Tag Archives: octavia butler

Blood Child, by Octavia E Butler

BloodChild

  • Genre
    • Science Fiction, Short Story Collection
  • Plot Summary
    • Five stories (seven in the 2005 edition) by Octavia Butler, who broke ground as one of the first Black women to publish speculative fiction and won multiple Nebula awards, including one for the title story.
  • Character Empathy
    • As I noted in my review of Kindred, I think Octavia Butler is a bit more of a setting/concept writer than a character writer. I think the short story format helps bring her characters out a lot more, though. I especially like that she’s not afraid to give her characters reactions that are hard to talk about. We all have those parts of ourselves that don’t follow the standard script. Whether we act on them or not, we all have thoughts and feelings that are bewildering, taboo, or just strange enough that we are embarrassed to share them. When you read your stories, you find yourself understanding things that you were afraid to even admit were part of you.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • I love short stories, because of how easy it is to get sucked in, then pop out and meditate on the story as a whole. Her style plays to that very well. The stories are idea-dense, and each one made me think for days afterwards. 
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • Made up sci-fi diseases that are well thought out and have terrifying, yet thought provoking consequences.
    • Dystopias that explore what it means to survive, and put marginalized  characters at the center.
    • Aliens that feel really, truly alien.
  • Content Warnings
    • Several stories explore violence and very twisted relationships
  • Quotes
    • “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
    • “Shyness is shit. It isn’t cute or feminine or appealing. It’s torment, and it’s shit.”
    • “If you work hard enough at something that doesn’t matter, you can forget for a while about the things that do.”

Book Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

kindred

What it’s about: Dana, a young Black writer from 1976, is transported back in time to save one of her ancestors. Unfortunately for her, that ancestor happens to be a white slave owner in the antebellum South.

Praise: When I was a kid, I read so many “protagonists are pulled back to another time for unknown reasons” novels. But none of them ever talked about how the rules of the world impact the characters. It was unsettling to follow Dana into a world where her essential status as a human is suddenly revoked. Octavia Butler researched the hell out of this. It is incredibly detailed and accurate.

It also focused on something that most stories about slavery ignore; the mechanics of normalization. Books written by whites often neatly divide those of the period into villainous slavers and heroic abolitionists. Or, if written by Southern apologists, bad slave owners and good slave owners. This book shows how a society that made evil the norm inevitably tainted everyone immersed in it.

Science fiction at it’s best often uses fantastic premises to make us see social issues in a new light. But when the writers come from a limited pool of perspectives, the issues they explore and the ways they explore also become limited. This book is a great argument for why publishers need to actively seek diverse narratives.

Criticism: Despite all that, I had trouble getting into it, mainly because Dana spends most of the book focused on the practical problems of survival. I prefer relationship centered stories, and I often only learned her feelings for the other characters when she reflected on them in their absence. I think this was necessary to the story. It was, I think, showing another survival technique of hers. She couldn’t keep existing in this world and also relate to people normally.

Recommended? Depends. Are you reading these reviews of mine for suggestions on places to start checking out good diverse literature? Or have you realized that our tastes are very similar, and my likes and dislikes are a good guide to what you’ll enjoy?

I didn’t care for it, but not because it’s badly written. In fact, it’s considered something of a classic. It just so happened that what it focused on and what I most like to read didn’t overlap well. So, if you read the premise and praise and said, “ooooh!” don’t hold back. If, on the other hand, you like the same things I like, might I suggest some of Octavia Butler’s short stories instead? There’s a collection called “Bloodchild” that I absolutely loved.