Sunday, May 11, 2014

KINDRED by Octavia Butler


Great science fiction does more than just entertain. Sometimes, it's used to explore important and difficult material and ideas about society, past experiences, as well as speculate on where we are headed in the future. Octavia Butler was one of the queens of sci-fi and Kindred is considered by many to be her masterpiece. It is one of the examples of great science fiction that goes beyond pure entertainment. It shines a light on what is possibly the most difficult and taboo topics in American history: slavery in the U.S.

Dana, a black woman living in 70's Los Angeles, is inexplicably snatched through time on her 26th birthday, and sent to a Southern plantation during the 1800's. She realizes that she will be brought back repeatedly to save the life of the young troubled son of the plantation owner, who she realizes is her ancestor. So to keep him safe and secure her existence in the modern day, she must endure existing in a time when her skin color makes her property.
"I lost an arm on my last trip home."
Whoa. What an opening line! It's so simple in its construction, but packs a big wallop, and locked my interest in for at least the following 100 pages. After that, not only is it a searing look at life on a slave plantation in the antebellum American South, but also an interesting, speculative character study on how a young black woman from the 1970's would react to having to submit herself to the reality and culture of the times back then. The most intriguing aspect was the way it affected her relationship with her white husband, who ends up traveling along with her through time to protect her. She is so used to acting a certain way with him, a way that is completely not acceptable during these times. Seeing the two of them get "comfortable" in their roles on the plantation and seeing the strain that it put on their relationship over time was fascinating. And Butler's simple and concise style helps to make this harsh story one that can be universally relatable and appreciated.

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