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Octavia E. Butler

(Modern Masters of Science Fiction)

4.44  ·  Rating details ·  61 ratings  ·  24 reviews
I began writing about power because I had so little, Octavia E. Butler once said. Butler's life as an African American woman--an alien in American society and among science fiction writers--informed the powerful works that earned her an ardent readership and acclaim both inside and outside science fiction. Gerry Canavan offers a critical and holistic consideration of Butle ...more
Hardcover, 248 pages
Published October 31st 2016 by University of Illinois Press
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Rachel (Kalanadi)
Over the years, I have read two novels (Dawn and Wild Seed) and one story ("The Evening, and The Morning, and the Night") by Octavia E. Butler. I have always heard of her as one of the most highly-regarded women SFF writers, and one of the top two perennial picks when anyone lists black SFF authors (I usually say flip a coin whether #1 on the list will be her or Delany). Suffice it to say, I've become increasingly interested in reading her work over the last few years, and when given the opportu ...more
A biography, seen through the Huntington Library collection as well as Butler's body of work, including readings of Butler's fiction which explore her reoccurring themes and tie them to her lived experiences as a black woman and an author. Canavan makes compelling arguments for a number of dichotomies: Butler's desire to write likable bestsellers, and the troubled, challenging pessimism that inspired her speculative fiction; the way her punishing perfectionism refined the themes of her work whil ...more
'Butler’s creative and critical work demonstrates that science fiction was never really a straight, white, male genre, despite its pretensions to the contrary, blackness, womanhood, poverty, disability, and queerness were always there, under the surface, the genre’s hidden truth.'

This is an accessible academic read that delves into Octavia E. Butler’s influential science fiction work in addition to highlighting her writing process with references from her documents as preserved in The Huntington
Bogi Takács
I don't know who's the audience for this book... I have read everything of Octavia Butler's that's been published, and for me a lot of this was just re-summarizing the material. But if I hadn't read all that, it would probably have been confusing and full of spoilers.

I expected more biographic detail, even knowing this book was not intended to be a biography in the strict sense. But I got more along those lines from Conversations with Octavia Butler. (I recommend that one after you've read all o
Margaret Sankey
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Using Butler's papers, now housed at the Huntington Library, Canavan reconstructs the process through which Butler wrote and then repeatedly re-wrote her novels, often torn between the far darker and more pessimistic story (amazingly, that is possible) she intended to tell and the desire for a "yes-novel" that would sell widely. Along the way, this is a study of how Butler's early works struggled with the science fiction tropes of the 1950s-60s as Butler gained the confidence to make them her ow ...more
Aug 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent examination of not only Butler’s published works, but the half written stories and alternate timelines that were not seen in her lifetime. This book helped me appreciate more levels to her stories than I had intuited previously, and served as a kind of self-help book: even Octavia Butler struggled sometimes, but look at all that she was able to create and all of the lives she touched.
Steven Shaviro
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
really good
Elizabeth Fitzgerald
Jan 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
As with Letters to Tiptree, I went into this without having read any of Octavia Butler's work (don't worry, it's on my list) and without even knowing a whole lot about her. I feel that approach didn't work for me quite as well this time around.

I'd been expecting a biography. And Octavia E. Butler is a biography to some extent. However, it is equally concerned with analysing her work. Throughout the book, the author puts forward a theory unifying her work, looking in depth at her significant publ
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic overview of Octavia E. Butler's life and writing. Canavan writes with fidelity to both Butler's expressed wishes and the spirit of her work. This book offers readers a chance to spend some quality time with Butler--a real opportunity we should all take advantage of. ...more
J Earl
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Octavia E. Butler by Gerry Canavan is part of the University of Illinois Press' Modern Masters of Science Fiction series. To quote from their website, "Modern Masters of Science Fiction is devoted to books that survey the work of individual authors...." In other words this is not a biography in the strict sense of the word. In Butler's case her life plays a very important role in what she wrote and how she wrote it so there is a lot about her life here. But that is not the focus of the book or t ...more
Gerry Canavan wrote a fabulous essay in Luminescent Threads about 'disrespecting Octavia' - about whether or not work in Butler's archives that remains unpublished ought to be published now, against her wishes. It's a thoughtful essay that acknowledges it's not an easy question to consider, and makes the unpublished work sound fascinating while admitting its flaws.

