American science-fiction writer Octavia Butler (1947 – 2006) won many prestigious literary awards for her writing, but today we’re going to focus on the short story which is her masterpiece: Bloodchild. This is a highly peculiar, rather unsettling short story first published in 1984 in Isaac Asimov’s literary magazine. It promptly won the Hugo and Nebula awards when published with other short stories in 1995 – way to go, madam!
It’s quite the disturbing concept and is about an inter-species relationship where humans are subservient to a somewhat benign clan known as the Tlic, who rely on the human body to reproduce (a process which can prove fatal, but always agonising, for the human). We first read this one in 2006 at university and, well, it’s brilliant. No two ways about it. Read on, Macduff, to find out more.
In Bloodchild, you’ll find a darkly disturbing, but mutually compassionate, world where two species have joined together. The Tlic are intelligent insect-like creatures and, after a colony of humans leaving Earth settles on their planet, they realise these new things are an excellent host for Tlic eggs. The result is the Tlic establish what is known as the Preserve for human protection, but in return for this every human family has to choose one child for impregnation.
Told from the point of view of a young chap called Gan, he regales the somewhat insidious process involved. Whilst the Tlic are compassionate and understanding of the situation humans face, you do get the sense there’s no real choice for the humans but to go along with it. Consequently, you have an Alien-esque theme running throughout.
Gan is destined to be implanted by a Tlic he greatly admires – T’Gatoi – and is initially proud of the opportunity. However, after he sees an impregnation turn horribly wrong, he begins to wonder whether he is, in fact, a captive on this unusual planet, but must decide whether to commit to the disturbingly intimate process of impregnation with T’Gatoi or rebel and cause severe issues amongst the community.
Creepy, huh? Themes of fear, violence, and a dominant race certainly tie in with longstanding issues of racism and slavery, although we’re inclined to believe (based on the clip below) Butler also had one eye on the future of humanity following on from the Cold War. Regardless, Bloodchild simply makes for an unnerving read and one which we can highly recommend to you all.
Inspired to write science-fiction after seeing a rubbish film (she, rather kindly, doesn’t name which one), Butler went on to be a leading female writer who rejected the notion she was simply another sci-fi writer, although she did rate the genre highly.
Her other works include Kindred (1979), Parable of the Sower (1993), and Fledgling (2005), which are a series of science-fiction novels (the latter involving vampires). We’ve not read them, but based on this short story we’re willing to bet they’re bloody good indeed, if that’s your type of thing.
Standard themes from here writing are critique of modern hierarchies, sociobiological considerations, advanced concepts of lead protagonists, and contemplation of future (or alien) communities. All very interesting, huh? Read Bloodchild first and take your interest from there.