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May/June 2021
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Survivor, by Octavia E. Butler (1978)

In 1976, author Octavia E. Butler began her novel-writing career with The Patternmaster, a book that served as an introduction to the Patternist series. According to Butler's biographer, Gerry Canavan, though Survivor was her first completed manuscript, it was her third book published. Two years later she published Survivor, the third entry in the series and a book that Butler later disowned.

Once referring to the book's plot as resembling a Star Trek episode, she took Survivor out of circulation in 1981. Out-of-print for forty years, it now sells for hundreds of dollars online, but can also be bought on PDF.

The plot centered on "wild" Earth girl Alanna, a mixed Black and Asian teenager who was almost killed while stealing food from a group of Missionaries. She was adopted by a couple from the sect. Treated as though she was "one of them," Alanna still felt like the Other, which intensified a few years later when she began a relationship with Diut, a furry blue rebel alien determined to be free. In the process, he also helped Alanna's adopted people become emancipated, though they treat Diut with contempt and distrust.

Sometimes Butler's tale drifted into telling rather showing, substituting action with dialogue, but it's still a solid novel. However, while she might've thought Survivor was juvenile, it was actually quite smart, as Butler closely examined subjects that included race, class, colonialism, drug abuse, and domestic violence. Though she was not officially a member of science fiction's "new wave" that was textually raging in the 1960s and 1970s, the influence of her former teachers Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany was evident in her early works.

Throughout Survivor, Butler's radical voice and vision was strong, hinting at the literary genius that was to come.

Michael A. Gonzales

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