Survivor: Octavia Butler’s “Star Trek” Book

Readers, it’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been reading and thinking, but sometimes it’s hard to sit down and get the words out. Lucky for you, my blog got a face-lift and you get a post on a rare, Octavia Butler novel: Survivor

Originally published in 1978, Butler was later so unhappy with the book, that Survivor is one the only book that Butler refused to allow to be republished. She said in an interview with Amazon.com:

When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way. They were a little sly, or a little like “the natives” in a very bad, old movie. And I thought, “No way. Apart from all these human beings populating the galaxy, this is really offensive garbage.” People ask me why I don’t like Survivor, my third novel. And it’s because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel (Source).

I think this is important, and while I see Butler’s point in regard to how “the natives” are viewed as being “less than” their human counterparts, I think Butler does a great job of showing us deeply flawed humans who only think they are superior to the native population. The story surrounds Alanna, a human of mixed Black and Asian ancestry and three groups: The Missionaries, a group of humans who have escaped Earth on a Clayark ship, the Tehkohn and the Garkohn, two factions of the warring Kohn species. The Kohn are a furred species who have a natural hierarchy based on the color of their fur. Their fur changes color based on emotion or for communication.

The story surrounds Alanna as she moves between the three groups, trying to make peace but there are some really important underlying themes that I think are worth mentioning. There’s transracial and transspecies adoption and I think that this is a way in which Butler makes the humans extremely flawed. Even though they are on an Alien world and have escaped from mental slavery at the hand of Patternists, they’re still pretty racist. Before the story beginning Alanna’s parents are killed by wild Clayarks, and the white humans who adopt her declare her an outcast because she’s of mixed background. On the one hand when reading this, I had a knee jerk “but it’s the future that shouldn’t matter”, but then I remember that it’s 2017 and yeah, I can believe it.

The human’s view the Garkohn and the Tehkohn as being barbaric and uncivilized, and while both have their own class systems based off of fur-coloring and profession, all are viewed as necessary. Their treatment of Alanna is very interesting in this regard, while physically she is othered she’s still able to work and live among them and gain levels of trust and status. This brings up the second theme that I think Butler executed very well: Assimilation. While assimilation might not be something a lot of people think about, Ihink that it’s something we all do. This could be something as simple as code-switching when talking to family or like Alanna does, fully immersing yourself into the culture. Learning everything you can, working side-by-side and living as one of them. This isn’t to say that Alanna doesn’t experience discrimination because she’s human, but she is allowed a level of autonomy, acceptance and respect that the humans don’t give her.

While Alanna doesn’t fall into the stereotype of the ever-sacrificing black woman, she does sacrifice a lot to save the Missionaries, the only thing she refuses to sacrifice is her own happiness, which leads to her ultimate rejection.

Overall, I think this is a very well nuanced work of art and while it isn’t my favorite of her work, I think it’s definitely an important part of African-American Science Fiction and Afro-Futurism.

2015 In Review

2015 has been an amazing year – even if it hasn’t been as well reflected in my blog. I’ve almost, ALMOST hit my goal of 50 non-school related reads for the year, but with only a few weeks remaining I decided I should start my year in review post now.

The Personal:

Big news for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Livejournal, I got engaged on July 4th! So a lot of the time I would have spent updating this blog has been spent wedding planning. Who am I kidding, I’m terrible at keeping this thing updated. Maybe my goal for next year will be fifty blog posts in a year.

Blogging for me is a multi-fold sneaky hate spiral, full of “why am I writing about this, no one cares” and “you should really be doing something like homework, or housework”. I think my goal for 2016 should be to blog for the same reasons I read, personal fulfillment. Anyways, on to the books!

The Books:

I read books differently now, it’s very evident that my year of reading books by authors of color really impacted how I select books to read and how representation really does matter to me in my enjoyment of a book. While I still don’t read a lot of non-fiction, the non-fiction I did read was thought provoking.

I’m also a member of several book clubs, the student group that I’m president of has a monthly book club, a Facebook based one called Bookretorts, and Reading Between the Wines, which have also impacted the books I’ve read this year.

Next year my friend Alana and I are doing Survivor: An Octavia E. Butler Book Club (message me for details).

