Sink Me In The River At Dawn

Bloodchild and Other Stories — Octavia E. Butler


Octavia E. Butler’s 1995 Bloodchild and Other Stories is a collection. The particular edition I have is the Open Road Media edition; I know there’s an updated version, but I do not know if that edition is different from the one I have in hand.

Preface (Bloodchild and Other Stories) • (1995) • essay:

Butler admits to eschewing short lengths in favour of novels, In spite of that, she has written enough short pieces to fill a collection. This collection, to be precise. In addition to the stories, she adds commentary to each piece.

Bloodchild • (1984) • novelette:

The Tlic were gracious enough to provide the human travellers with a preserve to call their own, in return for which it is expected that the occasional human will assist the Tlic. It’s straightforward quid pro quo and yet one young man balks on learning some of the details of the exchange.


My Young People just covered this!

It’s … odd that human biochemistry is so compatible with Tlic, but I suppose if it were not, there would be no story. Presumably some bright Tlic researcher is working hard on carniculture, which will sidestep the issues raised by human participation in Tlic society (although it would then raise the question of what purpose is served by human existence on the Tlic world). Until that bright day arrives, the Tlic need to consider how they might induce humans to take up their just burden.

The Evening and the Morning and the Night • (1987) • novelette:

A bold cancer treatment has left thousands of children with a horrifying genetic disorder. Duryea-Gode disease inflicts self-destructive compulsions on its victims, compulsions soon followed by cognitive decline. Lynn Mortimer inherited DGD from both parents. Her future is certain to be both brief and grim … but even so, the Dilg Institute can offer a choice about how to invest her few remaining years.


I know it will comfort readers to know that Butler not only had real world models for Duryea-Gode disease, she explains what those models are. Interested readers are thus led to consider the pitfalls of making intelligent beings out of unreliable biological replicators. There’s really no fictional horror that is not matched (and overmatched) by some quirk of actually existing organisms.

Near of Kin” • (1979) • short story:

A mother’s death exposes certain facts about her son’s lineage of which he was previously unaware.


Never ask questions unless you’re really certain you can live with all possible answers.

Speech Sounds” • (1983) • short story:

Robbed of verbal speech by an insidious infection, the dwindling population of humans is forced to resort to inarticulate gesture and, increasingly, force. In such a world, how can the idea of community survive?


I have no idea if Butler ever read Lee Killough’s novel, A Voice Out of Ramah. Whether or not Lee’s work influenced Butler I do not know. I do find it interesting that both authors seized on the same fact to drive their story, a fact that (while well-known) is often ignored by authors of post-apocalyptic adventures. Both stories are set in the aftermath of an outbreak (the Killough generations later, the Butler soon after), but “Speech Sounds” heads in an entirely different direction than A Voice Out of Ramah.

Crossover” • (1971) • short story:

She doesn’t much like her man, but that doesn’t mean she can ever escape him.

Positive Obsession • (1989) • essay:

Butler recounts the path that led to her writing career. She had to overcome challenges like shyness, unfamiliarity with publishing industry pitfalls, and the sad fact there was no niche in 20th century science fiction for black writers. Indeed, not much of niche in any kind of fiction.


Butler was the second African-American SF writer of significance when she began publishing. By the time she wrote this essay, that number had exploded to a magisterial four.

My Black History Month challenge is to read as many books by African diaspora SF authors as possible. Hence I can authoritatively attest that the current number is much more than four. That said, I recently asked one major publisher with a reasonable large catalog if they had any black authors (because obviously the number of African-American SF authors who exist is larger than the number of African-American authors of whom I am aware). They have one.

Furor Scribendi • (1993) • essay:

Butler provides advice for aspiring authors.


Solid advice that has aged well.

Amnesty • (2003) • novelette:

The alien Communities have graciously commandeered portions of the Earth that would otherwise have languished in the care of the technologically inferior humans. The Communities also collected cohorts of humans to study. A few humans have survived their glorious contribution to progress. Now they must determine how best to apply their unique perspective on the Communities.


By comparison with the settlement of the New World, the Communities are fairly benevolent; no massacres, no plagues1. By comparison with European colonialism in Africa, they still look good. They may have killed, or caused the deaths, of a lot of people, but at least they never used severed hands as currency or poisoned desert watering holes to eliminate the local population.

The Book of Martha” • (2003) • short story

God selects one lucky woman on whom to bestow the power to remake the world. The catch? The changes will be for keeps and whatever the state of the remade world, God’s candidate will occupy the lowest state in it.


Is it possible to write God such that They are not a monumental, manipulative, occasionally passive-aggressive jerk?

A Biography of Octavia Butler • essay (author unknown)

What it says on the tin. There are photos of the late Butler.

General comments

It’s a shame Butler didn’t write more short material, as what she did write is memorable. Many of the stories included in this particular collection have won Hugo and Nebulas and have been nominated for a host of other awards. Impressive, given the book’s limited page count. It’s definitely worth your time.

Bloodchild and Other Stories is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: It’s estimated that up to 90% of the inhabitants of the Americas died after the European incursions. Most (but certainly not all) of that was due to disease. Diseases to which the inhabitants of Eurasia had evolved some resistance were completely NEW to the Americas. The applicable term is “virgin soil epidemic.” People died of measles.

The only way to prevent mass death (lacking modern medical science, vaccination, etc.) would have been quarantine … which no one knew enough to propose or had the power to effect.


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