A More Diverse Universe (#diversiverse for short) is the brainchild of Aarti at BookLust to get everyone reading books by authors of color. Originally it was books of speculative fiction by authors of color, but this year books in all genres count towards the challenge. After reading Kindred by Octavia Butler last year, I had planned on reading Parable of the Sower this year, but decided to buy Lilith’s Brood instead, and only ended up having time to read the first book, Dawn, which leaves Adulthood Rites and Imago left to go.
Here’s how the author herself describes the novel, Dawn, in an NPR essay:
Several years ago I wrote a novel called Dawn in which extra-solar aliens arrive, look us over, and inform us that we have a pair of characteristics that together constitute a fatal flaw. We are, they admit, intelligent, and that’s fine. But we are also hierarchical, and our hierarchical tendencies are older and all too often, they drive our intelligence-that is, they drive us to use our intelligence to try to dominate one another.
As she does in Kindred, published in 1979, in Dawn, published in 1987, the author explores humanity’s characteristics and behavior, especially in captivity and with beings who are different — different in sex, color, language, or even species.
Sadly, Octavia Butler died in 2006 at the age of 58. She was an African-American, female writer of science fiction, which made her unusual. Her books landed on reading lists for Gender Studies and African-American Studies programs, as well as winning the prestigious Hugo (twice). Her obituary in the New York Times mentions that she was something of a loner, and always felt herself to be different from others. This is a quote from the obituary:
“When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read,” Ms. Butler told The New York Times in 2000. “The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”
There is a spaceship, extraterrestrials, and some really weird stuff in Dawn, but I would compare it more to The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell than to space opera science fiction. Dawn is really about human beings, and speculates about how different human beings might respond to highly unusual circumstances and the loss of their earthly home.