Butler: Kindred

Not long ago I posted All the Christie as a follow-up to an earlier post about Agatha Christie. I’d read her when I was younger but only realized what an extraordinary writer (and person) she was when I revisited her work recently.

In contrast, I knew Octavia E. Butler only by reputation and some short stories I’d read. This past August I finally set out to correct this egregious oversight for a serious science fiction fan. As it turned out, I sat down to a delicious feast by another extraordinary cook. I relished every crumb, from appetizer to dessert. (I even shamelessly licked the plate.)

The dessert was her finest (and most popular) dish, Kindred (1979).

Which is not to say my favorite, because Kindred is a harrowing tale into what is not just America’s most shameful era, but an ongoing stain on humanity worldwide. To enslave another human being may be the greatest sin we can commit against each other. While Kindred is about a specific family tree, it points us to understanding we are all wood of a much larger family tree.

To make the story more engaging for readers, Butler deliberately softened some aspects of slave life in the antebellum south. (Compared to, for instance, what’s found in narratives by former slaves.) Not that there is any sugar-coating, the pill is bitter and unpalatable, but Butler made it digestible for her readers.

[Frankly, I left reading this one for last because I expected it to be painful. And it was, but it wasn’t as traumatic as I feared, because Butler found a way to tell an honest tale that is still so accessible the book is studied by high schoolers.]

Kindred takes its protagonist, Dana Franklin, into her ancestral past where she soon realizes she must act to insure her family line. Time travel stories raise the Grandfather Paradox, which asks what happens if you travel back in time and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother. In this story, Butler sets it up so not acting dooms the descendants. (Note that Back to the Future came out in 1985. Not the first time Butler’s work anticipates.)

The time travel here is left unexplained; it simply exists. Butler’s work sometimes does have elements of fantasy. For examples: The Patternist series has Doro and Anyanwu, who are (different kinds of) supernatural beings; Fledging is about vampires; Kindred has magic time travel. In contrast, the Parable series is a horrifically realistic vision of a near future dystopia, and the Xenogenesis series is hard SF involving aliens.

While never explained, the time travel itself is innovative. (Part of Butler’s genius is finding fresh spins on the usual tropes.) The story is about Dana, a modern day Black woman living in California with her husband, who is pulled into the past when a certain ancestor’s life is in peril. She returns only when she believes — honestly believes — her own life is in imminent danger. Urgency comes from the realization her ancestor hasn’t had children yet.

In fact, the first few times she encounters him, he’s just a child — the white son of a plantation owner in pre-Civil War Maryland. The story involves six times during his lifespan she’s called back to save his life.

(One could argue Dana’s existence requires her trips. She exists because she was always there in the past. Reality itself demands her time travel.)

§ §

I started my feast with the four-book Patternist series, and Butler immediately impressed me as a writer, as a storyteller, and as a science fiction author. (Yes, those are all different things to me.) Her fresh ideas, carefully plotting, and transparent writing style stood out and captured my mind.

Then I read the three-book Xenogenesis series, and liked all those things even more. A big shift in tenor, too, from immortal telepathic beings to tentacled alien genetic experts.

Next for me was Fledgling, which is about modern day vampires. Butler finds a delightfully fresh take. These vampires know all about (and disdain) the legends about garlic, silver, and churches. But the blood drinking is real, and… well, you just have to read it yourself.

The fourth major course was the two-book Parable series, and again Butler blew me away. By all the things I just listed, but especially by her prescience. Her vision of our slide into a slow partial dystopia is horrifically realistic. The story is also about the intentional creation of a modern religion, Earthseed.

And finally Kindred, as substantial and wonderful a dessert as there ever was. Each course of this feast was better than the last.

