"To shape God. With wisdom and forethought.
To benefit your world. Your People, Your life.
Minimize harm. Ask questions [and] seek answers.
Can we please have a moment of silence . . .
For sci-fi writer/genius Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006)
Octavia E. Butler died on Feb. 24 after falling and striking her head on the walkway outside of her home in Seattle. The Los Angeles Times reported that she died of a stroke. Octavia was 58 years old when she left this Earth.
Octavia changed the race and gender of sci-fi writing as being the most prominent African-American woman penning science fiction in a genre dominated by white men. She has won science fiction's most prestigious awards, the Nebula (for her novel Parable of the Talents) and the Hugo. She also nabbed other honors, including a PEN West Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. "I consider Octavia to be the most important science-fiction writer since Mary Shelley," said Octavia's close friend Steven Barnes, who is also an African-American science-fiction writer. "She wrote about race successfully because she did it with such subtlety."
Bloggers Ronn, Lynne, JT and hardCore paid tribute.
I first discovered Octavia while in college. I was taking a Race and Racism course at Temple University and the instructor gave us a "Reading List" of books we must read by the end of the semester, which featured mostly race-related tomes.
One book on that list was Octavia's critically acclaimed time-travel novel, Kindred. The story is about an African-American woman named Dana who is transported back to the antebellum South as a slave to save her own white slave-owning ancestor named Rufus. The novel dealt with a lot of racial, class and gender issues. It was truly one of the best pieces of fiction I have read at that time.
When I was a young, struggling journalist trying to find my "voice" in my writing, I was offered the opportunity to write about Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents for the Spring 1999 edition of Mosaic Magazine, a urban book review publication. Below is my book review of Parable of the Talents behind the backdrop of the Y2K's "Millennium Bug" paranoia:
GOD IS CHANGE
By Trent Fitzgerald
My paranoia has settled in and I'm getting worried. As the Y2K approaches, I see cannibalism, poverty, racism and global warming in our future. Oh, my bad, it's 1999 and not damn thing has changed. However, by the end of the year we could face a bug even a can of Raid could not handle: the "Millennium Bug." The bug is in computers, which are not calibrated to translate that the year-ending digits "00" means 2000 and not the "1900s." Failure to calculate this date sensitive instruction could mean a worldwide computer shutdown. I have spoken to a few technology nerds and although there is some concern that computer driven systems may fail on January 1, 2000, there's no need to build bomb shelters.
But I'm not worried about that bug; I'm more concerned about what kind of spirituality books we will be reading today for a better tomorrow? We can find our "Spirit" in literary documents such as the Bible, Koran or Sutras, however, I found another spiritual fulfillment in reading Science Fiction. SF, as its properly called, is an obscure genre whose books are always tucked away in the back of the bookstore near the children's section.
[One science-fiction book that recently peaked my interest is Octavia E. Butler's fascinating novel, Parable of the Talents.] [And] having just finished reading it, I can tell you that Parable Of The Talents (Seven Stories Press, $24.95) is a moving, earthy, and spiritual novel. Talents is written in a "journal entry" style by Ms. Butler, whose Pattern Master book series have defined the SF genre. In Talents, a young woman named Larkin, reads from her deceased mother's journal and discovers a world in 2032 riddled with gangs, slavery, murder and a fascistic dictator.
The book's antidote comes in a form of a Religion called Earthseed where God is actually "Change" and people can shape [their own God]. The book's outlook on spirituality comes from the quotes in the [Bible-like scriptures] Earthseed like: "God is Change and in the end, God Prevails." Clearly, this is not a substitute for the scriptures in the Bible, but you can get a healthy dose of spirituality from reading Talents.
Finally, a few words from Earthseed: "To shape God. With wisdom and forethought. To benefit your world. Your People, Your life. Minimize harm. Ask questions [and] seek answers. Learn. Teach." Ah, now we are ready to step into the Millennium.
RIP, Octavia Butler.