Bloodchild and other stories by Octavia Butler


What a great collection of stories this is!

I was at first surprised when there was an afterword after each story. Then as I read through each afterword, after each story, I wished that more short story collections including such afterwords.

“But I’m still glad to be able to talk a little about what I do put into my work, and what it means to me.”

In her afterword to The Evening and the Morning and the Night, a story which focuses on a disease, Butler describes her interest in biology and how she built this fictional disease from three genetic disorders, and even offers a reading list.

My favourite story is probably Speech Sounds, set in a world where a virus has taken away language, although it has affected people differently. A woman, Rye, can no longer read and write: “She had a houseful of books that she could neither read nor bring herself to use as fuel. And she had a memory that would not bring back to her much of what had read before.” She meets a man who cannot speak or comprehend spoken language:

“The illness had played with them, taking away, she suspected, what each valued most.”

While it was a rather satisfactory ending, of sorts, I think I wanted so much for this story to continue, for it to not be a short story, to know what will happen to Rye, to this world without language. Perhaps it moved me so because I cannot fathom the thought of not being able to read, to know that these symbols, these letters have meaning but to never be able to put them together. For all the horror books I’ve read this RIP season, this one might just be the one to really hit me hard, to hit me where it hurts.

(Later, I learnt that Octavia Butler was dyslexic. And maybe this short story stemmed from that?)

And it was a surprise to read about Butler’s humble beginnings, her early desire to be a writer, despite people like her aunt telling her that African-AmericansĀ couldn’t be writers.

“In all my thirteen years, I had never read a printed word that I knew to have been written by a Black person.”

I am so very glad that she persevered. That she kept writing, that she kept submitting, that she never gave up despite what others told her.



Patternist series
Patternmaster (1976)
Mind of My Mind (1977)
Survivor (1978)
Wild Seed (1980)
Clay’s Ark (1984)
Seed to Harvest (2007, omnibus excluding Survivor)

Xenogenesis series
Dawn (1987)
Adulthood Rites (1988)
Imago (1989)
(Lilith’s Brood (2000), omnibus of the Xenogenesis trilogy)

Parable Series
Parable of the Sower (1993) (my review)
Parable of the Talents (1998)

Standalone novels
Kindred (1979) (my review)
Fledgling (2005)

Short stories
Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995); Second edition with additional stories (2006)
Unexpected Stories (2014, includes novellas “A Necessary Being” and “Childfinder”)

I read this book for RIP IX


Although I’ve loved Octavia Butler’s works in previous years (Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, Fledgling), I’ve been a bit hesitant about reading Kindred. I knew that it had to do with slavery, and well, that’s never an easy topic, fiction or non-fiction, to read about. (Funny how reading about children killing each other i.e. The Hunger Games seems like an easier read.) Anyway… I was surprised at how readable it was. (Although as I write that, I wonder if I really should’ve been. After all, Butler is a fantastic storyteller.)
And right from the beginning, Butler brings you straight into the rather odd circumstances that Dana has found herself in:

“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.

And I lost about a year of my life and much of the comfort and security I had not valued until it was gone.”

Of course I had to read on, wanting, needing to know what exactly had happened to her.

Dana, a young black writer, finds herself in a rather weird situation. It is 1976 and she and her husband Kevin have just moved to a house of their own and are unpacking when everything vanishes and she finds herself at the edge of a river, with a little boy drowning before her eyes. She saves him, little Rufus, an “ugly name to inflict on a reasonably nice-looking little kid”. Rufus is the son of a plantation owner living in the south during the early 1800s. And Dana’s ancestor. Dana seems to be pulled back to his time whenever his life is at stake in order to save him and her family’s fate, and for longer and longer periods, and as a result, forced to live as a slave in that household. She is whipped and beaten. And nearly raped. Her time in the south gets more and more terrifying as time passes and Rufus grows older and sadly, becomes more like his harsh father.

Butler’s method of time travel, more or less unexplained and seemingly random, adds that thrilling aspect to the book. You never know what trouble Rufus has gotten himself into, and just how Dana will find herself back in her own time again.

It was quite amazing to learn that Kindred was published in 1979. It is quite timeless even today, 31 years on. Kindred is an absolutely brilliant book, a difficult read given its subject and brutality, but a must-read. Which leaves me to ask myself: why did it take me so long to get to it?