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Octavia E. Butler - Dawn (1987)

I have the first edition hardback of this book, which is the first volume of a trilogy published by Warner Books. There are three forms of the title:
- On the cover: Dawn A Novel
- On the title page: Dawn Xenogenesis
- On the copyright page: Dawn
You can see I've gone with the copyright page.

The blurb calls Butler the "critically acclaimed novelist", and gives credit for the Patternmaster series as well as for the award winning short stories Speech Sounds and Bloodchild. The cover, by Enric, is a faithful rendering of one of the scenes from the novel except...either the standing woman is not intended to be the main character, or the main character, who is clearly identified as having at least dark brown skin, has been whitewashed. (The latter seems more likely; there was a major social media fuss about the practice just a couple of years ago.) It also gives away the entire plot, but if you relied on the blurb summary to understand what is going on in the book you would be making a sad mistake.

There's a lot going on in this book: all of the old stuff, all of the new that came in with Bloodchild, and then more even than that. Here, I'm just going to pick out some of the things that strike me particularly as new or changed in Bloodchild and Dawn compared to earlier books and stories..

Aliens: Up til now every person has been human, albeit usually mutated or changed humans. Now we have people who are realio trulio alien aliens.

Landscape: For the first time I have clear ideas and precise visual images for the actual spaces in which the action of the story takes place. Previously a room has been a room, a house a house, a landscape a forest or a desert or a city. In this book I know how rooms are decorated and furnished; and landscapes are characterised to varying degrees, usually by mix of vegetation and impact on its inhabitants. It's also gotten out of the city and the desert and into the jungle.

Sex and reproduction: Human desire for sex and sexual relations between humans has always been an aspect of Butler's work. The sex itself however was taken somewhat for granted. Now it is not. It is problematic, complicated, and subject to interference by the aliens. It is also very physical: touch features a lot more than earlier stories. I might sum some of this up by saying that Butler has started to interrogate the meaning of sex in her stories. Reproduction has become a lot more complicated too: where earlier characters just got on with organising or doing it, now they are talking about the details, and how they feel about it.

Leadership: Another idea that has moved: Doro, Mary and Eli are leaders, Dana and Emma are not. But Lilith's story is being used to interrogate ideas of leadership.

There's a whole lot more, but that will have to do for now. There's another short story next, The Evening, the Morning and the Night, and then the second volume of the Xenogenesis trilogy, Adulthood RItes.

P.S. This is the only book I own that is signed by Butler. The inscription is "To Caroline Best Wishes Octavia E. Butler" and I don't remember getting it signed. Probably at the 1997 Eastercon where she was Guest of Honour, which as far as I know was our only common convention.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
29th May, 2016 11:19 (UTC)
You mean the 1997 Eastercon? I wasn't at the 1994 one, but she was definitely GoH in 1997 in Liverpool.
30th May, 2016 10:17 (UTC)
You're quite right. Typo or mismemory - not quite sure which. Thank you, and I've fixed it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Caroline M

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