Octavia Butler (1947– )
- Patternmaster Series
- The Xenogenesis Trilogy
- The Parable Novels
- Short Stories
- Selected Bibliography
OCTAVIA BUTLER IS the only African American female to date to have written a substantial body of futuristic fiction. She entered a field dominated for decades almost exclusively by Anglo American males. By introducing female characters of color into the genre commonly known as science fiction, Butler has helped widen it, making it more meaningful to a range of new readers. As meaningful as her work may be, however, it is not gratuitously optimistic. In fact, to read Butler is often to take a deep breath and confront extrapolations about the future that some readers might rather not face.
After receiving largely good reviews but laboring in relative obscurity for years, Butler finally became a member of the science-fiction canon, winning that genre’s most prestigious honors, the Hugo Award (which she won in 1983 for “Speech Sounds” and 1985 for “Blood-child”) and the Nebula Award (1984 for “Blood-child”; Parable of the Sower was a finalist in 1994). In 1995, Butler was also awarded a Mac-Arthur Foundation Fellowship for her body of work. Butler’s rise to widespread literary recognition for her eleven pithy novels and five terse short stories mirrors many of her own stalwart heroines’ quests.
Publishers generally describe Butler’s books as science fiction. In some respects, her work fits well within the category. They often demonstrate both the tremendous potential as well as terrifying possible danger of science, and medicine in particular. In the Xenogenesis trilogy, for example, cancer becomes a genetic tool; in the Patternmaster series, some humans become rampaging mutants. Yet Butler is more preoccupied with human development and interaction on a sociocultural plane than with technological innovations such as robots and computers. In her 1979 novel Kindred, for example, she provides no technical description at all of how the contemporary protagonist is mysteriously sent back into slavery. (That novel was published as mainstream fiction.) The 1993 Parable of the Sower and 1998 Parable of the Talents focus on the social and cultural effects of failed technology and politics on individuals, families, and communities in the United States. Butler explores possible ideological responses to these potential crises, such as organized religion and alternative life philosophies.
In considering Butler’s overall oeuvre, therefore, it may be more appropriate to use the broader term “speculative fiction” to describe her narrative project. This larger category not only includes science fiction but also encompasses the subgenres of fantasy and contemporary nonrealistic fiction (often known by Robert Scholes’s term “tabulation”). However, Butler’s response to the genre issue is dismissive. In a 1997 interview, she told Joan Fry, “I would say
that speculative fiction is any kind of noncon-ventional fiction, from Borges to Isaac Asimov. But I don’t make any distinction.” Later, she explained, “I write about people who do extraordinary things. It just turned out that it was called science fiction.”
Butler’s no-nonsense approach to genre is typical of her lean, wry prose, which although fantastic and futuristic, has a gritty, down-to-earth feel. Her work may be more specifically categorized as feminist speculative fiction, according to Marleen Barr’s broad definition of the genre in the 1987 Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory. Barr includes “feminist Utopias, science fiction, fantasy, and sword and sorcery” literature in feminist speculative fiction. Butler, whose protagonists are primarily women, calls herself “a feminist always,” although her equal concern with non-gender-specific oppression resonates with Alice Walker’s idea of “womanism,” in which works highlight modes of domination for males as well as females. In a 1979 interview with Veronica Mixon, Butler declared, “Where is there a society in which men and women are honestly considered equal? What would it be like to live in such a society? Where do people not despise each other because of race or religion, class or ethnic origin?”
Butler’s body of work spans multiple genres of science, speculative, and feminist fiction and examines a host of interrelating themes. She addresses science fiction’s concern with the implications of technology—both its destructive and beneficial potential—often envisioning the America of the future as a postindustrial wasteland. Her works frequently critique the assumptive equation of the future with “progress.” Butler’s speculation about humanity in the twenty-first century and beyond examines humans’ relationship to disease, genetics, and medicine and the impact advances in these fields could have on the evolution of the human race. In light of these phenomena, she further considers the tenuous position of people of color in the social landscape of centuries to Page 97 | Top of Articlecome and how the lives of individuals are affected by the clash of competing political and economic forces and ideologies. Butler is especially interested in the role played by all women in the future, most especially women of color. Her feminist concerns include the exercise of agency by independent women of color, as well as shifting definitions of the family and sexuality in an increasingly posthuman society.
On a metathematic level, Butler helps define a futuristic tradition that has had few African American participants, male or female, until the 1990s. One of the exceptions is Pauline Hopkins, who as early as 1902 wrote visionary works containing elements that today one would describe as science fiction. Hopkins’ novel about the past and the future, Of One Blood or, the Hidden Self, was serialized in the esteemed middle-class magazine The Colored American. After an interval of many years, several African American males began to publish science fiction and fantasy. In 1931, George Schuyler wrote Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, A.D. 1933-1940, and in 1933-1939, he published Black Empire. But it was not until the 1960s, when Samuel R. Delany began publishing, that African American science fiction began to take off. Delany produced a range of material including fiction such as the 1966 Babel-17 and his postmodern opus Dhalgren in 1974. He was also a major black theorist on issues of race, feminism, and sexuality in speculative fiction. Other African American male writers include Steven Barnes, who published The Descent of Anansi (with Larry Niven) in 1982, and Charles R. Saunders, who wrote the first of his African-inspired adventure fantasies, the Imaro trilogy, in 1961. Today, African American females who have published speculative fiction include Jew-elle Gomez, with her 1991 futuristic vampire work The Gilda Stories, and more recently, Afro-Canadian Nalo Hopkinson, with the 1998 novel Brown Girl in the Ring.
Until the rise of feminism, most women of any race who wanted to publish speculative or science fiction tended to do so under male pseudonyms. For example, “James Tiptree” was discovered to be Alice Sheldon. Ursula Le Guin focused on male heroes in many of her novels, as in her 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness. In 1975, Joanna Russ caused controversy with her feminist Utopia, The Female Man. By 1971, Butler had already set out on these uncertain waters, publishing her first short story, “Crossover” in the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop anthology in that same year. Five years later, her first novel, Pat-ternmaster, finally appeared. With “a lot of ideas stored up,” she wrote a book a year for the next five years, interspersed with short fiction. The effort eventually resulted in her 1993 novel, Parable of the Sower, being named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1994. That same year, the novel was also cited as one of the New York Public Library’s Top seventy-five Books of the Year.