§ §

Butler’s masterful writing is apparent in the very structure of the book. Consider the chapters:

  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1 — The River
  • Chapter 2 — The Fire
  • Chapter 3 — The Fall
  • Chapter 4 — The Fight
  • Chapter 5 — The Storm
  • Chapter 6 — The Rope
  • Epilogue

Many have noted the mythopoetic nature of the chapter names. They’re elemental and suggestive of the raw nature of the story. Each refers to the precipitating incident that pulls Dana back to save Rufus Weylin from (invariably) himself. She’s then stuck there until she fears for her life. (The era and the circumstances provide plenty of opportunities.)

The first time, Rufus is a small child drowning in a river he shouldn’t have attempted. The second time, he’s an older petulant child who’s just set the curtains on fire. The third time, older still, he’s fallen out of a tree he shouldn’t have climbed and broken his leg. Badly. The fourth time he’s a young man losing a fight. Badly. The fifth time, older still, he’s passed out drunk in a stream (and about to drown). The sixth time,… well, you should read that one for yourself.

The Prologue and Epilogue are their own modern day mini-arc, both taking place after the events of the chapters. Butler provides her own attention-grabbing spoiler in the first one-sentence paragraph:

I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.

Well, that’s one way to start a story with a bang. Butler has said she couldn’t allow her protagonist to survive that era unscathed, because no one did. The second paragraph draws the reader in even more:

And I lost about a year of my life and much of the comfort and security I had not valued until it was gone. When the police released Kevin, he came to the hospital and stayed with me so that I would know I hadn’t lost him too.

The rest of the Prologue, the dialog between Dana and Kevin, only makes us more curious. Her arm, it turns out, was somehow crushed into the wall, although as Dana comments, “Not exactly crushed.”

(More like merged, actually. Surprising it doesn’t happen more often in time travel.) The Epilogue picks up their life after Dana is released from the hospital and they go visit the location of the Weylin plantation.

§

Damian Duffy (adapter) and John Jennings (illustrator) did a graphic novel version.

One thing I noticed is that “The Fall” starts with a flashback where Dana remembers how she met Kevin and how they fell in love.

And “The Fight” starts with a flashback where she remembers times of conflict between them. Firstly how Kevin wanted her to act as a secretary to him because he hated typing or doing correspondence. (Both are writers. Dana is pre-success, Kevin has sold several novels.) Kevin never noticed Dana did everything but her final draft in longhand because she also hates typing.

Dana flat out refuses, much to Kevin’s dismay and suppressed anger. It’s in this part that we learn of conflict between their respective families due to — and this is the first time Butler lets us know this — that Kevin is white.

Which means, when he’s pulled back with Dana, that his experience of that era is quite different from hers. Butler’s narrative constantly compares — not always favorably — Kevin, an “enlightened” modern white man, with Rufus, very much a man of his time. The unconscious power dynamic between them shadows the explicit power dynamic Rufus has over Dana. The comparison is all the stronger when it turns out Rufus is in love with Alice, a childhood friend, the child of a free Black woman. Alice later ends up a slave owned by Rufus, making the power dynamic all the more intense.

As it turns out, it’s the daughter Rufus will have with Alice that is the ancestor Dana must insure actually happens.

As an aside, I also noticed Butler never directly connects the name Dana with her husband’s last name Franklin. A search shows that Dana’s name always appears on its own, although “Kevin Franklin” appears many times. Given the story’s nature, that seems deliberate.

§

Another aspect of the time travel here is that Dana spends much more time in the past than she loses in the future. Butler never fixes a ratio (and I’m not certain she had one in mind), but one trip of eight months in the past amounts to only three hours passed when Dana returns home. All Dana’s trips take place in the span of a month or so, starting on June 9, 1976, Dana’s 26th birthday. Her last trip back begins, symbolically, on July 4th.

The time travel is a bit magical in that Dana is able to carry back what’s touching her, clothes and a bag of supplies she prepares and keeps with her at all times. Kevin is carried back when he grabs Dana on one of her trips back. (Each trip is signaled by dizziness and nausea.)

