Bloodchild (Collection) by Butler, Octavia, 1985

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I have certainly rambled enough in the past about Octavia Butler, so I do not think that you readers need any more biographical data on this author. I will say again that she is one of my favorite authors. All of the other reviewers always comment on the cool, level-headed voice that she uses to describe things in her books. I would only add that she does it beautifully. Now that I am rereading all of her works, and seeking out new ones that I have yet to read, I am sadly reminded that once I finish that last book, there will never ever be any more. The very idea of hiring someone to complete her last novel, Parable of the Trickster, stirs me to a seething anger. I love her writing so much that its my plan to have her body of work completely reviewed first. Well, except for my favorite current author, David Marusek, whom I have already completed. But with one novel, one anthology and one chap book, it was not that hard to finish him first. This Butler work is actually a collection of short pieces. Five stories and two essays make up the entire book. Until I picked this up at my city's public library, I had no idea it existed. I knew that Butler made her first two sales while she was attending Clarion West in 1970. The goal of that course is to come up with a salable piece of short SF, but I never knew that she put out an anthology. Octavia Butler never held herself out as anything but a novelist. She said on many occasions that the novel length suited her better than something shorter. And if you have only read her novels, you would probably agree that it would be quite difficult for her to deal with the issues she posits in a limited-space format. A few of the pieces in this book do suffer because of space limitations, but on the whole, it is a very worthy addition to any Butler library. Four out of five stars.

BLOODCHILD, 1984, by Octavia E. Butler, originally published in Asimov's: This is a story about interspecies relations. A colony ship from Earth deposited its cargo of unwanted peasants on the home world of the T'Lic. The T'Lic breed by injecting eggs into hosts as a parasite. The eggs mature and the newborn begins to consume the host from the inside. It is quite painful. Humans for some reason are uniquely suited to bear eggs as a host, as most of the implanted eggs reach maturity and hatch, whereas there significant loss of eggs due to chemical incompatibility with hosts of other races. No other race is as fertile as humans for this purpose. But since we are intelligent, the T'Lic form mating families with us, and it seems that they willingly share love and companionship too. The T'Lic have been surgically removing a newly hatched T'Lic and implanting them into pig's carcass for nutrition after birth. A young human girl is accidentally allowed to see the pain of another host and watch the surgical procedure long before she was ready to know what reproduction is all about. She plays with the idea of running away from the human preserve she lives in and joining a resistance group. I saw in this story elements that found their way into Butler's fantastic Xenogenesis trilogy, such as slavery and rape, though I think that the major statements Butler was trying to make were about the trauma of birth and the way we consume everything in the environment that is not us, including other intelligent creatures. However, Butler reminded me in the afterward to this story that it was also about love and coming of age. I see a sexual awakening element too, if that is different than coming of age. Won a Nebula in 1984.

THE EVENING & THE MORNING & THE NIGHT, 1987, by Octavia Butler, originally published in Omni Magazine: Medicine figured out a generation before this story takes place how to cure cancer with drugs. Unfortunately all those cured were given a new disease called Dureya Gode Disease. DGD is a horrible genetic disease that eventually causes the afflicted to lose their minds suddenly in their fourth of fifth decade and self mutilate and kill anyone around them in horrible ways. In the story two children who both have two DGD positive parents seek one of their mothers after they learn that she is still alive. They go to visit here and learn something that gives them hope as they have never known before. A horribly depressing story that takes a sharp U-Turn in the end.

NEAR OF KIN, 1979, by Octavia Butler, originally published by Zebra Books in an anthology called Chrysalis 4: A girl and her uncle are going through the possessions of the girl's recently deceased mother. The girl is torn because her mother left her to grow up with her grandmother and was never a big part of her life. The uncle reveals a very big secret to the girl, and the two discuss how that secret led the girl's mother to almost entirely abandon her. This is a riveting non-genre sleeper that is subtly influenced by family situations found in the Christian Bible.