Octavia Estelle Butler was born on June 22, 1947, in Pasadena, California, an only child. Her mother, Octavia Margaret Guy, had been pregnant with four boys before Octavia was born; three were miscarried, one was stillborn. Her father, Laurice James Butler, died when she was seven, primarily from overindulgence in food and drink. Butler’s family on her maternal side is from southern Louisiana, a site that inspired her 1980 novel Wild Seed. As eldest daughter, the mother Octavia had to be taken out of school to help the family eke out a living on the plantation where they worked. Later in California, and by then a widow, the mother briefly considered remarriage but eventually chose against it. Young Octavia grew up in the shadow of her late maternal grandfather, a strict fundamentalist Baptist, who had forbidden dancing, makeup, and movies. These restrictions, coupled with young Octavia’s height (she grew to be almost six feet tall), resulted in her becoming “painfully shy” as a teenager. “I believed I was ugly and stupid,” she recalled. “I hid out in a big pink notebook—one that would hold a whole ream of paper. I made myself a universe in it. There could be a magic horse, a Page 98 | Top of ArticleMartian, a telepath…. There I could be anywhere but here, any time but now, with any people but these.”
Yet Butler also remembers being revivified at being able to “look up and see the stars and realizing there are parts of the world that human beings don’t dominate” while visiting her maternal grandmother’s small chicken ranch in 1960 in the high desert near Barstow. The dozens of discarded books her mother brought home from the families for whom she did domestic work also kindled young Octavia’s vivid imagination. In part to compensate for her own scant education, Mrs. Butler continually sought to help her daughter learn more. Reading to her until she was six, her mother enthusiastically secured a library card for Octavia as soon as she asked for one.
Her mother also encouraged Octavia to write. By her tenth birthday, the youngster was already “pecking out stories two-fingered” on an ancient Remington typewriter her mother had scrimped to purchase. Butler credits her mother’s unadulterated concern with causing her first epiphany about writing: “I was age ten. I was working on a story, and in a very natural way, my mother said, ‘So, you might become a writer.’ I thought, ‘What? You mean people can be writers for a living?’”
By her twelfth birthday in 1959, Butler was eagerly writing complete stories, deciding she could do better than a science-fiction movie she saw called Devil Girl from Mars. She adopted the motto she learned in her archery class, “to aim high.” Fortunately, she took this advice over that of a well-meaning aunt, who assured her that “Negroes can’t be writers.” A kindly science teacher helped thirteen-year-old Octavia type her first efforts. After graduating from Pasadena’s John Muir High School, she went on to take writing courses in addition to regular classes at Pasadena City College. Normally a two-year program, Butler took three years since she had to work. After graduating with a History degree in 1968, she continued taking assorted courses at California State University, Los Angeles, but did not receive a degree. She took more writing classes at the Extension and Writers’ Guild West at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied under Harlan Ellison. Later, he would mentor her at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, which would be the real starting point toward her goal of being a professional writer.
At age eighteen, Butler received her first remuneration for writing, all of fifteen dollars, winning a collegewide writing competition. It was enough to keep her going despite the fact that she would not publish her first short story until 1971. After college, she worked at a series of “terrible little jobs,” everything from factory and warehouse work to food processing, cleaning, clerical employment, and literacy tutoring. During that time, she developed the habit of rising at three o’clock in the morning to write (a habit she later changed to seven o’clock), describing her dogged persistence as a “positive obsession.” She elaborated in her 1993 essay, “Furor Scribendi,” insisting that positive obsession is “a rage for writing... [a] burning need to write…. Call it anything you like; it’s a useful emotion.”
Butler was twenty-three before she sold her first two short stories at Clarion. One of them, “Crossover,” was published in the workshop’s paperback anthology in 1971. The other, although purchased by Harlan Ellison for possible inclusion in one of his anthologies, was never published. Unfortunately, Butler would have to endure “five more years of rejection slips and horrible little jobs … before [she] sold another word.”
Butler’s young adulthood was an amalgam of misery and motivation. Tall, statuesque, and writing constantly, she perplexed most of her young male contemporaries:
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I was miserable and worried that I was never going to do any better. I was the odd person, always writing or reading. People thought I was strange. They’d ask me, ‘if you’re not in school, why are you reading a book?’ It was rough. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know if I was going to succeed. I kept giving up writing like people give up cigarettes. A few days would go by and there I’d be, writing again. Writing was all that mattered. I kept going because I had to.
Eventually Butler realized that writing mattered to her even more than marriage: “I contemplated getting married once. But I discovered that the man in question thought writing was something silly I would get over when I started having kids. The relationship didn’t go well after that. Eventually, we wandered away from each other. So, I got married to the writing.”
Butler has described herself as being content to produce literature rather than children, calling herself “a hermit” at heart. After living almost exclusively in California, she moved in 1999 to a comfortable house in Seattle, Washington, not long after her mother died. Butler’s mother, whom circumstances had forced away from intellectual pursuits, did live to see her offspring receive science fiction’s highest literary accolades. For a daughter who painstakingly scribbled her first stories in the “cast-off notebooks” her mother brought home, Butler’s oeu-vre seems a fitting progeny indeed.
Butler spent the years from 1971 to 1976 unsuccessfully imitating male pulp science fiction. She finally found her own voice in her first published novels, the Patternmaster series. The five books include Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980), and Clay’s Ark (1984). In them, Butler takes the ostensibly gruesome arid brutal subject matter of plague and resultant mutation, as well as eugenics, and fashions a complex inquiry into issues of power and domination, Utopia and anti-utopia. In 1984, she wrote to Sandra Govan, “I began writing about power because I had so little.”
Butler did not write the series in chronological order; Wild Seed begins the historic story line. The main male character in Wild Seed is a four-thousand-year-old Nubian named Doro, a vampire-like creature who continues to live by inhabiting one host body after another. Doro has heightened psychic powers that enable him to find others with potentially paranormal abilities. He decides to breed a superior species in a network of extended families and communities that eventually take him into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and to the United States.
