Octavia Butler, Collected Stories, from Library of America (2021)
I jumped on the opportunity to read Octavia Butler’s short stories when I saw this Library of America volume on Netgalley. I rarely read true science fiction (I do some fantasy, some time-travel and some post-apocalyptic novels, but aliens and flying saucers? No thank you!), yet Kindred had been such a memorable book for me in 2019, and I couldn’t pass the chance to read short stories of this author. I was sad to learn that she has published so few short stories, preferring to publish bigger volumes and even series. I enjoyed this compiled edition edited by Gerry Canavan, and with an interesting preface by Butler’s friend Nisi Shawl, although the barebones ARC format makes it difficult to go back and forth within the volume. I didn’t read Fledgling, although I intend to come back to it one day.
The book collects all seven stories from Bloodchild collection, as well as Childfinder (from Unexpected stories). The themes and genres are very wide, and none are related to Kindred. Each story is followed by a short afterword by Butler who presents the context of the story, or why she chose this theme. I liked the Utopian vision of The Book of Martha, where God addresses a female writer (Octavia herself?), so that she would chose the destiny of humans. It was by far the lightest story of them all, and readers should be warned that the worlds Butler creates are often dark and disturbing. I was awed by Butler’s imagination in Bloodchild, when she imagines a sort of love relationship between a human young man and a powerful creature. Speech Sounds is more like a standard postapocalyptic book, but I liked the metaphoric themes. Childfinder felt more like an excerpt of a complete novel. And The Evening and The Morning and The Night dealt with the consequences of a rare genetic disease.
In all those stories, I could not help but wonder at the unique point of view that Butler takes. A bit like Ken Liu, humans are often weaker creatures who have little choice but to obey to greater alien powers, but the relationship with others is not just a confrontation, there are complex feelings on both sides and plot twists that are voluntarily uncomfortable for the reader.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. I received a free copy of this book for review consideration.