Reading the Exogenesis series (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago) I made a non-exhaustive list of themes running through Octavia Butler’s novels.
- Empathy, feeling what others feel, suffering through what you do to them in your own body.
- Valorization of sexual pleasure, bisexuality, polygamy.
- Privileging group, social unit over the individual without subsuming individuality or individual freedom; there’s no binary.
- The ongoing threat of slavery, the ongoing threat of racism, especially the dangers presented by white people and white men, dangers that are entrenched enough to appear innate, biological.
- The evolutionary threat (and dead end) posed by patriarchal masculinity, a dead-end that is named explicitly in the narration and played out explicitly in the narrative.
- Inquisitive, intelligent, and empathetic (but always rational) women are the protagonists after the first Seed to Harvest novel.
When I made this list, I’d read (but not necessarily logged) the Exogenesis series, Fledgling, and the Seed to Harvest series.
But now at this point, I’ve read everything Butler’s published except a bit of the short fiction. I’m not sure though what to write about what I’ve read.
Butler’s fiction is alarmingly topical and the clarity of her prose is simply overwhelming: it’s difficult to imagine how someone writes her sentences and then uses them to muster the narrative energy she brings to bear novel after novel. What I see clearly is that she makes structural choices vis-à-vis narration and point-of-view that enable a fluency and a diction that are spare and beautiful.
My take-away is that Butler is an extraordinarily talented and smart novelist.