Unfortunately he’s not around to grab her when she returns, so he gets caught in the past for a while. (The Prologue has already let us know he obviously gets back.) His time in the past serves to strengthen the comparisons to Rufus. (Study guides for Kindred often ask what readers think will happen to Dana and Kevin now. I’m an optimist; I think they’ll work it out.)

§ §

Duffy and Jennings also did a graphic novel version of the first book of the Parable series.

Both Kindred and Fledgling are outstanding standalone novels that offer an excellent entry into Butler’s work. The former is her most popular work, and is rich with meaning. As I mentioned, it’s often studied academically as a social narrative. (Her work in general is studied academically because of her writing skill.)

I was going to write that both are a bit atypical of Butler’s work, but then I realized everything she wrote was atypical. None of her works is like the others. She obviously had a thirst to explore fresh ground and the smarts to find it.

One thing I’ve noticed is how transparent her writing is. It’s not stylized; she provides a clear window into her story. Her prose flows effortlessly.

I’m so impressed that even though I’ve read all her work through the library, I just bought Kindred, the Parable series, and the Xenogenesis series. I want to support Butler’s legacy as well as be able to read and study these in the future.

I’m tempted to also buy the graphic novel version of Kindred by adapter Damian Duffy and illustrator John Jennings. It’s excellent. Duffy and Jennings also collaborated on a graphic novel version of Parable of the Sower, and they’re working on the sequel, Parable of the Talents. I’m reading the first one now.

§ §

What is my favorite Octavia Butler story? It’s a tough call, partly because I don’t tend to have #1 favorites of anything; I have Top 5 or Top 10 with no particular ranking among them.

It’s a tough call also because I really like everything she did, and there is so much variety that it’s an apples and tomatoes comparison. They share roundness and the green, yellow, and red colors, but otherwise they’re more different than similar.

But I think by just an hair I’ll pick the Xenogenesis series as my favorite. It’s the most SF, and it has aliens and space travel.

Stay kindred, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

22 responses to “Butler: Kindred

  • Wyrd Smythe

    This probably won’t be the last time I post about Butler, but the three posts I’ve done so far at least touch on all her novels. (And I’ve now read them all along with her short stories. She has some essays I’d like to track down and read.)

    In the first post, I wrote about the Patternist series and the Xenogenesis series. The second post is about (an aspect of) the Parable series, and this post, of course, describes Kindred.

    I’ve mentioned Fledgling only in passing (several times), and I haven’t written about any of her short stories. Perhaps in future posts I will!

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    On the transparent non-stylized writing, I’ve come to really value that. It’s surprising how often it’s missing in contemporary writing. What’s funny is it seems like it used to be much more prevalent. I’ve noticed its decline seems to coincide with the rise of word-processing software. Although I’ve seen others blame the prevalence of Masters of Fine Arts programs, which reputedly encourage a more loquacious style. Yet most bestsellers lean toward the cleaner sparser styles. It’s something I wish more writers noticed.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I like it, too, and it’s interesting you suggest it seems an older style. Reading Butler, who published 1971 through 2005 — pretty contemporary — my sense was of reading Asimov or someone from that era. Right away I was struck by the sense I was reading an old master.

      In a sense, she is in virtue of writing obsessively from high school on. She had Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany as friends and mentors (Ellison bought her first short story although it was never published).

      It’s really apparent in how she wrote the Patternist series backwards, the final novel first, and the other three as prequels. Even the two connected prequels she wrote backwards. It all shows how well developed her vision of that story was, and I think she’d been working on it for a long time. (It’s why Steve Martin’s L.A. Story is such a gem. He worked on the script for seven years.)

