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Home SCIENCE Octavia E. Butler's Legacy of Time Travel

Octavia E. Butler’s Legacy of Time Travel

The Legacy of a Time Traveler

Family members
Butler Octavia E.
Gift edition. Beacon Press, 2022 ($27.95)

Afrofuturism, a genre of global art and multimedia rooted in black cultures, is often used as a liberating lens through which we can reexamine our world. From tales told around campfires in the dark, to the creation of myths carved into ancient stones, to the visions contained in new technologies, this narrative art is one of our oldest tools for making sense of an increasingly complex society. . Afrofuturist writers explore a language of dreams and dystopias that express our greatest hopes while boldly confronting our darkest fears. They travel beyond colonial borders and time scales to reimagine ancient gods and traditional narratives, excavating the past to observe the rhythms of our present.

Among the most celebrated black writers of speculative fiction is the pioneering Afrofuturist Octavia E. Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006). Butler wrote meticulously plotted science-based novels and short stories about shape-shifting immortals and psychic explorations. She excelled at exploring deeply uncomfortable things with unflinching clarity, particularly the hierarchical nature of humanity. Her choice of characterization, language, and setting challenged notions of community and sexuality in the context of competition for resources and survival.

As the first science fiction author to be honored with a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and the first black woman to win the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, Butler created work that helps frame black women’s agency and aesthetics. in a world that often denies the existence of both. When I met her work in college through her 1979 novel Family members—possibly his most famous work, reissued this month as a special edition—ignited my imagination and changed the path of my life.

In Family members, Butler deftly revamps the classic convention of the time travel genre. The story follows Dana, a 26-year-old black woman newly married to a white man named Kevin in 1970s California, who collapses time to face terrifying ancestral legacies on the antebellum Maryland plantation where her family was left. enslaved When Dana is drawn into the story as a lone traveler against her will, readers discover that she has a special connection to a red-haired boy named Rufus.

Drawn from her comfortable life in California, Dana must rely on more than just contemporary knowledge and privilege. Through her journey, as well as Kevin’s, readers witness how history is not static but a dynamic force that lives within us. Firmly written in a way that refuses to romanticize the brutalities of the “peculiar institution,” Family members reviews the entrenched meanings of family, sacrifice, and community storytelling. The novel also reminds us that no one can defy time and come out unscathed.

Family members’The innovative vision of time travel has been reflected in countless works and characters since its publication. Those include the 1991 movie. future brother, starring Moses Gunn, Carl Lumbly and Vonetta McGee; the black supermodel from Haile Gerima’s classic 1993 film Sankofa; the 2020 horror movie Before the war; and Grammy-nominated singer Janelle Monáe’s debut story collection in 2022 The Librarian of Memory and Other Dirty Computer Stories. Family members’The influence of s is further seen in Walter Mosley’s 47a young adult novel about slavery and time travel, and at Kiese Laymon’s long division. By creating characters who face profound hardships but then become heroines and heroes of their own adventures, Butler redefined what a revolutionary looks like.

That’s an impressive footprint for a novel that was published 43 years ago, at a time when it was commonly believed that black people didn’t read or write science fiction. Yet Butler was writing in a literary tradition that stretches back almost 165 years in English to the proto-science fiction works of such authors as Martin R Delany, Sutton E Griggs, Charles W Chesnutt, Pauline E Hopkins, and WEB Du Bois.

Today, his work continues to inspire a revival of Afrofuturism in its many forms. His canonical influence is seen in the curricula of universities on every continent, in the graphic adaptations of his novels by Damian Duffy and John Jennings, and in the highly anticipated television series and film adaptations of his books. His presence lives on in the stellar works of authors NK Jemisin, Andrea Hairston, Marlon James, Maurice Broaddus, Ibi Zoboi, among others.

Sixteen years after Butler’s death, his legacy of fierce imagination feels more relevant than ever. With Family members Illuminating much of the most compelling speculative fiction, the book stands as an icon for reframing today’s challenges, imagining new role models and possibilities in the process.—Sheree Renée Thomas

Sheree Renée Thomas is an award-winning fiction writer, poet, and editor who lives in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. She is co-editor of the upcoming anthology. Africa Risen: A New Age of Speculative Fiction (Tordotcom, November 2022).

