Strange Matings

Unknown.jpegPublished by Aqueduct Press, this remarkable book is a tribute to Octavia Butler. It includes personal reminiscences; photos; a poem; a transcript of a conversation with Butler; and the bulk is made up of academic essays – most of which are also somewhat personal.

I’ve read Butler’s Xeongenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy, but a long time ago… and that’s about it. Maybe some short stories as well? It’s one of those cases of ‘I’ve always meant to read more…’. So it was a bit of a weird experience for me to be reading academic analyses of stories that I haven’t read. However, and all kudos to the authors, I was neither hampered by that lack of knowledge – they all explained their points exceptionally well – and nor was I put off reading those stories. I have in fact bought the Parables books and am exceedingly excited to read them, armed with the theoretical discussions from these essays. I’m honestly not sure whether I will read Kindred, and I know this is a privileged position as a white Australian. I will definitely read Fledgling at some point, for all Butler was apparently a bit embarrassed by her vampire fiction. What I loved about the essays presented here is that each author so clearly loved the work they were examining – not glossing over faults, but showing how rich and subversive and powerful and present-speaking and future-prescient they are. How remarkable the women are, and how different the relationships, and how challenging the suggestions of how society could be. It made me realise just how powerful an author Octavia Butler must have been.

This is all beautifully resonant with the personal reflections included throughout. Butler’s shyness and insecurity and amazing generosity all come through, emphasising the sheer humanity of the woman – which I know sounds ridiculous, but it sounds like she made her life so full, and extended that to people around her, despite problems. The transcript of Nisi Shawl’s conversation with Butler, at the Black to the Future Conference in 2004, made me jealous of the people who got to see it live; Nnedi Okorafor’s reflections on sending emails to Butler – even after she died – and Steven Barnes’ very heartfelt reflections on his friend and mentor feel like precious gifts we should be thankful to have in print, so that we can glimpse those connections.

Strange Matings is a magnificent tribute to Octavia Butler that clearly works for someone with very little knowledge of her work, and must also work for those who’ve read far more. It’s provocative and powerful and human. Just like Octavia Butler.

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