Doro’s main adversary is Anyanwu, a three-hundred-year-old Igbo (Onitsha) priestess and healer, whom he covets for his omnivorous project: “She was wild seed of the best kind. She would strengthen any line he bred her into, strengthen it immeasurably.” However, Anyanwu, who is more beneficent, is repulsed and uses her ability as a shape-shifter to elude him. As Govan has observed, “In each of the published novels, the implicit struggle for power revolves around explicit conflicts of will and the contests of survival a heroine endures.”
Anyanwu is a prime example of the kind of heroines Butler depicts. Strong-willed, physically capable, and usually endowed with some extra mental or emotional ability such as empathy, they nonetheless must often endure brutally harsh conditions as they attempt to exercise some degree of agency. It is also important to note that the female protagonists never come out unscathed. They must always compromise in some way, physically or emotionally, in their attempt to negotiate and somehow overcome systems of domination. After one hundred years of the chase, Anyanwu finally decides that suicide is her only escape. Doro, who does not want to face eternity alone, finally compromises, but only slightly. He agrees not to use her close relations as fodder for his new bodies. In making Doro bend to her will in the name of love, even begrudgingly, Anyanwu achieves a degree of victory. It is this kind of shading of implicit and explicit power that interests Butler.
The idea of such control in the hands of a group of superhuman people, some of whom might be black, becomes the intriguing basis for the series as a whole. In Patternmaster, Doro has fathered a line of telepaths with paranormal powers. The members of this group grapple with one another as they plan to take over the United States. In both Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind, Doro and his descendants are able to communicate in a giant “mental universe,” or “pattern” of psionic or paranormal energy. In Patternmaster, Rayal, one of Doro’s many sons Page 100 | Top of Articleand feudal lord of his own fiefdom, ruthlessly tests his sons, Teray and Coransee, by pitting one against the other for succession. However, it is Amber, Teray’s lover and a healer, who uses her own abilities as a “terrifyingly efficient killer” and compassionate woman to help destroy his arrogant brother. Only through her intervention does Teray win. Amber, an example of Butler’s feminist and humanist narrative project, intervenes because she discovers Teray has latent healing power himself. Thus, the text suggests that even though the male character may be flawed and violent, a strong but humanistic female may force him to change. When Teray offers Amber marriage as a prize, she reminds him that she plans to rule her own feudal domain: “What if I asked you to be my lead husband?”
As Frances Smith Foster has observed, “Butler makes it clear that these women, powerful and purposeful in their own right, need not rely upon eroticism to gain their ends…. Butler’s females are usually healers, teachers, artists, mothers. Yet they are not the traditional literary Earth Mothers or Culture Bearers. They exercise direct authority.” In Amber’s case, she refuses to marry Teray, relying instead on her own political power. She also informs him that she prefers her own power as a female: “When I meet a woman who attracts me, I prefer women…. And when I meet a man who attracts me, I prefer men.” (Bisexuality as an emblem of female independence is featured in Butler’s Parable of the Talents as well.)
In Patternmaster’s equally violent sequel, Mind of My Mind, Butler juxtaposes another extremely strong-willed, independent female with a potentially dominating male. Mary, a young black woman from a poor neighborhood and with latent paranormal ability, must match wits with and eventually overcome her Pattern-ist father/lover, the nearly immortal Doro. Mary demonstrates in this novel that being a loner and survivor can enable a female character to move from objectification to a more independent subject position. Similarly, Alanna, the Afro-Asian protagonist in Survivor, although not a paranormal, has many of Mary’s powerful survivor attributes. On Earth, as one of the Mutes, she has to live off the land, fighting and killing to survive in the warlike conditions there. But she escapes with a group of missionaries who seek to get away from the warring Patternists and Clayarks. Like the protagonist in the Xenogenesis trilogy that follows, Alanna’s is a struggle of interiority versus exteriority. She is the only human who risks getting to know the new planet’s indigenous species intimately. An ostensibly marginalized Other like them, she is the only human open to more than superficial change, and to humane coexistence with the humanlike Kohn and Garkohn who already inhabit the planet. Unlike the missionaries, she eventually compromises her definition of what constitutes “humanity” and mates with one of the intelligent blue fur-covered species on the new planet.
In Clay’s Ark, the series’ final novel, Butler returns to earth to extend her unsettling scenario of a planet on the brink of chaos and destruction. Fascinated with disease as both a positive and negative agent of change, she posits a scenario in which a powerful parasite uses an astronaut’s body as a host when he returns home after a failed space mission. The parasite threatens to turn the entire United States into a population of highly evolved mutants. The setting is the Mojave Desert, just at the California border. Walled, gated enclaves and armored passenger vehicles have become the order of the day in large cities. The lone astronaut has survived an emergency crash landing in the desert. He is aware of, but helpless to combat, a microorganism that is now directing his life. Under its influence, he develops heightened sensory and physical powers and eventually controls a small isolated enclave of desert dwellers. Driven by the tiny “alien” within, he directs mating among them, including two young Palos Verdes twins (early prototypes of “Valley Girl” vacuity) who happen by with their father.
As the macabre tale twists, most of the females in the desert group give birth not to humans but to a new mutant species. While the transformation includes biological enhancements (one person’s leukemia begins to heal), it also creates half-humans, half-quadrupeds described as resembling Sphinxes. They come to Page 101 | Top of Articlebe known as “Clayarks.” Butler uses plague imagery (noting she had rabies in mind), so that a single scratch is sufficient to contaminate other humans. One of the hapless carriers remarks, “In a few months we’ll be one of the few sane enclaves left in the country—maybe in the world.” The novel concludes with the Clayarks running rampant, soon to begin their mindless attacks on the Mutes and Patternists. The carnage foreshadows the devastated urban landscape that eventually appears in Parable of the Sower. That novel’s future inhabitants are terrorized not by physical mutants but by drug-induced “crazies”:
San Francisco is burning…. Maybe uninfected people are sterilizing the city in the only way they can think of. Or maybe it’s infected people crazy with their symptoms.... In Louisiana there’s a group that has decided the disease was brought in by foreigners—so they’re shooting anyone who seems a little odd to them. Mostly Asians, blacks, and browns.... It will be chaos. Then a new order. Hell, a new species.
