Cultural Gutter: Understanding the Aliens

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Last month on The Cultural Gutter, I wrote about Nalo Hopikinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring the importance of diverse voices and experiences in science fiction. Following that thread, this month I’m looking at one of the grand ladies of science fiction, Octavia Butler, and the first book in her “Xenogenesis” series, Dawn. Understanding the Aliens explores Butler’s ability to tap into a truly visceral body horror and create a believably frightening, awkward “first contact” situation between humans and aliens. Special guest appearances by The Mote in God’s Eye and Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.

I’ve read plenty of good “first contact” stories, and a few great ones. A personal favorite, The Mote in God’s Eye, goes some distance to portraying the tragically insurmountable gulf that might appear when two very different species encounter one another. But no one has realized that gulf better than Octavia Butler. From the very beginning, Dawn drips with the anticipation of horror and of violation. Without malice, without intent to harm, but still terrifying.

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