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Changing Bodies In The Fiction Of Octavia Butler by Gregory Jerome Hampton

1/10/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Changing Bodies In The Fiction Of Octavia Butler in the USA - or Buy Changing Bodies In The Fiction Of Octavia Butler in the UK

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pub: Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. 157 page indexed small hardback. Price: GBP37.95 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7391-3787-1.

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There aren’t that many acknowledged Science Fiction writers who are also black let alone female. I have to confess that the only one I knew and read was the late Octavia Butler and I wasn’t really aware she was black until later, so was interested in reading this book. I should also point out that I wasn’t aware that Samuel Delaney was black until after reading several of his books when young and finding out a bit about him. With the second interview at the back, I’m now aware of two other females and the discovery that Steven Barnes is black. Although he’s not a writer I readily seek out from my point of view, the colour of the skin should have no reflection on talent and on paper, we are all the same colour.

On to the book. The title, ‘Changing Bodies In The Fiction Of Octavia Butler’ is more a reference to her most famous character, Doro, who when caught in a fight will take over the body of his opponent and effectively win. Something writer Gregory Jerome Hampton doesn’t point out, though, is that Doro wasn’t originally black but an Egyptian, when he discovered this ability, escaping from a prison cell. Then again, how many of you have read the Bible and because of paintings seen the people within as white rather than olive skinned?

There is a greater emphasis in pointing out Butler’s black heritage and her use of it in her stories. From a writer’s point of view and my own come to that, Butler is writing what she knows. You learn a lot more about this from her first interview at the back of the book and had to do research like any writer has to do. I did wonder about Hampton’s point of view though and what Butler says tends to put things into perspective. I mean, if there weren’t black issues, such as slavery and prejudice, then there would be few differences for writers of colour. Well, that’s not strictly true, neither, but I have read the likes of Iceberg Slim and the great Chester Hines more for the subject matter than for who they were.

Hampton’s thoughts that Doro is akin to being the biblical Lot seems at odds with the story version. After all, with his breeding programme of his own people, I doubt if incest would have worried him too much. If anything, the choice of black breeding stock by Doro was more to do having a people whom he could control and away from the mainstream. If anything, Doro was the ultimate slave-master and only beaten by one of his own creations. The way it was done hardly represented anything like the black slavery revolt so, in some respects, I would have to question some of Hampton’s assertions.

I should point out that Hampton’s book looks at all of Octavia Butler’s books. I’ve read about half of them before I became a reviewer and haven’t had a chance to catch up on the rest. I would recommend that you should be familiar with some of her books before reading this book although Hampton does give decent summaries of each book he discusses. If you have to choose, go after ‘Wildseed’ and ‘Mind Of My Mind’ first and realise what a talent Butler had.

Saying that, the highlights of this book were more the interviews, mostly because before her unfortunate death from a fall in 2006, I hadn’t come across any by her. It is interesting that she points out that she didn’t like to be pegged in either the SF or fantasy genres.

Despite some of my reservations, if you are interested in Octavia Butler, then you will find this book of interest and should be added to your reading list.

GF Willmetts

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