Bloodchild and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler

Bloodchild and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler

This is a book of horror / dark fantasy stories by the amazing author Ocativa E. Butler. Believe it or not, this is the first book by Butler that I have ever read, and I was amazed at her brilliance. 

Her stories were incredibly creative. They covered important issues like race, slavery, sexuality, and identity, all in the guise of alien occupation or dystopic disease and other dark fantasy themes. Her prose was smooth and eloquent.

The most interesting of the stories was her novella Bloodchild, which is about a child that is about to be “sexually” adopted by some alien worm-thing. The story encompassed the feelings of the boy, his mother, and the alien – providing some very startling insight. 

After each story, Butler included a short essay of what she intended the story to mean or background in her life when the story was written. These brought further understanding to the story, though I was a little skeptical when she insisted that she hadn’t intended Bloodchild to be about slavery. But, I guess, sometimes meanings creep in there unintended. And there’s also something to say for the readers’ interpretation regardless of intended meaning. To me, slavery was one of the many underlying themes of the story. 

At the end of the book, Butler included a couple of essays about what it was like being an African American science fiction author, and encouraged young people to follow their dreams and become authors. Finally, there were a couple of never-before-published stories. 

This little book is well worth your time if you are interested in deeper cultural issues of race, slavery, and sexuality – possibly even if you are not specifically interested in science fiction and fantasy.

For pure brilliance

This post is for R. I. P. X @TheEstellaSociety and the 2015 Halloween Reading Challenge @ReadingEverySeason. It is also for #Diversiverse, @BookLust, which is all about reading books by people of a variety of ethnic/racial backgrounds, so I will provide tell you a little about the author, Octavia E. Butler.

Octavia E. Butler was born in 1947 into an impoverished African American community to a 14-year-old girl. Despite struggling with dyslexia, she had a passion for reading and writing ever since she was very young. As a teenager, she started attempting to publish her stories, despite the extreme difficulty for African Americans publishing science fiction / fantasy. At the time she was one of only a couple African American sci-fi writers. Despite being taken advantage of by money-hungry agents, she finally published Patternmaster in 1976. This book was praised for its powerful prose, and she ended up writing four prequels. She finally became mainstream upon publication of Kindred in 1979. Butler died outside of her home in 2006.

Wool, by Hugh Howey

Genre: Post-apocalyptic dystopia for adults, short stories

Reason for Reading: This was the choice for my real-life book club several months ago, but I only finished it this month. I had a bit of a reading slump in there, but I prevailed! 

Synopsis: In this collection of related novellas, we explore a post-apocalyptic world in which everyone is living in a “silo” spanning downwards into the earth, instead of up into the sky. There, they are safe from the toxic fumes that ravage the earth’s surface. However, it’s not at all clear how humanity got into this underground silo, why the people of the past have revolted so many times, and…slowly…new evidence arrives to suggest that possibly the people in power are hiding something nefarious. This set of novellas follows several different characters as they independently discover secrets of the silo.

My Thoughts: This book had a really slow start for me since I prefer novels rather than short stories. I like the character and plot development that is only possible with a novel-length story. Wool is a long book, but it is a collection of loosely connected novellas rather than one continuous story. This creates an intriguing atmosphere of mystery, and allows for different characters to discover different types of secrets of the silo – which is a refreshing turn from most dystopic literature these days in which one character manages to discover all. I guess this format is more believable in that way. But the format slows down plot and character development. The book started picking up about half-way through for me, though. This is when it started focusing on certain characters for longer. Thus, more character development. Also, about half-way through the book is when I started to realize that perhaps Wool was ideologically different than most dystopias. I began to wonder if maybe the choices the government was making really were protecting the people. Maybe ignorance – though abhorrent – was necessary in this case? I’m not going to say what my final conclusion on this subject was…you’ll have to find out for yourself. And I probably still need to read the prequel, Shift, and the sequel, Dust, in order to come to a conclusion.There’s still a lot of mystery to me about the silo.

Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow

2012 Book 147: Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow

Reason for Reading: This seemed like a good book to read in October. I chose it because it’s currently being considered for the World Fantasy Award.

