Specular Reflections
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Thoughts on Life, Science, Writing and the Universe at Large

Friday, March 03, 2006
On Octavia Butler's Passing

February was Black History month, which fact was duly noted in my college campus paper. Sadly among the African-American luminaries they mentioned, one name was conspicuous by its absence: Octavia Butler, who died this year in late February. One of the greatest science fiction writers, who happened to be black. And female. The only writer in the field to win a MacArthur Foundation Genius grant. One of the pioneers who deepened and extended the reach of science fiction with her depictions of race, gender and otherness in general. In other words, one of those who (like Ursula K. Le Guin) made it a little easier for people like me.

(A related point: I don't know how many Indians realize the debt they owe to African-Americans and to the civil rights movement. I mean, can you imagine one of us coming here before the 1960's? We'd be drinking from water fountains marked "colored persons" and be shown carefully to the back doors of hotels. We'd be told how strange and exotic we are --- oh wait, that still happens. But you get the picture.)

I remember meeting Octavia Butler at one of the local SF conventions --- my favorite one, Readercon, where she was chief guest some years ago. I had only recently discovered her, and been blown away by such works as Wildseed and the Parable books. I remember finding her in the hallway in the middle of a crowd, and saying something inane and awestruck about how much I had enjoyed her books. She gave me a gracious reply, after which I couldn't (in my wide-eyed fan mode) find anything else to say (although plenty of questions occured to me later). She gave an impression of largeness, not only in physical terms (she was a big, tall woman) but also in terms of generosity and intellect. I heard later that she was also very shy.

It is a great loss, to lose her at such a relatively young age. What else might she have written? We shall never know. But that she will continue to inspire others, to make science fiction a place where marginalized people like women, including melaninized ones, can feel at home --- of that there is no doubt. Octavia, wherever you are, thank you.

posted by Vandana 11:04 PM
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Currently I am recovering from feeling sick to my stomach, metaphorically and literally. George Bush has been visiting India.

I am thinking of that poem by Sahir that has the lines:

Yeh sarzamin hai Gautam ki aur Nanak ki
Iss arze-pak pe vahshi na chal sakenge kabhi...

This is the land of Gautam and Nanak
On this pure soil no monsters will walk...

Sadly we have enough of our own monsters, but now there's George. The thought of this war-monger laying flowers on the Gandhi Samadhi at Rajghat makes my stomach turn. The nuclear dirty-dealing is sickening too, and I can't but condemn the Indian government for the line it is taking. I can hardly bear to read US media on the subject of the visit either. Of course there is the usual sudden discovery of India, as though we never existed before Bush got there. Then there are the high approval ratings that Indians apparently gave the US (and by implication, Bush). 60 to 70%! What garbage! Everyone I know at home is disgusted by current US foreign policy. I wonder how they took a representative sample of such a vast and diverse country to get this figure. One billion people still mostly in the rural areas, scattered between metropolises and small towns, in plains, deserts and high mountains. Did the poll-takers go into the villages? Did they ask grandmothers and college students, harried housewives and rickshaw-wallahs?

One does not have to be Muslim or Communist to be disgusted by Bush. (Some of his greatest critics in my circle are Jewish friends). The lying over the Iraq war, the continued destructon of that country and loss of American and Iraqi lives for nothing but greed over oil, the suppression of civil liberties here in the U.S. --- you'd think there would be a huge public outcry by now. My American friends say that opposition is rising here, that people are fed up with the lies. I hope that is true, because the path we are on in this world is not a safe one. Bush and his cohorts are either phenomenally stupid or stupendously evil, or some diabolical combination of the two.

In the same poem, Sahir goes on to say, rather presciently:

Kaho ki aaj bhi ham agar khamosh rahen
To iss damakte hue khakdan ki khair nahin
Junoon ki dhali hui atomi balaon se
Zamin ki khair nahin, aasman ki khair nahin...


Guzashta jang mein paikar hi jale magar iss bar
Ajab nahin ki parchhaiyan bhi jal jaayen.

Say this, that if today, again we remain silent
Then it is not well for the world
Atom bombs rained down in war
Do not bode well for Earth and Sky.

In the last war, bodies burned, but this time
It will not be strange if shadows burn as well...

posted by Vandana 10:31 PM
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