      For me, transparency and brevity (or its opposite, loquacity) are related but different axes. Transparency is the degree to which one sees the author or the author’s writing style. Brevity is a measure of extra text relative to what’s absolutely needed to tell the story. So an author can be transparent and verbose or brief, or stylized and verbose or brief. Agatha Christie is fairly transparent (enough so that one reviewer “caught” her revealing herself in a phrase her character couldn’t have used). She’s also fairly descriptive and given to bits of story flavor. Her novels are rather meaty.

      I’ve never read Hemingway, but my impression is that he was brief, but stylized in his fiction. (Or maybe brief and transparent, for all I know. He learned that brevity as a newspaper man.)

      I totally agree word processors — and publisher’s demands for fat books to justify increasingly hefty prices — have led to fat books. I’m not one who enjoys a lot of description. I don’t care what kind of shirt a character is wearing (unless it’s somehow significant). I get that a lot of that is mood or subtext, but too much or too heavy I don’t care for. I wonder if e-books will change that dynamic, either because press run start up costs don’t exist or because length just doesn’t matter anymore.

      A long time ago (like 1980s), a friend of mine who worked in an ad agency looked at some of my writing and suggested I break up compound sentences. She said the modern style is punchy and short. Which for ad copy it certainly is. But book publishers want long manuscripts! So lots of short sentences, I guess. 😉

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I agree that transparency and brevity aren’t necessarily the same thing. Someone can be brief and opaque. But not being that detail oriented, too much description and mood setting bogs the story down for me, and ultimately ends up making it effectively more opaque, because I often miss the conclusion the author expects me to make. Whereas if they’d just come out and say it, I’d find it much more clear.

        I haven’t read much Hemmingway, but I don’t find him stylish, at least not in terms of language. His writing seems journalism-like to me, and pretty transparent. (And that fits with his reputation.) It’s what he writes about that seems to distinguish his stuff, the human insight into character motivations, such as the thoughts of an aging matador trying to hide how ill he is, a game hunter worried about looking like a coward, his wife’s lack of respect for him, or a resistance leader’s pride affecting his judgment.

        (I recently caught part of a documentary on him on TV. It showed a clip of a filmed interview he once did. He was a pretty awful interviewee. It’s kind of surprising to me that someone with those kinds of communication skills, and with wartime reporting experience, was incapable of much of an in-person presentation.)

        Yeah, I hear the short sentence thing a lot too. I think it depends on your command of language and punctuation though.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You bring up what I see as yet another axis! The clarity-opacity axis. Transparency, as I use it, is strictly a measure of the author’s writing style — how much one could identify the writer just from the text. The opposite of transparency is stylized. (Obviously these are just my terms for these things.)

        Hemingway as brief and transparent does match what little sense of him I have. The impression of style, as you suggest, may come more from the content. (I suppose, per the third axis, Hemingway would be a clear writer? That would also accord with his journalism background.)

        re punctuation: Since I started this blog I’ve been on a crusade to bring back the semi-colon! 😀

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Hmmm. I was taking “transparency” as synonymous with “clarity”. If you mean something distinct, then I’m probably missing one of the meanings.

        It does seem to me that every writer has a distinct style, a peculiar voice. It seems to emerge whether they intend it to or not. I know John Scalzi’s voice jumps out at me when I read his books, which I recognize as the same voice from his blog. Peter Watts also has a very distinct voice, but in his case I wouldn’t use “clear” to describe his style. It’s one I find requires a lot of effort to parse.

        I don’t use semicolons very often, but they’re occasionally handy. I almost never use them during initial composition. They always seem to come in during revision, when there seems a danger of a second sentence not being interpreted as elaborating on the previous one. I don’t understand why their use is controversial. It’s probably because it requires judgment, kinda like when use of a goto is appropriate in code.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I could tell you weren’t quite on the frequency, but what you said about Scalzi and Watts is on point. Watts has a style and he’s not clear. I’m assuming you implied Scalzi has an identifiable style and is clear. I’m not familiar with Watts, but I can say I found Scalzi clear.

