First published in 1984, in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Republished in 1996 and 2005 by Octavia Butler in the Bloodchild anthology, from Seven Stories Press.
Why Read This Story
Octavia Butler’s novella, Bloodchild won her many awards, including a Hugo and a Nebula. Butler was also inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010, four years after her death. While she has much other strong work, Bloodchild is a big part of the reason for Butler’s induction, along with her dedication to the Clarion series of speculative fiction writing workshops.
Butler was primarily a novelist. Her shorter fiction was anthologized into two books. The first anthology, Bloodchild, is named after this novella.
This is a story that provokes engagement and strong reactions in readers. It makes many people uncomfortable. More on that is below.
For Writers (Spoilers ahead!)
The Story Behind the Story
In the afterword to Bloodchild, included in the Bloodchild anthology, Butler says she is amazed that people see this story as a depiction of slavery. She goes on to say she was trying to explore what it could be like if men had children and the kinds of accommodations humanity might have to reach with aliens in order to survive on a far planet. Butler also states that she was trying to come to terms, in writing Bloodchild, with her revulsion to South American botflies, who lay their eggs in people.
I am coming to understand what a genius Octavia Butler was at merging many seemingly unrelated ideas into a story. Still, I believe that Butler isn’t telling us the whole story behind her Bloodchild story. Read on.
A Big Allegory
The premise of Bloodlines is that, on a far alien world, the aliens need humans and may even love them. Aliens lay their eggs in human male hosts. The eggs grow into larvae and are eventually born in bloody violence that sometimes kills the men. In addition, aliens buy human loyalty with intoxicants and choose most things that humans get to do. Men on this distant world are generally OK with this because they see it as their duty to protect others and leave their sisters to propagate the human species. This is the bargain in Bloodchild that humans have struck with the aliens in return for the aliens’ protection.
Many science fiction stories are intended as allegories, that is, they are story-long metaphors for situations in real life. Bloodchild’s premise seems like an allegory of how women were treated by men for centuries—and still are in many places today.
The chilling tone in Bloodchild (Butler’s botfly revulsion coming through?) flows naturally from the scary premise and the lack of real choice that the about-to-be-an-incubator protagonist has over his life.
Well done, Ms. Butler!
Read this story by borrowing one of the publications listed above from your local library, or purchase the Bloodchild anthology from Seven Stories Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s Books, Open Road Media.
Octavia Butler Website – https://www.octaviabutler.com/
Octavia Butler on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_E._Butler
Read my review of Octavia Butler’s story, The Evening and the Morning and the Night.