Octavia Butler’s Good Stuff

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia Butler

Sometimes we need someone to make a suggestion or a recommendation (or give an assignment) before we will try something different, something we didn’t think we would like. Sometimes that nudge pushes open a door to something amazing that we’d been judging based off of the view through a grimy and distorting window. It’s like the moment Dorothy steps through the door and sees the colorful world of Oz. I have my undergraduate lit studies professor to thank for introducing me to so many writers I’ve come to love. Octavia Butler is one of those writers I’m certain I never would have discovered on my own. Butler’s work, in turn, opened me up to the genre of science fiction, towards which I had largely been indifferent.

 Parable of the Sower

This was the assigned reading that introduced me to the remarkable Octavia Butler. As global warming breaks down the environment and governmental structures, protagonist Lauren Olamina struggles to survive while developing a faith-system she calls Earthseed. As the novel progresses she scrapes together a small community and spreads her message.

 Parable of the Talents

A sequel to Parable of the Sower, Butler’s Parable of the Talents explores the difficulties of Lauren’s relationship her daughter as the Earthseed community she has put everything into comes under attack from what government is left in the still crumbling country.

 Kindred

Same professor, different class. In Kindred, Butler sends Dana through time to antebellum south. Unable to control how and when she goes back and forth, Dana always ends up on the plantation of her ancestors just in time to save Rufus, her several times over great-grandfather. She struggles to relate her experiences as a modern black woman with a white husband to Rufus who grows from impressionable child to imposing young master. While I liked this novel well enough, there is an aspect of the novel’s conclusion that I felt was too over the top and unnecessary (and I was one of the more polite ones in class when discussion turned to the ending).

 Fledgling

I really enjoyed Octavia Butler’s approach to vampires. Rather than picking and choosing which elements of vampire cannon to include or ignore, she blends the traditional lore with her science fiction roots and creates a novel that as just as much a hybrid as her character, Shori.

 Lilith’s Brood

One book in appearance, this is actually al three novels in her Xenogenesis trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago). Starting with Lilith, one of the last humans to survive a nuclear holocaust, she wakes up aboard a space ship, a captive of the alien Oankali race that rescued the clusters of humans who had survived. They plan to use Lilith as a go-between as they move forward and begin waking more of the humans up. The two novels that follow examine the lives of Lilith’s children as the human and and Oankali begin to live, work, and bond in new ways.

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