The first thing you should know about Octavia Butler is that she’s a badass bitch. She’s a female author in a field that is typically attributed to men, and her science fiction works earned her incredible accolades during her life, like Hugo and Nebula awards, and even a McArthur Genius Grant. Butler is an inspiring person for paving the way for women in science fiction, but even more so than that she’s just a damn good writer. Here are three of her books you should definitely read:
Dawn: Dawn is the first in what is known as the Xenogenesis Trilogy. I plucked this book from my bookshelf, not knowing what it was, one of the many novels brought into my marriage by my husband. He had mentioned reading it back in high school, and that he loved it, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was about (although he could remember that there was “alien sex” in it – of course). I’m not a science fiction reader for the most part, but I was immediately drawn in by Butler’s writing style and the way she hooks you with her talent. In Dawn, Lilith is a woman who survived the apocalypse on earth and was kidnapped by an alien race known as the Oankali. Dawn is just the first in a series about the relationships between the Oankali and humans, and her books raise interesting questions about humans’ willingness to survive. You should definitely read this book if you’re not sure your commitment to science fiction is there yet because I promise that Butler will draw you in (or just read it for the alien sex – whatever you’re into).
Kindred: One of Butler’s earliest novels, Kindred combines both science fiction and historical fiction into one captivating story. Dana is a black woman living in California in 1976 when she suddenly, confusingly, finds herself on a plantation in the pre-war South. Butler weaves the concept of time travel and the realities of slavery into this fascinating novel about a woman trying to discover the purpose of her past. Dana interacts with Rufus, a young boy whom she finds out she is distantly related to, and realizes that she’s only ever called to the past when Rufus is in danger of being killed. Thus begins a complicated and nuanced relationship between Dana and this slave-owning relative, as she tries to ensure that her family line doesn’t die out before she can be born. Be warned, though, Butler does not shy away from the realities of the time period, and there are graphic descriptions of violence throughout. You might pick this book up for the time travel, but you’ll stay for the heart-wrenching story Butler weaves about a black woman in the antebellum South.
Fledgling: Butler’s last novel before her death in 2006, Fledgling tells the story of Shori – a 53-year-old vampire who appears to humans to be a 12-year-old girl. And if you think that sounds a little bit like it could have uncomfortable implications, well you wouldn’t be wrong: there are sex scenes between Shori and an adult, which could raise a lot of questions from readers about the implications of Shori’s physical appearance. Aside from that possible deterrence to readers, Fledgling was unlike any vampire book I’ve ever read. I guess I should say, though, that I haven’t read many vampire books, so Butler’s world of vampires is unlike a lot of the preconceived ideas I had about vampire books. She creates an interesting and dynamic universe where vampires and humans live in a symbiotic type of relationship. Shori must deal with the fact that someone is trying to kill off her entire family, and the fact that she is genetically different from her relatives makes her target number one. I think readers who, like me, consider themselves dabblers of science fiction, will enjoy this novel.