Octavia E. Butler was just the best

There is a lot of good sci-fi literature out there. Oh man, and feminist sci-fi is some of the absolute best. Actually, feminist genre fiction in general is super good. I know, I know, I’m pretty late to this party. This is hardly news. Lots of people have recognized the brilliance of this genre for decades. To be honest, I’m kind of late to really reading for myself at all.

All throughout school and grad school, I read for my classes, and I read for my research. Didn’t have time for anything else! Then after I finished school… I didn’t have any habits of reading for pleasure or personal interest. (I’m talking books here. I’ve always read a lot of blogs and online news. Too much, actually).

I didn’t seek out feminist works intentionally. As a matter of fact, what got me into reading for pleasure in the first place was the TV show, Game of Thrones. I read through the whole series of novels, and was left looking for more to read. So I turned to some of the unread books taunting me from my bookshelf. I also happened to have a bunch of ebooks downloaded: a list of the top 100 sci-fi and fantasy from an NPR poll.

So I started out with some classics: William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series. I liked it all! Lots of dudes though…

What got me into feminist genre fiction was a very unlikely, but happy accident. It goes all the way back to high school. A secret Santa gift exchange between students and teachers. I received Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I think I read the first few pages at the time, but got distracted, and put it down.

But ten years later, on my quest for new sci-fi reading material… I picked it up again.

Of course, I loved it. And I was totally surprised. Not surprised to like it. By this point, I wholeheartedly expected enjoy it. But I was surprised that I had received it from that particular high school teacher in the first place. She was very vocally conservative. Especially when it came to gender issues like abortion. So imagine my surprise when I realize the book she gave me addressed gender politics so brazenly! Did she know the book? Or was it chosen because any sci-fi would do? But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Though she was vocal and steadfast in her convictions, she was also very tolerant of others’ points of view and encouraged others to explore and express their views even if they were different from her own.

Anyway, ever since then, feminist science fiction has comprised a sizeable portion of my overall reading diet. Of course some books are more overtly engaging with gender politics, while others are just damn good sci-fi written by women.

Let’s see, the books in this category that I’ve read recently are…

The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. Le Guin
The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
Hild* Nicola Griffith
The Parable of the Sower Octavia E. Butler
The Parable of the Talents Octavia E. Butler
Saga** Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Dawn Octavia E. Butler
Adulthood Rites Octavia E. Butler
Imago Octavia E. Butler

*Not science fiction. But fantasy-ish. Close enough to genre fiction to be included!
**Comic book series, but still so super good.

I loved all of these books and highly recommend them! In the same way that I’ve posted some notes and reviews about films, I want to post thoughts on these books. I’m not very practiced yet, so we’ll see what happens.

I’ve loved science fiction since I was a kid. And gender politics have been important to me for a long time too. I owe a lot to my parents for raising me to be sensitive and receptive to feminist issues. And I owe a lot to some great university professors for teaching me to notice and articulate those issues.

And, paradoxically, I owe it to a conservative high school teacher for helping me realize that the combination of science fiction and gender politics is overflowing with excellent literature!

Edit: I forgot The Disposessed by Ursula K Le Guin! Another great one that I read after the “Parable” books. Since publishing this, I’ve also read The Birthday of The World and Other Short Stories and Four Ways to Forgiveness. I wish I was more articulate and descriptave when I talk about why I like these authors’ work. But they’re all just so good! I have a lot of catching up to do in this genre, but it is an enjoyable experience!