Monday, August 27, 2007

Octavia Butler: Parable of the Sower

So I said a while back that I would recommend a book every now and then. Do my part to spread the word about wonderful writing and writers. You'll likely almost all know of Octavia Butler, but for those of you that don't I'd like to bring her to your attention. And if you know of her but haven't read her yet... well, I'd like to give you a push.

I'm putting out Parable of the Sower as a place to start, but that's really only because that's where I started with her. I've read more of her since, and every time I've been reminded how brilliant she is, how far-reaching her empathy. Her novels have great range, and I'm sure that as I read more of her over the years I'll discover new favorites.

But I really did enjoy Parable of the Sower. "Enjoy" is a strange word for it, of course, because the material she's writing about is grim in many ways. It's a near future that doesn't really look so unfamiliar. This isn't a novel of space travel and aliens - although Butler does those too. It's very much a version of our world just tweaked a bit. As such, it's frightening. I won't really go into the plot too much at all, except to say it involves the crumbling of our civil society, a collage of social conflicts, and a journey through a treacherous landscape of our own design. At it's heart is a young woman - a black woman, girl really - that dreams up a vision of a future she feels propelled to see made real.

Lest this all sound too depressing, do know that this novel is also filled with generosity and promise. Butler may be unwavering in her study of our crimes and passions, prejudices and fears, but she's also amazingly compassionate, and manages to convey the potential for love that's just as much part of our human nature.

So I recommend this one, or any other Butler book that looks interesting to you. She was a great writer, and I'm increasingly saddened that she passed away. Geez, I would've loved to have met her!

If you're interested in more information on her there are plenty of resources out there. A quick search brought me to this: New York Times Piece, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Slate Obituary. Here's an NPR interview with Scott Simon and another with Jelani Cobb and another from CyberHaven/

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Blogger John Dent said...

Thanks for the recommendation, David. I'm glad to see you're keeping up your end of the "Bargain" you've unofficially made with your readers! :)

7:40 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

But of course... That's the type of guy I am.:)

7:51 PM  
Blogger Strength/Courage/Wisdom said...

Great book, indeed! Parable of the Talents is also excellent, along with Kindred. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Butler at a book signing for her last book, just a few months before she died. She did have a great mind.

11:24 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

SCM, You're fortunate. I'm inclined to believe that Octavia's work is going to be read for a long time. Seems to me some of her novels could be taught in schools, offering ideas and critiques of our society, but in a way that engages and challenges at the same time. I don't know if she is being taught yet, but as someone who can design courses I'll keep her high on my list of possibilities.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you prefer this one to her other works? I liked it decently, but I loved her other two series, the Pattern one and the one with the oankali. They were crazy imaginative, but also had a top-notch set of alternate rules for their universes, and the things she did with race and gender in them were really interesting while never being distracting.

I think Butler's going to be an author who lasts, too. She's got so much going on in her books and they're just so much damn fun I'm surprised she's not a lot more popular.

6:07 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Honestly, I haven't read enough of Ms. Butler. I'm thrilled that you liked her other works more, because I do believe I'll have a lot of good reading ahead of me. And that's a thrill! I love it when I know a writer has a body of work out there for me. It's also so rare that I don't want to take it all in at once. I just finished Fledgling and enjoyed it very much too. I'll now take a few months off, and then get back to her readily when it's time for the particularly intelligent, imaginative fix her work is.

For now, I'm not going to speculate on the issue of her popularity. I already have my thoughts on it, but I'd like to be better versed before I start putting them out there. Regardless, though, her work will last - and people will be enjoying it for some time to come.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Saladin said...

I think Butler's rep -- at least in the academic world -- is solidifying pretty quickly. As far as SF writers who are being canonized as "Real Literature" by people with, like, Ph.D.s and things, she's probably only surpassed by Delany.

The fact that the two most prominent Black SF writers are also the two most snooty-highbrow celebrated SF writers is intriguing. Race, the Academy, and Spec. Fiction: a triangle that could spawn some great discussions. Though probably discussions better had over beer than over the internet...

10:47 PM  

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