This past weekend in Arlington, VA, women were given their due at the 47th Annual Nebula Awards, hosted by Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
Female authors of the field took top prizes for Best Novel (Jo Walton’s Among Others), Best Novella (Kij Johnson’s “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”), and Best YA Sci-fi Book (Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze), to name a few. To be fair, women have found their place in the sci-fi and fantasy worlds since the 1960s, but in 2012, I still find these accomplishments worth noting; sites like The Mary Sue have popped up on the interwebs for a reason. But I digress.
What really caught my attention came at the bottom of the winners list: the Solstice Award, granted to “up to three persons, living or dead, who have consistently had a positive, transformative influence on the genre of science fiction and fantasy.” One of this year’s Solstice Award winners was Octavia Butler.
No stranger to the Nebulas (she won two of the four times she was nominated), Butler has long been known as “the grand dame of science fiction,” her mantle space also boasting Hugo awards and a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award. The California native’s fiction dug deep into sociological, political and religious issues, tackling gender and sexuality in the context of cultural identity.
Butler passed away in 2006, and since her death, a smattering of Octavia Butler book clubs has sprung up, renewing interest and readership in her most popular works and even the more obscure, yet critically acclaimed, stories. In honor of the Grand Dame’s memory and her most recent award (more are to come, I’m sure), below is a short list of my own must-reads:
Butler explored histories of slavery by way of time travel in what is perhaps her most popular novel. Kindred follows Dana, an African-American woman, who is transported from 1976 Los Angeles to early 19th-century Maryland, where, she meets her ancestors.: Rufus, a white slave owner, and Alice, an African-American woman who was forced into slavery despite being born free.
The Parable Pair (1994)
Here, Butler delightfully gets lost in a world of her making, stretching her talents to envision a dark, dystopian Los Angeles and a fictional religion called Earthseed, started by the novel’s heroine Lauren Olamina. Lauren is afflicted with hyperempathy, the ability to feel pain and other sensations of others, which drives her development of the religion. Originally meant to be a trilogy, the Parable novels include Parable of the Sower and its sequel, Parable of the Talents, which earned Butler a Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1999.
Blood Child and Other Stories (2003)
I’m cheating a little bit here, but the meat of Butler’s contributions to sci-fi and fantasy came in her short stories and novellas. Described as a coming-of-age love story, “Blood Child” also carries what is perhaps the best tag line ever: “the pregnant man story.” This collection also strengthens Butler’s legacy of facing down cultural and societal issues, like dysfunctional family units and alcoholism, and offers a peek behind The Wizard’s curtain, with afterwords explaining the author’s inspirations for each story.
Much congrats to the Grand Dame! Proud sci-fi geek or not, tell us your favorite Octavia Butler picks in the comments.