Fantastic Reviews - Short Story Collection Book Review
Bloodchild & Other Stories book cover  Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

Four Walls Eight Windows - copyright 1995
144 pages

Book read in August 1998

Rating: 8/10  (Highly Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

       Octavia Butler's preface to this collection starts out by declaring that she hates writing short stories.  That explains why she does it so rarely.  This book is her only collection of short fiction, and it's a slim one at that, containing just five stories.  Butler's reasons for avoiding short fiction certainly do not include a lack of ability to write at shorter lengths.  These stories confirm that Butler is one of the most talented authors around, with a remarkably clear yet elegant style of prose.  Her style calls to mind Ursula LeGuin, except that Butler's writing is much darker.

       The best thing about this collection is that it prompted me to reread the Hugo- and Nebula-winning title story.  One of the pitfalls for a writer of color is that readers are quick to relate everything they write to the issue of race.  That's the mistake I made the first time I read "Bloodchild".  In "Bloodchild", the human race is dominated by parasitic aliens called the Tlic.  The Tlic use humans as hosts for their larvae, but the good news is they try to treat us kindly and the humans have a reasonable chance of surviving the process.  When I read this previously I assumed that it was supposed to tell us something about racism and slavery.  The second time through I was less distracted by the gruesome scenes, and was able to appreciate the other levels of the story, particularly the metaphor it gives for relations between the sexes.  (In her afterword, Butler confirms that slavery is not the focus of the story.)

       Even with my new-found appreciation for "Bloodchild" my favorite Octavia Butler short story remains the Hugo-winning "Speech Sounds".  In this story, mankind has fallen victim to a virus or other affliction that attacks the speech center of the brain.  Almost no one can read, write, or even speak, and society is crumbling quickly due literally to a failure to communicate.  In the way people valiantly cling to the hope that civilization can carry on through the crisis, "Speech Sounds" prefigures Butler's successful novel Parable of the Sower.  The story closes with one of my all-time favorite final lines.

       The other stories are also strong, if less memorable than "Bloodchild" and "Speech Sounds".  The best of the three is "The Evening and the Morning and the Night", in which a woman must come to grips with a genetic disorder that is dormant at present, but she knows will eventually cause erratic behavior including ultimately self-mutilation.  The remaining two stories are non-SF character studies.  In "Near of Kin", a woman who was raised by her grandparents confronts her feelings toward her parents shortly after the death of the mother she hardly knew. "Crossover", Butler's first sale, depicts a woman battling alcoholism and low self-esteem.  Two interesting essays about writing round out the collection.

       Perhaps it's a good thing that this collection is so slim, since Butler's fiction is so consistently bleak and unsettling.  But her work is always worth the effort to read, and she usually offers the reader a glimmer of hope at the end.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
vanaaron@excite.com
Copyright 1998 Aaron Hughes

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Our book club's web pages for Octavia E. Butler books (includes Butler bibliography):
Parable of The Talents
Kindred

Links to webpages about Octavia Butler
Review of the novelette "Bloodchild"

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

This page was last updated - 27 December 2010