Tag Archives: octavia butler

Clay’s Ark

Unknown.jpegHaving read Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind, this was not at all what I expected of a book set in the Patternmaster series. It seems only peripherally attached to the Patternmaster series courtesy of something Clay, whom we meet in Mind of My Mind, developed.

Still, the book deals with some of the same preoccupations as are developed in the first two books, in particular how people manage go live under compulsions and especially how that impacts on sex and relationships and children. It was interesting to see Butler explore similar issues coming about from different motivations.

In itself, this is a very different sort of contact story from what is more commonly written. The contact is almost just a macgyver to allow the exploration of how confinement and externally imposed obsessions might play out.

Not Butler’s strongest work, but intriguing and enjoyable (well… within the bounds of devastating sf…) nonetheless.

Later: having now read Patternmaster, this book makes a bit more sense. Interestingly, I think this is the stronger.

Mind of My Mind

Unknown.jpegJust go read it. Seriously.

As I mentioned in Wild Seed, I am glad I read that novel first – the background it provides for Doro, and Emma, is devastatingly important. Of course you could read this first – publication order – and then have the background filled in… but this order definitely worked for me.

This book is very focussed on Doro and the people he manipulates people to his own ends. Even when other characters – Emma (Anwanyu), and especially Mary – get to tell their own story, it’s always connected to Doro: against or in favour, in reaction somehow, trying to figure out how to circumvent or please him. He is the Patternmaster. He is the puppetmaster.

This book takes place over a much shorter timeframe than Wild Seed – just a few decades. In the prologue, Mary is a small child in an abusive home; the narrative picks up with Mary, one of Doro’s many children and an important part of his experimentation, in her late teens. Mary becomes the focus of the story as she seems to be the fulfilment of Doro’s plans, and it basically follows her development and discovery of her powers.

Unsurprisingly, Mind follows some of the same themes as Wild Seed. Why humans acts they way they do, how compulsions can work and why we act in our own worst interests; what slavery can look like. It develops the discussion of the difference between haves and have-nots to a greater extent, and the consequences of power. The idea of family and its power as well as its destructiveness. Humanity at its best and worst.

This book isn’t always pleasant to read, but it is always powerful and it’s always well written and I will definitely be reading it again.

Wild Seed

52318.jpgIt’s brilliant and you should just go ahead and read it and you don’t need to know anything else … unless incest (at a distance from the reader) really, really squicks you out (it happens but it’s not a huge focus and it’s not dwelt on greatly).

I know Butler didn’t write this as the first in the Patternmaster series but I am so glad I read it first, because Butler sets up the world of Doro and Anyanwu brilliantly; I can’t imagine coming to read this after already having been introduced to Doro, especially, in a different context.

There’s an enormous amount going on in this book. Doro and Anyanwu are very different from those around them: both seem to be immortal and both have talents that set them apart. Doro moves from body to body at will; Anyanwu can heal and change herself. Anyanwu has been living with her extended family and caring for them for generations; Doro has been building himself a people, gathering together individuals with some sort of psychic talent. One day Doro feels Anyanwu and goes to meet her, and Anyanwu’s life in particular changes. She hasn’t ever moved far from her birthplace, while Doro has been setting up colonies in America – this is the 17th century, and Doro and Anyanwu are both African (Anyanwu is Ibo, I believe; Doro… is something else altogether). So this means he’s trafficking in slaves, and working with slave traders. So that’s a whole thing: how people react and feel when they are enslaved, how the trading works and can be used, and so on. And somehow the fact that this is written by an African-American makes a difference. The very question about what makes someone a slave is key to the story, actually; how chains aren’t necessarily visible, how someone can become accustomed to the state – and asking the question about whether, if you don’t mind it, how bad slavery is. I think Butler firmly comes down on the side of it still being an evil, but she’s sure not making it an easy discussion.

Having two central characters who appear to be immortal means that Butler gets to write a story that goes over a couple of centuries. This allows her to explore the development of both individuals and communities, which she does really well. In some ways the people that Doro is developing are like a generation ship: they don’t know where they’re going, and it’s temporal rather than spatial, but they’re definitely on a journey. They just need to keep following orders and keeping the place running. The focus is really always on the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu, because their fraught relationship stands for everyone else: love and hate and need and resentment. Acceptance and rejection. Anyanwu is the one who changes and develops and grows, while Doro is largely static. There’s a variety of reasons for this – he’s that much older and has a very set purpose where Anyanwu is in some regards more passive (and in others really not) – but his lack of growth and change isn’t entirely presented as a positive.

It’s the complexity of Doro and Anyanwu, as individuals and in relationship, that makes this novel an absolute stand out. It bemused me somewhat when I finished reading that, really, very little actually happens: there are few really “significant” events like battles. Instead it’s a steady stream of small events. It’s a surprisingly domestic novel, in that much of it is focused on family and family relationships, centred around the home and small communities. But don’t be fooled – never has the idea of ‘domestic’ equaling ‘unimportant’ been less true.

I read this as part of “Seed to Harvest”, the compilation of Patternmaster novels. I was so engaged and intrigued that I moved straight on to reading the next novel (in internal chronology), because I couldn’t bear to leave the story.

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.