This passage exemplifies Hoda Zaki’s observation that Butler’s views on human nature and politics “serve as a critique of the contemporary social order and as the foundation for her Utopian and dystopian vision.” As Zaki notes, the microorganism only completes the destruction begun by humans.
When Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind begin, an active war is already raging between rampaging hordes of Clayarks, who exist amid the ruins of long-devastated cities, and the Mutes, closest to today’s humans, who possess no extrasensory powers and who serve as slaves to the third group, the mentally superior Patternists. The narrative structure of blood feuds is a futuristic version of the romantic adventure stories and fantasies on which Butler cut her teeth. They feature familiar tropes of hierarchical familial and social structures including feudal lords and ladies with great houses whose lineage must be maintained, and battles among descendants, including horses, hunting, guns, and coming-of-age quests.
After the Patternmaster series, Butler embarked on a very different kind of planetary saga in her subsequent Xenogenesis trilogy. But before she did, she explored similar ideas in her most powerful short story to date, “Bloodchild” (1984), which contains some of the same thematic elements as the Xenogenesis series and could be considered as a prelude to it. The frightening futuristic dilemma in “Bloodchild” involves humans who have had to escape to another planet for survival. Butler skillfully reverses the trope of animal captivity and breeding to make humans the Other. The captive humans stand in for people of color and other oppressed people who throughout history were kept in bondage and forced to serve those in power. By placing the animal-like creatures in control but also making them dependent on the earthlings, Butler also destabilizes the self-other binary of power and domination.
In “Bloodchild,” Butler crafts a relationship between a Terran family and the Tlics, beings whom the earthlings offer a specialized service in exchange for protection and shelter in the Preserve allowed them. Through intimate dialogue between T’Gatoi, one of the high officials who has had a long relationship with the family, and Gan, raised to serve her, the reader discovers the eerie truth about the nature of this service. The Tlic are huge serpent-caterpillars who use warm-blooded human bodies as sites in which to lay their eggs. Thus “impregnated,” the humans carry the Tlic larvae to term. Once the “grubs” are mature, a female Tlic cuts open the host with one of her sharp limbs in a painful, near-lethal “blood ceremony. “The reader then discovers that Gan is a boy and that human males, not females, have this dangerous duty so that women are free to carry fetuses, more human fodder for further Tlic breeding.
Regarding Butler’s human-animal trope, Elyce Rae Helford has observed that “through this destabilizing metaphorization, the complexity of human-alien relations allows us to see the degree to which species, like gender and race, is primarily a matter of who has the power to construct Page 102 | Top of Articleand label whom.” Critics such as Helford and Larry McCaffery highlight the slavery metaphors in this narrative. Yet in a 1990 interview, Butler insisted to McCaffery, “I don’t agree [with the slavery metaphor], although this may depend on what we mean by ‘slavery.’... What I’m really talking about is symbiosis.” She elaborated on this in her 1995 afterword to the story. Besides wanting to write a story to ease her fear of parasitic insects like the botfly, she wondered what it would really be like if humans had to move to an already inhabited planet: “I tried to write a story about paying the rent.... It wouldn’t be the British Empire in space, and it wouldn’t be Star Trek. Sooner or later the humans would have to make some kind of accommodation with their … hosts.” In either case, as Helford has suggested, we learn from this disturbing story that “power relations ultimately determine the construction of identity.” Who indeed are the “aliens”?
The Xenogenesis Trilogy
Alienism is also one of the dominant themes in Butler’s 1987 Dawn, the first novel of her Xenogenesis trilogy. (“Xenogenesis” means production of offspring permanently unlike the parent.) This text asks the reader to rethink gender and race from the standpoint of the construction of difference, by positing yet another drastic situation in which humans must interact with a species from another world in order to survive. In Dawn, Earth is no longer habitable after a final nuclear holocaust. The Oankali, who travel in a spaceship nearly as large as a planet, gather up as many still-living humans as they can find. The Oankali are interested in the humans because they need to “trade” genes every so many generations in order to survive. They place most of the humans in suspended animation while they repair the earth. After 250 years, Lilith Iyapu, a black woman, is “Awakened” (Butler’s capitalization). Because of her genetic makeup and stable personality, she is named leader of the first group of humans who will be allowed to return to the nearly restored planet. Butler calls her protagonist the new “first mother” of the restored Earth. Lilith is the name of the woman said to have been excised from portions of the biblical account of the world’s origins. She is also reputed to have given birth to monsters after being banished. Butler, therefore, seems to be making a statement about the exclusion of nonprivileged people, in particular women, from official sanction and recognition in the world, in spite of any crucial role they may play in it.
On a broader scale, the Xenogenesis trilogy severely critiques present-day systems of domination on Earth in general. Butler uses the “alien” species to decry what she sees as a problematic inborn human trait: a hierarchical tendency, which, linked with human aggression, results in what she considers to be disastrously self-destructive consequences for humanity. When the trilogy opens, this will to hierarchize and dominate has already resulted in Earth’s destruction by nuclear disaster. The texts suggest that these tendencies toward power contribute to the inability of many of the survivors to believe that a species that looks deformed could be their equal. This arrogance nearly sabotages their chances of returning to the restored planet at all. Furthermore, the unwillingness of some to accept a black woman as leader rekindles tendencies toward racialism. Feminist theorist Donna Haraway devotes almost half a chapter of Primate Visions to Dawn and refers in “A Cyborg Manifesto” to Butler as one of her “theorists for cyborgs.”
The 1988 Adulthood Rites and 1989 Imago continue to be concerned with the problematics of predatory and prideful tendencies as they affect human evolution. The Oankali finally relent in their seemingly inexorable pursuit of gene trading and allow a small band of human “resistors” to set up a colony on Mars. In trying to re-create familial and social structures away from the Oankali, however, the humans retreat to the same violent and hierarchical structures that put them there in the first place. Their situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Oankali have sterilized them, ostensibly for their own good. At one point, the rebellious humans steal Lilith’s “construct” human-Oankali child, Akin, and attempt to hack off his Medusa-like Page 103 | Top of Articlesensory tentacles in an unfeeling effort to render his appearance more “human.” Despite this danger, Akin studies the resistors and eventually comes to understand them. He goes on to mediate between the humans and Oankalis.
