‘Horror and beauty in rare combination’: The miscegenate fictions of Octavia butler

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2011-06-27 02:35Z by Steven

‘Horror and beauty in rare combination’: The miscegenate fictions of Octavia butler

Women: A Cultural Review
Volume 7, Issue 1 (1996)
pages 28-38
DOI: 10.1080/09574049608578256

Roger Luckhurst, Professor in Modern and Contemporary Literature
Birkbeck, University of London

Octavia Butler’s work is virtually unknown, and yet her ten novels and one short story collection constitute an astonishingly intricate and sustained meditation on the imbrication of race and gender across cultural and scientific discourses. By her own reckoning the only black woman science-fiction writer currently working, she has, since 1976, investigated the ambivalent legacies of slavery by sending a twentieth-century woman back in time to a Maryland plantation in 1815 (Kindred), envisioned a classically ‘sci-fi’ future (Patternmaster) only to explode its conventionality by tracing this future’s racial genealogy back first to contemporary Los Angeles (Mind of My Mind and Clay’s Ark) and then to seventeenth-century Africa (Wild Seed), and has also produced a stunning trilogy about inter-species hybridization which is at once rigorously within the bounds of revisionist evolutionary theory and yet also allegorizes a passage from the horror of miscegenation to the emergence of a literally catastrophic difference (Xenogenesis: Dawn Adulthood Riles, Imago).

Butler’s chance for recognition might have arrived in 1984 when her short story, ‘Bloodchild’ won both the Hugo and Nebula prizes, the science-fiction community’s major internal awards. A subtle and disconcerting story, ‘Bloodchild’ slyly rewrites the gendered anxieties of the ‘body horror’ genre by…

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