A SMURFETTE IN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY: OCTAVIA’S LEGACY

by Priya Sridhar

From: Book Riot

NOTE: I just stumbled across this article from Book Riot. It was one of numerous posts they published in celebration of Octavia Butler’s  birthday back in June. Enjoy!

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Women writers have interesting barriers. The Mary Sue and Tor.com have discussed how female SFF writers, and SFF female characters, can easily become overlooked or forgotten. We don’t receive as much coverage due to implicit bias in our culture. This is ironic since according to history women like Mary Shelley have created the science fiction and horror genres. Tor.com mentions that the women that leave a legacy are the Smurfettes of the world, the token female authors that are included to fill a social quota.

POC female authors face double the barriers, due to not fitting the standard “white male” generality. Recent groups working to disregard progress, like the Sad Numpties (they are not Sad Puppies, believe me), try to maintain that status quo. We can dismiss the extremists, but they reflect an uncomfortable truth: the mainstream doesn’t want to confront POC and gender representation, unless it meets quotas. Change is frightening, but fiction has to change to reflect society.

NEVER TELL US THE ODDS

With all this, where can we place Octavia Butler? By the standard statistics, she ought to have joined the ranks of women writers who work hard and put out splendid work, but whom others generally ignore. That wasn’t Octavia’s story, however. A studious writer who earned her way into UCLA, she had the luck to impress Harlan Ellison with her writing, and to later win a Hugo for her short story “Speech Sounds”. In between she had five years of rejection slips, and Octavia worked on multiple novels in the meantime.

Octavia became a Smurfette. That’s not an insult. Being a Smurfette means that the mainstream acknowledges you, and will spread your words. She will exist as part of the American SFF pantheon, thanks to her namesake foundation as well as her impact on the genre.  Her writing challenges POC writers to integrate social and racial issues into narratives without creating strawmen. She also asks people to think of how we become complicit in these everyday injustices.

MAKING OF A SMURFETTE

Octavia earned all her laurels and honors. Fledgling manages to merge vampiric tales of love and obsession with class issues and eugenics. The Parable books craft a dystopia about and for POC, rather than attribute historical POC traumas such as sex slavery and loss of identity to white people, the way The Handmaid’s Tale does. She had to be better than the standard SFF writers of her time to gain notice. It shows in her work. We can quibble about the details and her portrayals, but the fact remains that she had talent. Octavia used that talent, to change our mindscape. Read Rest of Article Here

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