Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) was an American science fiction writer. A multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Butler was one of the best-known women in the field. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the “Genius Grant”.
Octavia Butler was the first black sci-fi author I ever read, and it was sort of life changing for me as a young black girl very into speculative fiction of all kinds. It let me know that I wasn’t alone or as weird as I thought, and that it was okay to be black and female and like science fiction. Not only was it okay to like sci-fi, Butler showed me it was possible to be represented in those stories, and even to create those stories myself (which I’ve since done). It sounds almost silly now, but it was a very big deal for thirteen-year-old me.
While gearing up to re-read her Parable of the Sower series (since dystopian reads are all the rage now, thanks to our current political climate), I discovered there were people who haven’t heard of her! So, in honor of new discoveries, I’m reblogging this Octavia Butler starter list in case you’ve not read her before (or if you just need a refresher).
If you’re new to Butler, I suggest you start with her best-selling novel. This combination of time-travel sci-fi, slave memoir and historical fiction is a stand alone novel rather than a series, and just an excellent read all around.
Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.
Parable of the Sower
If you prefer a book series instead, then start with this YA dystopian novel written before YA dystopian was even a thing. Once you’re finished, you’ll definitely want to go straight to the second book, Parable of the Talents, if only to marvel at Butler’s prescience in documenting the near-future political rise of a blustering neo-fascist who just wants to “make America great again.”
Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, war, and chronic shortages of water, gasoline, and more. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.
When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is facing apocalypse. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.
Multiple Nebula and Hugo Award–winning author Octavia Butler’s iconic novel is “a gripping tale of survival and a poignant account of growing up sane in a disintegrating world” (The New York Times Book Review).
Bloodchild and Other Stories
And if you’re the impatient type, start here with a collection of award-winning short stories – you can even read Bloodchild online for free right now.
A perfect introduction for new readers and a must-have for avid fans, this New York Times Notable Book includes “Bloodchild,” winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and “Speech Sounds,” winner of the Hugo Award. Appearing in print for the first time, “Amnesty” is a story of a woman named Noah who works to negotiate the tense and co-dependent relationship between humans and a species of invaders. Also new to this collection is “The Book of Martha” which asks: What would you do if God granted you the ability—and responsibility—to save humanity from itself?