rest in peace

I am stunned to learn that science fiction writer Octavia Butler died on Saturday at the age of 58. The Seattle Times has an obituary that summarises her life and work as well as mere words can.

The first book I read by Octavia Butler was Dawn, which is the beginning of her Xenogenesis trilogy. I was impressed with a story that weaved issues such as first contact and an environmental disaster with an examination of what makes us human–is it genetics, consciousness, or both?

At the time I was a teenager, and her books made me realise that science fiction was a lot more than rockets and ray guns, but could tackle important subjects without a trace of preachiness.

Octavia achieved such a level of craft that in 1995 she won the MacArthur Fellowship, which is one of the most prestigious awards that a writer can win in the USA; it is often referred to as the “genius grant”.

She is the only science fiction writer to obtain a MacArthur Fellowship.

In an interview in June 2004, this is the advice Octavia gave to aspiring writers:

I know a lot of people are where I was several years ago, when I was getting started with writing, wondering how they might get started as writers. And I have this little litany of things they can do. And the first one, of course, is to write – every day, no excuses. It’s so easy to make excuses. Even professional writers have days when they’d rather clean the toilet than do the writing. Second, read every day. Read voraciously and omnivorously, whatever’s out there. You never know what’s gonna grab you. Third, for people who aren’t doing it already, take classes – they’re worthwhile. Workshops or classes – a workshop is where you do actually get feedback on your work, not just something where you go and sit for a day. A workshop is a way of renting an audience, and making sure you’re communicating what you think you’re communicating. It’s so easy as a young writer to think you’re been very clear when in fact you haven’t.