Catch-up, Kindred

25Oct14

Some health issues have kept me from posting for a while. Luckily, while they are chronic, they are also very manageable. I’ve been focused on getting proper medical care, taking good care of myself, and letting my wonderful husband take care of me. Much to my relief, I’m feeling well enough to write again.

[You know it was pretty bad there for a while, because I only read eight books in September. Four fiction and four non-fiction, which brings my YTD total up to 117.]

October’s to-review pile is much larger, so I thought I’d start tackling it with a write-up of Octavia Butler’s classic speculative novel, Kindred.

Click to read an essay from The Dissolve

Click to read The Dissolve’s persuasive argument that this kickass book should be a movie.

Every time I read — or re-read — Butler’s work, I grimace at the utter unfairness that she isn’t here to keep astonishing us. What she left behind, however, in the time she had is, arguably, more than enough. Perhaps more than we, as a society, really deserve. Some people are way ahead of their time; Butler was definitely one of them.

Kindred is the story of Dana, a normal person hanging around her house, like you do, who is suddenly pulled backwards in time to the antebellum South. This would be cause for freakout for anyone, but Dana’s concerns are two-fold: not only is she at the mercy of some strange force, but that force has dumped her in the middle of a time period where she’s considered property instead of a person.

Not that she realizes this at first. On Dana’s first journey, all she sees is the little boy drowning, and so, of course, she saves him. Once the danger is past, it dawns on her that she’s not in California anymore…until, quite suddenly, she is again, much to her husband’s shock and consternation.

Dana’s time travel isn’t a one-off. Over the course of a few days she is repeatedly pulled backwards in time, and on each occasion she’s there to keep the same boy, Rufus, out of danger as he grows to manhood. Much to her horror, Dana slowly comes to realize that Rufus is one of her white ancestors, and that she is directly descended from the cruelty and abuses of slavery. So, stuck for long periods of time in an abusive past, with a jerk you have to keep safe because if you don’t, you’ll never be born.

Lovely.

Because time moves differently in Dana’s present, she can spend entire months on Rufus’s plantation and only be gone from her contemporary life for a few moments. The mechanics of time travel are not scientifically explained, but this isn’t hard sci-fi: this is a close look at what slavery was actually like, and it’s a rude awakening for Dana, who thought she understood what her ancestors had suffered. Her new-found knowledge cannot help but influence her contemporary life, and place a strain on her marriage (her husband is white).

Arguably, this is not a science-fiction novel. It’s really a horror novel with some time travel in it. Because what Dana — and, inevitably, the readers — experience is sheer horror at what human beings used to do to each other. History doesn’t get to stay safely dead and buried. She’s forced to live every excruciating detail. Worst of all? There’s no why, no grand reason or design behind it…and events that don’t seem to have any guiding intelligence behind them are the most horrific of all.

Most regular speculative fiction readers have read this novel before, but there’s so much going on here that multiple re-reads are more than justified. Even people who don’t normally care for SF/F will find a lot to chew on. It’s a disturbing novel, one to make you think and question. For, in the absence of a grand design, it’s up to the reader to make sense of Dana’s suffering, to ask what the point was…and then, what to do about it.

 

 

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