First published in 1987, by Omni Magazine. Republished in 1996 and 2005 by Octavia Butler in Bloodchild, from Seven Stories Press.
Why Read This Story
In The Evening and the Morning and the Night, multiple award-winning Octavia Butler tells a compelling story. The tragic world she paints for her young characters has no fairy tale ending. Far from seeming contrived, or simplified, unlike many dark stories or shows, Butler uses simple prose to describe lives that are too believable.
With a mature, almost 2010s sensibility, Butler wrote in the 1980s of strong women and a terrible sickness. This is a dystopian story about a new, accidentally-created, hereditary disease.
Butler’s novella, Bloodchild, (reviewed here) won the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus Award, and the Science Fiction Chronicle Award. Readers will find the same tension and taut prose in The Evening and the Morning and the Night.
For Writers (Spoilers Ahead!)
The late Octavia Butler was a contemporary of Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin. No doubt the work of each of these master authors influenced the others. In addition, Butler was a black feminist (based on her writing, I conclude that she was a feminist) with a black and female intersectional perspective. She was bullied as a young woman, and it seems that her reveal in this story, about how women are key to controlling the disease, may be in partial reaction to that early powerlessness (again, my conclusion). Writers write what they know and feel.
The strong protagonist, Lynn, who has the disease, is a determined young woman, while also being an almost hopeless cynic. She does things that no cynics do, however. The dramatic question is, will the previously-suicidal Lynn overcome her cynicism after finding out about her disease-effect biological advantage.
A Not-So-Bleak Dystopia
The Evening and the Morning and the Night is set in a dystopian time, where technology has winners and losers. Lynn and her also-afflicted boyfriend, Alan, are two of many who can only look forward to a horrible decline. Often, this decline is sudden and violent, making it all the more scary. Offsetting the bleakness, is Butler’s occasional understated sarcasm that seems fresh and believable today, almost forty years later. With this bit of humour, and a lot of realism, Butler’s characters are almost timeless in their authenticity.
How to Make Your Exposition Not Boring
Butler’s expository text flows better than that of many SF authors, and this is due to several factors. Butler explains how the disease affects people and how they and others learn to cope with their affliction, with the help of genetics. One device that makes her exposition work is that Lynn and Alan learn about the actual ways of the disease and their parts in its treatment from an expert. They never fully trust this expert, which adds tension to the exposition. Another way Butler makes her exposition engaging is by interspersing it with the protagonist’s emotional reactions to a series of reveals. Butler’s short sentences and simple prose also help her exposition move along.
The Story Behind the Story
In the Blood Child anthology, Butler follows each story with fascinating background on how the story came to be. We rarely get to see how writers get and develop their ideas. After The Evening and the Morning and the Night, Butler describes how she combined different diseases to come up with a nasty sickness.
Many writers’ ideas are the result of combinations of things or influences. Butler happens to do this very well!
Read this story by borrowing one of the publications listed above from your local library. 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