In Imago, the Oankali continue their gene experiments from Lilith’s cancer cells, with unpredictable results. Lilith gives birth to Jodahs, another of her many “construct” hybrid children. This time, however, it is neither male nor female but a combination of human and ooloi, the third-sex creature with whom earthlings and Oankali mate. It has powers even the Oankali do not possess: it shape-shifts, can heal wounds and even regenerate limbs, and most important, may alter DNA with a touch. The youngster Jodahs must learn to heal or kill, give life or destroy it,- otherwise the shape-shifter could mutate others and its environment accidentally. Eric White reads such transformation as empowering: “The advent of shapeshifters able to transform themselves at will enables maximally flexible and innovative responsiveness to heterogeneous situations.” AnnLouise Keating, on the other hand, sees Jodahs as “the first of a new, potentially deadly species.... Jodahs represents a form of difference that even the Oankali fear.”
There is a clear subtext regarding the perils of ignoring the troubling aspects of genetic engineering. Yet the creation of a third species— one potentially more powerful than either the humans or the Oankalis—invites the reader to reconsider what we traditionally think of as creation. The implication is that identity formation, as it is known today, is a mere fraction of what it may become. Furthermore, by juxtaposing Jodahs’ seemingly unlimited potential with Lilith’s relatively limited reproductive role, the trilogy also asks the reader to remember that a breakthrough in one aspect of society does not necessarily mean change in all others.
In that regard, Eva Cherniavsky is concerned with Dawn as a demonstration of “Lilith’s sexual and reproductive agency” as a subaltern woman, in effect cast back into slavery whereby once again the black woman’s body is “coded as breeder…. She [Cherniavsky] argues that by aligning elite reproductive practices with the body of the female subaltern, Butler effects a strategic refiguration of the [contemporary] fertility clinic (and its ethos of voluntarism) as captive breeding zone.” In Xenogenesis and other texts, Butler explores the psychic and physical stress of the continual silent threat to many people of color in America. Even though seemingly far-fetched, the threat is a potential for reactionary forces suddenly to snatch them back into a servile state. Butler’s novel Kindred illustrates this concern.
In Kindred, first published in 1979, protagonist Dana Franklin is startlingly and mysteriously transported back and forth from California in 1976 to antebellum Maryland in 1815. During these encounters, she experiences actual slavery and finds herself on the very plantation where her forebears had to toil. There she will have to save the life of Rufus Weylin, a young white slave owner who will eventually, through rape, become her own great-grandfather. In the contemporary portion of Kindred, Butler uses the convention of the fictional memoir. But when her narrator time travels into the past, the style resembles that of a slave narrative. On both levels of narration, Butler’s didactic project as a science-fiction writer involves critiquing the present along with the past.
Dana is yanked back allegorically into the past and into an era in which she is stripped of her authority as an individual. This text implies that this may happen to anyone. The so-called gains of progress may be more illusory for people of color than one thinks, Butler suggests. As plantation owner Tom Weylin remarks, “Educated don’t mean smart.” Later in the novel, Dana comments to her contemporary husband, Kevin, that even though she has returned to modern times, “she no longer feels safe.” (This comment is further complicated by the fact that Kevin is white.) Dana’s observations, combined with her subsequent reading about the atrocities of Nazi Germany, lead her to perceive herself as living at an anxiety-provoking intersection of past, present, and future.
The painful reality of an African American woman’s struggle for authority is an especially powerful theme in Kindred, although it appears in all of Butler’s works. Dana’s experience of being thrust back in time, and into the role of having to “mother” her own forebears so that she may eventually be born herself, leads to a direct challenge to many of her most-cherished contemporary beliefs about social equality and personal freedom. Like many of the readers, she has glibly contended that if she were a slave, she would never put up with its humiliations. But when she is hurtled back in time, beaten, threatened with sexual abuse, and frightened out of her wits, she must confront the painful specter of compromise for her survival. As noted previously, many of Butler’s heroines must compromise in order to stay alive. Practical realists, often with children and other family or community members dependent on them for survival, they must do so. From the standpoint of conventional western science-fiction adventures, these female protagonists are decidedly antiheroic. Yet they seem in line with the hard-headed pragmatists Butler describes her mother and grandmother as having been.
The Parable Novels
The theme of pragmatic compromise for survival also underlies Butler’s Parable novels, in which the main character, Lauren Olamina, struggles to create a new community, even a new world, amid the perilous breakdown of mid-twenty-first-century America. In Parable of the Sower, which takes place in the year 2025, America’s entire West Coast is barely livable. A few wealthy communities outside of Los Angeles continue to prosper within heavily guarded walled compounds, virtual fortresses. But many members of the middle class, which barely exists in any ethnicity, are increasingly forced to become virtual slaves to the few remaining multinational corporations. Most of them work for subsistence incomes and vie to be hired by completely privatized “company towns,” even though they know that they will be subsumed eventually by their debts to the corporation, much like debt slaves or sharecroppers.
The elder Olaminas, parents of the protagonist Lauren, an eighteen-year-old African American woman, represent the marginalized middle class. Lauren’s father and his second wife, Cor-azon, a Latina, both have doctorates, but the university, barely alive itself, can only employ the father one day per week. For this, he must brave leaving their walled community for a long bicycle ride with a pistol strapped to his side, beneath his book bag. The family, like others in their neighborhood, survives by growing food in their backyard and harvesting local fruit trees. This depiction of the Olaminas demonstrates the result of a narrowly focused denial toward society’s ills. There is nothing to be done about the larger problems of the world, the couple insists. The world outside of the Olam-ina’s walls is the enemy; the most important thing is to hold on to one’s own. Father Olamina has harsh advice for his loved ones: “There’s nobody to help us but God and ourselves. I protect Moss’s place in spite of what I think of him, and he protects mine, no matter what he thinks of me. We all look out for one another.” The elder Olaminas, owners of their home and possessors of graduate degrees, represent the last generation of twentieth-century Americans to have been socialized to aspire to and at least partially fulfill some measure of the American Dream. But their version of coping does not suffice for daughter Lauren. Arguing to herself, she insists: “But God exists to be shaped. It isn’t enough for us to just survive, limping along, playing business as usual while things get worse and worse…. There has to be more that we can do, a better destiny that we can shape. Another place. Another way. Something!” In contrast to Lauren’s more radical reactions, the Olaminas find themselves located at the intersection of a conservative worldview, which focuses narrowly on the past and present, and their daughter’s newly emerging, more radical one, which embraces change as necessary, even though threatening.
