Striking social commentary underscores the action in two dark, previously unpublished stories from the late sci-fi master.
In the opening novella, A Necessary Being, Tahneh rules the Rohkohn, a small desert tribe facing a severe drought. Tahneh is a Hao, a rare, blue-skinned being prized for their fighting ability and political cunning in the fictional world's stark, allegorical caste system based on skin color in which all people are yellow, green or blue. Traditionally, tribes fight to capture, hobble and force a Hao to lead them. Tahneh's father endured this at the hands of the Rohkohn, yet Tahneh avoided hobbling by being born into the tribe. After her tribe peacefully captures a young male Hao named Diut, she knows that because she is growing old and has not given birth to an heir in her “intercaste liaisons” with her people, they will soon hobble Diut and force him to succeed her. The sharp prose that Hugo and Nebula awards winner Butler (Fledgling, 2005, etc.) is known for isn’t as honed here. But she generates immense tension and shows the loneliness behind Tahneh’s maneuvering as the central power struggle unfolds between the two Hao and their tribes, structured tightly around a moving scene of seduction, a fight and an uneasy pact, forcing Tahneh to strategize for her tribe while she considers if they or the Hao are her true people. In the bleak story “Childfinder,” a black woman named Barbara can read thoughts and find children with similar “psionic ability.” A confrontation with the select group of people with “psi” reveals that Barbara has struck out on her own to train black children and snuff out “psi” powers in white children, which may trigger a lethal race war.
A small but important addition to the oeuvre of a writer deeply concerned with issues of race and gender.