A deep reading of the work of the late science-fiction master.
If readers outside the realm of science fiction haven’t heard of Octavia Butler (1947-2006), Canavan (Literature/Marquette Univ.; co-editor: The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction, 2015) suggests that they should have: “She was never, perhaps, quite the household name she had once hoped to be—but she was widely and deeply beloved.” Best known for her 1979 novel Kindred, she was “a legend in her field, one of the best writers of her generation,” and was the recipient of a MacArthur fellowship and a PEN lifetime achievement award. This is no book for those needing an introduction to the futurist, anti-utopian vision of a black female author in a field dominated by white males. Full appreciation for these analyses requires not only a deep familiarity with her fiction, but also of the academic interpretations and arguments it has spawned. Here is a representative sentence: “Against the tradition of Butler criticism that has emphasized a postcolonial politics of cosmopolitan hybridity and that has consequently tended to view the [fictional] Oankali as legitimate benefactors to humankind, then, I feel I must insist on the extent to which the Oankali turn out, in this reading, to be genuinely monstrous after all.” Such analysis is targeted at those for whom reading a text is a precursor to “unpacking” it. Canavan provides plenty of plot description and analysis of fiction that has never been published since Butler’s published work (12 novels, one story collection) “is really only the very tip of a vast iceberg.” There remains a “vast intertextual hidden archive of alternative versions and lost tales that will, I hope, reinvigorate the study of her work.” Butler is a significant, influential author, but this study best serves those who already recognize her significance and influence.
Scholarship for science-fiction scholars.