Kindred isn't your average Sci-Fi novel. In fact, critics have had a tough time categorizing the book ever since it first appeared in 1979. Its author, Octavia Butler, has gone on record saying that the book is a sort of "Grim fantasy," although it includes elements of both science fiction (like time travel) and high literature (like difficult themes). In the end, it might not really matter how you classify this book. What matters is the way the book makes you think long and hard about things like gender, race, and power.
So here's the deal: a twenty-six year-old black woman named Dana travels back in time (we don't know why) to a Maryland slave plantation in 1815. She quickly finds out that her purpose for being there is to save her white ancestor (and slave-owner) Rufus Weylin from dying. Dana thinks that Rufus is a pretty despicable person, but she has to keep saving him if she ever plans on being born (you know—that whole ancestor thing). Along the way, Dana learns an awful lot about how to survive in the world of American slavery.
When you hear about a piece of classic literature that explores deep themes, you might not imagine a super-entertaining read. But Octavia Butler's great sense of plot keeps readers glued to this book's pages the whole way through. Just read the first five pages of this book and tell us you're not interested. Time-travel, crushed arms, police investigation—who could ask for anything more? Cue the Gershwin.
For starters, it's important to read books like Kindred because it's important to understand the long history of slavery that helped build America into the economic powerhouse that it is today. On top of that, this book tells us something very deep about the human mind and what can happen to it when it gets hold of power. Rufus Weylin is a pretty great example of all the things that can go wrong when this happens. Deep down, Rufus might be a nice guy. But he's turned into a monster by getting his own way all the time.
Octavia Butler makes a direct comparison between Rufus' slave-owning habits and the way his mother has always spoiled him. Frankly, having a lot of power makes a person immature because they get used to always having their way. This can lead to all kinds of brutal behavior that's quickly followed by a denial of responsibility. Rufus is the kind of guy who'll whip a slave and then say, "Why did you make me do that? I'm a gentle person!" When it comes to understanding other people and their points of view, Rufus is out of touch. He knows he's wrong, but knowing this just makes him angrier and more violent.
Does any of this sound familiar? Sure, you might not be walking around bullwhipping people. But like Rufus, all of us have faults to which we're completely blind. And these tend to be the things that make us really, really angry when someone else points them out to us. After all, we might like to think we're in total control of our lives. We might be the type of person who says to others, "I know myself really well." But there will always be that Achilles' heel. There will always be that little weakness that sets you off when you realize other people can see it. Come on, you know what we're talking about. (Just please don't punch us for saying so.) In the end, it's always better to confront this sort of thing than to bury it. And that's what Octavia Butler's book is here to remind us.
The Official Site of Octavia Butler
Check out this site for handy teachers' guides and all kinds of other resources to help you unlock the meaning in Butler's life and books.
Octavia E. Butler Society
Check out this gathering of fans of all things Butler.
Octavia Butler Fan Site
For a big fan's take on Octavia and her work, this link is the way to go.
Interview with In Motion Magazine
This great interview delves into Octavia Butler's career as one of the few African American women writing in the sci-fi genre.
Octavia Butler with Sci-Fi Dimensions
This interview was to help mark the 25th anniversary of Kindred, which to this day remains Butler's most celebrated book.
Two New Stories
Bad news: Octavia Butler died too young in 2006. Good news: scholars have recently discovered two new, previously-unpublished stories by her.
Here's Octavia's obituary, published in the New York Times.
Octavia Butler on Race, Global Warming, and Religion
It's a lot of ground to cover, but Octavia Butler takes on some of the world's biggest issues in this interview.
Octavia Butler on Charlie Rose (Part 1)
This is probably one of the most in-depth interviews you'll find. Be sure to check out Part 2 below if you like the first half.
Octavia Butler on Charlie Rose (Part 2)
And here's our thrilling conclusion to Butler's epic interview with Charlie Rose.
Audio Book Review of Kindred
Need a second opinion on Kindred? Well look no further.
Audio Interview with Octavia Butler
For those moments when you want more Octavia but your eyes feel really tired.
Kindred Free Audio Book
Yes! Free audio book! Just put down that mean old hardcopy whenever you want and relax…
Octavia in High Res
This is a great black and white that helps give you a sense of Octavia's serious but creative personality.
Here's a picture of what Octavia would have looked like when she wrote Kindred.
Octavia as a Teenager
And here's Octavia at an even younger age.