If it wasn’t for Octavia Butler…

If it wasn’t for Octavia Butler, I would not know my friend Coby, a deep thinker, a gifted artist, and a good soul. We met on the 545 over a year ago. I noticed him because he was a fellow brown person (not especially common on that route) and because he was reading an Octavia Butler novel a mere two weeks after I had finished Parable of the Sower, my first exposure to Butler. I struck up a conversation with Coby and discovered that he was an MFA-student-turned-video-game-script-writer who had also chosen to live a car-free life. We have had a bus friendship ever since.

Coby and I don’t ride the same bus to work anymore, but we have done a reasonable job of staying in touch. Almost every time we get together, the subject turns to Ms. Butler and our mutual admiration of her work. Last Monday morning, when I heard that she died, he was one of the first people I thought of. Sure enough, before the end of the day, he sent me an e-mail, expressing his surprise and grief. I am sorry for both of us that there won’t be any new work to discuss.

If it wasn’t for Octavia Butler, I would not have expanded my narrow (somewhat snobbish) view of science fiction. For most of my life, I thought of science fiction as cheesy, formula pseudo-literature, filled with spaceships and aliens and written for 13-year old boys. But Butler’s work, some of the most thought-provoking social commentary I have ever read, shows the instructive value of writing stories that are not constrained by reality.

If it wasn’t for Octavia Butler, lucky bus riders in our fair city would not have had the chance to talk to a real, live MacArthur fellow. Her P.I. memorial says that she “was a confirmed non-driver who would chat with other bus passengers.”

If it’s good enough for Octavia Butler, ladies and gentlemen…

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