Monday, 27 February 2006

Octavia Butler, Remembered Since I've blossomed into an "adult" no other author has moved me like she did. Part of growing up is throwing off the compulsions of your youth. No more reading juvenilia into wee hours. No more morning-lighters spent beside bowls of chocolate chips coated in Christmas colored jimmies. Once you're an adult you don't read like that anymore. Or so I thought. See I had spent years reading like an academic. Academics read with clear heads in strong light. They don't prop their eyes open because sleep seems unessential compared to the novel in their hands. They study. They don't love. I should know. But I loved Octavia Butler. I never met her, as some of my other favorite writers have, but I read her like I thought I was dying of cancer . . . and that was a year before I'd ever taken the thought of dying of cancer seriously. So I sat down to write this with all her novels arrayed on my desk. I wanted to scavenge each one for the passages which most moved me. But I don't want to scavenge anymore. Butler's prose bordered on the pedestrian. She was no natural stylist. Her prose bore the markings of craft . . . like Steinbeck in every other chapter of The Grapes of Wrath. But the ideas. The interaction. No one could stage complex social interaction like she could. To think that she died alone after striking her head on the pavement outside her home or on the operating table some hours later—accounts differ on whether a stroke caused the fall or the fall caused the stroke—belies imagination. For someone so concerned with community to die in its absence offends what little sense of universal justice I've retained. Her death angers me. If I'd known how frail she'd been I would've been up there tri-colored headband-in-hand and put her through the paces. She owed the world the brilliance. She lacked the right to leave us. She should be couped in a room right now writing the final installment in Lauren Olamina's saga. Instead she waits in state in a Seattle science fiction museum. As I said earlier she's the first favorite writer I've lost. Take this sorrow as a recommendation. Read her. She was a force. UPDATE: A reader informs me that the sequence of her novels can be confusing. It certainly can. Here's the order I'd recommend reading them: Patternmaster Clay's Ark Wild Seed Mind of My Mind Lilith's Brood Kindred Parable of the Sower Parable of the Talents I understand this ordering may be controversial, but remember that I work on evolutionary theory before lambasting me for underestimating Kindred.

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