Thanks to a generous grant to the library, this course is FREE to students! Use the CONTACT ME button on the right for more info.
From now until it starts, I'll be posting every Friday with a discussion of a story from the reading list, or a writing exercise.
"Bloodchild," by Octavia Butler
Butler (1947-2006) was the recipient of the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur "genius" grant, among many other honors. Her feminist, race-conscious, literary science fiction pulls no punches as it challenges and expands our understanding of sex, culture and power. Speaking with The New York Times about her entry into the famously white-male-dominated genre, Butler said, "I wrote myself in, since I'm me and I'm here and I'm writing." Read more about her here.
The story "Bloodchild" won the 1984 Nebula Award for Best Novelette and the 1985 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. Read some of Butler's thoughts about it here.
One thing that fascinates me about this story is how uncomfortable it makes me, on how many levels. The strange and complicated relationship between oppressor and oppressed; the truths brought to light by the flipping of traditional biological gender roles; the queasy-making way the moral landscape rolls and shifts beneath the reader's feet as questions of consent, autonomy, love, family, and duty are shown from multiple angles.
There's been a lot of discussion in recent years about the difference between "literary" and "genre" or "commercial" fiction; and whether the former category should be held in higher esteem than the latter. (Here's a sample.) As a writer whose work has been classified mostly as literary, but sometimes as science fiction, this is a question that has long interested me.
I believe one of the most important things literary fiction does is critique and challenge existing social and cultural norms. If a work of fiction does this, it is literary, regardless of whether it also belongs to a genre.
By this measure, Butler's work is unquestionably literary. It is also science fiction. It is widely known and praised, but it is too unsettling to be "commercial." That unsettling quality is one of the most powerful things about it. Most of all it is that thing which, ultimately, matters most in a story: the voice of an author saying, from a deep and real place inside herself, "I'm me and I'm here and I'm writing."