Seattle science-fiction author Octavia E. Butler passed away in 2006, but she’s getting timely good wishes today on what would have been her 71st birthday in the form of a Google Doodle tribute.
The black writer’s work broke the “white guys with lasers” mold for science fiction by telling stories that reflected the future-day diversity she wanted to see in present-day society. Not in a preachy way, but in the form of more than a dozen thought-provoking, award-winning novels and shorter works.
In 1995, she was the first science-fiction writer to win a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and four years later she moved from her native California to Seattle. She died unexpectedly at the age of 58 after falling and striking her head on a walkway outside her home.
Butler came from humble beginnings — her father was a shoeshine man, and her mother was a maid — and she accepted her fame with humility.
“People may call these ‘genius grants,’ ” Butler said in a 2004 interview with the Seattle P-I, referring to her MacArthur prize. “But nobody made me take an IQ test before I got mine. I knew I’m no genius.”
In that, she was wrong.
Butler’s family members expressed their thanks for today’s tribute in a statement:
“Her spirit of generosity and compassion compelled her to support the disenfranchised. She sought to speak truth to power, challenge prevailing notions and stereotypes, and empower people striving for better lives. Although we miss her, we celebrate the rich life she led and its magnitude in meaning.
“Today, on her birthday, it is with immense pride that we give tribute to Octavia for the magnificent gifts she bestowed upon all of us. Her legacy endures. As long as we speak her name, she lives.”
She lives as well in her books’ influence. Here are GeekWire’s favorites:
“Lilith’s Brood: The Complete Xenogenesis Trilogy,” recommended by Clare McGrane: “Butler is a master of creating fantastic alien worlds that feel so much like our own, and nowhere is this so apparent as the Xenogenesis series. I love how Butler challenges her readers in these books. She forces you to ask — what would I sacrifice to survive, to make sure humanity survives? The characters all have different answers to that question, and it reveals much about our world here and now.”
“Clay’s Ark,” recommended by Frank Catalano: “About the only flaw I can see with the novel is that I really would like to know what happens after it ends. That’s probably not a real flaw, but a wish for more. Clay’s Ark is a complete novel — spare, thought-provoking, entertaining, haunting, and a page-turner.”
“Kindred,” recommended by Stefania Hajnosz: “I had to read one of her books in high school, and it was the best book we read that year. Never had there been so many kids reading ahead of the assigned reading.”
The Google Doodle exposure touched off other tributes as well. Here’s a sampling from the Twitterverse, which was born a month after Butler passed away:
Today we honor Octavia Butler on her birthday! Her wisdom remains relevant 🎉🌟✨💕 pic.twitter.com/2ZNLw3cQLc
— Diana M. Pho (@writersyndrome) June 22, 2018
— Mahogany Bookshelf (@mahoganybooks1) June 22, 2018
I did this portrait of Octavia E Butler in honor of her 71st birthday! She changed the way I saw speculative fiction and helped validate my own dreams of making science fiction and fantasy. We miss you, Octavia. #becauseofoctavia we dream more fiercely. pic.twitter.com/Z5DnqHE4Bh
— John Ira Jennings (@JIJennings) June 22, 2018
Octavia Butler is the Google doodle today and I legit just started crying.
— Elizabeth Bear (@matociquala) June 22, 2018
Octavia Butler, who would have been seventy-one today, filled her notebooks with tiny encouragements. “Tell stories filled with facts,” one reads. “Make people touch and taste and KNOW.” https://t.co/R8Q7AxMlyH
— The Paris Review (@parisreview) June 22, 2018
Octavia was an excellent writer, and a very nice person. She is missed by all who knew her.
— Brian Herbert (@DuneAuthor) June 22, 2018
Happy Birthday to Octavia Butler who would have been 71 today.
She was 6 feet tall by her 15th birthday, but her writing is the reason she looms large in the American imagination.
"I have a huge and savage conscience that won't let me get away with things." pic.twitter.com/BCWd7Kcj53
— Kaz Weida (@kazweida) June 22, 2018