My Review  
This is an anthology of vampire stories…but not just ANY vampires.Vampires are inundating the market these days, and they’re beginning to get a tad predictable and boring. This new collection is meant to delight the reader by displaying the variety of thirsts that plague vampires (and humans). There are your classic blood-sucking varieties, but there are also soul-sucking vampires, and vampires from different folkloric traditions, and vampires that…well, ARE they vampires, or are they humans…or…are humans really vampires at heart?

Although I thought the theme of this anthology was creative, and I generally enjoyed the stories, I wasn’t wowed. I’m not a huge short story reader because I really like plot and character development, and short stories simply don’t have the space for such development–unless they really pack the info in. And in the case of THOSE stories, I tend to feel a little bogged down and need to read very slowly to pick up all the information. For me, these stories were either too insubstantial or too substantial. 😉 Being unaccustomed to reading anthologies, I don’t know if this issue was because I have difficulty with short stories, or if it was because the anthology was less than fantastic. Either way, I thought the anthology was interesting, but I’m glad to be moving on to other books. 

I was originally going to share a mini-review of each story. But these stories are so short, and the joy (for me) depended entirely on not knowing what sort of “vampire” I was reading about. There’s just not much to say about the individual stories without giving spoilers. 

All You Can Do Is Breathe, by Kaaron Warren: When a mine collapses, a minor is trapped for several days. He keeps himself alive by remembering the good things in life. But he keeps a dark secret from the media-craze that descends upon him when he is rescued. A scary “long man” came to him while he was trapped…a man who didn’t want to rescue him. 

Needles, by Elizabeth Bear: Two vampires descend upon the home of a tattoo artist. Do they want more than just a tattoo? 

Baskerville’s Midgets, by Reggie Oliver. A boardinghouse landlady befriends a set of 7 midgets and pays a dire price.  ***This one was darkly funny. One of my three favorites.

Blood Yesterday, Blood Tomorrow, by Richard Bowes: A woman in need of money seduces her rich ex-lover to come back to the dark-side.  

X for Demetrious, by Steve Duffy: This is a fictional story based on the true-life news story of a man who, in January 1973, was found dead on his mattress–having choked on a bulb of garlic. The room was filled with crucifixes, sprinkled with salt, and “protected” with salt-laced urine and garlic-laced excrement. ***This was one of my three favorite stories in the anthology. It was thoughtful and a bit frightening.

Keeping Corky, by Melanie Tem: A mentally disabled woman who believes that she has the power to “punish” people by sucking away bits of themselves becomes angry when she is not allowed to write a letter to her biological son Corky, who’d been adopted by a couple years ago. But does she really have the power to punish?

Shelf Life, by Lisa Tuttle: While rummaging through her parent’s attic, a woman finds a dollhouse that she’d become obsessed with as a child. She takes it home and gives it to her daughter–with disastrous results. Some people just shouldn’t have dollhouses. 

Caius, by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg: Caius is a radio talk-show host who has an almost magical power to resolve people’s internal conflicts and make them feel satisfied. They flock to him. But what’s really going on?

Sweet Sorrow, by Barbara Roden: When a little girl disappears in a quiet neighborhood, her friend Brian feels that his elderly neighbors are acting suspiciously. They seem to thrive on the grief around them.

First Breath, Nicole J. LeBoeuf: A mysterious narrator goes on a trip to “find herself.” 

Toujours, Kathe Koje: After dedicating the later years of his life to help a young fashion designer become famous, Gianfranco jealously guards the young man from encroaching threats–like love interests.

Miri, by Steve Rasnic Tem: Ricky is a devoted husband and father, but something is lacking. He constantly seems drained and distracted. He spends a lot of time thinking about a woman from the past…

Mrs. Jones, by Carol Emshwiller: Two old-maid sisters entertain themselves through a long, dreary life by intentionally annoying one another. Then one day, a little demon shows up in their lives…and everything suddenly changes. 

Bread and Water, by Michael Cisco: The story of a vampire plague from the perspective of one of the original hospitalized patients. 

