Advent: December 2

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

Bloodchild and Other Stories
by Octavia E. Butler

I broke my rule for the month already, but that’s OK: it’s for Octavia E. Butler, and she is a story-writing badass. I got thoroughly lost in her short story collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories, after getting sucked in by the titular story. “Bloodchild” won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and is an excellent story to get the ball rolling. Butler’s pacing of the progressive revelation of the relationship between humans and the alien Tlic is superb, and she was right to not spoil it with a preface.

I must say that I really like that approach to a short-story collection: instead of prefacing every story with an explanation, which can spoil a story, Butler instead wrote afterwords. Thus she was able to write in more detail about the themes of “Bloodchild”, the inspiration for “The Evening and the Morning and the Night”, the mood that precipitated “Speech Sounds”, and so on.

Butler did not write happy, feel-good stories or (as was her preference) novels. The closest to a feel-good story in this particular volume is “The Evening and the Morning and the Night”, in which a couple comes together due to a Huntington’s-like disease they share. “Near of Kin” has no SF/F elements but is strangely touching in a way that I entirely did not expect. “Speech Sounds” is a post-apocalyptic story in which a disease decimates the population (not new) and also induces impairment that hits the communication centers of the brain (unique). “Amnesty” is an interesting take on the idea of Earth’s eventual encounter with aliens: what do you do if you can’t blow them up with drones (or missiles, as in this case)? And there is a sublimity about “The Book of Martha” that I love, where a writer meets God and has to fix an aspect of humanity.

I’ve left out “Crossover” because it’s so hard to summarize without sounding trite; it’s one of those stories you have to read. That said, it’s also my least favorite, but I have to admit that dislike is not due to it being a weak story. In fact, there is not a single weak story in this book, which is amazing because I can think of very few anthologies that manage to achieve such a good evenness of content, even from a single author.

Included in the book are two essays that are of interest to writers: “Positive Obsession” (aka “The Birth of a Writer”) and “Furor Scribendi”. I truly miss the blog entries she could have written had she lived today. Notably, she didn’t believe in “revise until it’s good enough” but in “revise until it is good”, which probably goes a long way to explaining the quality in Bloodchild and Other Stories. Don’t you wish that other authors did the same, instead of saying, “I need to fill out the page count” and adding some truly inane crud they found on the inside of their trunked work drawer? Even Neil Gaiman does that.

Butler, you will be missed.

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One thought on “Advent: December 2

  1. Thank you so much – I just got Octavia Butler’s stories and swallowed the first two. Carefully.

    This kind of quality is what is missing from so much I read – and yet, I can’t put my finger on how she does it. I haven’t read enough of her – I will make time for more (and that’s saying a lot because I don’t read while I’m writing).

    You’re right – not feel-good stories. But worth reading. And now I only have three more.

    This is what I aimed for when I wrote “The House of the Vord” (see my blog if you’re interested): short and gut-wrenching and true. I’d love your opinion.

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