Octavia E. Butler
Octavia E. Butler
was one of a small handful of African American SF authors back in the
1970s, an era when SF was often whiter than a collection of things that are very, very white. Butler's stories often focused on
people doing their best from a position of profound weakness,
striving despite slavery, apocalypse or worse. This example of her
work won the 1984 Nebula Award for Best Novelette, the 1985 Hugo
Award for Best Novelette, the 1985 Locus Award for Best Novelette and
the 1985 Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette.
I found this story creepy, disturbing and disconcerting, but I can’t
quite put my finger on why. Maybe it’s that the aliens remind me of
giant, lithe, fleshy centipedes. Or maybe the armbands on the Terrans
remind me of concentration camps.
kept thinking the narrator was female, maybe because the most
developed and prominent characters are female, or because the
narrator’s experiences are a lot more like typical female
experiences. He has his body assessed and commented upon and is
valued for looking a certain way. He’s going to grow up to be in
service to someone else, and the best that he can hope for is the has
a good master, and he sacrifices himself for his family. This is the
repeated story of women sold and/or married to powerful families to
make advantageous political ties. Adding to that, Gan is the method
by which his owner reproduces, making it even more resonant of female
a basic level, the story asks a common question: if a cage is nice
(nicer even than the outside world), is it worth it? Many humans
value freedom, and we have many highly individualistic cultures
worldwide that would refuse golden handcuffs. But these Terrans were
persecuted by other humans and fled to something better. The question
remains: was it worth it? Or will these humans do like others in
human history and revolt against enslavement?
what’s most distressing of all is the idea that persecution and
enslavement will never end. That even after millenia, there will
always be people attacked and enslaved - that morals do not progress
and develop over time. But I hope humans do get better over time.
Butler has been on my to read list since I started reading more
science fiction, so I was excited to read this story. I didn't really
understand a lot of what was going on in the first half, and it
frankly reminded me why I don't really read SF with fantastical
elements. There's a lot of stuff about eggs and stinging and hatching
and whatnot that reminded me a little of the Aliens movies. The
latter third of the story was stronger for me as the character of Gan
watches T'Gatoi perform an implantation and discovers that things
aren't exactly as he was brought up to believe. Oddly enough, I had
imagined the character of Gan as a girl for some reason, but the
Wikipedia entry about this story says that Gan is a boy. So I missed
something somewhere, but it doesn't change the strength of Butler's
allegory for me at all. Although I suppose it does make me realize
that Butler flipped the script by having the male character be the
host in this case. The concluding discussion between Gan and T'Gatoi
reveals that Gan's decision to save his sister from being a host, so
I guess the gender of a host ultimately doesn't matter. Throughout
this story I also felt like I was missing something, as if these
characters were part of a larger story and knowing other details
about their lives would help. Perhaps that was Butler's intention: to
drop the reader into the middle of this alternate reality. I didn't
really connect with this story necessarily, but I'm glad to have read
it and to have a sense of Butler's command of language. She was a
master in that regard. I didn't have trouble imagining anything that
she wrote about in Bloodchild, even if I couldn't really make sense
of it, and that's definitely a testament to her ability as a writer.
that was horrifying. The Tlic I imagined as looking a lot like the
giant centipedes here on earth (i.e. Scolopendra gigantea) but even
bigger. And the parasitic angle was even more upsetting.
considered rooting for an armed insurrection by the Terrans, but then
again they are the interlopers and have no inherent right to the
planet they are on. First contact can't all be Columbus landing on
Hispaniola, sometimes it's going to go differently.
things come to mind after reading this story. First is that I recall
reading about how human reproduction is kind of adversarial between
the mother and the fetus, which is why periods and all that bleeding
are even a thing. Human reproduction is much more parasitic in nature
than for most other mammals.
thing is that it is interesting to think about what kind of morality
would develop in obligate parasites. Nobody really sets out to
develop a moral code that doesn't allow your people to exist, I
don't think. I don't know what kind of moral system the original
Terran colonists adhered to, but it probably has some conflicts with
the Tlic system which lead to events like this story. Thinking more
on it, I'm actually sure that with some more time and effort the
Terran and Tlic morality could be reconciled. Actually the Terran
moral code could be shifted enough to allow Tlic parasitization as a
part of life, just like some moral codes in our world accept and even
expect constant childbearing after a certain age even with the
increased risk of death. It might be abhorrent to think about from
this societal standpoint, but it could be done.
took issue with the coercion going on, threatening Gan's siblings if
he won't comply. It shows that even though a system could be
constructed where parasitization is morally acceptable to all
parties, at the time of the story it is not consensual at all. It is
always forced by the Tlic, who will not countenance holding off on
reproduction just because a host is unwilling or not fully informed.
gave me the creeps, made me think.
expectations for this story were high going in. I’ve never read
anything by Octavia Butler before, but I’ve seen many people
recommend her stories.
is a lot I like about this story. I like how the world building is
complete enough to give a sense of the world these the characters
inhabit, but that the characters are the focus of the story, and how
the situation they live in and the events of the story impact their
lives and relationships. I really liked how the story is told, with
the details being presented a bit at a time.
story did not feel dated to me. I think the lack of focus on the
details of technology helped it age better, and the way it handled
characterization and relationships feels more in line with the modern
speculative fiction short stories that I enjoy.
I only enjoyed the story up until the point where it revealed why the
Tlic needed humans. I can’t really handle any kind of body-horror
(or any other kind of horror, really), so this was definitely not a
story suited for me.
appreciate this story, despite it not being something I can enjoy. I
would happily recommend it to someone who likes horror.