I think about the pitfalls of “reviews” all the time. Well, I should say am conscious of it. It sounds like a good trait on the surface, but I say that because at some point I hated reviews!
I’ll tell you, back when I was looking for social justice & political works before I moved back into the fictional world, it was…interesting. I had people telling me to read the same books over & over, by the same revered figures that Everyone Worshipped without any concern with how it fit into my life’s narrative or even if the content inside would harm me (we won’t get into details with names, but let’s say it was all outdated regardless of age, and…problematic).
After a while I started asking myself, “are these people even reading this literature or are they just telling me to read it because they heard I should? Where’s the critical thinking?” A similar thing happened when I (hesitantly) looked for fiction recs. My friends heaped me with Ursula K Le Guin and Octavia E. Butler, specifically Kindred & Fledgling. It got to the point where I couldn’t even enjoy those recs as much as I thought I should be, not because I didn’t like them after all, but because they were so over-hyped.
At the end of the day, I realized I’m not that miffed about this because at least it gives me somewhere to go from there. You and I can only come from our personal reading tastes. And hopefully we are reading & not just the short paragraphs on Wikipedia. Specifically, I wanted to look at one of the Butler recs I came onto myself after being intrigued further by Kindred, and it’s something a few people like, but a lot more…don’t.
I decided on “Bloodchild” (as part of the collection Bloodchild and Other Stories) because my usual method of easing into a new author is to find their short stories first, if any are available, to get a feel for their style. At this point I already had a grasp of Butler’s style, but I was looking for something transitional to gel it all together. Secondly, the main novella itself is just plain weird. Weird to an off-putting degree from what I’d heard, and when I read a synopsis of it I just had to try it. When I did, I absolutely adored it.
“Bloodchild” makes me grin from ear to ear because of how gloriously bizarre it is; it feels like it was written just for me, a weird black person who loves fantasy, but can’t seem to do or write anything normal to save their life. So, at some point you just say forget it and live your life. I feel alienated from a lot of my writer friends because my interests tend to skew more…say, Junji Ito. Is that bad? No. Can it make you feel all alone? Yes. When I read something like this, I think “bleep yeah!”
Yes, the story does involve “male pregnancy” which if you’ve been in fanfiction circles too long may cause a sort of gross nostalgia I don’t have a term for. And it’s quite gory and doesn’t bother to hide the horrendous (and yet mildly erotic) acts. I’m pretty sure this is what throws people off the most about it, but again if you’re like me you’re immune to this kind of thing, so you can get into the parasitic alien race implanting eggs in males. And if that doesn’t drive you off, you’re in luck!
Now, once you get past the shock factor of “mpreg”, I have to admit this isn’t the best Octavia E. Butler story ever, and you can definitely tell she’s more accustomed to the roominess of novel writing as opposed to short stories/novellas. The thing is, something like this would not have necessarily sustained itself for longer work so it’s kind of trapped between needing more detail and world building and not really needing anymore than what it’s given.
The other stories I really enjoyed from the collection were “Amnesty” and “The Evening and the Morning and the Night”–the latter of which I related to more as someone who has gone through several years-long bouts of self-harm.
After reading “Bloodchild” I thought to myself, what would have happened if someone had recommended this one to me first? It’s definitely more my speed and writing style. It’s probably for the best that I found this one last and found it by myself, that made it more personal. I had a better appreciation for Butler’s older works that I thought I wasn’t sold on before, and gave me a better link to the author herself. It’s something my fingers keep trailing over repeatedly if only for the sense of belonging I feel. And if you’re a little off-kilter like me, maybe you will too. The Washington Post offers the first chapter of the novella here.