By K. Tempest Bradford
When a writer passes before her time, readers and fans often mourn not only the loss of her presence in the world, but the loss of the words she may yet have written. Such was the case when, in 2006, speculative fiction writer Octavia E. Butler died unexpectedly at her home in Seattle. Butler is one of the most celebrated authors in the genre, her novels and short stories regularly graced with Hugo and Nebula awards. She was the first speculative fiction writer to receive the MacArthur “genius grant,” a prize whose name perfectly summarizes Butlers work: She was a genius.
Its depressing to know that there will never be another new Octavia E. Butler novel to read. However, Butlers papers went to Huntington Library, where scholar Gerry Canavan is even now poring over them, unearthing fragments of the novels and stories she was working on. At some point during the excavation, two short stories emerged: “A Necessary Being” and “Childfinder.” Both written in the 70s, one was apparently left unpublished by Butler herself, the other part of a famously unreleased anthology. Both are finally seeing the light of day in an e-book called Unexpected Stories.
The first story, “A Necessary Being,” is fantasy set in a world where leadership is biologically determined and leaders are utterly necessary to the proper functioning of society, even when they are unwilling and forced into it. Characters struggle with the tension between biological imperative and personal choice and freedom, a theme Butler would return to many times in later works.
In sensibility, it resonates with another of Butler’s stories — “Bloodchild” — though the plots are entirely different. In that story, a human boy struggles with his role as a future host for alien offspring — a role that will mean his death even as it helps ensure the comfort and survival of his loved ones. But while the young alien host has no real choices, the characters in “A Necessary Being” seize agency at the first opportunity.