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 I read it one sitting. Butler is, of course, an incredible storyteller, but this book revealed such a glaring gap in sci-fi to me: where are the women of color who write sci-fi? As a Latina woman I felt slightly ashamed not to have noticed this before and just accepted whiteness as a standard in the genre.

Over the years, as I read through Butler’s catalogue, she has always stayed in my mind as the best example of a black female author who has been severely wronged by the world around her. I’m resentful that nobody sat me down and showed me her work. I’m upset that for years, I did not read about women of color in my sci-fi books and what they would be doing in these imagined worlds. I’m irritated that, even when women of color receive the credit they’re due, it still took me ages to discover her. Because, yes, Butler is widely celebrated, but she’s not the go-to name at the tip of everyone’s tongue when we speak of sci-fi like Isaac Asimov is. For this, I can’t help but carry Butler in my mind whenever I think of books and representation.

And when I say that I carry her in my mind whenever I think of books and representation, I really do mean it. Since I discovered Kindred and realized the real gap in sci-fi when it comes to race and gender, any time I go into a bookstore I will scan the sci-fi shelves for Butler. It doesn’t really matter where I am: I want to make sure that bookstore isn’t criminally hiding Butler away from potential readers, like she was hidden from me. Even if I don’t have the intention to buy any books, I’ll scan the shelves for her name, because that’s the impression Kindred and her other novels made on me: I see her books as necessary reading for any fans of the genre. And if a bookstore isn’t carrying at least one copy of her books, I genuinely see red.

The overbearing whiteness and maleness of the sci-fi genre can get mind-numbingly boring, so Butler really saved the genre for me. It’s not only that she created diverse worlds (and this includes all races and ethnicities, yes, but also aliens and vampires), but also that her worlds were so far from the standard sci-fi tropes that she changed the genre forever. I dislike celebrating the fact that people of color have to work twice as hard to get half as far as their white counterparts, but Butler was so determined to see her work published that she would wake up at 2am before her day job shift to write. I think it’s remarkable that anyone would have that much confidence in their own work (I certainly don’t) that they would push through so much adversity, and wake up so early to work. It certainly paid off: by bringing African American mysticism, spiritualism and mythology to the genre, she pushed it to places it had never been before. And the introduction of these aspects into the genre, as well as main characters of color in her novels, solidified the path for other authors of color to create their own worlds. And for that, I am grateful.

While my heart hurts to think someone as talented as Butler had to fight so hard to be published–and let’s be real, authors of color still struggle to get published to this day–I am so grateful to her stories and I believe that if you haven’t read her work, you’re really missing out. Besides the fact that Butler is an incredible writer, her novels will make you hunger for sci-fi that pushes boundaries across gender and race. Thankfully, nowadays, finding more books with that premise is much easier.

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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