On My Shelf: Octavia Butler and Lauren Beukes

On My Shelf is a new monthly meme started by KJ Mulder over at Worlds in Ink and it’s all about sharing the books on your shelf in alphabetical order, according to author. It’s a very chilled-out meme, so you can plan it in any way you like, and post at any time of the month, any number of times you like. And who doesn’t like to show off some of their books?

Ok, so A & B got extended into August, giving me a bit more time. Today it’s Octavia Butler and Lauren Beukes, two very different sci fi and fantasy authors, but they’re both done groundbreaking work in the genre – Octavia Butler as a black female writer and Lauren Beukes as a South African writer.

I can’t remember which of these I got first – Dawn and Parable of the Sower (bought secondhand at Rick’s in Pretoria) or Kindred (a pricey special edition bought with my staff discount at Exclusive Books). Whichever one I bought/read first, I was impressed with Butler’s storytelling. She handles some very heavy topics – racism, rape, sexuality, slavery – but with such compelling stories that the subject matter won’t weigh you down, although it retains the necessary gravitas.

Dawn (1987, VGSF edition) is the first in the Xenogenesis trilogy, which was later renamed Lilith’s Brood. I’ve got the Grand Central edition of the series, containing Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago. All good books, although I have to admit they feel very similar. Parable of the Sower (1993, Aspect edition) is about a young empath in a post-apocalyptic world and she’s developing a new faith called Earthseed with the principle that “God is change”. Kindred (1979, Beacon Press) is my favourite of Butler’s novels. It’s about a black woman, Dana, in present-day America who keeps getting pulled back in time to the antebellum South. It becomes apparent that she time-travels whenever she has to save the life of a boy (later man) named Rufus, the son of a white slave-owner. Rufus is actually Dana’s ancestor, so if she doesn’t save him she won’t exist. But her other ancestor from this time is a black woman, and Dana isn’t sure what kind of relationship the two of them will have, and what cruelty she might have to condone if she wants to exist.


Then there are my two Lauren Beukes novels:

I was lucky enough to get them both autographed at the Joburg Book Fair last year;

Both are Jacana editions, and both have awesome covers, especially Zoo City‘s, which won a BSFA award. And of course the novel itself recently won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award. I hadn’t even heard about a new Lauren Beukes novel when Zoo City  came out last year, but when I saw it on the African fiction shelf at Exclusive Books her name and that amazing artwork on the cover sold it to me. Admittedly, I didn’t like it as much as I did her debut, Moxyland (2008), which was my very first taste of South African speculative fiction. Like lots of South Africans, I’d come to think of our fiction as only ever being about (post-)apartheid politics and social relations. In other words, no matter how important, no matter how well-written, no matter how gritty and realistic its portrayal of life in South Africa, I wouldn’t have a good time reading it, although I might get forced to do so at school or varsity. Moxyland completely defied that dreary stereotype by being a cool, edgy, amazing read.