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 library.

So perhaps it was inevitable that after I graduated college but before I had found a job, between watching ER reruns and dropping off resumes all over town, I decided to pull a Francie and read my way through my local branch’s fiction section in alphabetical order.

I didn’t actually — I tried to, but it turned out there were a lot of super boring books??, and my willpower was not that strong. What I did do was pull out each and every book in the library’s meager fiction section to see if it had anything to do with fantasy or science fiction, and if it did I took it home. Which was also a big deal for me; I mentioned my “nerd origin story” in Episode 0 of the SFF Yeah podcast, and since it’s relevant here I’ll sum up a bit. As a kid I went straight from Nancy Drew and The Boxcar Children to Anne McCaffrey and Arthur C. Clarke; Do not pass Go, do not stop anywhere else in between. I happily read my way through genre fiction right up until college, where I was made to understand that I was supposed to be reading Literature. Which was fine, Literature was great! Literature included Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and — if you had a very progressive professor — Ursula K. Le Guin, and realistic literature was fine too it turned out, and then I was buried deep in primary source material for my History degree, so I put away science fiction and fantasy for those years. But once I had graduated and wasn’t reading off a syllabus anymore and didn’t have any papers to write, I was at a complete loss. What do you read when no one is telling you and no one is monitoring you? It’s funny now to think how embarrassed I was, as I have since completely embraced all genres in all their beautiful glory, but at that point I was incredibly grateful for the invention of self check-out machines. I could grab the books that reminded me of my childhood reading, and no one would know.

Anyway, I only made it into the Cs before I finally found a job (at a bookstore! Hello staff discount!!), but that was far enough. Because that’s how I took home Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

Fledgling by Octavia ButlerI was very familiar with vampires; Anne Rice, Buffy, Dracula, the original Vampire Diaries novels, Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Bunnicula! I was pretty sure I knew what vampires were about. Pale, want your blood, possibly glamorous/broodingly attractive but not to be trusted. Then Fledgling blew my mind wide open.

Butler drops you into the middle of the story along with her protagonist Shori, who wakes up alone, injured, and suffering from amnesia in a cave. Far from the 11-year-old girl she appears to be, she’s actually a 50-something vampire and someone wants her dead and gone. Her journey to discover who she is and who attacked her makes up the rest of the novel, and it is mind-blowingly subversive and incredibly good. Rather than wanton predators, Butler’s vampires develop a symbiotic relationship with those they feed on. But the relationship isn’t all collaboration and butterflies; the complex web of emotions and compulsions amongst the vampires and their “symbionts” is fascinating, and is just one of the reasons that this is a vampire book like no other. I won’t go into other details to avoid any further spoilers, but if you’re curious there are plenty of detailed reviews online — a 12 year old book is theoretically exempt from spoiler warnings, after all.

Butler exploded the idea of vampires, and also exploded any reservations I had about genre fiction post-college. Because here on the pages in front of me were racial politics, genetics, and the twists and turns of love and compulsion. Here was a deep look at humanity, through the lens of supernatural creatures. Here was thinking as complex as any you could find in Literature. Here was a book that would return me to the stories that I love while reminding me to look and think beyond.

So thank you, Octavia Butler — without Fledgling, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

 

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 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 of...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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