Welcome to my blog on reviews of science fiction books with a twist. These reviews will be mostly on female authors in science fiction and specifically female protagonists. I will be focusing on the uniqueness and strength of the main female character(s). I will take you along with me as I begin to read science fiction novels, novellas and short stories.
This area is of particular interest to me as I am writing a science fiction novel with a prominent female protagonist. I want to learn more about science fiction writing and about female protagonists. In addition to reviews of books I will also be making some of my personal writing available.
In my research on female science fiction authors, I found this thorough website (www.sfmistressworks.wordpress.com) full of science fiction books written by talented female authors. Upon further digging I realized it was moderated by a fellow science fiction writer who posted reviews by various reviewers. This website is a compilation of reviews by multiple reviewers.
This is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about women science fiction authors and I encourage anyone interested in science fiction to review this blog. The blog, however, lacks a singular focus and a unique female perspective. I hope my blog will provide a unique approach to reviewing books and provide a woman’s perspective on this subset of fiction.
I’m just going to dive into my first review. The first book is Kindred by Octavia Butler. Octavia Butler (1947-2006) was born in Pasedena, California and knew by the age of 10 that she wanted to be a writer. With the publication of this book, Kindred, she was able to pursue writing full time.
She overcame dyslexia and went on to receive numerous awards during her career including the Hugo award for her short story “Speech Sounds” in 1984 and the American Center lifetime achievement award in writing in 2000. She grappled with health problems and writer’s block, but her last book was published in 2005.
Kindred is about a woman, Dana, from 1976 who is transported back in time to one of her ancestors, Rufus, whenever he was in danger of dying. The twist in this plot is that she is a black woman traveling back to a pre-civil war slave state and Rufus is a slave owner. She is transported to his time whenever he is in danger of dying and transported back to her time when she is in danger, or thinks she is in danger, of dying. She makes several trips back in time ensuring that her ancestor, Hagar, is born. This is highly conflictual to Dana, as in order to ensure her continued existence in the 20th century, she needs to ensure that Hagar is born to Alice, a slave owned by Rufus. In her return visits to the slave state of Maryland, she is able to experience first hand the cruelties of slavery. The relationship between Dana and her slave-owning ancestor is complex and Octavia demonstrates this complexity well through her story telling.
The Female Protagonist
The main protagonist is clearly Dana, as the story is told through her eyes. In her initial visits to early 1900’s she is frightened and even tells her husband multiple times that she is not nearly as strong as her ancestors and only survives because she has an escape route. Her husband contradicts this narrative, but Dana holds to this belief through much of the book.
Dana grows throughout the story in predictable and unpredictable ways. Her internal and external strength improve as well as her resolve and fortitude. What you don’t expect is the growth of her capacity to forgive. She is able to reconcile the many complexities of the relationships not only with Rufus, but also the other slaves on the plantation that Rufus, and his father before him, owned.
During the middle of the story, as you feel her sinking more and more into the slave mentality the longer she lives in the past and existing as a de-facto slave in order to survive, the reader begins to wonder if she is a heroine worthy of this book. She sinks to lows that you at first would not have believed that she could sink; she begins to become a slave. She makes sacrifices that you, as the reader comfortable in your home, deem unnecessary, cowardly and demeaning. At one point in the story, you almost want to put the book down because she has sunk too low in the slave mentality. It is in this moment that Octavia brilliantly brings the inner voice of Dana to comment on her experience as a slave and what it has done to her. Octavia invites you to forget that you are in the 21st century and you are transported back to pre-civil war slave state where you realize that being enslaved was more than being beaten physically, because it was a mental and emotional slavery. The emotional reactions were complex and often unexpected and you realize that Dana endured this mental, physical, and emotional slavery the best way she knew how.
Her ability to forgive her slave-owning ancestors is one aspect of her strength. She is able to reconcile the complexities of the relationship between herself as a slave and the slave owner in a way that is real and redemptive. Dana doesn’t and can’t forget the pain Rufus has caused to herself and to the slaves on the plantation, but she becomes able to understand the difficulties of Rufus’s situation. She is able to see him for who he is: a human and not simply a slave-owning stereotype.
In the final chapter, Dana does what you didn’t think she had the strength or ability to do, and she finally frees herself of the burden of being transported back to her ancestor’s time again. She does what she had only read about other former slaves doing such as Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglas, she frees herself from her chains and her slavery. In the end of the book, you realize that Dana is and has always been a strong woman and that she has always been worthy of the trials she faced. She is a strong woman capable of carrying an entire story on her back.
Octavia skillfully guides the reader along the path of growth with Dana and Rufus while also weaving in the atrocities of life as a slave. She adeptly guides the reader through a similar transformative journey by allowing the reader to develop compassion simultaneously for Dana, a slave by default in a 1900’s slave state, and Rufus, a slave owner. This last journey best illustrates Octavia’s brilliance and talent.