Houston Afrofuturism Book Club: Octavia Butler Take 2

Earlier this month we had our second gathering of the Houston Afrofuturism Book Club with almost double the number of attendees! During these meetings we build community around a shared interest in science fiction and fantasy written from a Black perspective by discussing short stories and other media. Continuing with Octavia Butler, we read the second short story in her Bloodchild collection, The Evening and the Morning and the Night. This story takes place in the near future and focuses on the carriers of a mysterious and dangerous genetic illness called DGD. Below I’ll share several of the main discussion points.

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A somber moment of discussion about intergenerational activism

What did we like about the story?

The centering of women as powerful figures and the only real hope for harnessing the power of this devastating disease despite their own significant challenges was an important story element. The thematic connection to the Parables books showed that the creation of a drug-induced under-caste was a conflict Butler considered robust enough to explore from multiple angles, and it’s wonderful to see how she treats the different worlds.

What stood out about character relationships and development?

Butler shared very little information about the main protagonist Lynn and didn’t disclose her name until the end of the story, despite giving us incredibly intimate details about her suicide attempt and familial conflicts. Perhaps it was intended to show how our individual identities can be muted by significant life experiences and societal pressures? The daily life of the main characters was not one of choice but in fact obligation borne of this illness.

We all read Lynn as black although there’s no textual support for it and her name isn’t a conventional black name. Butler allowed us to form our own conclusions about the relationships between characters but threw us for a loop at the end, bringing up the question of how much of their interactions were a product of this disease. Here we saw the question of nature vs. nurture explored from a new perspective.

What metaphors can we find in the post-DGD world?

Government complicity in the spread of the disease along with the poor treatment of the afflicted brought to mind the mediocre supports our health care has in place for those suffering with mental illness. The marginalization of DGDs has obvious parallels to race in that people with DGD are seen as dangerous and merely tolerated by the greater society because they tend to flourish in specific spaces that same society finds valuable. We connected the normalization of extreme physical violence combined with the lack of significant emotional expression in the story to the never-ending flood of videos of police shootings we’ve seen over the past few years. What are we risking or losing through such constant exposure?  Finally, the importance of communities formed through commonality or even deep pain was obvious.  The mental burden of visibly being a DGD in the greater population led the characters to seek out others afflicted seemingly to the relegation of other aspects of identities. The safe space was vital for the afflicted, even if they had no relationship with one another beyond physical proximity.

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Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

Next we’re switching authors and reading the critically acclaimed comic Bitch Planet Vol. 1 by Valentine De Landro and Kelly Sue DeConnick (available at your local comic retailer) as well as Ark of Bones, a short story by Henry Dumas (available via Google).

Did you miss the post on last month’s meeting? No worries, it’s right here. If you’re interested in joining, let me know!

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