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Susan Stinson

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11:53 pm: Octavia Butler
Many of you will have already heard: Octavia Butler died yesterday.

When I was at Norcroft, the women's writing retreat in Minnesota last summer, I got to bring home a few books from the library, as did every other resident last year, since the retreat was closing. There were a lot of books there I wanted, but I picked Oroonoko by Aphra Behn and the three books of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series. I still haven't read Behn, but I tore through those Butler novels. They are very tough-minded, beautiful and dramatic explorations of the nature of and alternatives to humanity. I wanted to learn more about novels that keep the ideas behind them inescapably apparent to the reader while moving a story with heat. I had craft questions, and I learned a lot. But it was also the persistence with which Octavia Butler kept at the emotional and ethical complexities behind the worlds she created and reflected, both, that gave me that little thrill of remembered pleasure when I ran across the books again last week (that, and, yeah, the way those stories grab and don't let go).

There is a moment in which an Akjai, a large and caterpillarlike being with a language of touch, advocates for the hard to understand needs of humans, so different from it, despite the dangerous affinity of human beings for creating hierarchies.

The Akjai ... pointed out that the Human-born among them had had to learn the Oankali understanding of life itself as a thing of inexpressible value. A thing beyond trade. Life could be changed, changed utterly. But not destroyed.

It's so hard to recreate this out of context, but there is a line from the Akjai, communicating without speech -- All people who know what it is to end should be allowed to continue if they can continue.

I can't do it justice, but these books are full of uncertainty and hard-won possibility arrived at through enormous effort, confusion, feeling and risk. They are very, very beautiful. Octavia Butler left us with work to curl into, to feel with, and I'm feeling gratitude for that, and also that to lose her breathing presence in the world is to lose a lot.

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[User Picture]
From:susanstinson
Date:February 28th, 2006 01:26 pm (UTC)
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The work itself, Octavia Butler's work, makes clear how much of a loss this is.
[User Picture]
From:purejuice
Date:February 28th, 2006 04:58 pm (UTC)
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i agree. i was hoping for another 35 years of work from her, along the lines of beethoven's last string quartets.
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