how much humans would be willing to give up for the promise of safety and security.
This comes up again in her Xenogenesis trilogy (which I’m re-reading right now) which deals with humanity after a devastating war. Aliens have allowed Earth a second chance, but there’s a catch. Humans won’t be able to re-populate the Earth unless they are also mated with the aliens. Yes, this does sound like a familiar plot for many science fiction romances, doesn’t it? Though the trilogy isn’t a romance, there are relationships – lovers, friends, parents and children – and those are at the core of the story. What is family and what does it mean to be human?
Kindred (which was mentioned in a recent profile of Dolly Parton as being one of her favorite books) is about a black woman who is inexplicably whisked back to the antebellum South to the plantation owned by one of her ancestors.
It’s a powerful story that goes in a different direction than the reader expects. Especially considering that her ancestor is the one who is actually responsible for pulling her into the past. She’s forced to come to terms with her connection to the ancestor and the knowledge that her actions could end up destroying her present life. There’s also a beautifully illustrated graphic novel version as well.
Of course, I could go on because there are more books I could mention. One that has become more known (or perhaps mentioned more in the media due to its prescience) is her masterpiece, Parable of the Sower. I read this years ago and it blew me away.
Set in Earth’s future (it was written in the 1990’s and set in the 2020’s) society is breaking down due to climate change, people live behind gates for safety and a president who wants to make things great again is in power. In spite of the state of this world, there is hope and the chance for a rebirth.
That’s part of what has always drawn me to her work. Yes, it often deals with a destruction of societal norms, but there’s also transformation and a second chance. Most of all, there’s hope. But humans must move through and resolve the hard parts first. Truth, then reconciliation.
Perhaps that’s why her work continues to draw readers (and inspire movie adaptations) over a decade since her passing. What she observed and shared in her work is timeless.
I haven’t included spoilers in these descriptions, so if you’re interested in reading about these books you can find more information on her website http://Octaviabutler.com and her extensive Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_E._Butler.
Originally posted on Here Be Magic