SPEECH SOUNDS, by Octavia E. Butler, 1983: Speech Sounds is one of the most original post-apocalypse stories out there. It is a short story that was written by Octavia Butler who was known primarily as a novelist. I would have loved to see this story turned into a novel before Butler's death. I doubt that she ever had any plans to do that, but I still dream about how good the book would have been. The story is set in Los Angeles several years after a pandemic that caused almost everyone in the world to stroke. Most of the people have suffered some serious sequalae as a result of the strokes. Practically nobody can speak, though some have a little ability. For some reason those who were left-handed suffered less than others. Rye is a left handed woman has lost the ability to remember things. One day she was on a bus (one of the very few still running in Los Angeles) when two men started to fight. Because of the mental damage of the disease, very few people retained the quality of self-control, and even those that did were extremely frustrated because they could no longer speak or communicate at all with others. Fighting, even with guns, was a frequent occurrence everywhere. As the fight got more intense and dangerous a police officer pulled the bus over and threw a tear gas grenade inside. Most on the bus were shocked at this because there were no longer any police. But this one was a bit different. He had completely lost the ability to speak or understand spoken language, but he had retained enough of his senses to remember his job, and to continue doing it. Rye and the cop both recognized that they were both relatively unaffected, so the officer asked Rye to go with him when he left. She did, and after exchanging "name tokens" with each other (a bit of wheat for Rye, and a piece of obsidian for the cop, whom she assumed was named Black) the two found that they could get along. Black propositioned Rye and after the deed was done Rye dreamed of luring Black back to her house and setting up home with him. Before that could happen however, Black was killed in a domestic violence encounter.

The world that Butler built here was very interesting and incredibly detailed for a short story. I would not expect any less from this author, though. It was basically a world full of angry imbeciles who were likely to do violence to anyone for any one of a variety of reasons. But they were all very sympathetic. The psychically wounded were walking everywhere. Nobody was unaffected, though at this point a new generation of normal children were starting to mature. Most of them were hidden away carefully, because the affected were very likely to kill them because they could speak and think normally, and the affected were very jealous of them. After Black and the couple who were battling in the street had killed each other, two young children ran out to stand over the dead body of their mother:

"No!" the girl repeated. She came to stand beside the woman. "Go away!" she told Rye.

"Don't talk," the little boy said to her. There was no blurring or confusing of sounds. Both children had spoken and Rye had understood.

Fluent speech! Had the woman died because she could talk and had taught her children to talk? Had she been killed by a husband's festering anger or by a stranger's jealous rage? And the children...they must have been born after the silence. Had the disease run its course, then? Or were these children simply immune? Certainly they had had time to fall sick and silent. Rye's mind leaped ahead. What if children of three or fewer years were safe and able to learn language? What if all they needed were teachers. Teachers and proctors.

Butler ended this story with a shocking revelation that would be practically criminal of me to reveal here. Fortunately this story is widely available now. Most recently it was reprinted in Night Shade Book's Wastelands anthology, edited by John Joseph Adams of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

CROSSOVER, 1971, by Octavia Butler, originally published in Clarion, the anthology of the Clarion Workshop: This is a horribly depressing non-genre story about an alcoholic piece-worker in a factory who cannot change her life or rid herself of her recidivist boyfriend as she careens to rock bottom. This is a piece about fear, and Butler confirmed that it was about her own fears of failing as a writer.

POSITIVE OBSESSION, 1996, by Octavia Butler, originally published in this volume: Essay by Butler about her obsession with becoming a published author and how her mother supported her. Butler discusses her inferiority complex.

FUROR SCRIBENDI, 1993, by Octavia Butler, originally published by Los Angeles Bridge Publications, Inc., in an anthology called L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume IX: This essay is about how to succeed as a writer even if you feel that you have no talent or inspiration by doing it doggedly, every day.

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)


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