An Octavia Butler Reading Pathway

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of  the birthday of Octavia Butler. See all the posts here.


Today at Book Riot, we’re celebrating Octavia Butler day. If you’re not already a Butler fan, we hope that our posts have piqued your interest!

If you’re interested in reading Octavia Butler’s work but don’t know where to start, this post is for you! These books will give you a great introduction to Butler’s writing.

Kindred by Octavia ButlerStart with … Kindred.

This is where I started with Butler, and of all her books that I’ve read, I think it has the widest appeal. Published in 1979, Kindred is the story of Dana, a modern-day black woman who is suddenly finds herself whisked back in time to a pre-Civil War plantation. There she meets her ancestors, both black and white. Now, she has to figure out how to survive in the past and in the present. The book tackles the complexity of the relationship between enslaved people and those who claimed ownership of them. And it’s a good story. Because the science fiction element is confined to the mysterious time travel that makes the story go, it’s a book that even those who don’t enjoy science fiction can enjoy. (It’s similar to Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad in that respect.)

Parable of the Sower CoverThen Move on to … Parable of the Sower

The first of Butler’s two Parable novels, Parable of the Sower is the story of Lauren Oya Olamina who lives in Los Angeles in the 2020s. Climate change has made basic resources scarce, and most people live at the mercy of the few corporations who have jobs and money to offer. Lauren starts the book in relative safety in a gated community, but her world gradually falls apart. Born with a special gift (and sometimes curse) of empathy, she clings to an idea called Earthseed, which develops into a religion based on the idea of God as change. It’s a remarkable book about hope and survival and the power of vulnerability. And it’s the lead-in to an even better book.

Lauren’s story continues in Parable of the Talents

When people talk about prescient fiction, this is the book that springs to my mind. Published in 1998, it’s alarming how close we are to the trajectory Butler lays out here. Lauren has created a new community called Acorn built on the Earthseed ideals. For a time, everything seems idyllic within Acorn, even as the world outside continues falling apart. But then the Christian America party’s presidential candidate gets elected under the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Their first order of business is to round up and reeducate anyone who is different. That includes the people of Acorn. The chilling thing is how they’re able to keep the persecution and torture just far enough out of sight to keep the masses ignorant of what’s going on.

But as terrifying as it is, there’s some hope. This is a book where institutions can be manipulated, but they can also, ultimately, work for the people’s benefit. It’s a long and horrifying journey, though. One I’d prefer to stop in its tracks as early as possible.

And finally, there’s Fledgling

Butler’s final novel is a fascinating take on vampires. The main character, Shori, is an Ina, a species with sensitivity to sun, a youthful appearance (Shori looks to be about 10 but is actually in her 50s), and reliance on human blood for sustenance. When the book begins, Shori has no understanding of who or what she is, and we are educated in Ina ways structures along with her. The book examines racial, sexual, familial, and societal structures, putting all of them up for harsh examination. There’s a lot in this book that might make readers uncomfortable, particularly given Shori’s appearance as pre-teen girl. I, however, appreciate that Butler was willing to dig into the discomfort. And, like her other books, it’s a great story, even without the complex ideas behind it.

 

Science Fiction Short Story Collections by Authors of Color

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. Like so many fantastic genre writers before and since, Octavia Butler got her start when she sold the short story Crossover. Short story publishing has often provided authors of marginalized backgrounds with a better chance to get off the ground. Publishing a novel takes a greater commitment of time and money, so companies are more hesitant to pull the trigger on unknown authors with "non-traditional" backgrounds and stories. And yet, some of the most iconic works of fiction are only a few...Continue Reading

Fear and Butler in America

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. I spent most of my life afraid of Octavia Butler. A 1988 copy of Kindred sat on my bookshelf for years. It traveled across the country with me. Twice. Actually, I’ve had two copies; I traded in the one I had when I found an older version with a more interesting cover. I sort of knew what it was about. Something involving a black woman from the present traveling back to the Antebellum United States. I knew it...Continue Reading

Fierce: The Short Fiction of Octavia Butler

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. Fierce. That was my reaction when I read the work of Octavia Butler for the first time. This is a woman to be reckoned with.  I don't say that just because she is a black woman writing in a genre that is dominated by white men - even more so than literature as a whole - and that is nothing if not impressive. I say it because she does something with her writing that so many authors attempt...Continue Reading

