We Can Have It All: Octavia Butler’s Sci-Fi Opens Up Whole New Worlds of Possibility

Octavia Butler sci-fi

I’ve been a fringe kid since sippy cups and Allegra’s Window. I dug my bare hands into sci-fi and horror, like play-doh, building incredible images with my imagination. As soon as I could read, I plunged myself into books of all kinds. But I had a particular interest in horror and sci-fi. I read The Shining before I had even heard of the movie. It was a random book wedged between the floor and my mom’s dresser, where many of the books she thought about reading lived. I would go to the little book corner, pick up a book based on the cover and present it to my mom like a permission slip for a field trip. She would always give me a nod as the signature. Then I would dart to my room with a new adventure that I was probably too young to go on. 

I didn’t really know who Stephen King was, but I knew that Redrum Kid. I was familiar with the Tommy Knockers and remembered the image of a woman bleeding through her jeans at a crash site. So, I kept diving into these stories, eventually pairing them with the author as I got older. I saw the faces of Stephen King, Mary Shelley, R.L. Stine, Bram Stoker, J.K. Rowling, and the like. I was unphased. They looked like the authors of most of the books I had read.

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Then, I decided to branch off into other genres to find authors that looked like me. I read Flyy Girl, The Coldest Winter Ever, Whoreson, Black Girl Lost, Wifey, and others once I was in middle school. The books with Black authors that were presented to me were mainly coming-of-age stories and crime dramas. I liked them and I saw myself in the pages. But the sci-fi and horror elements that I loved so much were missing. I wondered “Where are all the Black horror and sci-fi writers?”

As that question continued to float around in my head, I was introduced to James Balwin, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston in high school. I had found another variety of Black authors, but where were the monsters? Where were ghosts and ghouls? The only horrors I found in the books were racism and sexism, which was scary, but not what I was looking for. I dove back into the comfy place of Stephen King novels and authors like him because that’s where I knew the ghouls and ghosts lived. Seven years after I graduated from college, I peeked my head up from that comfy place and landed right into the lap of Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due. My life changed. Through her work, I was able to find Octavia E. Butler.

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I read Kindred because it seemed to be her most popular book. I enjoyed it, but I noticed how heavily the horror of racism and slavery influenced the story. These kinds of Black stories are usually the stories that get the most attention. I wondered, “ What else did she write?” The next book I cracked open was Parable of The Sower. I was blown away by how familiar the characters felt. I thought I knew them, although I created the image of their face from written words.

While race was discussed, the main draw of the story was this dystopian world where people burned down neighborhoods for fun; for pleasure. While fires, violence, and dread surrounded the main character of this story, she still managed to create the idea of a new religion: Earthseed. That stood out to me as a metaphor for how Black women tend to nurture roses from concrete. We can make things bloom even when we are surrounded by dread and hardship. 

After reading Parable of the Sower I was hooked. I wanted to read everything Octavia E. Butler had put to page. My journey took me to Fledgling. This story ignited a love for vampires that I didn’t know I had. Butler created a world where not only did the vampires look like me, but their traits were sought after. She helped me to create a new idea of how humans and vampires could interact. My little fringe world expanded beyond belief.

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I would like to thank Octavia E. Butler for opening new possibilities for me. She created Black characters that did not hide in the shadows of the protagonist. They were in fact the main characters the readers followed. She created worlds where Black women were leaders that people followed.

I was introduced to Dana in Kindred, whose tongue remained sharp even in the face of danger. That was new to me. All of the Black characters that existed in the antebellum south that I had met through a page were quiet. They tucked their tongue into their gut with their pain. I met Lauren Olamina in Parable Of The Sower who saw so many horrors but still planted the seeds of hope. She was given space in a book to talk about religion that wasn’t quite Christian but also wasn’t considered evil. I met Shori in Fledgling, who was allowed to grow and make mistakes. The reader followed Shori as she went through multiple situations and emotions, giving us a complex character who can be read as queer. 

I’ve been frolicking through pages that sing to me in my language, while simultaneously scaring the hell out of me since I was a kid. Now, I’m finally seeing characters I can relate to traverse the horrors on the page; horrors that aren’t completely based on racism. We can write about the things that live in the night, the creatures that creep through dark water, and dystopian worlds that warn us of possible grim futures. We are the killer and the survivor. We are the demon and the exorcist. We are the vampire and the bitten. We are the infinite stories woven by black hands. We can have it all. Octavia E. Butler showed me how. 



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