Butler seeks to dramatize the creative power inherent in the exploration of symbolic systems. Like other female characters of Butler, Page 105 | Top of ArticleLauren struggles to create a new liberating meaning from an oppressive situation. She personifies the battle to overcome mental and physical subalternization by developing a new creed that she memorializes in “Earthseed: The Books of the Living.” It is a combination predominantly of Christianity and Buddhism, which accepts “change as … the only lasting truth.” In one passage from “Earthseed,” Lauren observes:
When apparent stability disintegrates,
As it must—
God is Change—
People tend to give in
To fear and depression. …
They remember old hates and generate new ones,
They create chaos and nurture it.
They kill and kill and kill…
Until they are exhausted or destroyed …
Or until one of them becomes
Most will follow,
Or a tyrant
With this belief as her basis, even when her family is eventually murdered by the looting homeless, Lauren escapes and leads another makeshift “family” north to freedom. She and her Earthseed comrades search for a location where they may found a new community. Eventually, the group sets up a homestead, which they dub Acorn. They choose that name because of the acorn bread they have learned to eat to survive. (“My mother and grandmother were survivors,” Butler reminisced to Mixon in 1979.) Harvesting acorns also refers to the biblical “parable of the sower,” about a man who went to sow his seed in a troubled land. Some of it fell by the wayside; some fell upon a rock. But some fell on good ground “and sprang up and bore fruit an hundredfold” (Luke 8:5-8). This religious imagery is picked up in Butler’s sequel, Parable of the Talents, as is the quest motif.
The first novel ends with Lauren hoping eventually to escape the dying civilization on earth altogether and found a new colony on another planet, possibly Mars. Butler does not reveal whether Lauren successfully completes her quest until the end of Parable of the Talents. In the sequel, Lauren becomes simply Olamina. Here, as in most of Butler’s novels, naming is significant. In this case, the single name is a signal of Lauren’s developing maturity and her eventual status as Earthseed matriarch by the end of the second book. By the conclusion, her initial ragtag group has grown into a wealthy, influential, and nationally recognized organization, members of which do finally set off for Mars.
The central conflict in the second book centers on Olamina and her estranged daughter, originally named Larkin but who later renames herself Ashe Vere (“truth” or “righteousness”). The young woman does not know her mother because they were separated ever since she, as an infant, was kidnapped by radical Christians called Crusaders, bent on returning the country to fundamentalist values. In the confused mid-twenty-first century of this novel, many ideologies compete for the population’s attention as the country attempts to return from the brink of complete societal collapse brought on by a string of inept presidents and megalomaniacal transnational corporations.
Butler employs a form of double narration to demonstrate the crumbling ideologies’ unhealthy impact on families and communities throughout the country. The narration shifts back and forth spatiotemporally between the now-deceased Olamina (depicted by her journal entries, which form the core narrative) and daughter Ashe Vere’s point of view, which forms the frame narrative. Ashe Vere serves as skeptical observer of her mother’s Earthseed ideology and difficult but dedicated life. Filtered through the young woman’s critical gaze, the reader learns about her mother’s efforts to spread Earthseed widely and to foster change, in spite of Olamina’s own brother Marc, a converted Christian. The mother-daughter duo teaches us as much from their losses as from their gains. They become metaphors of motion, embodying the essence of black women’s efforts to simultaneously envision incremental Page 106 | Top of Articlechanges and radical transformations not only within black communities but throughout the world as well.
The mother-daughter-uncle separation is emblematic. Not only does it reveal ways in which ideology may put further pressure on already-fragmented familial units, but the family’s final, somewhat conditional, reconciliation also prompts the reader to reflect on how the basic definition and function of the family unit may change radically during the twenty-first century. In her work, Butler experiments with various intersubjective affiliations in conceptualizing familial units. These range from interracial combinations (as in Kindred) to relationships that span generations (as in the youthful/older Olamina/Bankole marriage in the Parable novels) to interspecies couplings (as in Survivor and Dawn). Only occasionally and in passing does Butler touch on issues of bisex-uality or androgyny in her books. Parable of the Talents contains a brief and ultimately non-eventful scene in which Olamina momentarily considers, then reconsiders, a homosexual encounter. With the exception of passing references (such as a brief comment by Amber in Patternmaster), relationships in Butler’s fiction almost invariably concern the trope of heterosexual mating, and marriage involves a variation on the conventional familial unit.
Butler continues to problematize the benefits and threats of medicine by pointing to its powerful effect on humanity’s mental and emotional as well as physical health. In Parable of the Sower, Lauren is born hyperempathetic because her mother took a “genius” drug meant to enhance intelligence. The drug’s side effect does not become apparent until the second generation. In the novel’s present time, daughter Lauren cannot control her feelings: she shares others’ pain and pleasure even when she does not want to do so. For instance, in Parable of the Sower, she bleeds when her brother only pretends to be injured. Here the novel seems to take up where Philip K. Dick left off in his 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep! (which was later adapted into the 1982 film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott). In Parable of the Sower’s nearly defunct mid-twenty-first
century United States, empathy, the quality that helps people treat each other in a humane manner and not like objects, has all but disappeared. As Dick highlights in his novel, so too does Butler point out in Parable of the Sower that it may be difficult to continue life as we know it if American society does not have this important glue to hold it together. In many of her texts, Butler offers empathetic female protagonists willing to risk what little safety they have to help others through the mental and emotional trauma of dysfunctional conditions. These women range from the urban character Valerie in the short story “Speech Sounds” to the more primeval Anyanwu in Wild Seed.
