Saturday, August 5, 2017
Enter Octavia E. Butler, the mother of science fiction.
Butler was the first female African-American science fiction writer to gain notoriety. A Hugo Award winner and a MacArthur Genius, Butler is maybe the first SF writer, for my money at least, who is actually a good writer. I've read Arthur C. Clarke, I've read a bit of Isaac Asimov, etc. These white men can't write like Butler can.
So be it.
Mind of My Mind is about a young woman named Mary living in the ghetto of Los Angeles. She is also a latent telepath, quickly approaching transition on her 19th birthday. Being a latent means she's sensitive to the mental activity around her, but has no control.
Doro, her caretaker, her father, and her lover (it's a little complex), is a 4000 year old being, originally a Nubian slave from ancient Egypt. Doro has devoted his life to breeding a race of telepaths on earth, no matter the cost. For some reason, he feels that Mary is the final piece to the puzzle that's been eluding him for all these centuries.
Yet, when Mary finally goes through transition, something unexpected occurs. A pattern materializes, a mental web that connects Mary to every active and latent telepath in the world. And Mary finds that she has control of the web. All she has to do is give it a little tug...
If you are interested in exploring telepathy, psychokinesis, immortality, reincarnation, and/or race & gender politics, I highly recommend this novel.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
The night before my bar-mitzvah I opened my binder that contained all of the service's prayers and passages, highlighted everything in it that was mine to read, and removed the rest. I didn't feel the need for all the clutter. What I felt was its burden.
When, on the morning of the service, my rabbi figured out what I had done, he was not pleased. Something about how isolating the bar-mitzvah to only my sections really misses the point of what the day is about. I didn't really understand why he was so upset - I still knew when in the service to go on, when to come off. What would be the point of carrying back-and-forth from the seats to the bimah all that extra weight?
This book fills its pages with a lot of burden and a lot of extra weight. But instead of the burden of clutter it's the burden of context, of guilt, of repression, of history, of the things that should have been said but were not, of the things that were said but shouldn't have been, of relationships, of children, of dogs, of being Jewish. There is no story without everything else.
The rabbi, I think, was on to something. Perhaps prayers and passages in isolation are less meaningful in the absence of context. But while I agree with the premise, I'm still not sure I agree with the point. The act of a bar-mitzvah asks a thirteen-year-old boy to stand up in front of his congregation, read some prayers, interpret the Torah, and declare himself a man. The burden, as always, might have been too much to bear.