Sat
Jun 22 2013 8:00am

Happy Birthday, Octavia Butler!

Octavia Butler The first Octavia Butler novel I ever read was Fledgling, and it was a revelation. While I had been taught by early exposure to Ursula Le Guin that genre fiction could be political, could comment on social and cultural morés, I never expected that someone would use vampires to discuss bigotry, racism, and slavery. It’s been almost a decade since I read it, but I doubt I’ll ever forget that sense of wonder.

And that, more than anything else, is why Butler ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Of course, her accomplishments are many—this is a woman who conquered both dyslexia and prejudice to become an award-winning writer and a MacArthur Fellow. Kindred alone is enough to put her in the ranks of influential sci-fi writers. But I am a lifelong genre fan and a somewhat-jaded reader, and I’ve read a lot of good books and many great ones too. So when I read, I’m looking for a return to that moment we’ve all felt, in which an author does something so original, so creative, so truly surprising, that it feels like your mind has been blown wide open. Octavia Butler’s books create that moment, time and again.

For the first U.S. World Book Night, I chose to hand out Kindred. There’s nothing simple about trying to convince strangers first, that you’re not trying to give them religious materials, and second, that they should take this sci-fi novel from you. And believe me, I dearly wanted to say, “Have you accepted Octavia Butler as your personal reading savior?” but wiser heads convinced me this was a bad idea. So instead, I often found myself babbling. “It’s not just a time travel novel,” I told people. “It’s a book that shows how you can use science fiction to talk about politics and society.” “It’s amazing. It will change the way you look at genre fiction.” “She’s the most famous female African-American sci-fi writer!”

I said all those things because they were true, but mostly because “It will astonish you,” doesn’t seem like enough of a pitch. But truthfully, that’s the highest praise I can give: Octavia Butler will astonish you.

6 comments
Jordan Dennis
1. jddennis
Oh, wow. I didn't know today was her birthday. I was online last night trying to figure out which of her books to read next.
Mordicai Knode
2. mordicai
I really liked Xenogenesis, aka Lilith's Brood.
AndrewV
3. AndrewV
Orscon Scott Card gave Wild Seed a glowing recommendation and I picked it up specifically at his mention. Wonderful book. It was maybe the 6th SciFi book I'd ever read but it still stands out in my mind, even now that I've read scores of others.

I had no idea Ms. Butler was black when I read it and never found myself caring when I found out. Why does her race have to matter? To me, she's not "the most famous female African-American sci-fi writer". She doesn't belong in such a small box.

Octavia Butler was damn good author. One of the best Sci-Fi has known. That matters far more than her gender or skin color.
Noneo Yourbusiness
4. Longtimefan
I forgot which web site I was on for a minute and spent 30 seconds looking for a "like" button. :)

Truly one of the great Sci Fi writers.
AndrewV
5. jmb
Happy birthday to a great writer who left us far too soon.
Jeff Valluzzi
6. jvalluzzi
Speculative Fiction is a field that is dominated by white men, so Octavia Butler was truly cherished for offering a different perspective to the field. Like the commentor above, I picked up Wild Seed because of a recommendation by OSC in his Writing Guidebook. It is a wonderful, unique, and thought-provoking novel about gender and race roles that I believe could only have been written by a black woman. Her vision, passion, influence, and contribution to the genre will be sorely missed.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment