Saturday, May 21, 2011

Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006)

I had always collected books by Octavia Butler, knowing that she was a pioneer African American woman in the field of sci fi, but when my favorite bookstore owner told me recently that she had actually died in 2006, I decided now was the time. I pulled out Kindred—a "grim fantasy" addressing the relentless torments of slavery as experienced by a 20th-century woman who time travels against her will—and was blown away. Then in a recent Guardian article ("The stars of modern SF pick the best science fiction") Tricia Sullivan chose the novel, and said this about Butler:
Beginning in the 1970s, Butler wrote three sequences of novels: the Patternist books, the Lilith's Brood series and the Parable novels (incomplete at her tragic death in 2006). Critically respected, she won the Hugo and Nebula awards, received a Clarke nomination, the PEN lifetime achievement award and a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. A serious writer working in a field that is seldom taken seriously, Butler addressed biological control, gender, humanity's relationship with aliens, genetics and even the development of a fictional religion. Her narratives leave space for the reader's involvement while exploring the nature of change. They gaze unflinchingly on power dynamics. "Who will rule? Who will lead? Who will define, refine, confine, design? Who will dominate? All struggles are essentially power struggles," Butler stated, "and most are no more intellectual than two rams knocking their heads together." Butler's writing is courageous, stimulating and infused with a rare purity of intention. Crushingly, she died at the height of her powers. Bloodchild and Other Stories is a good place to begin discovering her work.
Margaret Atwood chose Farenheit 451, while Ursula LeGuin picked Virginia Woolf's Orlando. Two authors chose The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (1957), and their descriptions really made me want to read this retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, written by an American ad man.

In the sci fi department, we currently have intriguing novels by Johnathan Lethem, Jeanette Winterson, Thomas Nevins, and H.G. Wells.


  1. love this post! as a sci-fi fan, you have inspired me to pick her books up asap (or at least to put them im my amazon shopping cart so that i will remember to pick them up soon)!

  2. Some books of hers that I've enjoyed were the Xenogenesis books and Wild Seed.