Best Books:

Americanah by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie

While the book focuses on the relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze what I loved about it was the fact that it was unapologetically black. Ifemelu has relationships like I’ve had, goes to the hair salon and has similar experiences to what I have, and writes a blog that I’d read in a heartbeat. I’ve recommended this book to so many women (especially black women) because in addition to being well written it really has a level of heart, soul and passion that I related to.

Earlier this year I’d read Purple Hibiscus and I was amazed at how the dialog and verbiage changes so drastically between the books. It made me realize how skilled an author Adichie is, in Purple Hibiscus  the dialog seems stilted because the characters are, Americanah is silk because Ifemelu and Obinze are.

Overall Rating: 5/5

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I joke that one day when my life has settled down I’m going to read nothing for a year but Margaret Atwood books. The Heart Goes Last reminds me of why I say that. The characters are engaging, even if they aren’t always likable (I’m looking at you Stan)  – but Atwood manages to make characters that are like that so well. You root for them to win, but also to get knocked down a few pegs.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by John Krakauer

One of my favorite things about Krakauer is that his non-fiction books still read as a novel – a depressing novel – but I knew that going into it. This is a hard book to read especially when you realize that Missoula isn’t an oddity, it’s the norm. In December of 2014 the Department of Justice released a report that estimates 110,000 women between the ages of 18 and 24 are raped each year, Krakauer explores a few cases in Missoula that I feel demonstrate why women can be so hesitant to step forward.

Stephen King – Finders Keepers and The Library Policeman

I like Stephen King as a person, and I honestly liked this book more than Mr. Mercedes. The writing is strong, the characters are likable. Though I feel like Jerome and his alter-ego “Tyrone Feelgood Delite” is the unfortunate result of someone showing Stephen King the Urban Dictionary entry for Code-Switching. I’m not saying that young black men don’t code-switch , I’m just saying it didn’t ring true to me, a person who actually does code-switch.

The Library Policeman however is King in the creepy-zone. It’s an older work, from his Three Past Midnight collection but I hadn’t read it before. Just ok, not my favorite but I think that when I want creepy I’m more likely to turn to King’s son, Joe Hill and stick to King for his sagas like The Dark Tower series.

Coming Up:

Christmas with the soon to be in-laws! Nostalgia Reads: My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews, and “books I missed when I was a kid” featuring Alanna: The First Adventure.

 

January – September Book Round Up

2015 January to September Book Round Up

Warning, this post contains Harry Potter Spoilers, if you haven’t read them, what’s wrong with you?

2015 had been the year of the reread. Knowing that I’d be visiting Scotland in March of 2015 I decided to start rereading Harry Potter back in December. I hadn’t reread Harry Potter so it was a fun experience, especially when you know that in a few months you’ll be at Kings Cross. It took FOREVER, and reading Harry Potter as an adult compared to the young teenager I was when I first started reading the series is very different. But I’ll be honest, you can read a lot of Harry Potter reviews and so all I’ll say only the few things:

  • Severus Snape is as romantic as Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, so not at ALL.
  • Severus Snape shouldn’t be allowed around children, his treatment of Neville Longbottom and Harry Potter should have ended in a call to the Ministry of Magical Child Welfare.
  • Molly Weasley and Minerva McGonagall are the best adult characters.
  • Nymphadora Tonks is a seriously underrated character.
  • The death of Fred Weasley impacted me more than I thought. I wanted to put the book down because I knew it was coming, but yeah, I cried and I’m not ashamed of that.

There are however, some books I’ve read this year that I am kind of ashamed to admit that I’ve read.

Title: Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth and Christopher’s Diary: Echos of Dollanganger

Author: V.C. Andrews

Rating: 2/5 for both

These books are bad. I wasn’t expecting much, it’s V.C. Andrews’ after all but after the success of the Lifetime movie versions of Flowers in the Attic, Petals on the Wind, and If There Be Thorns, I wanted to give the new books put out by the ghost writer a chance. The Christopher’s Diary books show just how disconnected from what the Ghostwriter would probably call “kids today” while complaining about how music today doesn’t compare. The writing style is fine, but the verbiage is very “kids don’t talk like that”. I wanted a lot more dirt than is actually included but I have to remind myself that in Flowers in the Attic had very little sex in it.

The ARCS:

I attended the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference in Chicago and one of the really amazing thing is that as a library affiliate you can get books before they are published to read and review.

