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Octavia Butler



Octavia Estelle Butler is "the first African-American woman to gain popularity and critical acclaim as a major science fiction writer" (Hine 208). She was born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California, to Laurice and Octavia M. (Guy) Butler. Butler was the only child of five pregnancies that her mother was able to carry to term. Her father, a shoeshine man, died when Butler was very young. Most of her memories are actually stories that she heard from her mother and grandmother. Her mother and she lived in a very racially mixed neighborhood. The unifying factor was the struggle to make ends meet. Butler "never personally experienced the more rigid forms of a segregated society" (Smith 144). Butler was very shy in school, and describes herself as a daydreamer. These factors made it very difficult to succeed in school. She overcame dyslexia, and "began writing when [she] was 10 years escape loneliness and boredom." (Locher 104). At age twelve she became interested in science fiction.

Butler received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena City College. She then attended California State University, Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles. She credits her success to nonacademic programs, though. Two of these programs are the Open Door Program of the Screen Writers Guild of America and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop. While attending school Butler held down a lot of odd jobs. Her work experiences come through in the character of Dana in her novel Kindred (as quoted above). Butler also spends time researching developments in biology, the physical sciences, and genetics.

Butler has won several awards for her writing. In 1984 she won a Hugo Award for her short story, "Speech Sounds." In 1985 she won the Hugo for her novella "Bloodchild." "Bloodchild" also won the 1984 Nebula Award. The Hugo and Nebula Awards are considered science fiction's highest awards. They are decided on by other science fiction writers and fans. In 1995, Butler won the MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" which pays $295,000 over 5 years.

Butler's patternists series, published between 1976 and 1984, tells of a society that is run by a specially-bred group of telepaths. This is an elite group who are mentally linked to one another in a hierarchical pattern. These telepaths are trying to create a superhuman race. This series includes the books: Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, Wild Seed, and Clay's Ark. Patternmaster deals with the struggle between brawn and brain. It also comments on class structure and the role of women. Wild Seed "incorporates a great deal of the Black experience, including slavery" (Hine 209). Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago are the three novels that make up the Xenogenesis trilogy. These stories are about the near destruction of humankind through nuclear war and gene-swapping by extraterrestrials. The extraterrestials observe the humans as being hierarchical, which cause them to be prejudiced, and to have class divisions and conflict. These characteristics make it inevitable that mankind will eventually destroy itself without the aliens' help.

Octavia Butler has been well received by the critics. Burton Raffel had this to say about Butler's work: "initially drawn on by the utterly unexpected power and subtly complex intelligence of her extraordinary trilogy Xenogenesis, but sustained and even compelled by the rich dramatic textures, the profound psychological insights" (454) "Butler's work is both fascinating and highly unusual" Rosemary Stevenson writes; "character development, human relationships, and social concerns predominate over intergalactic hardware" (208).

"I'm not writing for some noble purpose, I just like telling a good story. If what I write about helps others understand this world we live in, so much the better for all of us," Octavia Butler told Robert McTyre. "Every story I write adds to me a little, changes me a little, forces me to reexamine an attitude or belief, causes me to research and learn, helps me to understand people and grow...Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself" (Stevenson 210).

Friday May 28, 1999
OCTAVIA BUTLER, world renowned African-American science fiction novelist, is among those to be honored by the Pasadena Arts Council at the 35th annual Gold Crown Awards Banquet tonight in Pasadena. Pasadena Star-News

[Cover of _Kindred_]

I was working out of a casual labor agency--we regulars called it a slave market. You sat and sat until the dispatcher sent you out on a job or sent you home. Home meant no money. Getting sent out meant minimum wage--minus Uncle Sam's share--for as many hours as you were needed. You swept floors, stuffed envelopes, took inventory, washed dishes, sorted potato chips (really!), cleaned toilets, marked prices on did whatever you were sent out to do. It was nearly always mindless work, and as far as most employers were concerned, it was done by mindless people. Nonpeople rented for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. I did the work, I went home, I ate, and then I slept for a few hours. Finally, I got up and wrote.

