Embracing difference: Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis series, me, and my son

Note: I originally posted this on my former blog on June 30, 2014, and I re-post it here now, with minor edits and additions.

It has always been incredibly common for me to be surrounded by a pile of books. It is even more common now that I am (frantically) working on my Masters thesis.

The other day, my 3 1/2 year old son walked up to me while I was taking notes, stared intently at the book on top, and asked,

“Will she walk out of the book? Will the alien walk out of the book?”

The book he referred to was Xenogenesis (also known as Lilith’s Brood), and the characters he referred to are Lilith and one of the Oankali, perhaps Jdhaya or Nikanj. Lilith looks somewhat concerned, and the Oankali has placed a hand on her shoulder.

xenogenesis

My son proceeded to tell me that Lilith is his friend, the alien is his friend, and, “someday, I will be the alien’s kid.”

Given that the premise of the book is a future in which posthumanism or transhumanism (I would argue it is transhumanism) is nearly inevitable, I was astounded. I still am.

I vaguely recall discussing Xenogenesis with my son just once before.. (though I had a rather long “conversation” with him regarding the book, and my love for Butler’s work, when he was only hours or days old). I believe I told him that the characters featured on the cover are friends.

Perhaps he retained that information in forming his conclusions about a possible relationship between himself and the characters, but I am still heartened by his apparent sense of a connection to a book I love so dearly.

When I was 13, my dad, an avid science fiction fan, brought home a copy of Xenogenesis. I read it. Xenogenesis was simultaneously an escape from the world, and a promise of something more. Since then, it has become a research interest, and led me to a community of people who enjoy Butler’s work as much as I do. My next step is to visit the Octavia E. Butler archives at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, just miles from where Butler grew up. Finally, reading Xenogenesis and Butler’s other work has led me to think about difference in ways I probably would not have otherwise. Reading Xenogenesis, Wild Seed, Fledgling, etc. certainly made me reconsider my perceptions of race, gender, and sexuality, and I believe that (as other researchers such as Isiah Lavender, De Witt Douglas Kilgore, Isiah Lavender, Sherryl Vint, and Sandra Govan have discussed, in other contexts) such work can help others revise their notions of race, gender, and sexuality as well- something I discuss here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06ST7qTuJJo

I like the idea that my son could embrace difference in such a way, imagining himself in – or after – the story. The experience also made me wonder about the images and literature with which we surround ourselves. I have some ideas about what they teach us, but what do they teach our children?

I don’t know. I am interested in finding out, though.

ABOUT ME

I am a former high school teacher, a current PhD student and professional tutor/editor, and a mom. My passions are higher education, racial equity, LGBTQA advocacy, autism awareness, and conversations around mental health, especially maternal mental health. Please like my tutoring page on Facebook! facebook.com/meghankrileytutoring

To find out more about my qualifications, and see more of my posts, visit linkedin.ca/in/meghankriley

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