Octavia Butler’s Oankali

Amy Deng’s Oankali for an art exercise “Imagining the Oankali.” A Google image search for Oankali and Ooloi does’t turn up much other than a lot of rough fan art, but I liked this drawing a lot; as much because of its analytical approach as the representation itself.

For the second year now, I’ve read an Octavia Butler novel during the month of February. February, being black history month, seemed like a good time to read her work and pay respect to one of the greatest science fiction authors. However, it’s also a bit ridiculous to only relegate her work to one month a year and I plan to finish the Xenogenesis trilogy (aka, Lilith’s Brood) this year. I especially love science fiction with truly “alien” creatures and Butler’s Oankali are unique in every aspect.

But if you’re not familiar with Octavia Butler and her work —and I wasn’t for most of my life— take some time to learn more about her. She was by all indications a genuinely wonderful person who proved having diverse points of view are important to science fiction or any genre. I particularly enjoyed reading this interview from In Motion Magazine, which was likely one of her last as well as watching this interview with Charlie Rose for PBS. Science fiction and fantasy genres have always had an issue with a lack of diversity and it is extraordinary what she accomplished for women and people of color.

This final quote from an interview she did in Locus Magazine in 2000 makes me especially sad that she abandoned her final parable novel:

Parable of the Trickster – if that’s what the next one ends up being called – will be the Seattle novel, because I have removed myself to a place that is different from where I’ve spent most of my life. I remember saying to Vonda McIntyre, ‘Part of this move is research,’ and it is – it’s just that Seattle is where I’ve wanted to move since I visited there the first time in 1976. I really like the city, but it is not yet home. As they tell writers to do, I’ll take any small example of something and build it into a larger example. I’ve moved to Seattle; my characters have moved to Alpha Centauri, or whatever. (That was not literal.) But they suffer and learn about the situation there a little bit because of what I learn about from my move to Seattle. Writers use everything. If it doesn’t kill you, you probably wind up using it in your writing.

So if you’re inspired to learn more about African-American contributions during Black History month, then by all means start with Octavia Butler. Just be sure to not leave her there but continue enjoying her amazing writing anytime.

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