Well, I don’t want to rewrite my review all over again but, wow, it was an amazing novel. But, more than just being a great read I want to talk about some of the science fiction literary elements that I enjoyed and why I decided to pick up this book of all novels. Octavia Butler made me think about just how I define “science fiction.”
Great novels in the past such as 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 have been science fiction but their focus was entirely on social measures, which I argue, is a harder science than that of physics because there are no definite mathematical answers which makes every social theory applicable to a given conflict or person.
As a writer I often have a dilemma within myself about just what defines science fiction, is it the use of gadgets and a hard on implication of science or is it simple notions like time travel that create a “sciencey” feel?
Whatever the case, I often feel as if social science is underrepresented in novels as science fiction and I thought about that with the way Butler wrote in Dana during Kindred.
The many layers of Dana’s character is what kept me compelled to keep reading. She wasn’t flat, at all, she was a 5D creation with a past, present, and implied future. I enjoyed watching her blackness define her experience in the late 70s and even in the 1800s.
I loved reading about Dana’s present day relations with familial ties and how she relates to her ancestors. All of the story revolved around Dana’s constant responsibility of taking care of her kin, but it was interesting watching how her race defined her social status.
The racial status of her social identity is what drew me in because I’m currently writing my second novel where I emphasize race and how generational privilege exists. Unfortunately, for black children inherited wealth isn’t normal, as in the case of Dana, but what’s more interesting is the fact that the many layers of a person’s identity creates a sort of “science” to the fictional story they’re a part of.
When we think in terms of sociology and psychology Dana has an extensive environment that stretches so far past a dramatic present that ordinary characters exist in. It’s interesting how well the transportation happens throughout the book without ever losing continuity within the given text. This act of teleportation in itself could be looked at through a psychological lens of begging the question of whether or not Dana might have been experiencing a sort of fugue state.
If “fugue” is what Butler was going for, does it mean she defines science fiction as not only being a play on technological uses in a dystopian society but also the fact that humans are incapable of understanding just where they belong? Is science fiction in her eyes, the societal influence of understanding the then and now? If we don’t understand the then and now are we not sociologically aware of how slavery has impacted our daily lives, today?
These are just many things that I have been pondering. I also appreciate the jump in time because it made so many things real for me. It made the experience of slavery real for me. And, if I ever teach a class on African Americans I would not mind assigning this book because there are so many themes of racial identity and redefining the self to align with societal expectations in a given time period. What an amazing novel, she really is my mother of literature.