by Kevin Kwan, 2015
If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s people who get on a train or a plane, buckle their seatbelts, and proceed to stare forward for the duration of the trip. They don’t put in earbuds, they don’t watch a downloaded movie, they sure as hell don’t crack open a book, and they don’t even close their eyes and rest their heads. I don’t particularly love flying, but I do enjoy knowing that for a definite period of time I will be required to do nothing more but entertain myself, which is to say, I will have guaranteed reading time. I read the second installment of the Crazy Rich Asians series while coming back from visiting my parents over the Christmas break where, you guessed it, my seatmate did nothing but stare forward. Well, he did ask me if I were studying for an exam, because apparently that’s the only reason one would be reading. Anyway.
by Elena Ferrante, 2012
I’ve heard so much about the Neapolitan novels since they infiltrated the English literature market and I’ve always been curious about these sweeping tales of two girls growing up in 1950s Italy. I’ve made the erroneous assumption before that something that is popular cannot also be good (Devil in the White City, Harry Potter, Big Little Lies), so I’ve started to suspend my judgment until I actually read the work in question. How does My Brilliant Friend stack up? Eh…it was okay.
by Octavia E. Butler, 2014
Here is it, my final Octavia E. Butler read. This is a collection of two of her early stories that were published after her death. The two feature some themes that she later came to repeat in her novels: alien races, the nature of hierarchies, telepathy, and the segregation of others. To me, this pair was a bit lackluster compared to her later, more developed works, but there’s still some love to be found in these early examples of her talent.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1989
Imago is the third and final book in the Xenogenesis trilogy. Instead of finishing Akin’s story that began in Adulthood Rites, we’re introduced to one of Akin’s siblings, Jodahs. What makes Jodahs special is that when the time for maturation arrives, it becomes neither female nor male. Jodahs is the first genderless ooloi construct born on Earth.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1988
Adulthood Rites continues the story of Lilith Iyapo and the alien beings – the Oankali – and their effort to repopulate the Earth with a new generation of mixed species entities. To my disappointment, in some ways, the story does not pick up where Dawn left off. It does not tell us how the humans and the Oankali returned to Earth or how they started their settlement or how the starting rift between Lilith and the other humans progressed. We only know that there is a group of humans called the “resisters” and that they live in towns separate from the human-Oankali settlements. We also know that they will eventually die out because the war that nearly ended human life has impeded natural procreation and there will only ever be human-Oankali babies, called “constructs,” from that point forth. We also know that the creation of these hybrids has been successful, as our protagonist Akin is none other than Lilith’s construct child.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1987
Dawn is the first in Butler’s Xenogenesis series, and it is appropriately named, as it follows what is essentially the rebirth of the human species. After Earth has been devastated by war, the alien race of the Oankali have swooped in to save the few humans who are left. Their plan is to mix their genes with human genes to produce a new mixed race of beings that can survive on a new Earth. At only 26, our protagonist Lilith Iyapo has been selected to lead the creation of this new race. What makes this new pairing particularly interesting, aside from, you know, human-alien hybrids, is that the Oankali males and females mate with the aid of a third being, a genderless individual called an ooloi. Through the Oankali we see not just the birth of a new species, but a rejection of the rigid gender roles that have plagued humans since the beginning of time.
by Octavia E. Butler 1984
While Clay’s Ark is the chronological third part in the Patternist series, it was the final book of the series to be published. In this installment, we leave behind the Patternists and the origin story of Doro and Anyanwu and we learn how the physically powerful and dangerous Clayarks came to be. Except for their place as the antagonists in Patternmaster, we haven’t learned anything about these beings or why they are the way they are. I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed to leave the Patternists behind, as Wild Seed left me wanting to know so much more about the originators of this clan, but Clay’s Ark provides a fitting and much needed backstory for our series’ adversaries.