Octavia E. Butler

I have much news to report, most of it good. But before I do, this piece of bad news needs its own entry.

SF writer Octavia Butler died this weekend at the age of 58. Way, way too young.

My first encounter with Butler was a novel called Wild Seed, and the experience still resonates in my head. The villian of the book, Doro, is a sort of psychic parasite who has lived for thousands of years in various hosts. He’s one of the most convincing immortals, most brutal characters, and most seductive antagonists I’ve ever read. He inflects every super-powered character I’ve ever written.

Butler won Hugos and Nebulas, and was the first sf writer to be awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. But I don’t think many in the field ever realized how transformative she was. Her focus on biology took a lot of what had happened to sf in the late 1960s and early 70s with regard to politics and gender, and turned it into something harder, in the scientific sense, and edgier in every other sense.

Whenever people run that line about the period “before cyberpunk” being fallow and tame, I shake my head and realize how much farther we have to go. When Butler wrote about the effects of misused power on individuals, she blew those boys out of the water on every single page. She could be truly scary, in a way that splendidly illuminated this truly scary world.

She will be sorely missed.

Two years ago, Butler published a story on scifiction. It’s not her best work by a long shot, but it makes for eerie reading at the moment. It’s an auto-biographical meditation on what it is to be a science fiction writer: what it means to create worlds and to map the future of humanity—to play god, in other words. But it’s bigger than that. It’s about what we as a species need to be thinking about right now.

It begins with these words:
“It’s difficult, isn’t it?” God said with a weary smile. “You’re truly free for the first time. What could be more difficult than that?”

You can read it here.

3 thoughts on “Octavia E. Butler

  1. You are absolutely right, it is much too young. I now am going to go to the bookstore and “wild seed” and once I have read it, im going to pass it around my friends in her memory. Thank you very much for reading this.

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