On Thursday, my class and I discussed Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild.” Butler, one of the premier sci-fi writer’s of the last fifty years, died last year at the age of 58, quite unexpectedly. I think I speak for those of us who were looking forward to another 25 years of her writing when I say I’m still not over it. We nonetheless have “Bloodchild,” a story about a boy on an alien world where humans coexist with a species called the Tlic–giant centipede-wasp creatures. The Tlic have developed a relationship with humans that requires some of us to incubate their eggs inside our bodies in exchange for a limited political freedom. Butler compares the Tlic to botflies, and I think of them as ichneumon wasps. The story is creepy from beginning to end, as it combines the chest-bursting grossness of Alien with the politics of colonialism, rape, and slavery. Butler, in classic fashion, complains that it’s not a slave narrative, but a love story.
All of this is to say that the story generated the kind of classroom conversation that ecocritics long for: in 75 minutes, we discussed symbiosis, commensalism, and parasitism: male pregnancy; the politics of Indian “domestic dependent nations“; and the consequences of living in a world where humans are not the lords of nature. If this is the sort of thing you want, I can’t recommend Butler in general, and “Bloodchild” in particular, too highly. For folks looking to teach a longer work, Butler is also the author of the Xenogenesis trilogy, which takes place after an alien race has saved humanity from a nuclear war, only to demand a high price for survival.
Rock on, Octavia.