I knew Canavan was writing a biography of Butler when we asked him to write for us, and I'd been meaning to get hold of it... well, a
Elliot Williams
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read_2018
I had wanted to read this since it came out, and wow, I wasn’t disappointed! It’s less a biography of Butler, and more of an extended, chronological reading of her work, including loads of unpublished material in her archives. Canavan does a really wonderful job of dealing with the unpublished archival material - he uses it to find new insights into Butler and her work, while not pushing it too far or losing sight of its relationship to her published oeuvre. He talks in the introduction about tr ...more
Alex Hernandez
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This books is superb. Not only did it provide great insight into my favorite writer, her life and her writing process, but it was a swirling, glowing portal into parallel universes of unpublished stories. The summaries of these alternate versions publish novels and short stories, as well as hidden drafts of new tales both satisfied my need for more stories and simultaneously teased me. I highly recommend this book to Butler fans, but also to aspiring SFF writers.
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic read for any Octavia E. Butler fan. It carefully analyses her work (novels, short stories, even essays), talks about her unpublished and unfinished works and also gives us a look into her life and mind. Read this after you've read all of OEB's works though, because obviously there are spoilers about absolutely everything she's ever written. ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent portrayal and analysis of Octavia Butler’s complex legacy - there are very few books that seriously present us with her life and work. Must reading for any attempt to grapple with her body of work.
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This essentially a paper about Octavia. If you're a huge fan and you want to learn more about her, and don't mind the academic tone you will enjoy this book. This isn't entertainment reading, it's more informative. ...more
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
Excellent book based partially on newly released estate documents.
Oct 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An impressive dive into the mind of one of the most brilliant science fiction authors of our time who, as Canavan demonstrates, left us far too soon.
Oct 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: women, non-fiction
Prior to reading this novel, I had only read Butler's short story "The Morning and the Evening and the Night" and her novel "Wild Seed". I was also aware of her as an iconic figure in science fiction, feminism and 'afrofuturism'.

This biography of Butler takes advantage of extensive archives of both her personal journals and her drafts of all her fiction. Canavan traces both through various epochs of her writing, published and unpublished. What emerges is a portrait of a woman tortured by her ne
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
"I began writing about power because I had so little," Octavia E. Butler once said. Butler's life as an African American woman--an alien in American society and among science fiction writers--informed the powerful works that earned her an ardent readership and acclaim both inside and outside science fiction.

Gerry Canavan offers a critical and holistic consideration of Butler's career. Drawing on Butler's personal papers, Canavan tracks the false starts, abandoned drafts, tireless rewrites, and r
Armel Dagorn
Dec 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a pretty interesting insight into Octavia Butler's life and work. Although I have only read her short story collection "Bloodchild", I enjoyed the work Canavan did, providing an overview of her career, analysing her novels with the help of the numerous drafts and abandoned projects her archive at the Huntington Library. I has given me a good idea of what books of hers I might want to pick up next (and, conversely, which ones I might not enjoy as much).

While I don't normally paid too muc
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
This comprehensive and in-depth study of the life and work of black science fiction writer Octavia E Butler will no doubt be enjoyed and appreciated by serious fans and scholars of her work but it’s rather too academic for the uninitiated. I enjoyed learning about her life, but overall found the book too dry and detailed in its examination of her writings. I accept, however, that I’m not the intended readership and this rather neutral review and rating reflects my own enjoyment rather than the m ...more
Carly O'Connell
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
Did not finish.
Very dry and dense read. More literary analysis than biography. It was a mistake to read this book before actually reading any of her works. May be a useful resource if you are writing a paper on Octavia Butler and her works or if you are a superfan looking for a deeper understanding, but it is not a good starting point for someone who is vaguely curious about her.
A Fascinating and impeccably researched glimpse into Octavia Butler's work and life. Particularly interesting is the information pertaining to Butler's unreleased work and early, alternate versions of her released work, which offer insight into how the woman worked and thought. ...more
Kari Trenten
rated it really liked it
Mar 23, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Dec 27, 2016
rated it really liked it
Dec 31, 2020
Jim Higgins
rated it it was amazing
Nov 05, 2016
Dewitt Alvarez
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Jun 15, 2018
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Dec 25, 2020
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Gerry Canavan is an associate professor in the English Department at Marquette University, specializing in 20th- and 21st-century literature. An editor at Extrapolation and Science Fiction Film and Television, he has also coedited Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction (2014), The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction (2015), and The Cambridge History of Science Fiction (2019). His f ...more

Other books in the series

Modern Masters of Science Fiction (1 - 10 of 12 books)
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  • William Gibson
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