Butler’s unconventionality derives more from her often shocking extrapolations of how future relationships might develop amid the pressures of unpredictable future circumstances. One example occurs in Butler’s experimental short story “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” (first published in Bloodchild and Other Stories in 1984), which focuses (as does Clay’s Ark) on a pandemic brought about by human foibles. Scientists develop Hedeonco, a profitable “magic-bullet” cancer cure. The catch is that they find that the next generation of those treated develops a horrible genetic dysfunction known as Duryea-Gode disease (DGD). The gruesome side effect involves a brain disorder that causes adult sufferers to believe they are suffocating in their own skin, at which point, if not caught, they mutilate themselves terribly. Butler depicts a young man and woman who attempt a relationship even though both are carriers of this potentially horrific disease. Do they give up on life and each other because the medical odds seem stacked against them, or do they construct a reality, however limited, that allows them some modicum of a life?
Besides the thematic of interpersonal relations, “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” also calls attention to the problem of “personal responsibility” between the medical community and citizens at large. On the one hand, it signals the devastation that may be wrought in the name of “progress.” On the other, it continues Butler’s fascination with the ironic possibility that even a disease may have beneficial effects. In “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” DGD sufferers develop tremendous concentration and can perform brilliantly but narrowly, like idiot savants. The trope of medical benefit/medical threat is part of Butler’s metatextual argument that neither absolute Utopia nor dystopia is probable in American society. Butler problematizes even seemingly beneficial side effects. In Clay’s Ark, those who are “contaminated” find themselves physically enhanced; in the Xenogenesis series, Lilith’s cancer provides a breakthrough for the Oankali’s genetic manipulations.
Butler’s early short stories such as the 1971 “Crossover” and 1979 “Near of Kin” also display a concern with the risk of mental and emotional illness. Both take place in an indefinite present rather than in the future, but they do contain a glimmer of the emotional reaction to social tension that Butler develops in later futuristic societal characterizations. “Near of Kin” concerns a lonely young single woman who suspects, then finally discovers, that her birth is the result of an incestuous union between her mother and uncle. In typical Butler-ean fashion, the text does not moralize,- rather, it explores the social and emotional impetus that has led two lonely people to commit such an act. Similarly, “Crossover” treats a lonely young female factory worker whose “grindingly dull job” finally leads her to hallucination and alcoholism. The short story’s nihilistic tone echoes Butler’s self-assertion that she is “a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist always, a Black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist, and an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”
The 1983 “Speech Sounds” is another early example of Butler’s concern with possible societal degradation in a near-future America that she would fully develop in the Parable novels. Inspired by the growing tendency toward violence (and an actual fight on a Los Angeles bus Butler witnessed), “Speech Sounds” looks at a future world in which all but a few inhabits have literally lost the ability to speak. They revert to animal-like grunts and behavior, including violent gestures and territorial battles. Valerie Rye, a Los Angeles widow left on her own after her family succumbs to the mysterious disease, must cope with this disaster and the growing danger among ordinary people who attempt to continue to survive: “The illness, if it was an illness, had cut even the living off from one another.”
In many of Butler’s works, the very ordinariness of her characters and their landscape proves the most chilling. She presents people one sees at the corner store every morning; she extrapolates frightening scenarios straight from the daily news. Thus, readers often feel implicated, asking themselves classic “what if” questions. Page 108 | Top of ArticleIf current conditions escalated, would they act as the main characters do? In “Speech Sounds,” despite the danger, the two main characters overcome their own violent impulses and finally help others. The male, Obsidian, dies for his efforts. Rye stumbles upon two orphaned children who can speak and promises to nurture them. The story’s potentially tragic ending is thus tempered by a hopeful tone. But as in Parable of the Talents and other of Butler’s novels, that hope is rendered as being tenuous at best. Nothing is guaranteed.
During an October 1995 telephone interview with Lisbeth Gant-Britton, Octavia Butler described her books as “cautionary tales.” Her texts demonstrate the complex interrelationship between past, present, and future. Matter-of-factly and head-on, Butler presents both the marginalization as well as the pivotal importance of African Americans and other people of color. She demonstrates, on the one hand, that many people of color have been and continue to be buffeted by societal forces seemingly beyond their control. Yet she also shows that one exploited person determined to survive may in fact determine a new course of events for herself and indeed for an entire community or world.
Patternmaster Series (five novels)
Patternmaster. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976.
Mind of My Mind. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977.
Survivor. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978.
Wild Seed. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980.
Clay’s Ark. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.
Kindred. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979. Reprint, with an introduction by Robert Crossley, Boston: Beacon Press, 1988.
Dawn: Xenogenesis. New York: Warner Books, 1987. Adulthood Rites: Xenogenesis. New York: Warner Books, 1988.
Imago: Xenogenesis. New York: Warner Books, 1989. Trilogy reprinted as Lilith’s Brood. New York: Aspect, Warner Books, 2000.
Parable of the Sower. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows Press, 1993.
Parable of the Talents. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998.
“Bloodchild.” Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Worcester: Davis Publications, 1984.
“Crossover.” In Clarion: An Anthology of Speculative xFiction and Criticism from the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Edited by Robin Scott Wilson. New York: New American Library, 1971. Pp. 140-44.
“Near of Kin.” In Chrysalis 4. Edited by Roy Torgeson. New York: Zebra Books, 1979. Pp. 163-75.
“Speech Sounds.” Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 7:26-40 (December 1983).
L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Vol. IX: The Year’s 17 Best Titles. Edited by Algis Budrys and L. Ron Hubbard. Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, 1993.
Bloodchild and Other Stories. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows Press, 1995.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL STUDIES
Allison, Dorothy. “The Future of Female: Octavia Butler’s Mother Lode.” In Reading Black, Reading Feminist. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. New York: Penguin, 1990. Pp. 471-78.
Antczak, Janice. “Octavia E. Butler: New Designs for a Challenging Future.” In African-American Voices in Young Adult Literature: Tradition, Transition, Transformation. Edited by Karen Patricia Smith. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994. Pp. 311-36.
Barr, Marleen. Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.
Cherniavsky, Eva. “Subaltern Studies in a U.S. Frame.” Boundary 2 23:85-110 (Summer 1996).
