Monday, September 8, 2014

(2) Octavia Butler Shorts

The remaining two stories in Octavia Butler’s short-story collection, Bloodchild, are “Amnesty” and “The Book of Martha." These two stories were published as recently as 2003, and are just near novella size. Wait, what’s the word count used to define a novella?

In any regard, “Amnesty” is a story that reflects closely to its title’s definition. Amnesty is a means of official pardon, usually surrounding some kind of political affront of some sort; and that’s what takes place in the story as an alien species invades Earth before peacefully asking humans to co-exist with them as a source of "food." Not “food” in the carnivorous sense, but something much more abstruse and cerebral. You see, these aliens are called Communities, and they are made up of thousands of small aliens clustered together in a shape that resembles a large floating bush. Eerie, much! I think I was sick most of the time thinking about these aliens, considering I have a slight case of trypophobia. Nonetheless, that’s just another layer to Butler’s tale. The thing is that the Community came to Earth on a one-way trip, and while they have the means of taking over the planet, they try to co-exist peacefully. As a human woman who has survived both an abduction and harsh military interrogation, Noah Cannon’s job in “Amnesty” is to orient a handful of men and women looking to work alongside The Community for payment. Once more, distress sat in throughout reading this story. The good kind of distress I should say. To me “Amnesty” boils down to the snatching of human discretion. Put man over a barrel and let it be–so to speak. The aliens land, they offer mankind a choice. Should mankind decide not to respond nicely, it wouldn't matter one bit because the aliens will have their way regardless. Nonetheless, like most governing systems across the globe, citizens have no choice but to work with what is given to them.

“The Book of Martha” appeared to be one of those contemplative-grabbing, philosophical stories written by Butler outside of sci-fi. Really, it’s about a woman who finds herself standing before God. Summoned, actually. It seems God needs a human to construct a Utopia for mankind. What would work best? How would it work? And how would God’s chosen, Martha, conceive such a place? When you find out Martha’s idea, I wonder if you’ll agree with her. Or is a Utopia for mankind even possible? I enjoyed this story, but it wasn't one of my favorites.  That's mainly because I couldn't wrap my head around the importance of Martha and God's conversation.  Not that I didn't get it, I just wasn't sure there was an answer.  And the answer given wasn't all that convincing to me.  I should also add the slippery-slope fallacy encouraged by Martha's ideas and God's rebuttal of them. Really, I think it deserves a second read.  Or I should just stick to Neale Donald Walsh's take on a conversation with God.

The recently released collection of short stories by Butler are featured in the book Unexpected Stories. There are only two here, both noted as her early works according to Walter Mosley’s foreword and Butler’s once agent, Merrilee Heifetz (noted in the afterword). And early they seem; one story I completely abandoned and another I managed to sweep through nicely, seeing that it was like a prototype story to Butler’s grandness Patternist series. So yeah, let’s start with the story I abandoned first...

“A Necessary Being” is exclusively alien in its totality. Yep. That’s the way I’ll put it. An alien world. An alien cast. An alien story. Humanoid, if you will, in both their language and behavior. One of the main exceptions is that their skin changes color in accordance with their emotions. Nonetheless, from what I gathered (before I jumped the ship) Tahneh is an alien woman with a status similar to a Native American princess or priestess of some flavor (work with me here as I peel this story apart from my own imagery). She’s given this role because she comes from a race of aliens called Hao. Hao are kidnapped and held by another, similar alien species that uses Hao to govern over their race. Since her father’s passing, Tahneh has been alone, ruling and governing over her community of kidnappers. The story opens up with another Hao crossing through her territory. And she must decide whether to kidnap him and put him in a position such as hers, which subsequently provides her companionship. Or her other choice: let the young Hao pass freely and on into freedom. And that’s pretty much where I kind of bailed on the story. The truth is that I kept envisioning the creatures in the Avatar movie. Couple that with a general lack of interest, and I just decided to move on. I plan to come back to the story at a later date, seeing that Butler kind of started cutting her teeth on this story.

Nevertheless, I did finish and enjoyed the second story, "Childfinder."  Butler wrote and sold this one to her mentor, Harlan Ellison, back in the 70s. In “Childfinder” a telepathic (interchangeable with the term “psionic”) woman uses her gifts to locate, mentor, and mold telepathic and gifted children. These children are the future, and must be groomed in preparation for the possibilities it has in store for them. (You could say an alien invasion is one.) Nonetheless, this lone woman isn't the only one involved, as another, larger organization reaches out to do the same.  The different is the larger organization has a couple of “tougher” methods to get special children to cooperate. The story reminded me of the old 70s and early 90s version of The Tomorrow People (we won't speak on the 2013 remake). The Tomorrow People were about kids with special abilities, who were often dubbed as "the next stage in human evolution." They could teleport. They were telepathic. Some could even see the future. Meanwhile, the government and other smaller organizations were dead centered on capturing these kids for a host of not-so-comfortable levels of research.  In the meantime, the Tomorrow People thwarted alien wars and even an evil, resurrected Egyptian pharaoh. I also found “Childfinder” to be a preview of the eventual novels Butler would write in her Patternist series–particularly the second book in that series, Mind of my Mind. Though it was short and not totally expansive in its telling, I would say that I enjoyed “Childfinder” much more than the previous story. Butler makes it perfectly clear and evident that the future would be grim and mankind must arm its children's psionic evolution for the things to come if they want to stand a chance.

And that’s all there is. If you haven't read Bloodchild or Unexpected Stories, I urge you to do so now. Butler fan or not, these two books are the perfect introduction to her as well as the perfect expansions on her catalog of stories.  In either case, you shouldn't miss them!


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