Galactic Suburbia 149!

cakeIn which we compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in chatting.

WHAT’S NEW ON THE INTERNET?

WSFA Small Press Award shortlist released.

Aussie SF Snapshot 2016 – 150+ short interviews with active members of our community. What’s everyone up to? Find out in a snap!

CULTURE CONSUMED

Alisa: Star Trek Beyond, Olympics

Alex: Deadpool and Batman v Superman; Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, Seanan McGuire (out next January from Tor.com); Strange Matings, ed Rebecca J Holden and Nisi Shawl; The Godless, Ben Peek

Tansy: Shadowhunters (Netflix), Masks & Shadows by Stephanie Burgis; Damaged Goods by Russell T Davies adapted by Big Finish Audio

Independent Olympians at the Olympics

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Galactic Suburbia 129

In which we explain the metaphorically violent nature of Australian politics, celebrate the return of Feminist Frequency and our faces are on the internet.
And I am late in posting this! Holidays will do that, when you don’t take a laptop camping… you can get us from iTunes or Galactic Suburbia, anyway.

What’s New on the Internet

Malcolm Turnbull is not Tony Abbott: the Australian Spill Story
Our national sport
The onion thing, no we don’t get it either.

New Feminist Frequency Tropes v Women in Video Games – Women as Reward & Special DLC Mini Episode.

The Three Hoarsemen Podcast Episode 25 featuring Alisa

Galactic Suburbia on Books and Pieces

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Mad Max Fury Road; Undisclosed: The State vs Adnan Syed Podcast

Alex: Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut; Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones; I finished Stranger in a Strange Land!! Also Of Sorrow and Such, Angela Slatter

Tansy: Dawn, Octavia E. Butler; Bombshells #1, Marguerite Sauvage & Marguerite Bennett; The Cornell Collective; Supernatural

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

The Tiptree Award Anthology vol 3

UnknownI just love these anthologies. I love what it showcases – the diversity of what the different Tiptree panels have judged as falling into the category of ‘exploring and expanding gender,’ which is the remit of the Tiptree Award each year. I love that it shows diversity within the genre, full stop. I love that the anthologies don’t just have fiction, and don’t just have fiction from one or two years, but that there’s non-fiction and older works as well. And that the introduction and sometimes the introduction to each piece are interrogating themselves, the pieces, and the scene in general.

There’s a lot to love.

I’ve had this volume waiting to be read for aaaages. I thought it appropriate to read as I rode public transport on my way to interviewing Rosaleen Love – what I’ve read of her work fits into the broader milieu of the works represented here. As I read, I couldn’t believe that I’d allowed myself to leave this book festering on the shelf for so long.

The non-fiction includes an essay of Pam Noles’, called “Shame,” which struck me very deeply: about the experience of watching and reading science fiction as a person of colour, and not seeing yourself. Her dad sounds awesome: he called the movies she was watching “Escape to a White Planet,” and “Mars Kills the White People.” There’s an enormous amount in this essay that I, as a privileged white reader (gender does not trump race – it’s not a competition) probably need to read it again. Several times. And that the editors paired it with Dorothy Allison’s essay on Octavia Butler was very nice – the latter doesn’t talk all that much about race, more about Butler’s vision of women in the future, but the two are surely entwined… perhaps not especially in Butler, but certainly in Butler. And then there’s a letter from L Timmel Duchamp to Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr, which is a lovely musing on what Sheldon/Tiptree as person and as author has meant to one individual.

Geoff Ryman looks at some possible consequences of the internet arriving in an out of the way village; Nalo Hopkinson goes domestic, sinister and mythological all in one hit; Margo Lanagan does weird weird things that I’m still figuring out in “Wooden Bride” – the story that, I think, gets the shortest introduction of all, since “some stories shouldn’t be introduced” and doesn’t that just describe all of Lanagan’s work? Aimee Bender’s “Dearth” is a devastating, heart warming, bewildering story about maternity and mothering… and I’ve just realised the protagonist is never named. And isn’t that a statement in itself. All of the stories so far were new to me, and Bender was a new name. And then it gave me Ursula Le Guin’s “Mountain Ways,” one of my favourites of her short stories. I can’t possibly pick a favourite story, because that would mean choosing between Le Guin and Ted Chiang: “Liking what you see: A Documentary” is another of his glorious mucking-with-structure stories in which the question about whether you should turn off the ability to see/appreciate beauty is presented as if as a transcribed documentary. And the fact that there are no visuals to accompany this story about visuals just adds to its power and general gloriousness. And for the editors to pair this with Tiptree’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” – well, I’ll admit that I did not reread the Tiptree. It was just going to be too raw an experience. So too was “Litte Faces,” by Vonda McIntyre, but I didn’t know that before going in. Deeply disturbing and weird (but not entirely in an unpleasant way), as well as powerful and impressive – and so very different. So, too, the final story – different that is, slightly less weird and disturbing – is “Knapsack Poems,” from Eleanor Arnason. She uses a character who is effectively distributed over eight bodies to tell a story of travel and experience, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. I’m not sure the similarities are much more than superficial, but they’re intriguing anyway.

This anthology works as something read from cover to cover in a sitting or two; it could be dipped into over months; it could be hopscotched. It should be read in any way you can.