Over the past week, I have reviewed/discussed four different books written by Octavia E. Butler: Fledgling, Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Kindred. Today, I'd like to have a discussion about these works more generally and about some shared themes I saw. I appreciate all the comments I've gotten so far on each post and welcome more. As a word of warning, some of my comments below contain spoilers.
No point in beating around the bush - we're starting out with the hard stuff here today. When I wrote my review of Kindred, I had to look up synonyms for "horror." That was just the word that kept coming back for me as I thought about the events in this book. The horror of slavery, the horror of what happens to Dana, the unbelievable horror that slavery really happened in this country and for so long.
While Kindred is demonstrably about slavery, I also saw this theme pop up in the other books I read. In Parable of the Talents, Lauren and the other Earthseed members are enslaved in the name of religious re-education. The symbiots in Fledgling are held voluntarily - but how voluntary can it be when your life depends on staying?
Another loaded topic - and one that, as a Caucasian woman, I can give only my thoughts on. I'm not capable of talking about race in a larger sense, or even of analyzing all the ways Butler discusses race. But in everything I've read from Butler so far, race is there as an issue, whether overt or not, so it would be impossible for me to write this post without at least touching on the subject. Examples of racial discrimination are present everywhere in Butler's books, even if its not vital to the plot. Like, in Parable of the Talents, Bankole is a doctor but his white neighbors distrust his skills, because he is black.
The topic of race is somewhat related to that of slavery. The black characters in Kindred are enslaved because they are of the wrong race. But in the other books I mentioned above, race isn't, that I saw, a factor in the slavery aspect. For example, in Fledgling, Shori is an Ina (a vampire), so therefore is of the race that holds the power. But she is also black, the result of the mixing of genes from an African-American woman and Ina. So she is held to be inferior by many of the other Ina and is Other, even to them.
Butler was raised Baptist but walked away from it. So its really, really interesting to me that she ended up founding a religion. Unlike L. Ron Hubbard, I don't think she did it intentionally. But there are people practicing Earthseed, the religion she created in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. They call it SolSeed. I wonder what Ms. Butler would think of that.
Octavia E. Butler
This isn't a theme, obviously, but these books do all share one very important point: they were written by Octavia Butler. An African-American woman, writing science fiction. Add in her personal history - dyslexia, her father dying when she was a baby, her spiritual upbringing - and its clear that there are not a lot of writers like her. All in all, she was a remarkable woman.
I hope you have enjoyed my week celebrating Octavia E. Butler. There are many more books from her I haven't read, so maybe I will do this again some time in the future. If you have a suggestion for the next Butler book I should read, please leave it in the comments.