June 15, 2018

“A wonderful way to think about possibilities… to explore exotic politics”: End your week right with some Octavia Butler



If the utter madness of the past week tells us anything, it’s that we need a change, pronto. Faced with a total, Trumpian failure of imagination, we must think about other possibilities, and explore some exotic politics. Which is just what science fiction can teach us to do, according to the amazing Octavia Butler, who wrote more than ten books in the genre before her death in 2006 at the age of fifty-eight.

There’s a lot to say about Butler, who would be turning seventy-one next week.

Butler racked up plenty of achievements, too. For one thing, she wrote a book in which a Christian fascist successfully runs for president under the slogan “Make America Great Again,” and proceeds to wreak havoc. That’s notable!

She was also the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, the inspiration for an excellent nonprofit, and generally a bad-ass. Her bonkers-amazing notebooks were recently re-discovered, stirring up considerable oohs and aahs from admirers around the world. In Strange StarsJason Heller points out some connections between her early Patternmaster books and the ankhed-out cosmic funk of George Clinton. And the first-ever screen adaptation of her work is currently in development, in the ace hands of Ava DuVernay. (Brace yourself for scenes of third-gender Oankali aliens doing the grown-up with the last, post-apocalyptic vestiges of humanity.)

Today’s a fine time to check out a couple moving minutes of Butler talking about her past and her work in the 1992 documentary Black Sci-Fi. Butler opens up about how she sees her work, how she came to start writing, and much more. (Keep watching for some amazing footage of Samuel Delany, his beard but a wee sproutling, who talks just after her.)

Enjoy, and remember: all that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you.