Friday, March 17, 2006

In Memoriam

What with all the Oscars and Blogs Against Sexism and so forth, I neglected to post on Octavia E. Butler, who was born in 1947 and died on February 24, 2006.

Ms. Butler is a writer of astounding science fiction and fantasy. By most reports, she was the first, and for a long time the only, African-American woman to work in the genre. Always her books focus on feminine strength, on exploring and challenging cultural conceptions of distance and fear, love and otherness. Always they do so with astounding imagination, specificity, and intimacy.

Nearly two years ago, Tyromaven handed me her copy of Wild Seed; she's a longtime fan and advocate of Octavia Butler, and aims to get all of her friends on the bandwagon. I was frustrated by the ending of the novel, but beguiled by the plot and the prose. I looked at Butler's books in bookstores, and several months later picked up Parable of the Talents (which, I would later find out, but not to the novel's detriment, was the second in a series), which led me on a quest that still continues, to read everything Ms. Butler ever wrote. I've since consumed Mind of My Mind, the sequel to Wild Seed, several of her other more independent novels, and the first two books of the Xenogenesis series, which studies the results of humans interbreeding, both physically and emotionally, with an alien species called the Oankali.

My particular favorites among the books I've read are the pair Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. I'm working on a post that includes a great deal about them, so I won't go too far into it now, but in a mildly dystopic 2030, they follow the story of a young African-American woman, Lauren Olamina, and her attempts to found a new religion, Earthseed, which preaches in its Books of the Living that "The only lasting truth/Is Change./God/Is Change." The books are stunning, thorough, upsetting, honest, and in interviews published shortly before her death, Ms. Butler revealed that she was working on another addition to the series, Parable of the Trickster, and hoped to add several more in the coming years.

For this, and for her declaration in her author biographies that she could "imagine being an 80-year-old writer," I mourn her passage. And I encourage everyone to read her books, both in her memory and because they are stunningly fabulous.


At 9:19 AM, Anonymous tyromaven said...

here's what gets me working through this:
"flowers gathered in the morning
afternoon they blossom on,
still are withered by the evening:
you can be me when i'm gone."
--the kindly ones, gaiman

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Connor said...


At 10:17 PM, Anonymous tyromaven said...

Bruce Sterling vs. Octavia Butler?
Technology influences culture vs. Biology influences culture?

For discussion at leisure.


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