<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Octavia E. Butler

I just read the news that Octavia Butler died yesterday, at the age of 58. This news made me gasp, and cover my mouth with my hands. I never had the privilege of meeting Ms. Butler, but I can say without hesitation that she is my favourite author.

I started reading Octavia Butler's novels when I was perhaps fifteen -- shortly after the time when I read Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, in which he uses the first few paragraphs of Butler's Wild Seed as an example of how to write an intriguing opening to a novel. And he was right, because those few paragraphs absolutely captured me -- and thus began my quest to find this elusive novel, Wild Seed. I had to cross a border to do it, eventually finding the book in a store in Florida. Her other novels were all also there, and I remember thinking, "Perhaps I should buy more." But never having read an Octavia Butler novel, I didn't know if I'd like it or not, never mind if I'd want to own them all.

I fell in love with Wild Seed, and with it the works of Octavia E. Butler as a whole. I regretted not buying every single one of those books when I could, and spent years combing through odd stores trying to find the rest of her novels. (My novel-buying opportunities were sadly few when I was a teenager, Bolton noticeably lacking a bookstore and my trips to The World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto limited to once a year.) I shouted with glee when I at last found a copy of the long-searched-for novel Kindred, and laughed when I discovered a hidden copy of her short story collection.

Dawn and its sequels kept me up far too late time after time throughout high school, the hours before dawn becoming fewer as I said to myself, "One more chapter, just one more." Discovery of the publication of a new novel -- Parable of the Talents -- had me watching the calendar for months, with notes written to myself as reminders of its approaching arrival liberally sprinkled about my desk (as if I could forget).

Even my years-long search for her first novel, Survivor, was eventually rewarded. Someone finally posted a copy of a first edition paperback for $2.50 on ABE Books, clearly not knowing what they had (or that other booksellers were parting with their copies for about ten times that amount, at least). It still has an honoured place in my book collection.

I stumbled across her newest novel quite by accident. I was only supposed to buy one book before I was again employed, and that book was The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 18. Yet when I went to pick up my copy, there on the floor in Bakka were hardcovers just being unpacked from their shipping box: a whole beautiful stack of the hardcover Fledgling. I shouted something incoherent, grabbed a copy and hugged it to my chest. (Yes, sadly, there were witnesses.) Parting with $40 has never been so easy.

Finding and reading a new Octavia Butler book was always a joy. I connect with her work the way I do with the work of few other writers; I'm captured by the vivid elegance of her writing style as much as I am by her characters and her plots. Her books are not always comfortable -- in fact, perhaps one of the things I've always liked best about her work is that it forces me to think, to see things from another angle, and never allows me the easy convenience of seeing things in anything but all their varied shades of gray.

And I look at my collection of her books and am so saddened to know that those are all there will ever be. From everything I've read, Ms. Butler was not only an incredible author but an incredible woman as well. I had often hoped that perhaps one day I would have the opportunity to meet her and thank her in person for the joy that her books brought me; but I'll only ever get to know her through her fiction.

Octavia Butler was -- is -- and perhaps always will be my favourite author.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 10:44 PM


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger

Spontaneous Things © Karina Sumner-Smith 2000-2005