The name Octavia Butler was familiar to me when I read it on the booklist. My only guess is that my sister mentioned it at some point in time: she is an English major and we frequently discuss literature. However, I didn’t know anything about her before picking up “Bloodchild and other stories.” I was shocked to discover I was reading science fiction. It definitely was not what I was expecting. I was even more shocked after looking up Octavia Butler online. Not only did I discover that Butler was black, but that she was a black female publishing science fiction in the 70s and 80s. After reading more from her memoir included in the collection and reading some about her wikipedia, I was impressed by her tenacity, persistence, and passion. She worked her way into a white-male dominated field, and, from the sense I get from her autobiographical writing, she did it with unflinching confidence in her ability as a writer. Immediately she became a kind of heroin in my eyes.
I am also extremely impressed (and excited) about her work. Bloodchild is progressive. (This is true today, however, it was extremely true considering the time it was originally published in 1984.) This is mainly because of its male pregnancy narrative. I am always curious when creators attempt to capture or understand a man’s reaction to this particular female experience. I think that is, firstly, because it is something men will never be able to experience. Therefore, it is always hypothetical, always imaginary. Secondly, I think it is because there are two extreme negative male reactions to pregnancy and birth (as far as I can see as portrayed in popular media): one is the reaction of disgust and fear, the other is the downplaying of the intensity or pain. Thirdly, because we live in a male-dominated society, to think of men preforming the role of the repressed gender flips our societal structure on its head. In the case of “Bloodchild,” the male must choose to house and eventually breed in an act of love, selflessness, and sacrifice. Thus, the male must take on the qualities that are often classified as feminine, qualities that are considered lesser because the represent subservience and therefore weakness. At the end, the narrator understands the pain he must endure and the sacrifices he will have to make in order to house and raise the children of T’Gatoi, but in the end he chooses to give his life to her because he loves her.
Also interesting to me is its exploration of human subservience. Historical narratives, like colonialism, display the earthly struggle of dominance and control. Broadly speaking, our existence wrapped around the fight for control. In “Bloodchild,” humankind willingly sacrifices their control and power for resources, thus contradicting popular science fiction stories of the time that told stories of otherworldly colonialization. However, not only does Butler’s peaceful story of subservience break the norms developed in the genre, but it also contradicts most western narratives that parade the success and glory of colonialism. However, after doing some reading, I discovered that the story is not attempting to be a metaphor for slavery. Rather than attempt to show the humankind as slaves to this new superior race, Butler is attempting to convey a kind of peaceful cohabitation.
Overall, I am intrigued by Butler’s use of science fiction to address real-world controversial social issues. Creative plot devices often successful give new and clear insight onto the human condition in ways that I not considered before. I am excited to read more of her work.