        I haven’t read enough of Scalzi’s work to be able to say I’d recognize his voice, though. Just two of his lighter novels (Redshirts and The Android’s Dream, which I enjoyed very much) and that trilogy I didn’t care for.

        I agree writers all have their own voice, and one way to look at the transparency-stylized axis is to ask how readily identifiable that voice would be given an unknown text. Would the style of a given writer be clearly different from the style of any other, or is there more of a crowd? To what extent is the author’s writing style a common approach to writing versus something unique to that writer?

        All in all, we’ve talked about three axes: brief-verbose, clear-opaque, transparent-stylized. That last one is harder to quantify. I learned the concept from a beloved English teacher. What I wrote in that post was:

        Transparency addresses the idea that the author, and what the author does — the mechanism of writing — should be as invisible as possible to the reader (or audience).

        Getting back to the original point, that quality really struck me about Butler’s work. I might (might!) identify an unknown work of hers based on the story content, but her writing style is so transparent nothing about it (except its transparency) identifies itself.

        Mr. Wilson (the English teacher) introduced the topic in terms of our handwriting (this was in the early 1970s, no one had computers). He insisted it not call attention to itself so that the content would shine through, as if through a clear window. The notion of transparency has stuck with me ever since. It’s the ability to tell the story without becoming, or even participating in, the story.

        Note there’s no value judgement attached to the notion other than intent. One wouldn’t intend to have sloppy distracting handwriting, for instance, or misspelled words. But one can of course choose artistically to be stylized and some great works of art are. Transparency is just an attribute, whereas clarity usually has some value attached. Brief-verbose can be an artistic choice, but extremes there are usually not seen positively.

        I love the semi-colon! 🙂 As you say, it’s a great way to join two strongly related sentences. I tend to be free with parenthetical thoughts (because they’re fun) and with the m-dash as well — it’s nice for more abrupt self-interruptions. 😀

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Ah, I think I see the distinction now. Transparency is the style not calling attention to itself. I do think there’s a lot of overlap there between clarity and transparency, but I can see the distinction.

        I used to be pretty free with parenthetical thoughts, but it sometimes reached the point where they were in every paragraph. Based on my experience reading other writers who do that (Massimo Pigliucci historically uses a bunch of them), I started seeing them as really chopping up the flow. So I try to use them less frequently now. Obviously this paragraph shows I haven’t given them up completely. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yep, you got it. Put one more way, it’s the degree to which the author stands aside. It is related to clarity, definitely. Too much style can make writing opaque, obfuscated, unclear. Transparent writing is what they try to teach in school — just plain old writing, both as clear and as transparent as possible. As someone gains writing skill and develops their voice, they may become less transparent — almost certainly will — but hopefully not less clear (at least not unintentionally so).

        Discussing this I noticed something I hadn’t really thought of before: As you pointed out, every writer has some kind of voice. The transparent-style axis therefore is more of minus-zero-plus axis — some middling combination of transparency and style is where most writers fall. It’s more what I call a “true” Yin-Yang pair. But clarity-opacity has more of a “cup” pair sense on the presumption that clarity has value and opacity is the lack of that value. OTOH, authors do sometimes choose to be opaque for reasons, but I think the usual goal is clarity. (Perhaps even when one is being deliberately unclear to hide a plot point.)

        Most of what writing training I have is for technical writing, and there both transparency and clarity are goals. The latter being much more important; some technical authors don’t stand aside, especially when promoting their own theories. My background wars with my intent to be more stylized, more an identifiable voice. The parenthetical thoughts and other devices are all part of that. That war is especially hard when it comes to ignoring grammar or other writing rules in the name of style. Part of me wants that; part of me resists; I keep retreating to the safety of convention.

        I’m willing to break up flow with various inserts; it’s even part of the style I’m seeking. You might recall I went through a phase of footnotes. It’s a device Terry Pratchett used a lot as part of the humor. But without bidirectional linking (which I wasn’t going to bother with) they’re too much of a pain and I eventually gave up on them.