Title: Finding Jake

Author: Bryan Reardon

Rating: 3/5

I liked this book, it reminded me of We Need to Talk About Kevin for obvious reasons and honestly I think the signage at Midwinter even reference Shriver’s book. It focuses on the relationship of Jake’s parents before and after a school shooting but it seemed emotionally empty, that may have been the point but it didn’t feel like I was reading about love that had changed and faded, that I was instead reading about one that existed between two people with the emotional range of teaspoons. I wanted it to be We Need to Talk About Kevin and it wasn’t.

Title: Pretty Baby

Author: Mary Kubica

Rating: 4/5

This book is not Gone Girl but I feel like it maybe got published because of the popularity of Gone Girl. That said, I actually liked this book a lot, it was well written, gripping and heavy – but not mind bending. The point-of-view changes can be jarring but overall I liked this book and will check out more by Kubica.

The Series:

I’m not counting Harry Potter or the Christopher’s Diary books.

Title: Smoke

Author: Ellen Hopkins

Rating: 3/5

When I read Burned a few years ago I didn’t expect a sequel and I don’t think Hopkins ever expected to write one. It continues the story of Pattyn Von Stratten and her sister Jackie after the murder of their father. Pattyn is on the run and Jackie is consumed with guilt. It’s written in Hopkins standard prose style and by now I’m starting to wonder if she’s capable of writing in a different style. The story is engaging, sad but not unusual for Hopkins. It’s a safe read if you’ve liked others by her.

Title: Just One Night

Author: Gayle Forman

Rating: 4/5

This was one of the first books I read of 2015 as I read it during the snow storm that hit ALA Midwinter in Chicago. This novella is a companion to Just for Day and its sequel Just for One year. It follows Allyson and Willem as they find each other again. It’s not as magical as the first two books in the series and seems like it lacks emotion, but hey, I was in a pretty bleak emotional place when I read it so I’ll admit I might be biased. It works a lot on coincidence, she as here then, he was here then, they were both here when, etc, but it works well for this type of book.

Title: Fairest:

Author: Marissa Meyer

Rating: 4/5

I want Winter to be published NOW. I read this on a plane to Arizona and while it helped satisfy my desire to finish the Lunar Chronicles it did not sate it at ALL. I like the idea of getting to understand how Levana has become the woman she has, to understand the hurt that she feels. But I feel like this trend of getting to know the “bad” guy is getting stagnant and I really wanted it to get back to the main story. I can’t wait for Winter to come out though.

The European Reads:

Technically I read Pretty Baby while I was in Scotland but since it’s an ARC I’m counting it there:

Title: Aftermath

Author: Levar Burton

Rating: 3/5

So I really like Levar Burton, so much so that I’m trying to figure out how to send him a wedding invitation. That said, I liked Aftermath, you can really feel the influence of Octavia Butler on his writing style and the story idea. It was like reading a side novel to the Parable series that she wrote. Disturbing, engaging, and kept me entertained the first few hours of my loooooooong flight to Edinburgh.

Title: And the Mountain’s Echoed

Author: Khaled Hosseini

Rating: 3/5

I’m not going to lie, I finished reading this book in a hotel room in London. The room was a 4th floor walkup that my friend and I got for a steal. It was a good read – but not my favorite Hosseini book. It was lighter than the other two books of his that I’ve read. That said, I was able to see Hosseini talk as the 2015 McFadden Lecturer and he was amazing. Answered a lot of interesting questions and seemed like an amazing guy.

The Best:

 Title: Americanah

Author: Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rating: 7/5

Yes, you read that right, I rated a book higher than my out of five scale. This is one of the best books I’ve read, hands down. I recently finished reading the short We Should All Be Feminists but Americanah is one of the best books I’d read in the last five years. Adichie manages to be about so little but so much. The observations she makes in the blog are really apt and it was a really excellent book to read.

Title: This is How You Lose Her

Author: Junot Diaz

Rating: 5/5

I really loved this collection of short stories. Diaz manages to make this book about different characters but all are relatable (but not necessarily likeable). He’s probably one of my favorite “new” authors. I like his writing style and I liked this book a lot.

