Author: Octavia E. Butler
Editors: Nisi Shawl, Gerry Canavan
Publisher: Library of America
Released: January 19th, 2021
Warnings: Assault, slavery, rape
I received a copy of Octavia E. Butler: Kindred, Fledgling, Collected Stories in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Octavia E. Butler is a foundational author of science fiction – yet I had never had the pleasure of reading her works. Not until very recently. Horrible of me, I know. When I saw Octavia E. Butler: Kindred, Fledgling, Collected Stories, I knew that this was my chance to finally correct that mistake.
Included in this collection are two full novels (Kindred and Fledgling), eight short stories (Childfinder, Crossover, Near of Kin, Speech Sounds, Bloodchild, The Evening and the Morning and the Night, Amnesty, and The Book of Martha), and several essays. Together, this collection gives a cohesive view at Octavia E. Butler’s writing. Mind you – this is far from being a collection of everything she’s written. That would make for a significantly larger and more unwieldy tomb.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Kindred is one of those foundational science fiction/time travel novels that I’ve been hearing about all of my life. Written by Octavia E. Butler, it’s been a novel sitting on my TBR list for way too long. Time to correct that mistake.
Kindred is a blend of science fiction, and historical fiction, with strong time travel, fantasy, and memoir elements mixed in for added elements. It follows Dana, a woman with a strong connection to a dark time in America’s history.
She is the descendant of slaves, a fact that is thrown into the forefront thanks to the unexpected ability to travel back in time. But only to one focus. Over the course of this novel, she learns about the causes for her trips, as well as the history – and horror – of her family’s past.
“Repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of “wrong” ideas.”
Honestly, I am so blown away by Kindred. I don’t even know where to begin this review. I can already see why Octavia Butler is so highly talked about – and can’t wait to continue reading through her works.
This novel is moving for a variety of reasons. The combination of fiction and fact makes for a raw and painful read – but it’s also powerful and beautiful. It addresses many issues, but it does so through a specific lens, and I hope that this will make it more approachable. It certainly worked well in regards to increasing the impact. As this is a book that had me crying on more than one occasion.
“Like all good works of fiction, it lies like the truth.”
Kindred is a novel to read if you want to be fascinated, horrified, blow over, and more. It portrays a darker side of history, and humanity, all while raising many interesting points and questions. It’ll shake you to your core, as it should.
★ ★ ★
Before now, I’ve only read one other novel by Octavia Butler, and that was only recently. Still, I just knew that I had to read her take on vampires. Seriously, I had such high hopes, even before reading the description of this tale.
Fledgling begins with our girl waking up. She has no memories, she’s hurting, and she’s hungry. Slowly, her functions and her memories return. As does her understanding. Of the world, and of herself. She’s a vampire, and she knows what that means. What she has to do to survive.
This is Octavia Butler’s take on vampirism, blending common tropes and elements known to vampire lore together with her own unique take and twists on the matter. Despite the vampire elements, this is wholly a science fiction story, as further reading will reveal.
“When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing.”
I’ll confess, Fledgling left me stumped. Mostly on how to review and rate it. On the one hand, I love that it surprised me. It has been a hot minute since I read a vampire novel that was more firmly set in science fiction rather than fantasy.
On the other hand, this novel made me fairly uncomfortable at times. And not for the reasons you might be assuming. I know that vampires can come in all ages and sizes – and that the way they look is not automatically representative of how old they actually are.
Still, it was off-putting to read about a young-bodied (read: child) vampire with an old soul and history. It’s a theme I try to avoid when diving into vampire books, so this is not a dig aimed at Octavia Butler. I want to be clear on that count.
“Or it’s happening because Shori is black, and racists—probably Ina racists—don’t like the idea that a good part of the answer to your daytime problems is melanin.”
Thankfully, Butler’s writing is still really amazing and impressive. Once again she managed to raise so many other elements and questions to the surface, and that made this read worth it. Even if I didn’t enjoy the parts I already mentioned above.
Fledgling is probably not a vampire story for everyone. Still, it did make for an interesting and emotional read. Just not for the reasons that I had anticipated.
★ ★ ★ ★
Childfinder is a fascinating yet thought-provoking story. It is one that feels like it both begins and ends in the middle – yet that actually works in its favor. Though I don’t think any reader would say no to learning more about this world, or the characters within.
★ ★ ★ ★
Crossover is a short story that cuts to the quick, especially for anyone who has spent any time in a factory. The soul-crushing nature of the tale really does jump right out at the reader here, once again showcasing how talented of a writer Octavia Butler was.
Near of Kin
★ ★ ★ ★
Near of Kin is another heartbreaking and poignant short story. What I’m starting to get at here is, this is a collection everyone (especially science fiction fans) should be putting aside some time to read.
Also, as the afterward made a point of emphasizing – this short has absolutely nothing in common with Kindred. They do not share the same world, or anything else. It seemed obvious while reading, but now it feels important to clarify.
★ ★ ★
There are stories that break your heart, and then there’s Speech Sounds. This entire short reads as being so very tired and worn out. It leaves a somber impression, which after reading the afterward, was at least partially the intent/mindset at the time.
★ ★ ★ ★
Bloodchild, in many ways, felt like the heaviest science fiction short of the bunch (so far), something that must be appreciated. Honestly, this world and concept is really heavy, and yet it is so tempting to say that I want to see it explored further. It delves deep into a dark implication, and leaves the reader lost in thought.
The Evening and the Morning and the Night
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Oh god, I honestly think that The Evening and the Morning and the Night might just be my favorite short story out of this entire collection. Yes, it’s dark. But it’s also brilliant and so intense. I would have given anything to keep reading.
★ ★ ★ ★
Amnesty is inspired by the events surrounding Doctor Wen Ho Lee of Los Alamos (1990s). You can feel the weight of the words, and perhaps it’s just me, but the connection to the real world felt so very strong in her writing here.
The Book of Martha
★ ★ ★ ★
The Book of Martha is the only Utopian story in this collection, and it is so different from many of the options floating out in the world. I really appreciated this unique view, including the twists of this particular conversation.
Lost Races of Science Fiction
Lost Races of Science Fiction is the first essay included in this collection. I’ve decided not to leave star ratings for these – but I do strongly urge them to be read as well. They’re fascinating and insightful. Here, Octavia Butler speaks out about the treatment of minorities in fiction. Her personal experience, history, and observations. But also the impact, and the importance of their inclusion. It’s a powerfully written essay.
Originally titled “Birth of a Writer” (in Essence magazine), Positive Obsession is Octavia Butler’s story of how she came to be a writer. From where and how she learned to read, to her driving passions as a child, and forward on as she kept up the battle.
Furor Scribendi is probably the easiest essay to summarize: it’s a condensed guide/speech for new writers. You can tell that this is something she probably had to repeat on several occasions over the years!
The Monophobic Response
This is an introspective essay. Just as much so for the readers as for the writer, as is surely intended. This one is absolutely worth reading, for the ways it will get you thinking.