Books By Octavia Butler
Patternmaster (1976)
Mind of My Mind (1977)
Survivor (1978)
Kindred (1979)
Wild Seed (1980) (Tiptree Award winner)
Clay's Ark (1984)
Dawn (1987)
Adulthood Rites (1988)
Imago (1989)
Parable of the Sower (1993)
Mind of My Mind (1994)
Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995)
Parable of the Talent (1998) Release date: October 28, 1998

Hugo Award,
Nebula Award (both for best science fiction
James Tiptree Award: Wild Seed (1980)
MacArthur Grant (1995)
Short Fiction:
"Speech Sounds" (1983) (Hugo Award winner)
"Bloodchild" (1984) (Hugo and Nebula award winner)

The Patternist Series

Patternmaster (1976)

The combined mind-force of a telepathic race, Patternist thoughts can destroy, heal, rule. For the strongest mind commands the entire Pattern and all within it. Now the son of the Patternmaster craves this ultimate power. He has murdered or enslaved every threat to his ambition -- except one. In the wild, mutant-infested hills, a young apprentice must be hunted down and destroyed because he is the tyrant's equal...and the Patternmaster's other son.

Mind of My Mind (1977)

For four thousand years, an Immortal has spread the seeds of an evolutionary master race, using the downtrodden of the underclass as his private breeding stock. But now a young ghetto telepath has found the way to awaken -- and rule -- her superhuman kind, igniting a psychic battle from L.A. mansions to South Central slums, as she challengest her creator for the right to free her people...And enslave the

Wild Seed (1980)
He could not die.

Doro was a mind force who changed bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex -- or design. He roamed Earth, gathering the genetic Wild Seed: the tormented, mad thought-readers, seers, and witches. Some he helped. Some he destroyed. But Doro bred, ruled, owned them all. He feared no one -- until he met Anyanwu.

She could not be killed.

Anyanwu was an old woman, a young woman, a man, a leopard, an eagle, a dolphin -- a shapeshifter. She could absorb bullets and make medicine with a kiss. She gave birth to tribes, she nurtured and healed -- but Anyanwu would savage any who threatened those she loved. She feared no one -- until she met Doro.

Together they were locked in a war of wills. From the African jungles to the colonies of America, Doro and Anyanwu were the father, mother, and gods of an awesome, unborn race. And their love and hate wove a Pattern of destiny that not even immortals could imagine....

Clay's Ark (1984)

Clay's Ark is a dark acoptolytic vision of the not so very distant future. Poverty everywhere, rampaging car gangs kidnapping for profit, and a huge schism between the rich and everyone else. It is this world in which live Blake Maslin and his teenaged daughters, Kiera and Rane. While returning to their enclave, they are abducted by two men and driven to a remote ranch. Once there, they learn that they have not been abducted to be held for ransom, but to serve as hosts for an alien microorganism brought back from another planet by one of the abductors.

They discover Earth has been invaded by an alien microorganism. The deadly entity attacks like a virus, but survivors of the disease genetically bond with it, developing amazing powers, near- immortality, unnatural desires-and a need to spread the contagion and create a secret colony of the transformed. Now the meaning of "survival" changes. For the babies born in the colony are clearly, undeniably, not human...

Dawn: Xenogenesis (1987)

Dawn introduces the reader to a fascinating alien race that intends to save a post-nuclear holocaust earth by re-populating it with half-human, half-alien beings. The concept of cross-breeding through genetic engineering with an alien race to create a new species is a truly innovative storyline. The Oankali intend to take a number of humans they saved from a nucleated earth, cross-breed with them, and re-introduce them and their alien offspring to the earth. The highly negative reactions of the humans to this idea is very realistic and their interactions with the aliens are conceivable. The main character, Lilith Iyapo, is a strong willed African-American woman who learns to accept the aliens for what they are but never fully comes to accept their plans for the human race.

The Oankali are an imaginative race with three genders, the third being a necessary intermediary between the male and female Oankali during intercourse and for procreation. Therefore it is not surprising that the "third" gender (it is not really neuter) is the dominant gender of the race. They travel in an interstellar ship that is entirely made of living tissue and the Oankali physically interact with the ship to produce food, dispose of waste, and reproduce other needs. The Oankali travel about the universe and cross-breed with other sapient beings out of necessity. Humans are just another of their "victims" or "beneficiaries", depending on one's point of view. The new species is ostensibly better than its parent species.

Many of the so-called open questions in Dawn are filled during the remainder of the trilogy.

More on Octavia Butler [1] [2]

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