Tag Archives: octavia butler

Diversity in Science Fiction: Some Diverse Reads

Science fiction often touts itself as the genre of the future. But science fiction is a reflection of today as much as it is a dream about the future. Science fiction has been too white and too male, both in authors and in protagonists. This is a reflection of the biases in our society.

My own top 20 sci-fi novels list features 18 books by white men, and two books by Ursula Le Guin. The Guardian’s list of top 500 scifi novels featured the names of 18 women. Any scifi reader starting out will hear about Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. Too many people get defensive when someone points this out. (See: the Great SFWA Shitstorm.)

The answer is to read widely, and to continue to read widely. So in that spirit, I list below some diverse science fiction*, some of which I have read, and some of which I ought to. For further reading, here is a great article listing a lot of great authors from the LA Times.

  • Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler: we destroy ourselves with war and aliens come in and save the survivors, mostly people from South American cultures who avoided the bombs. Oh, and the aliens want weird weird sex. A fun and weird read.
  • Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi: A western man goes to future Bangkok. The native Thais and the genetically-engineered windup girl are the stars of the show, though.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: One for me to read! A best seller in China, recently translated into English.
  • Downbelow Station and Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh: Distant future novels where women kick ass in militaristic and scientific settings, if you can get past the info-dumping at the front.
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Orakafor: Another for me to read! Far future, post-apocalyptic Africa.
  • The Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold: I have looked for these for years in used bookstores. I guess they fall into that awkward old-enough-to-be-out-of-print-, not-so-old-as-to-be-reprinted phase. They won a buttload of Hugos. And they feature a disabled protagonist.

*Note: I think it’s currently easier to find diverse fantasy. Maybe this is because it’s straightforward to use alternate mythology to Western mythology. I personally vastly prefer sci-fi. I think diversity in far future sci-fi is a challenge, because our whole concept of diversity is rooted in today’s culture. Just giving everything Chinese-ish names isn’t very satisfying. In LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, Genly is black, but this isn’t relevant to the story at all. But I would like to see more female protagonists!

 

Book Review: Lilith’s Brood (Octavia Butler 2000)

There are no spoilers in this review beyond what you’d find in the first few chapters or the cover blurb.

 Rating: 4.5/5

Lilith’s Brood is a collection of three novels by Octavia Butler published from 1987 to 1989, gathered together in 2000. The set of three books, also called the Xenogenesis trilogy, is about 750 pages long. They were published as three novels, but I would highly recommend reading them back to back as I did. The world that Butler builds over the three novels is complex. I would have had trouble trying to read the second or third novels after a long gap.

Lilith’s Brood was my first book by Octavia Butler. The writing is incredibly readable; I easily covered 50 pages an hour.  Some science fiction novels dump world-building at the beginning;  it can be something the reader has to fight through. Butler does not do this; she develops the main character first and then the environment from the eyes of the main character. The world she eventually develops is intricate and explained in detail, but by the time she got to it, I was engaged.

The trilogy opens with Lilith, a woman who survived World War III on a now ravaged Earth. She is held alone by aliens called the Oankali. Without going into spoiling detail, the Oankali are extremely alien. All three books develop the Oankali, and they are as much of the world Butler builds as anything. The Oakali want something from Lilith, though she is unsure what. Lilith finds them physically frightening, and is uncertain about her future.

Butler approaches situations from the character’s emotional response, rather than from a technical aspect. The book explores themes of gender, sex, humanity, and community–some pretty hefty topics that sci-fi sometimes skirts, especially at the time of its writing. I rate the book as a 4.5/5 partially because of this novelty and distinctiveness. In many stories, I enjoy rooting for a protagonist or a certain course of events. In this story, I didn’t know what I wanted, which was odd, but not bad. My only real criticism of the story is that, while certain aspects of the world were highly developed, it was hard to imagine living in this world. While I enjoyed reading about this world, I think I would find it profoundly dull. Still, I highly recommend reading this, especially if you haven’t read Butler before.