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  • Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler ed. Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal
  • Sean Guynes-Vishniac
Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, eds. Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler.
Yokine, Australia: Twelfth Planet Press, 2017. 442 pp. Paper, $30.00, isbn 978-1-922101-42-6.

Octavia E. Butler was notoriously skeptical of utopian science fiction, and though she desired very much to write it, she found herself unable to do so "because I don't believe imperfect humans can form a perfect society."1 [End Page 280] In interviews and in practice through her fiction Butler rejected the possibility of an ideal society and instead found her way to what Jim Miller has called "a post-apocalyptic hoping informed by the lessons of the past."2 This is to say that, as a black woman science-fiction writer who had witnessed the pains of systemic racism, patriarchy, and oppressive violence against the communities to which she belonged, and who was particularly affected by the Religious Right–backed racist and classist policies of the Reagan administration, Butler found it ethically untenable to imagine societies that had eradicated such pain and struggle. Rather than postulating human futures that transcended the inequalities of her present and past, Butler showed instead how we might respond to the dystopian forces of the present and, as Sheree Renée Thomas puts it in her letter in the present volume, "how art and literature could help use navigate our past and present, help resurrect a future" (14). Butler died in 2006, leaving behind a dozen novels and nearly as many short stories, as well as several unfinished or abandoned novel projects and several important essays on the genre—all completed between 1971 and 2005. Her writing, her work in the science-fiction community as an instructor at Clarion, her candid discussion of being a black woman science-fiction writer on panels at science-fiction conventions and in numerous interviews, and especially her support for and mentorship of women writers and writers of color left an enduring legacy. Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, speaks with many voices to remind us more than a decade after Butler's passing that her legacy was manifold. It was undeniably literary, profoundly communal, and, as is so clearly and affectively highlighted by the contributions gathered in Luminescent Threads, deeply personal.

Luminescent Threads is primarily a collection of letters addressed to Butler by her friends, colleagues, students, and those inspired by her. It also collects essays about her work, either appearing for the first time or reprinted from academic journals. The volume brings together fifty-five entries divided into eight sections that revolve around themes in the contributors' responses to Butler's work, life, and legacy. The first section is made up of letters addressed to Butler in thanks and remembrance, reflecting on the influence Butler had on the contributors' lives, whether they knew her or not. It is an appropriately short introduction to Butler as a personal motivator for many writers, activists, and scholars and is aptly followed by two longer sections that together make up half of Luminescent Threads. Contributors reflect in section 2 on Butler's [End Page 281] relevance to contemporary social and political struggles, and in section 3 they offer sustained readings of her fiction. The latter fit her work into the broad range of black speculative fiction (Salvaggio), offer "A Biologist's Response" to Butler's aliens (Slonczewski), go on thematic dives looking for continuity across her writing (Govan), provide literary-critical readings of her key texts (Jeffers, Baccolini), or suggest how we might best (and ethically) use her archives (Canavan). Section 4 gives voice to Clarion's Octavia E. Butler Scholars, writers given scholarships in Butler's honor, funded by the Carl Brandon Society, to attend the prestigious Clarion and Clarion West science-fiction writing workshops and to use their talents to breathe new life into science fiction, to diversify and decolonize its themes, its institutions, its contributions to literature and life. (Collection co-editor Mimi Mondal was herself a Butler Scholar.) Section 5 follows aptly from the Butler Scholars' testimonies, with contributors here...


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pp. 280-284
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