Mulberry Boys, by Margo Lanagan: Fifteen-year-old John helps hard-hearted Phillips track down and surgically care for a Mulberry Boy. As talks to Phillips for the first time in his life, he learns more about who the Mulberry Boys are and begins to wonder who’s the REAL monster. ***This was my third favorite story…and it was definitely the most memorable for me. I’ll probably look for more works by this author.

The Third Always Beside You, by John Langan: Weber and Gertrude suspect that there is another woman involved in their parent’s marriage. When curiosity finally overcomes Gertrude and she asks a family friend, she finds out much more than she’d bargained for.  

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

2012 Book 135: The Martian Chronicles
Written by Ray Bradbury, Narrated by Peter Marinker

My Review

This is a collection of Ray Bradbury’s Mars colonization stories which were originally published in pulp magazines over a period of a few years. They are independent of each other in plot, but it is fascinating how Bradbury managed to pull them all together in a cohesive whole which told a story in itself. This book is considered the bridge between classic pulp science fiction (which targeted lowest-common-denominator audiences) and the more thoughtful and sophisticated modern science fiction. The stories have the same raw imagination as pulp, but each one tackles one or more social issues as well. The stories are fast and fun, and yet intriguing.
My favorite story is about two missionaries bent on saving the Martians from sins that we humans haven’t even imagined yet. The philosophical discussion of sin and the ironic use of Christian symbolism meshed surprisingly well with the sf-pulpy imagery. Bradbury also touched on evils-of-colonization, race-relations and xenophobia, and politics…to name but a few issues. I was also impressed by Bradbury’s expectations of “the future” (1999 – 2020). Unavoidably, some of his themes were dated–we no longer worry about nuclear holocaust and (I hope!) lynch mobs are very rare in the US these days. He didn’t foresee the civil rights movement or the cooling of the arms race. Despite this lack of foresight, he showed that humans never change. We may think we’re living in an enlightened age, but xenophobia still exists and we’re still willing to destroy the history and of an old land in order to set up our new world. Yes, I did feel that the stories tended to be a bit on the dreary side, but for some reason it didn’t bother me so much because it was made palatable by Bradbury’s fantastic imagination.
This is a fantastic classic that any science fiction fan should read.

The Yellow Wall Paper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I decided that since I’m reading Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I would read Gilman’s best-known piece of fiction, the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” This is one of the few short stories included in the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (the others mostly being by Edgar Allan Poe). 

The main character is a young wife and mother who is taken by her affectionate husband to a summer home so that she could rest from her “nervous” behavior for a while. Her husband wanted her to rest as much as possible–not to exert herself by writing, reading, taking care of her baby, or doing any other sort of wifely work. She was kept in a room with viciously ugly yellow wallpaper. At first, she wanted to be free of the wallpaper, but her husband affectionately refused to move her to another room. As the story continues, she (in the boredom of “rest”) becomes more and more fascinated by the wall-paper and is eventually driven to madness. Her descent into madness is so eerie that this work was classified as “horror” before it was brandished as a feminist gem. 

Gilman describes the descent into madness with the naked honesty that can only come from a semi-autobiographical story. In fact, this story was a dire warning to herself, and to the world. Gilman became deeply depressed after giving birth to her own daughter. Her affectionate husband sent her to the well-known neurologist S. Weir Mitchell, who was a specialist in “women’s disorders.” Mitchell’s famous cure involved a regimen of rest–the woman would give up all work and simply gain back her health by bed-rest and isolation. Gilman was forbidden to write or paint, and was only allowed to read for 2 hours a day. Such treatment is enough to drive anyone crazy in my opinion! As Gilman got worse and worse, she made the difficult decision to leave her affectionate husband and find her health by other means. She never fully recovered, and she suffered from the world’s censure for leaving an affectionate husband–this was in the late 1800’s when such a divorce was a scandal. She wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a warning to herself that she would have gone mad had she stayed with her husband. She wrote it as a warning to the doctors who supported Mitchell’s cure–she even sent a copy of the story to Mitchell himself. And she wrote it as a warning to young women who might be suffering from similar “cures.” Gilman never suffered from hallucinations herself, but the description of the descent into madness clearly bore her soul, making the story frighteningly realistic.