How to Get Inspired by Dreadful Movies: An Octavia Butler Origin Story

Posted by Hayley on June 22, 2017

Greatness doesn't always beget greatness. Octavia Butler, who was born on this day 70 years ago, credited her remarkable, influential literary career to one sci-fi train wreck.

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When she was 12 years old, Butler turned on the television and stumbled across a movie called Devil Girl From Mars. The basic plot was about a man-obsessed Martian and her mission to find humans to mate with. The movie was…not good. Critics called it "delightfuly bad" at best and "undeniably awful" at worst.

Butler could've turned the channel. Instead she watched the entire campy thing from start to finish.

"It changed my life," Butler confessed years later in an essay about why she started writing science fiction. "As I was watching this film, I had a series of revelations. The first was that 'Geez, I can write a better story than that.' And then I thought, 'Gee, anybody can write a better story than that.' And my third thought was the clincher: 'Somebody got paid for writing that awful story.' So I was off and writing, and a year later I was busy submitting terrible pieces of fiction to innocent magazines."

She was being modest, of course. Those "terrible pieces" became the foundation of Wild Seed and the rest of her beloved Patternist series. Butler was the first science fiction writer to receive the presigious MacArthur Fellowship (nicknamed the "Genius Grant"), and her books won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards.

So next time you're watching an awful movie, think of Butler. She turned one terrible film-watching experience into an award-winning writing career. What could you do?

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Parable of the Sower
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The Unseen
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Mind of My Mind
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Bloodchild and Other Stories
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Discover more of Octavia Butler's books and quotes here. And share your thoughts on Butler, bad movies, or both in the comments!

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Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Timothy (new)

Timothy Firstly, Patricia Laffin as Nyah is super hot in her all-black leather outfit, one of the two most decidedly Fascistic Sci Fi wardrobes from that era I can thing of- the other being Mario Bava's OUTSTANDING "Planet of the Vampires" from 1966. Secondly...yeah, this is a horrible movie, glacially dull, but I love it and have watched it several times...British Sci Fi has a charm all its own, and while this is no "Quatermass Experiment"'s a good one for a rainy Saturday afternoon w/ a few cold ones...

message 2: by Adina (new)

Adina Hilton I absolutely LOVED Kindred. I really want to try some of her other books as well.

message 3: by Johnny (new)

Johnny Carruthers I remember reading several of Butler's stories that appeared in Asimov's SF, and while I could tell that she was a damn good writer, she was never my cup of tea.

message 4: by Apatt (new)

Apatt One of the all-time greats, love her. She had no issues with her works being labeled as sci-fi either, bonus points for that!

Kindred is the best, closely followed by Wild Seed , the Parable duology is also good. I have read most of her SF books (sadly, there are not that many of them), they are all good so far.

message 5: by Suvi (new)

Suvi B-movies are great! Butler has been in my reading list for ages, so maybe this year...

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

I owe a lot to this woman. Octavia Butler is one of my favorite authors, and one of her stories ("Blood Child") was taught and discussed in my "Gender in Sci-Fi" college course. It made me think, and honestly, it changed my life in a small way. It really sparked my love for sci-fi, that's for certain!

message 7: by Sumeet (new)

Sumeet Mahendra Someday, I'll read & review everyone of them on my blog ie. ...!

message 8: by Kay (new)

Kay I think this is part of the reason I watch Mystery Science Theater 3000. My first drafts might be terrible, but at least they're not "The Devil Girl from Mars," or "Ee-Gah!," or "Manos: the Hands of Fate."

message 9: by Jehona (new)

Jehona I don't find much sci in her sci-fi, but "Lilith's brood" was amazing nonetheless and now I'm waiting for Amazon to deliver "Kindred", "Fledgling", "Parable of the Sower", "Parable of the Talents" and "Seed to Harvest".

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