Towards a better evolutionary biology

An icon of genetic research: the fruit fly. Credit: nechaev-kon/Getty Images

A voice in the desert: A pioneering biologist explains how evolution can help us solve our biggest problems
Joseph L. Graves Jr.
Basic Books, 2022 ($30)

a voice in the desert it is not at all a traditional memoir of “my life in science” because until very recently, that tradition, and that life, was almost exclusively white. Author Joseph L. Graves, Jr., is not. Graves, in fact, is the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology in the US, which he received from Wayne State University in 1988. his book, on evolutionary science as lived and practiced, offers a compelling narrative that is both autobiographical and scientific .

Graves refuses to mask the political and experiential realities of America, authentically narrating a life in which the sound methodical and theoretical approaches of evolutionary biology can, and should, intertwine with the fight for social justice. He confronts the culpability of evolutionary science in the construction of race and the ugly realities of racism while revealing an optimistic view of the redemptive anti-racist promises of those same sciences. He offers thoughtful insights into the messy dialogues of science and religion and the complicated history of evolutionary biology, covering the good, the bad, and the ugly. And, to my great delight, he nods in inspiration. star trek it gave him and so many other researchers who dreamed of science and adventure shaped by the need for fairness and justice.

This is an engaging book with lots of interesting science, although it is never presented without context. The author introduces us to the always amazing drosophila, the fruit fly at the center of many discoveries in genetic research; dives into the mathematical and biological impacts of chaos with startling clarity; and gracefully, carefully navigates the relationship between the biology of sex and gender.

When the voices of nonwhite scholars like Graves share their scientific experiences and practices, it helps bring about a future in which evolutionary biology can become a better version of itself. For the many students in this field who do not resemble the dominant faces in textbooks and on the walls of famous museums and academic departments, glimpses of life intertwined with real scientific engagement, oppression, attendance, failure, and success is a necessary invitation. be where they are, move on, make a difference. —Agustin Fuentes

Survival of the richest: Tech Billionaires’ Escape Fantasies
by Douglas Rushkoff.
W. W. Norton, 2022 ($26.95)

Earth’s ultra-rich have a plan for when the planet they’ve destroyed becomes uninhabitable: leave it, and the rest of us, behind. In this brilliant and often lurid analysis, digital economics and media theory professor Douglas Rushkoff explores the influence of what he calls “the mindset,” a Silicon Valley-style fatalism that makes billionaires believe that with enough ambition capitalist and ruthless pursuit, they can escape their self-caused disaster. He exposes the Mindset as an exploitative and anti-democratic infection in society, arguing that our escape lies not in an island bunker or a mission to Mars, but in institutional changes that prize interdependence over self-interest. —miguel galician

The greatest ideas in the universe: Space, time and movement
by Sean Carroll.
Dutton, 2022 ($23)

Reading The biggest ideas in the universe it’s like taking an introductory physics class with a star professor, but with all the heady lectures and none of the tedious problem sets. Theoretical physicist and philosopher Sean Carroll raises the bar for the standard popular science book by explaining concepts like mechanics and general relativity without simplifying them, giving readers what he calls “the real stuff.” For STEM types, the result may seem like a more exciting version of the required coursework, but for those with no background, it can feel like a porthole to another world. —maddie bender

Natural History: Stories
by Andrea Barrett.
W. W. Norton, 2022 ($26.95)

National Book Award-winning writer Andrea Barrett’s elegant collection of short stories re-enters the community of scientific characters (some fictional, some historical) that she introduced in her 1996 debut, boat rush. In a New York state town in the late 1800s, Henrietta Atkins defies convention by choosing a teaching career and working herself in the natural sciences instead of being a homemaker. Barrett’s intertwined stories examine Henrietta’s complicated decisions, as well as those of her friends and relatives, moving forward in time through the characters’ shared experiences. Her friendships, science jobs, and passions align and tear them apart in far more interesting ways than family ties alone. —dana dunham



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