        [Now, if I really want to insert a footnote, I just use a separate paragraph enclosed in square-brackets.]

        The irony is that this sort of intentional approach wars with the idea of being a natural writer (or any natural artist). If one really is an artist, one should just create that art regardless of any rules or supposed-tos. Create from the heart, not the head. Yin-Yang; Talent-Skill. I kinda think both are important. But screw grammar rules, screw spelling if certain creative uses are useful. Art is a rare area in life where breaking the rules is a Good Thing.

        To bring this home, all that freedom is style, and it isn’t transparent. As you say, clarity is linked. That’s what’s at risk in allowing oneself stylistic freedom. (I keep telling myself that since hardly anyone reads my blog now, I’ve got nothing to lose. But freedom is scary!)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I think you’re right that opacity can be a strategic tool, especially in fiction. Whether it succeeds or fails, I think, will depend on the reaction of the audience.

        But it’s use in non-fiction tends to drive me nuts. I’m not talking about use of specialized language, which usually makes it more clear for the intended audience. (Although that’s sometimes taken to excess, I suspect for strategic reasons.) A lot of writing seems intentionally ambiguous. Sometimes it’s because the author is having to balance competing political pressures, but often it seems to be because their thinking is just muddled. The result is people end up endlessly debating what they really meant, sometimes decades or centuries after they wrote it.

        Yeah, I’ve rarely gotten into the footnotes thing, although I see a lot of bloggers try it from time to time. But I do occasionally parenthesize an entire paragraph, and it’s usually the kind of thing I would have put in a footnote if it were more convenient in the blogging form.

        When it comes to convention and rules, I think there’s a lot to be said for understanding why the rules exist. It gives us insight on when it makes sense to ignore them. Too often I see the rules flaunted for no good reason (particularly from young writers), which calls attention to the writing rather than the content. To me, a good time to ignore a rule is when following it would actually result in that drawing of attention.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Last week I read an Agatha Christie novel that’s told from the POV of the murderer, something Christie doesn’t reveal until the last chapters. For most of the book, it seems like the main character is trying very hard to find out who committed the murder, which is what one usually expects. Later that turns out to be all a ruse. But it’s told first person, so the reader is inside the murderer’s head the whole time; one hell of a conceal and reveal. And obviously entirely intentional.

        I think being unclear in non-fiction can be a mask for not having much to say. I sometimes wonder if later generations spend lots of energy trying to unravel what some “old master” said, when what the old master really said was “I haven’t the foggiest notion” but without actually admitting that. Those Rabbi murder mysteries play with that. The rabbi’s congregation is constantly interpreting his actions — second guessing why he really did what he did — but the truth is he never has ulterior motives. His actions mean exactly what they appear to mean. Kemelman uses it as light humor, and it is pretty cute.

        Very much agree about knowing the rules. That was always a key thing for me with abstract and surreal art. (I dated a surrealist for a while. She did etchings; I have some. I learned never to ask what anything meant.) It’s one thing to drip paint randomly on a canvas. But it’s another to intentionally pick a palette and do it in a way that somehow says something. That only comes from understanding the craft. I do think there are natural artists, but they’re rare and better when they also gain skills or experience. Put as I once heard it: To break the rules one must first know the rules.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On Agatha Christie, pulling off that kind of author holdout is tough with a POV character. I’m curious, was it first person or third person? And did you notice whether it was past or present tense?

        Holding out on a third person POV is easier than first, since it’s easier to maintain some distance from the character. That distancing is much more noticeable with a first person POV. Although if it’s first person in present tense, then not having the character relate or think about past actions is easier to pull off; I’ve seen it done off a few times. If she did it with first person POV using past tense, that is pretty impressive.

        On being unclear in non-fiction, I agree. I’ve also often noticed ambiguity that allows someone to appear to be saying something profound and edgy, but gives them plausible deniability if challenged. Being unclear whether their claim is epistemic or ontological is a common example.

