Unexpected Stories is, by any measure, an unexpected gift. This slender but resonant volume contains two stories—recently unearthed and never before in print—by one of the most significant figures in modern science fiction: Octavia E. Butler.
“A Necessary Being” takes us into the heart of an alien culture with a rigid hierarchical system based on caste and skin coloration. With the arrival of visitors from a distant mountain tribe, the society known as the Rohkohn finds itself faced with the sudden prospect of profound social change.
In the second story, “Childfinder,” the title character is a woman who uses her psychic abilities to track down children with similar nascent abilities—and protect them from the abuses of a predatory society.
The Subterranean Press edition features a newly-commissioned introduction by Nisi Shawl, and an afterword by Butler’s longtime agent and literary executor, Merrilee Heifetz. – Goodreads
Thanks to NetGalley for a providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
This is not the first work that has been published posthumously that I have thought, “maybe there was a reason the author shelved this while they were alive.”
While the basic ideas in both stories are interesting the world building in the main story makes very little sense and often contradicts itself and the writing style of both leaves the reader feeling unengaged.
“A Necessary Being” – this is the story that was shelved in the 70s by Butler and I think with good reason. and shows my main issue with publishing posthumously. Since the author has passed editing tends to be non-existent for the work and there were several parts of the story that desperately needed to be clarified by Butler for her ideas to be fully executed.
The main part of this story, that people are born with more blue or less blue skin did not make much sense. There were sections were the people were like chameleons who could blend fully into any surroundings – any colors – and then sections were those same people could only change the hue of the color they were born as. Since having blue skin is the most integral part of the story, not knowing which was the case for people greatly hindered the narrative.
Further, Butler kept using hue/color changes to denote emotional states, but she 1) never explained which colors meant what, and 2) was not consistent in her use of the color = emotion combinations the reader does mange to pick up on. Sometimes white meant, very specifically, agreement and sometimes white meant pleasure.
Last, even at the end of the story I was not sold on why having a Hao was so important to a tribe. Butler tries to tell you its because they are the best fighters, but then contradicts herself multiple times by having a Hao defeated over and over again. She even makes sure you know that, despite having a Hao being critical to the tribe, it gives them no real advantage over other tribes, even ones that lack a Hao.
Those issues might not have rated the two star rating on their own, but when combined with the almost list type writing style, it took me days to get through this ~60 page story.
As for the second story, “Childfinder,” the story itself made more sense than “A Necessary Being” did, but it had the same problem with the writing style: A happened, then B, and then C. Summarize and reiterate exactly what each of those things mean. D happened, then E, and then F. Summarize and explain. Repeat.