The Oddity of 2015:

 I’ve dubbed this year “the year of the reread” because I addition to Harry Potter, I’ve reread several favorites such as Beloved by Toni Morrison, Stardust by Neil Gaiman and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I’m a big re-reader of books but this year was probably one where I reread the most books when I had access to a library. I still plan on doing “The Year of Atwood”, a year in which I rearead my favorite works by Margaret Atwood. I’ve had a lot go on in both my academic and personal life, most of it good.

So what’s coming up: More book reviews (I always promise this but really I mean it), some non-fiction about my life and where I am career-wise.  It’s October 5th and I read 40 of my 50 book goals for 2015, so expect at least 10 more posts.

Coming Up: Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, Game of Thrones and me trying to get through my ALA Midwinter Arcs.

Google and its Dominance in my Sources

Gstrein, S., & Muhlberger, G. (2011). Producing eBooks on Demand: A European Library Network. In K. Price, & V. Havergal, eBooks in Libraries: A Practical Guide (pp. 37-52). London: Facet Publishing.

Gstrein and Muhlberger’s section on Producing eBooks on demand was an interesting project where users could request an “ebook on demand”. While this appears to have simply been a scanned version of a book many users found the service to be good, however many 30% felt the price was high for the material. Because many of the users in my target audience are those that like ebooks because of the “instant” nature, it’s interesting to look at a service like this because while you could get an electronic version, it could take quite a while, and unlike traditional ebooks for public libraries, it wasn’t free.

Price, K. (2011). eBooks for Free: Finding, Creating and Managing Freely Available Texts. In K. Price, & V. Havergal, eBooks in Libraries: A Practical Guide (pp. 53-70). London: Facet Publishing.

Price actually manages to bring it all back to Jeanneney by talking about if Google Books would be the ultimate library. She points out the conflict between Google, a for profit company and libraries such as Harvard University Library, New York Public Library, Stanford University Library are working to make their collections available for free. But I think that there’s an upside to all of these different entities doing “the same” work. Each is done with the same intent, to preserve information and to make it available to the masses. And realistically speaking I think that’s the end goal.

Darnton, R. (2009). The Case For Books: Past, Present and Future. New York: PublicAffairs.

One of the things I find interesting about research is the whole, rabbit hole aspect of it. You start out on a specific topic and find yourself immersed in a book about the case for books. I do however think this is relevant because I hear too often when people point out that things are online, so there isn’t a need for printed books or public libraries. I tend to laugh in those people’s faces. Like Jeanneney and Price, Google is brought up and its plans for literary domination are discussed. More than that though, Darnton discusses the copyright case Authors Guild, Inc. vs Google, Inc. However the book was published in 2009 so it doesn’t reflect that the case was dismissed in 2013.

Some More Bibliographic Information

Jeanneney, J.-N. (2007). Google And the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View From Europe. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Jeanneney’s Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View From Europe was an interesting read because while it initially comes across as slightly nationalist, I feel that he does raise some very interesting points. Jeanneney is concerned about Google being a single point depositary for information and knowledge, a concern I’ve seen in my other readings. He worries that English will become the default language that items are stored in digitally and that as a result of that, culture will be lost. Reading about this in conjunction with visiting National Libraries was really eye opening because while they are making a point to reserve books that relate to their national heritage, they are also preserving items of cultural significance. It’s really amazing to think about the cultural impact of things like, London Bridge have on people.

It really made me think more about two topics that keep coming up in my studies, the role of the information professional as a knowledge gatekeeper and trying to determine (as Buckland does so many times) what information is. I completely agree that London Bridge is information, but more than that, the impact that London Bridge has because it exists is also information.

Fleet, C. (2012). New Developments in Acessing and Viewing Online Maps at the National Library of Scotland. International Preservation, 13-19.

This article was great to read after Jeanneney’s Myth of Google because it brings up the importance of multiple sources of collection and curating data. In this article Fleet discusses a collaborative effort between the National Library of Scotland, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, and the National Records of Scotland to create an online portal. This portal uses historical information to display maps similar to those currently used by Google Maps and Yahoo Maps for different periods of time.

It allows for a better user experience and for users to interact with historic geographic maps. The georeferencing of historical maps is HUGE think about it: you’d be able to create a time lapse of a specific street address and see changes to it over years. It allows for “improved retrieval and user interfaces . . . but also better understanding of maps by analyzing their geometrical properties and the ability to compare and overlay with other maps and special data” (Fleet, 2012, p. 15).So this portal allows users to put in an address or location in Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and Belgium and see what has been there at different periods of time.