        Totally agreed on the rules. It reminds me of something I’ve heard before about thinking outside of the box; you must first know where the box is and why it’s there.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        First person past tense. It’s the second time in her career she’s pulled it off, both times to critical and reader acclaim. At this point, even the title of the book would be a spoiler, but I’m willing to tell you about it if you don’t mind knowing.

        The first one, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), is so well-known I can talk about that one for now.

        The story is essentially the written narration of the killer, a confession after he’s caught by Hercule Poirot and allowed to take the gentleman’s way out. The narration recalls the story as it unfolded, so the reveal comes when Poirot solves the case. That narration never mentions the motivation for the murder, and the actual murder is glossed over in such a natural way that it’s hard to spot unless one knows where it is. It involves a discussion the killer has with the victim and a description of him leaving afterwards. There’s a barely noticeable vagueness there that covers the murder.

        [WARNING: SEMI SPOILER] I will say that, in the one I just read, the killer isn’t present for the death, and that makes it easier to cover. OTOH, the narrator’s underlying character provides a sense of their true nature. In Roger Ackroyd Christie’s murder had good reason, which is why Poirot lets him “do the right thing.” In this case, the narrator is a total sociopath, and it’s a little evident from the beginning. Christie’s misdirect is in getting the reader to think the narrator was on a path to redemption. Instead it was an evil selfish plot from the first page. As with Roger Ackroyd, the novel is the killer’s written confession, although this time after being caught. (Honestly, the book was a little bit of a mind-fuck. It’s said to be one of Christie’s favorites, and I can see why.)

        I quite agree with your observation about “plausible deniability.” I honestly don’t understand the drive to self-conceal like that. I mean I get it, but I’ve never felt it, and I tend to view it as a kind of dishonesty. Being understood is the drive I feel.

        Gotta know where the box is, yes; another good way to put it!

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Thanks. I might have to read one or both of those books to see how she did it. Googling around, I’m pretty sure I found the other one. I like the idea of a mind-fuck.

        I can understand the plausible deniability in some cases. There are times when a reporter shoves a mic in someone’s face, or the public demands a statement, where people have made ambiguous responses that appeared to say one thing, but on close scrutiny wasn’t really saying it. Though I agree it’s definitely harder to understand when someone does it in an unforced situation.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Endless Night? Enjoy!

        Yeah, politics and public scrutiny are a whole other vector. (One that messes things up a lot, IMO.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        That’s the one I found. Thanks! I was reluctant to name it in case it was yet another book where she did it that you hadn’t read yet.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ha! A third one; wouldn’t that be something. I’m reading Ordeal by Innocence (1958) now. It’s said to be her favorite. Didn’t do great when first published, but is now viewed as one of the really good ones.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Huh. It’s weird to realize that at the beginning of August I barely knew who Octavia Butler was, and now I’ve read all her fiction, and she’s become one of my favorite SF authors.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Just finished The Clockwork Rocket (2011), by Greg Egan. It’s the first book of his Orthogonal series. It’s Egan at his most intense. One needs a physics background and his accompanying website of essays to really appreciate.

    Such diamond-hard SF is way niche, and to be frank Egan often manages to fly about my head, but I do enjoy his work very much. Granted, it’s a bit like reading a physics manual with characters and a narrative, but since I like reading physics manuals, the rest is gravy!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Drat! I’d hoped to finish the trilogy in time for a Sci-Fi Saturday post today, but the week got away from me (again). Maybe next week…

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Finished the second book, The Eternal Flame, in which the characters discover (among other things): antimatter, light-based propulsion, and the Fermi principle.

      I thought Incandescence, which is about aliens discovering General Relativity via a different path than we did, was a physics treatise, but these books are definitely Egan at his most intense. (This SF is almost too hard even for me. Very, very niche story!)

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