Last year I went on a reading binge where I relentlessly scoured novels, short story collections, and non-fiction books, finishing each one within days. During the course of my reading journey I discovered communist theory, Sci-Fi, and abolition-focused storytelling, with my favorite author of the bunch being Octavia Butler. I first read Parable of the Sower—the first of her Parable series that I consumed with such speed you’d think I wasn’t doing anything else but reading all day. Shortly after, I finished Parable of the Talents, which left an even longer lasting imprint on my memory and I became obsessed with all things Butler. On my trip to Texas I picked up Butler’s Kindred, and it’s now my favorite of the three. Kindred is now the novel I’d recommend first to anyone unfamiliar with Octavia Butler’s work because it immediately grasps the reader and transports them to a unique scene in the novel. Butler was a brilliant Sci-Fi author whose work won honors such as the MacArthur fellowship; Arthur C. Clarke, Nebula, and Hugo awards. She was the first Sci-Fi writer to win a MacArthur fellowship, which she received in 1995 following the publication of Parable of the Sower. Butler published 15 books with 10 of them falling within 3 different series: Patternmaster, Xenogenesis, and Parable or ‘Earthseed’. Butler’s work was inherently focused on humans and how we interact with each other and the species and world around us. Her writing was extremely realistic— especially throughout the Parable series, which was sometimes difficult to read as it became more bloody and gruesome. Kindred isn’t as bloody, but its realism is just as terrifying.
Kindred is about a woman named Dana who lives in California in the 1970s. She recently celebrates her 26th birthday with her husband when she’s suddenly transported to the pre-Civil War south. Dana immediately rescues a young white boy named Rufus from drowning and stays in that period and place for a while before she’s somehow sent back to her home. Dana inexplicably “teleports” between both times and places with each visit to the south lasting longer and becoming more dangerous. Throughout the novel the reader is left wondering whether Dana’s visits will continue and if she’ll even survive the horrors of the time and people she’s with. I loved Kindred because Butler almost instantly writes about Dana’s first transport and sends the reader there with her. Some of the people Dana meets when she’s in the south are extraordinarily kind while others are (obviously) horrific. Butler balances horror and Sci-Fi extraordinarily well while she introduces the reader to many new faces and names. While I read, I was increasingly angry, sympathetic, and scared and I think that’s all I could ever ask for from a novel!