3.01.2006

RIP Octavia Butler


OCTAVIA BUTLER
(June 22, 1947 - February 24, 2006)
Black feminist science fiction writer


I devoted a big part of my dissertation to her work back in the early 90s. From that work, I published an article on her superb story "Bloodchild" in African American Review in 1994. The story deals with alien-human relations on a faraway planet that have master-slave, human-animal, and fascinating race/gender implications. Though old and not my very best work, my article does express how rich I find the story. You can read the article here.

For first-time readers, I recommend "Bloodchild" and her breezy yet potent novel Kindred, about a contemporary woman who is thrown back and forth in time to save the life of her white (future slave master) ancestor. Her Xenogenesis Trilogy is also worthwhile, starting with Dawn, in which aliens called Oankali offer to save the remants of humanity after a global nuclear war if, and only if, they "gene trade" (i.e. mate only via gene mixing with the aliens -- no more pure-bred humans). Earlier, she penned five novels in her Patternmaster Series, about mentally powerful beings from the 18th-century (healer Anyanwu and body-vampire Doro in Wild Seed) to the present day (Mind of My Mind and AIDS-suggestive Clay's Ark). I'm not a fan of her more recent Parable series, about a young girl in an evironmentally ravaged near-future U.S. who creates her own religion (with a core of "God is Change"), but it has its fans. I have yet to read her newest, Fledgling, a vampire novel, but it's on my to-read list.

Writing older man/younger woman romances that never rang true and fell prey to sexist stereotypes, failing to offer LGBT options in her worlds, and too conservative for me despite being one of the only African American feminist writing science fiction, Butler's work has always been a complex, difficult read for me. But her writing inspired my dissertation and I thank her for that. And she was a fascinating person when I met her and shared a seat on a fan convention panel with her back in the 90s. I argued humanity should be kept glued to this planet so we don't foul up the universe; she argued the only way we'll evolve is to leave Earth behind. Despite the disagreement, I enjoyed her presence.

RIP

2 comments:

Kate said...

Bloodchild still remains the best short story I've ever read. Thanks for recommending it so long ago.

Deborah said...

Thanks for saying you didn't like Parable. When she was recommended to me, the first book in that series was what the library had. I didn't like it, so it's good to learn that I shouldn't write her off yet!