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If you don’t like science fiction, try reading Octavia Butler 

Photo credit: Google open source

In the literary world, science fiction is surrounded by stigma. Specifically, the notion that it is inaccessible to the layperson; that it is a tacky trope-driven genre, or that it is overly philosophical and dull—more interested in the technology than the characters. While these sentiments have certainly lessened in recent years, they still drive potential readers away. Enter: Octavia E. Butler, the woman who redefined modern science fiction.  

With the upcoming Hulu adaptation of Butler’s novel, “Kindred”—and having just passed the 75th birthday of the late author—there is no better time to familiarize yourself with this master of storytelling. I’ve compiled a list of five brilliant works that will introduce you to the worlds of Octavia Butler and quite possibly change your thoughts about the science fiction genre.  

“Bloodchild” (1984)  

This was one of two short fictions that introduced me to Octavia Butler (see #4 for the other). I can’t say much without spoiling the story besides that it is a brilliant, memorable piece that flips gender roles on their head.  

“Parable of the Sower” (1993)  

“Parable of the Sower” tells the story of 15-year-old Lauren Olamina living in the once-future of 2022. Hers is a post-apocalyptic world that is disturbingly similar to our own—one that is plagued by climate change, willful ignorance, social inequality and greed. In the first of her “Earthseed” duology, Butler weaves a dark mirror to our own social narrative that will frighten and astonish.  

“Fledgling” (2005)  

If you like vampires, then read “Fledgling.” Butler’s work provides a refreshing reimagining of the horror icon, while also serving as a wholly effective allegory for contemporary racism and the evolving social view of gender identity.  

“The Evening and the Morning and the Night” (1987) 

This is perhaps one of Butlers most disturbing short stories. From the opening lines readers are met with a dark, speculative journey into the ramifications of unchecked scientific advancement. You can’t miss this one.  

“Kindred” (1979)  

Butler’s “Kindred” is a clever approach to time travel. In this, we follow Dana Franklin, a POC writer, as she is mysteriously jolted between 1976 Los Angeles and a pre-civil war plantation in Maryland. “Kindred” presents a unique, heartfelt tale and a profoundly insightful delve into the American past. Regardless of your interest in the upcoming Hulu adaptation, “Kindred” is a must-read novel.  

What’s so brilliant about Octavia Butler is that her stories weren’t about just one thing. They often featured aliens, time travel and other icons of science fiction, yes, but they also tackled a range of contemporary political and social issues. While Butler is often classified as a science fiction writer, that never limited her writing. She always wrote what she wanted and, in doing so, expanded our understanding of science fiction and its potential. This is what all good science fiction does. Butler’s is no exception. It may sound like hyperbole, but to not read Octavia Butler would be to deprive yourself of some of the greatest writing to come from the human era. 

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