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 wasn’t happy.

I’d heard it was brutal.

In the meantime, I continued to collect the Complete Works of Octavia. I found a first edition mass market paperback copy of Parable of the Sower at a shop in Dupont Circle. The bookseller there was excited and told me to hold onto it because of how rare they were to find. I found a hardcover Xenogenesis omnibus at the same place a few months later. I took advantage of the deal when Seed to Harvest was available as a bundle on Kindle.

And yet, I continued to not read them.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have never developed a reading plan, even though I have amassed hundreds of unread books over the course of two Masters Degree programs, six jobs, and three time zones. I have let my inclinations guide me across my shelves, until very recently. Just last year, after a particularly fun TBR reorganization project, I made the decision to read my shelves left to right. That plan slowly devolved, and eventually I allowed myself to go back to picking and choosing, but in a more deliberate order. By July I’d hit upon Kindred, and I knew I had to suck it in and just open the damn book.

Why hadn’t I before? Like I said: I was afraid.

Afraid of being completely wrung apart by Butler’s story. Afraid of not liking it; afraid of it not living up to the hype. I was afraid of getting lost in a narrative that would make me hate everyone, but I was also afraid of the possibility that I wouldn’t be a fan of Butler’s writing style and would DNF before I even got to the part in the 19th century.

I wasn’t completely wrong.

I sat. I read it. All the way fucking through. I turned the last page, looking for more. I cried.

I still wasn’t sure how I felt, but it would be nearly a year before I could bring myself to pick up another one of her works.

Parable of the Sower was one of those titles that has always been lauded as a masterwork of speculative fiction, but its name has been tossed around even more recently, because of the current political situation.

I have a different copy of Parable of the Sower now; I couldn’t hold the mass market copy, so I bought the Four Walls Eight Windows First Edition trade paperback copy I found in another used bookstore, this time on the opposite side of the country, which would be less aggravating to my carpal tunnel.

At least that’s what I told myself as that mass market continued to sit upon my shelves.

But eventually, I tried that TBR A-Z project again, and this time, I would only be reading a few titles in each alphabetical section. This time around, when it was time for the Bs, I skipped over Baldwin and went straight for the Butler.

Just as with Kindred, I sat. I read.

I was…astounded.

Within pages, I could see the steps that could be made in our existence that could lead to Lauren’s world. The universe in which they lived was only years from our own, and only a few steps to the side could put us on the path to such a world.

With Parable of the Sower, I am having the opposite experience than I did with Kindred. Kindred could not tell me enough of the story; Sower is too much. I will admit to you that I am still working on it—I’ve probably read five or six “fun” books since I started this one, and I haven’t even made it to page 100 yet.

But the few pages that I manage to take in at a time? Boy do they make me fear.

And hope.

The fear of each new Butler experience will probably not go away, even as I make my way through the varying texts already in my possession. But I will keep going, inspired by Lauren Olamina and the other women born of her creator.

 

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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