Dubey, Madhu. “Folk and Urban Communities in African-American Women’s Fiction: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” Studies in American Fiction 27:103-28 (Spring 1999).
Foster, Frances Smith. “Octavia Butler’s Black Female Future Fiction.” Extrapolation 23:37-49 (Spring 1982).
Friend, Beverly. “Time Travel as a Feminist Didactic in Works by Phillis Einsenstein, Maryls Millhiser, and Octavia Butler.” Extrapolation 23:50-55 (Spring 1982).
Gant-Britton, Lisbeth. “Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower: One Alternative to a Futureless Future.” In Women of Other Worlds: Excursions through Science Fiction and Feminism. Edited by Helen Merrick and Tess Williams. Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1999. Pp. 278-94.
Govan Sandra Y. “Connections, Links, and Extended Networks: Patterns in Octavia Butler’s Science Fiction.” Black American Literature Forum 18:82-87 (Summer 1984).
——. “Homage to Tradition: Octavia Butler Renovates the Historical Novel.” MELUS 13:79-96 (Spring-Summer 1986).
—— Green, Michelle Erica. “’There Goes the Neighborhood’: Octavia Butler’s Demand for Diversity in Utopias.” In Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference. Edited by Jane L. Donawerth and Carol A. Kolmerten. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1994. Pp. 166-89.
Harris, Trudier. “This Disease Called Strength: Some Observations on the Compensating Construction of Black Female Character.” Literature and Medicine 14, no. 1:109-26 (1995).
Helford, Elyce Rae. “’Would You Really Rather Die Than Bear My Young?’: The Construction of Gender, Race, and Species in Octavia E. Butler’s ‘Blood-child.’ “African American Review 28:259-71 (Summer 1994).
Keating, AnnLouise. “Octavia Butler.” In Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Pp. 69-75.
Kubitschek, Missy Dehn. “What Would a Writer Be Doing Working out of a Slave Market?” In her Claiming the Heritage: African-American Women Novelists and History. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991. Pp. 24-51.
McHenry, Susan, and Mali Michelle Fleming. “Octa-via’s Mind Trip into the Near Future.” Black Issues Book Review 1:14-16, 18 (January-February 1999).
McKible, Adam. “’These Are the Facts of the Darky’s History’: Thinking History and Reading Names in Four African American Texts.” African American Review 28:223-35 (Summer 1994).
Miller, Jim. “Post-Apocalyptic Hoping: Octavia Butler’s Dystopian/Utopian Vision.” Science-Fiction Studies 25:336-60 (July 1998).
Mixon, Veronica. “Futurist Woman: Octavia Butler.” Essence, April 1979, pp. 12, 15.
Peppers, Cathy. “Dialogic Origins and Alien Identities in Butler’s Xenogenesis.” Science-Fiction Studies 22:47-62 (March 1995).
Phillips, Julie. “Feminist Sci-Fi: A Brave New World.” Ms., November-December 1994, pp. 70-73.
Raffel, Burton. “Genre to the Rear, Race and Gender to the Fore: The Novels of Octavia E. Butler.” Literary Review 38:454-62 (Spring 1995).
Rushdy, Ashraf H. A. “Families of Orphans: Relation and Disrelation in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” College English 55:135-57 (February 1993).
Salvaggio, Ruth. “Octavia Butler and the Black Science-Fiction Heroine.” Black American Literature Forum 18:78-81 (Summer 1984).
Shinn, Thelma J. “The Wise Witches: Black Women Mentors in the Fiction of Octavia E. Butler.” In Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition. Edited by Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spill-ers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Pp. 203-15.
Weixlmann, Joe. “An Octavia E. Butler Bibliography.” Black American Literature Forum 18:88-89 (Summer 1984).
White, Eric. “The Erotics of Becoming: Xenogenesis and The Thing.” Science-Fiction Studies 20:394-408 (November 1993).
Zaki, Hoda. “Utopia, Dystopia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler.” Science-Fiction Studies 17:239-51 (July 1990).
Beal, Frences M. “Black Women and the Science Fiction Genre: Interview with Octavia Butler.” Black Scholar 17:14-18 (March-April 1986).
Fry, Joan. “An Interview with Octavia Butler.” Poets and Writers Magazine, March-April, 1997, pp. 58-69.
Harrison, Rosalie G. “Sci Fi Visions: An Interview with Octavia Butler.” Equal Opportunity Forum Magazine 8, no. 2:30-34 (1980).
Jackson, Jerome H. “Sci-Fi Tales from Octavia Butler.” Crisis 101:4-7 (April 1994).
Kenan, Randall. “An Interview with Octavia Butler.” Callaloo 14:485-504 (Spring 1991).
McCaffery, Larry. “An Interview with Octavia E. Butler.” In Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers. Edited by Larry McCaffery. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990. Pp. 54-70.
Potts, Stephen W. “’We Keep Playing the Same Record’: A Conversation with Octavia E. Butler.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:331-38 (November 1996).
Rowell, Charles H. “An Interview with Octavia E. Butler.” Callaloo 20:47-66 (Winter 1997).
See, Lisa. “Octavia E. Butler.” Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1993, pp. 50-51.
Barnes, Steven, with Larry Niven. The Descent of An-ansi. New York: Tor, 1982; distributed by Pinnacle Books.
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Gomez, Jewelle. The Gilda Stories: A Novel. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1991.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In her Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Pp. 149-81.
——. Primate Visions. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Hopkins, Pauline. “Of One Blood or, the Hidden Self.” In her The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Hopkinson, Nalo. Brown Girl in the Ring. New York: Warner Books, 1998.
Le Guin, Ursula. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books, 1969.
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Saunders, Charles R. Imaro. New York: Daw Books, 1981.
Schuyler, George [Samuel I. Brooks, pseud.]. Black Empire. Edited by Robert A. Hill and R. Kent Rasmus-sen. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. (Originally published in the Pittsburgh Courier, October 1937 through April 1938.)
——. Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, A.D. 1933-1940. College Park, Md.: Mc-Grath, 1969. (Originally published by Macaulay Co., 1931.)
Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jova-novich, 1983.