It’s a great combination of collaboration and cultural history that I think would make Jeanneney proud.

Getting Lost at the British Library

Well, not so much “getting lost” as “buying tickets for the wrong day because in a hurry”. And rushing there (and spending £5 on a taxi) and really just feeling kind of stupid, but it was okay. Partially because they let you do self-guided tours and because that was the only real “bad” thing to happen on my trip. Not to mention I now have a story to tell that I think is hilarious.

I have to admit that I’ve never actually visited The Library of Congress here, but it’s totally on my bucket list but I think that’s the closest we here in America have as far as a national library. It was really interesting to see and compare two different National Libraries (The National Library of Scotland and the British Library). Both are non-lending libraries so you’d think that they’d have similar issues with patronage, but when I was at the British Library it was PACKED. The café and common rooms were full, people were using laptops, looking at materials in the reading room. Granted I was at the British Library on a Thursday in the late afternoon as opposed to early on a Monday morning so I think that likely had a lot to do with the difference. Plus it’s literally right down the street from the King’s Cross Station so I think the proximity to everything helped.

The British Library has a strict no-photos allowed rule so I wasn’t able to take photographs but the collection is breathtaking. Unfortunately I wasn’t as lucky as I was with the National Library of Scotland because I showed myself around but I did read their 2013 – 2014 Annual Report which lists their major goals for 2014 – 2015 and the one I found most interesting is Number 3: Support research communities in key areas for social and economic benefit.

They focused on inspiring and enabling entrepreneurs by focusing on an Entrepreneurship week and holding an Inspiring Entrepreneurs series of events. I think this is extremely important and a great way for libraries that don’t offer lending services to still be involved in the community as a whole.


British Library. (2015). British Library Annual Report and Accounts 2013/14. London: British Library.

Days 4 -6: The London Adventure

Those that know me well know that I’m not really a morning person, but I’m not sure if it was the time change, the sense of adventure, but most mornings I was up and having a cup of tea by 7:30am. This worked out well for our London adventure as we got up extra early to catch the train to London. This was going to be great, we had tickets for a tour of the British National Library (more on that later) and I was going to see so many literary things. It’s amazing to think that in just a few hours you can get from one country to another in just a few hours. The early morning train ride was filled with sleepy passengers but my view was either of the book I was reading The Case for Books: Past Present and Future, or outside looking at the changing countryside. It was amazing to see the different level of architecture that exists there. There are parts that are very modern, but I saw lots of small cottages that looked like they had been there for hundreds of years. Tons of sheep too, granted I live in Indiana so seeing sheep/llamas/cows isn’t uncommon if you are driving in the countryside. It was very much the same as America, and yet very different. I loved it.

So on a side note (I promise, it’s related) if you follow me on GoodReads you might have noticed that over the last few months I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter books on CD in my car. I read the Harry Potter books when they first came out but this is my first time going back and starting at the start of the series. Why is this important? Because when we took the train in we arrive at London’s King’s Cross Station. Home to Platform 9 ¾ – also known as “Where you catch the train to Hogwarts”. Needless to say I kind of geeked out, embarrassing Brandi and our friend Jenny quite a bit. But I REGRET NOTHING.

London was so much fun.

 

What I saw:

Big Ben
The Houses of Parliament
The Canada Gates
The Queen Victoria Memorial
The Shard
London Bridge
The Globe Theatre
And Buckingham Palace – where to my amusement the Royal Mail was there delivering, well, the Royal Mail.

Where I ate:

Honest Burgers in London, I honestly can’t recommend them enough. They were so good we ate their twice, on the first day we were in London and on the last day were in London (and I’ve been craving it since). They had a fantastic veggie fritter burger and the fries, oh my god the fries were so good. Brandi has Celiacs so she can’t consume gluten and she was able to get a burger on a delicious gluten free bun. Both the fries and onion rings are gluten free.

The Truscott Arms in Maida Vale. Brandi had done her research and they had gluten free fish and chips so we used our trusty oyster cards and headed out there. I got a really good caprese salad with pesto.

And a bunch of other little places.


British Library. (2015). British Library Annual Report and Accounts 2013/14. London: British Library.