A Smurfette in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Octavia’s Legacy

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. Women writers have interesting barriers. The Mary Sue and Tor.com have discussed how female SFF writers, and SFF female characters, can easily become overlooked or forgotten. We don’t receive as much coverage due to implicit bias in our culture. This is ironic since according to history women like Mary Shelley have created the science fiction and horror genres. Tor.com mentions that the women that leave a legacy are the Smurfettes of the world, the token female authors that...Continue Reading

LUMINESCENT THREADS: Knowing Octavia Butler Through a Community That Loves Her

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. Do you often write dead letters - that you pen down in your journal on nights when you’ve been defeated - to your favourite author? I have done this, and I’m sure, dear Reader, that you have too. We have all bared our secrets and mysteries to our favourite authors at some point. A good thing about this habit is, of course, that at some point, brilliant people like Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal might want to consolidate and...Continue Reading

Is it Possible to Misread Octavia Butler?

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. "Bloodchild" is one of Octavia Butler's most haunting, disturbing, and memorable stories, and is also one of the greatest things she ever wrote. And I know that I am not alone in having completely misread the story and entirely missed what Butler had accomplished. The titular tale in Butler's one and only short story collection, "Bloodchild" describes a future where humanity has developed a complicated relationship with a race of insect-like creatures known as the Tlic. The Tlic chooses...Continue Reading

Why Octavia E. Butler is Essential SciFi Genre Reading

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. I'm not really sure when I became a huge fan of Octavia E. Butler, but I do remember the first novel of hers I read: it was Kindred. I had been loving sci-fi novels at the time, but everything I picked up after The Hunger Games felt stale and repetitive (Christ, did we really need a whole Divergent series? Sorry, not sorry). I picked up Kindred because it sounded genuinely original, and it is: I couldn't put it down and...Continue Reading

Writers Inspired by Octavia Butler

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. Octavia Butler inspired many writers -- especially writers of color -- by showing them that they could be writers, that there was a place for their fiction. That their dreams were worthy of following. These writers' stories about Octavia Butler's influence shows how important the Own Voices movement is in publishing. We need books written by black women, with black women on the cover, prominently displayed on bookshelves. We needed them yesterday, but today will have to do. Thankfully, for...Continue Reading

Science Fiction That Isn’t Quite; or, Books to Read if You Loved KINDRED

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. My first significant memory of Octavia Butler is from college, when I was in a class about representations and intersections of race and sexuality, and we read her Kindred. Kindred is a strange, beautiful, harrowing, painful book in which a black woman in the contemporary U.S. find herself repeatedly and inexplicably drawn back in time to an antebellum plantation. For me, the “inexplicably” was so important that, when a friend in the class described the book as “science...Continue Reading

Discovering Octavia Butler’s FLEDGLING And Rediscovering Genre Fiction

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's  birthday. See all the posts here. I discovered Octavia Butler because of Betty Smith. Really! Ok, so what happened was: I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn many, many, many times, for the obvious reasons. It was about a girl who loved to read, and while my family was not as poor as Francie’s we were not well-off. We were both Irish! (Well, I’m a quarter, but it counts in my head.) And, like Francie, I often spent hours and hours in my local...Continue Reading

5 Science Fiction and Fantasy Women of Color Authors to Read After Octavia Butler

Already read everything by the majestic Octavia Butler? In honor of her birthday, check out these other science fiction and fantasy women of color authors who are writing innovative, mind-blowing novels today. N.K. Jemisin https://www.pinterest.com/pin/333055334936518827/ Honestly, if you’re a fan of Octavia Butler and you haven’t read N.K. Jemisin yet, where have you been? Since the publication of her debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in 2010, Jemisin’s ground-breaking, unique fantasy novels have only been getting better. To date she has three series to check out: the Inheritance trilogy, the Dreamblood series, and the Broken Earth series, the third novel...Continue Reading

An Octavia Butler Reading Pathway

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of  the birthday of Octavia Butler. See all the posts here. Today at Book Riot, we're celebrating Octavia Butler day. If you're not already a Butler fan, we hope that our posts have piqued your interest! If you're interested in reading Octavia Butler's work but don't know where to start, this post is for you! These books will give you a great introduction to Butler's writing. Start with ... Kindred. This is where I started with Butler, and of all her books that I've read, I think it...Continue Reading

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