I’ve recently become intrigued by Octavia E. Butler and her award-winning science fiction, so when Gerry Canavan, a professor of English at Marquette University, came out with this book about Butler, I knew I wanted to read it. Canavan has delved into the Octavia E. Butler archive at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, to illuminate her character and her works in an accessible way for the general public—not the academic one. He details a shy, depressed, and lonely African-American woman who grew up as an only child to a mother who worked as a cleaning lady for white people. Her father had died when she was only seven. She fell in love of reading at an early age, especially comic books, but certainly science fiction, and was an avid reader. She kept journals throughout her life and practiced a “positive obsession” in writing down her goals and dreams. She wanted to be a writer. She wanted to make good money at being a writer. This, however, would be something that she struggled to do throughout her life, performing odd jobs to make ends meet, and always teetering toward bankruptcy. That would change when she won the $295,000 MacArthur Fellowship (aka “Genius Award”) that allowed her to purchase a home and live more comfortably.
Canavan does an excellent job of analyzing Butler’s various novels through the lenses of her journals and other drafts accessible at the Huntington Library. He shows how Butler focused on certain topics over her career: power, racism, sexism, slavery, procreation, and rape. Though her stories can be seen as “bleak,” she did not see a how the societies she explored could lead to a happy ending. She definitely did not write utopian fiction.
This is a must-read book for any Octavia E. Butler fan, or for anyone who is interested in alternate views in science fiction. Canavan proves an excellent guide through Butler’s fiction, and you’ll want to take time with this book, exploring Butler’s books and stories as Canavan moves through them. There is absolutely so much to be explored here, and I’m sure much fruit will be born from the Huntington Library on Octavia E. Butler. I’ll be rereading and enjoying this book for some time to come.
Reviewed by Christina
About the Book
I began writing about power because I had so little, Octavia E. Butler once said. Butler’s life as an African American woman–an alien in American society and among science fiction writers–informed the powerful works that earned her an ardent readership and acclaim both inside and outside science fiction. Gerry Canavan offers a critical and holistic consideration of Butler’s career. Drawing on Butler’s personal papers, Canavan tracks the false starts, abandoned drafts, tireless rewrites, and real-life obstacles that fed Butler’s frustrations and launched her triumphs. Canavan departs from other studies to approach Butler first and foremost as a science fiction writer working within, responding to, and reacting against the genre’s particular canon. The result is an illuminating study of how an essential SF figure shaped themes, unconventional ideas, and an unflagging creative urge into brilliant works of fiction.
Title: Octavia E. Butler
Author: Gerry Canavan
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Cost: $22.00 (paperback)
Length: 224 pages
Purchase Link: CLICK HERE