The concept behind ‘Octavia E. Butler’ was a relatively simple one: to build a work of fiction from Octavia Butler’s body of her work, one that works both as an independent narrative about a girl who meets herself from the future and one that works as literary criticism that seeks to explore and celebrate the themes of Butler’s work, such as race, gender, sexuality, history, and identity.
I very much admire Octavia Butler’s work. Parable of the Sower formed an important building block of my evolution as a writer, and it and its sequel, Parable of the Talents, combines with it to make two of my favourite novels. Not all of Butler’s work is equal, however, and the Patternist series is a good example of how it could be quite uneven. While the early novels and final ones are good, the 1978 Survivor, the one novel Butler never allowed to be reprinted, is rightly derided by her. And Fledgling, her final novel, is a strange thing, a vampire novel of uneven prose, and an odd child sexuality that just never really comes together, in any fashion. But yet, novels like Kindred persist with its excellence, and the Xenogenesis Trilogy is universally strong, and features some of her best writing. But it was the overall work of them, the warm but fierce intelligence behind her body of work that I wanted to take and form into a narrative (her collection, Bloodchild, is quite good, but including short stories in ‘Octavia E. Butler’ just proved too difficult). I wanted to make a work of art that would both rejoice in the work that Octavia Butler created and, I hoped, be a good read in its own right while inspiring people to read the work that had meant so much to me. I like to think I succeeded, but that will be for others to decide.
I hope Butler would have appreciated the story in her name, though perhaps she might not have. But I like to think she would have seen the humour in it as well, because ‘Octavia E. Butler’, the novella inspired by the work of an African American woman, is the work of a white Australian male from the working class suburbs of Sydney – and there is, in that, something a touch funny, though it speaks mostly to the reach of her work and to the importance of what she wrote.
It is published in Dead Americans and Other Stories for the first time.
(This is a story note for my collection, Dead Americans and Other Stories, which is available now. The song is part of an illusionary soundtrack that I am putting into each of the posts for amusement, but if you owned the book, you could listen to it in the final moments of the story, if you were so inclined. If you don’t own a copy of Dead Americans and Other Stories and you haven’t read ‘Octavia E. Butler’, then it’s clear you haven’t clicked that link.)