Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Octavia Butler, June 22, 1947-February 24, 2006, zikhronah livrakhah

She was one of my heroes. She wrote the real stuff, the stuff that shakes you, gently but deeply, leaves you different than you were going in.

I came to CW 2001 largely because she would be teaching (the first week!) and I was not disappointed. She had an enormous grace and dignity and power. It wasn't the power of personality -- you could tell that, as a personality, she'd just as well say nothing. You could tell how quiet and introverted she was, but she spoke, for us. She wasn't like me -- I talk your ear off, out of a sense of entitlement -- it occurs to me only belatedly, upon reflection, that you might have something else to do than listen. Octavia spoke, as far as I could tell, out of a sense of honor and courage -- she could see that no one else was going to be able to say what she had to say the way she could, and she was too much of a mensch to turn away from her duty.

She was wickedly funny in a dry way that you could miss if you weren't paying attention. She was unfailingly courteous and kind. I think Brad Denton (2nd week) found us a little wild at times, Nalo (3rd week) found us almost sufficiently wild, and Connie Willis (4th week) would holler at us, in her fifth-grade-teacher voice, to "Settle Down!" -- but we didn't pull anything with Octavia, I can tell you. Not because we imagined that she would chide us (she wouldn't have) nor because we thought she might be wounded (ha! like we could wound her!), but because her dignity filled the room. You had the sense of what a crime it was to waste this life, to waste whatever God had given you.

In critique, she was both unfailingly gentle and principledly ruthless. Again you got the sense of two Octavias speaking -- the ordinary one, who knew acutely what it was to feel pain, and wished you not an ounce -- and the extraordinary one, the outsized courage and wisdom and skill that had grown in her by virtue of her being unwilling to refuse it, unwilling to shut up about it, and which would speak.

She said things that were short and true. About my first story, "Embracing-the-New", she said, "I wouldn't change this too much", and she was right -- I did change it too much, and eventually had to change it back. About my career, she said, "it's time for you to write novels," and she's still right, and I'm still trying to get there. I could use your courage, Octavia.

I'm so sorry I'll never see her again. I was always hoping I would.

Goodbye, my hero.

Crossposted from the Clarion West alumni forum.

cf. wikipedia, obit

Comments (1)   permalink

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sales and Translations

The Library of Congress reading was cool. (Thanks to Matt Hulan for reminding me to bring a hand mirror to deflect the lasers shot by the eyes of the robotic guardian shark-dogs -- worked like a charm).

Hmm, you know, given that this is supposed to be some kind of writing blog, I am not very good about posting the actual, you know, writing stuff.

Recent stuff:

  • I sold "A Siege of Cranes" to Twenty Epics. If, by some bizarre chance, you were reading this blog in January of 2001 (when it was an "online journal", since I'd never heard the word "blog"), you may remember this story. That's right, I worked on that freaking thing for five years, and it went through umpteen major revisions -- the last, and among the most ambitious, after I'd already sold it, at Dave Moles's gentle prodding. I'm pretty excited that it finally found a home.

    It's interesting to re-read that old entry and see what I was working on then -- it makes me wonder, in part, if I shouldn't perhaps be less cagey about what I'm working on now, except that I've noticed that I tend to get skittish about finishing things I've talked up in public. The two stories I was setting aside at the time, I've never picked up again yet -- as stories. But in both cases, the backstory got reused in a totally different context. The Amra story was set in a world of symbionts which later became the backdrop to "Embracing-the-New"; and the setting to "The Trouble with Danny" (which I hope still to get back to someday) got reused in "Falling" (that link, alas, will now only work if you have an account with Nature; if you're at a university or federal agency, you can go ahead and click it, otherwise, not so much). Nice to know my confidence in the process was justified -- re-use, revise, recycle...

  • I also sold "The House Beyond Your Sky" to Strange Horizons. I am, it goes without saying, extremely pleased to once again appear in SH, as they are my peeps. I'm also very fond of the story, which is set so far in the future that it makes "Droplet" look like historical fiction: the stars have all gone out, and the remaining mass in the universe is being scattered by quintessence in a Big Freeze; it's the first SF story I've seen inspired by Dyson's eternal intelligence hypothesis, though I'm sure there are others. In being a hard-physics eschatological tale, it's similar in spirit to Ken Wharton's wonderful Aloha, although, since that is set at the midpoint of a Big Crunch, mine takes place much later, so nyaah. (I wonder if it's in the top ten latest-set SF stories of all time?)
  • A number of translations are in the works:

    I love getting translated. Along with hearing audio versions of my stories, seeing them in other languages is the bomb -- particularly for languages which I can more or less follow (it helps when you know what it's supposed to say). Along with the existing Spanish, Japanese, Croatian, Bulgarian, French, and Rumanian translations of various stories, that makes ten languages. Whee!

Comments (3)   permalink

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Library of Congress Reading

The Librarians have called.

I'm reading at the Library of Congress at lunchtime on Friday:

Friday, February 24, 2006, 12:10pm
Pickford Theater, Third Floor, Madison Building

The actual reading will be about 30 minutes, with, I gather, some signing of books or chatting afterwards, or something.

The Madison Building is across from the Capitol South metro station at the corner of 1st & C streets. Not far from Union Station. Detailed directions here.

What will I read? Some of the Other Cities, I think, and some of the zeppelin story?

I don't think I've ever been to the Library of Congress. I like to think it will be like Borges's library, or like the library in "Magic for Beginners", demon-filled, incarnate, and with its own pirate TV show.

Hope to see you all there.

Comments (0)   permalink

Monday, February 6, 2006



  1. The Singularity will come thirty years from now, for any given value of "now"
  2. Mastery is a function of intimacy with failure
    • "We are all in Hell and there is no way out" is not repulsive.
    • "Foolish, well-meaning people may go to Hell simply by inattention to their relationship with God" is not repulsive.
    • Only "foolish, well-meaning people may go to Hell simply by inattention to their relationship with God, but so what? We're okay" is repulsive.
  3. Safety third! 1

1: Burning Man saying, via Glynda Cotton

Comments (34)   permalink