If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Books: My Drug of Choice

I've decided to reread my entire collection of Octavia Butler. I started with her only collection of short stories--Bloodchild--and then went onto the Xenogenesis series. This series is made up of three separate novels: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago; but has also been packaged together in a volume entitled Lillith's Brood. In Book One we discover that we have destroyed the world and ourselves in a nuclear war. An alien species rescues the last remaining humans. The aliens have three genders: male, female and ooloi and have an irresistible desire to heal, transform and reproduce with humans.

This series, like most of Butler's work, explores issues of "otherness" and belonging. She portrays kinship bonds--mates, parent-child, sibling--highlighting the extreme joy and pain each can bring. The novels cover what it means to reproduce, as an individual and as a species, and what it means to change--particularly how hard change really is--as well as our limits to see outside of our own culture, gender and upbringing.

Science fiction allows us to imagine possibilities as well as see the here and now from a different perspective. When it is really exceptional, as Butler's work is, it forces us to feel our humanity with no sugar-coating. The woman did not win a MacArthur Genius Grant for nothing. Whether you like science fiction or not, if you've never read her work you should give it a try.

Next up for me: Wild Seed.

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