Author: Octavia E. Butler
Original Publication: 1979
Octavia Butler’s “Kindred” is a science fiction novel very light on the science fiction and is a better story because of it. I happen to be a HUGE fan of fantasy and science fiction, but it is well known that those genres lack diverse authors and protagonists. That is why Octavia Butler is such an important literary figure. So even though “Kindred” is not the kind of high and expansive science fiction I prefer, it is wonderfully refreshing to see people of color lead a time travel story.
The reason for the time traveling throughout the novel is simple. Dana, our protagonist, is sent back in time from her comfortable California life in 1976 to periods in the 19th century before the Civil War because she must save the life of a white ancestor, a man without whom she cannot exist in the future. This white ancestor, Rufus Weylin, is an imbecile and gets into a lot trouble that usually endangers his life. All we know is that Dana travels to the past whenever Rufus is in danger, but it is never explained how . It just happens and the plot moves on. Fortunately, the story has several memorable characters, scenes, and messages to share for one to forget about its science-fiction shortcomings.
Aside from the time traveling, this novel reads like a gripping and brutal story about the horrors of slavery. It’s fascinating to see Butler’s take on how two modern Americans would react to living in antebellum Maryland. Then one comes to the horrific realization that, of course, two people who know the course of history and deeply reject the views of the time–even these people can learn to live within systematic racism and slavery because they have no choice. It is in the air, the soil, the water and nothing will change it until a bloody revolution does.
“Kindred” is only my first foray in to exploring the worlds of Octavia E. Butler. I hear that “The Parable of the Sower” is also excellent, so I am eager to read more. If you haven’t read any of Butler’s work, I’d say this is solid place to begin.