Octavia Butler has introduced me into the world of literary science fiction. Prior to taking this course, I have never read a science fiction novel before. I entered into this course with many preconceived notions about the genre and thought that it only concerned story lines about aliens and spaceships. I was very concerned that I would not like Octavia Butler’s work, because science fiction was a genre that was completely foreign to me. However, I am very happy to say that I was wrong. What I thought was going to be my least favorite class of the semester turned out to be my favorite. In my opinion, the works of Octavia Butler are captivating and contain many important themes that go beyond spaceships and aliens. In each one of her novels, Butler creates a fantasy world that explores the type of conflicts that are apparent in our own reality.
The types of questions that I entered into this course with dealt mostly with what the genre of science fiction was and what type of storyline it generally involved. However, my involvement in this course made me realize that there is not a specific storyline that science fiction is regularly concerned with. Reading Octavia Butler’s work has allowed me to observe how free this genre really is, because it ranges from a variety of different settings. When I first read Fledgling, I had no idea that a vampire novel could be classified as science fiction. I was so used to the pop cultural persona of the vampire novel (such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight) that I did not realize that science fiction could be written within this discourse. In Octavia Butler’s interview with Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman in Conversations with Octavia Butler, Butler talked about how she first became attracted to the genre of science fiction and how she liked how open it was. She spoke against the stigma that science fiction has, stating that “People tend to think of science fiction as, oh Star Wars or Star Trek, and the truth is there are no closed doors, and there are no required formulas. You can go anywhere with it” (Francis 224). I admit that I used to be a part of the group of people who thought that every piece of science fiction was similar to Star Trek and Star Wars. However, Octavia Butler’s novels are very different from one another and extends across different subject areas, such as Ina vampires, Clayarks, and telepaths.
Another question that I asked myself at the beginning of the semester was about the purpose of Butler’s work. I asked myself “what is Octavia Butler trying to accomplish in her science fiction novels? Is there a reason that Geneseo has made this author’s work into an author study?” After reading several of Octavia Butler’s novels, I have discovered that Butler sought to expose her audience to issues regarding racism, prejudice, and slavery. Prejudice is an issue that appears regularly in her novels and is particularly dominant in her vampire novel Fledgling. Shori was a victim of prejudice because of her genetically engineered body and dark skin color. In order to ensure that her form of Ina would never reproduce, the Silks murdered her family and attempted to murder her as well. Although this novel takes place in a world where vampires exist, prejudice and discrimination are very real issues that are prevalent in our own reality. After I read “Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling”, I viewed Fledgling more concretely about combatting prejudice and learning to live with difference. Within her article, Susana M. Morris discusses how “Butler’s Ina transgress conventional vampire tropes not only by being mortal but also by experiencing (and succumbing to) hierarchal divisions, such as those of racism, mirroring the violent systems of oppression that are the foundation of much of the human world” (Morris 161). Some of the similarities that the Ina share with human beings are their involvement in social class divisions, their oppression as a result of prejudice, and their ability to die. Furthermore, slavery was also a subject that Octavia Butler regularly dealt with in her literary works. In Wild Seed, Doro subjected Anyanwu into slavery as he forced her to take part in his breeding program without her consent. Anyanwu never willingly agreed to become involved in Doro’s program, but she was still forced to participate in it.
In many of our lecture discussions, consent was a topic that was touched upon heavily. Throughout my involvement in this course, I have discovered that Octavia Butler’s work regularly grapples with the issue of consent and how someone could lose their consent to life if they did not obey an individual’s refusal to consent to their demands. After we discussed the complexities of consent that are prevalent in Butler’s work, this left me questioning about what consent really involves. If someone’s life depends on another person, does that mean that they lose their consent to live if the individual does not wish to participate in their demands? Before I read Octavia Butler’s work, I never really thought about how complicated consent could be. Shori depended on her symbionts for sexual pleasure and nourishment while Doro depended on the bodies of his victims to house his spirit. In terms of consent, one aspect of Fledgling that really struck me was Shori’s ability to acquire her symbionts without their “natural” consent. Once Shori bit someone, she automatically received their consent to become her symbiont due to her venom. Because Shori’s venom persuaded humans to become her symbionts, this made me wonder if Shori’s symbionts were really giving their consent to be with her or if they were just being brainwashed to. On the other hand, Doro had to steal a person’s body without their consent in order to live. If Doro did not steal bodies, he would have died sooner once the body that he was in deteriorated. If both Shori and Doro did not take part in these relationships, does this mean that they have lost their ability to consent to life? These questions made me realize that in some cases, someone might have to take away another person’s ability to consent willingly in order to fulfill their own consent. Does this make disobeying someone’s refusal to consent right? Unfortunately, I still don’t know the answers to these questions and it might take me years to establish a definitive answer.
After contemplating the takeaways of science fiction, I have discovered that Octavia Butler’s work deals heavily with learning to co-exist with different lifestyles, especially lifestyles that are considered to be transgressive. In Conversations with Octavia Butler, Butler described her view of what she believed science fiction accomplished to Rosalie G. Harrison, stating that “I see science fiction as a way of disseminating the fact that we don’t have only one kind of people, namely white males, in the world. They are not the only ones who are here; not the only ones who count” (Francis 6). None of Butler’s literature involve only white individuals. Instead, Butler focused on individuals that differentiated from this norm, such as Doro in Wild Seed. Doro celebrated the concept of difference as he sought to breed individuals with special abilities in order to create a brand new superior race. If someone did not have any special abilities, Doro wanted nothing to do with them. Furthermore, Anyanwu also exemplifies Butler’s celebration of difference. Even though she was originally born as an African American female, Anyanwu had the ability to change her shape and appearance whenever she pleased. By including the concept of difference within several of her novels, Butler spread the message that being different is okay, and that it is crucial for society to learn to accept these differences in order to live with one another peacefully.
Before I discovered who Octavia Butler was and what her novels encompassed, I considered science fiction to be a genre that was only about spaceships, aliens, and extraterrestrial beings. After reading several of her literary works, I now view science fiction as a free genre that can range anywhere from concerning the spread of disease, becoming a victim of slavery, and becoming a target of prejudice. Science fiction has the ability to influence the audience to reflect on issues that involve how society responds to different lifestyles. Despite her unique settings that are vastly different from a traditional fictional novel, Octavia Butler’s science fiction addresses many of the issues that are prevalent in our own reality. Butler strives to fight in favor of lifestyles that are out of the norm, and I really respect that of her as a writer.
Francis, Conseula. Conversations with Octavia Butler. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2010. Print.
Morris, Susana M. “Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40.3/4 (2012): 146-66. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.