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.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1980
Wild Seed is the first book in the chronology of the Patternist series, but it’s the third book that was published (fourth, if you count Survivor, which is no longer in print). While I can see some benefit to reading these according to the series’ timeline – the setup and characters in Mind of My Mind make much more sense now – reading these according to publication date really allows you to see how Butler developed as a writer. Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind were perfectly fine books, but I found they lacked a certain nuance that attracted me to Butler when I first read her in grad school. In Kindred and now Wild Seed, it’s as if Butler has come into her own and fully realized the message she wants to convey with her science fiction. This is not just the story of two immortal beings but one of institutionalized gender and social inequality. Hell, if it weren’t for the immortal being business and the shape-shifting, this would essential be historical fiction.
by Jami Attenberg, 2017
Andrea is on the cusp of 40 and her life isn’t exactly the way she imagined it would turn out to be. She’s all but given up on her love of art and her desire to be an artist, instead settling for an advertising job that slowly sucks her soul dry. She’s been seeing the same therapist for eight years without feeling like much progress has been made. She’s nowhere near having a functional relationship with a man, let alone on the path to marriage. To top it off, people keep asking her if she’s read this infernal book about being 40 and single. To many of the people in her life, Andrea seems like a mess, but she is one of the most realistic characters I’ve encountered in a long time.
by Jeff VanderMeer, 2014
One of the things I bemoan about science-fiction movies and television shows is that it seems that none of the characters have ever read or seen science-fiction. In Annihilation, the same appears to be true. The novel follows a team of four women who have been sent a territory referred to only as “Area X.” Their mission is to find out as much about the area as possible, while also trying to figure out what happened to the previous teams that were sent there. The four-woman team consists of a surveyor, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and our narrator, a biologist. The idea seems interesting enough and, as a child of The X-Files generation, I was immediately drawn to the premise. I wish I could say the story panned out as well as I had hoped.
by Madeleine L’Engle, 1989
narrated by Anne Marie Lee
This was a lackluster ending to a book series that, somehow, I loved as a child. I never read this fifth installment to the Time Quintet that began with A Wrinkle in Time, but after rereading the first four earlier this year, my expectations for the fifth were severely adjusted. This finale does not feature Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, or the twins Sandy and Dennys, but focuses on Meg and Calvin’s daughter Polly and the time she spends with her grandparents, Drs. Kate and Alex Murry. She’s been sent to the elder Murrys in the hopes that she’ll gain an even greater education in science than she could have received at home or in school. All of that changes when Zachary, a college student whom she previously dated, shows up at the Murrys and pleads his case for Polly’s company.
by Noelle Stevenson, 2015
This is, perhaps, one of the loveliest little comics I’ve read. The story focuses on the shapeshifter Nimona who comes to the supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart and endeavors to be his sidekick. The two are pursued by Blackheart’s nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, who is employed by the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. This premise alone is enough to set it aside from all other stories whose protagonists are always on the side of good. What makes the story even more special is that Stevenson really makes us question whether “bad” is always bad, “good” is always good, and what it means to be a girl who knows her own strength.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1979
It’s 1976 when Dana Franklin, a woman living in LA, first meets Rufus Weylin, the young son of a Maryland plantation owner living in the early 1800s. In their first encounter, Dana saves Rufus from drowning in a river and narrowly escapes the shotgun his father points in her face. From that point, Dana is drawn back through time to the 1800s to save Rufus again and again, and it’s only when she fears for her life that she is pulled back to her present. Unfortunately, as Dana is black, that fear is never too far away.