Bloodchild and Other Stories

Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler
Published by Open Road Media on July 24, 2012
Genres: African American & Black, Collections & Anthologies, Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Women
Pages: 145

Within twenty minutes of picking up Bloodchild at the library, two strangers told me how much they loved the book when they saw it in my hands. The endorsements were well deserved. The collection contains five short stories and two essays, and there are no weak entries. The title story, Bloodchild, is the best short story I’ve read in recent memory. I know I will be revisiting it in the future.

Of the five short stories, three are science fiction. The two essays focus on Octavia’s journey to becoming a published author and her advice for aspiring writers. I think discussing the plot of the story Bloodchild will ruin the experience for first-time readers. My thoughts on the story are below to avoid spoiling the experience (I highly recommend you take the time to read the story first, it is only 30 pages, and you will not regret it 😊). The other stories in the collection include a future where people lose the ability to make speech sounds, an illness that causes the inflicted to self-harm, a woman dealing with the death of her mother, and a lonely, alcoholic woman with a miserable job. After each story Butler includes a brief afterward, which provides insight to the story’s inspiration. I love when authors do this. This reminds me of the introductions Stephen King includes in some of his short story collections (Four Past Midnight). I enjoyed Butler’s notes better than King’s because she includes her thoughts as an afterward rather than an introduction, so the story is not spoiled for the reader. I was looking forward to the two essays at the end of the collection the least, probably because of my preference for fiction over non-fiction. It was a pleasant surprise that they ended up being my favorite pieces outside of Bloodchild. The first inspiring essay is autobiographical, detailing Butler’s journey of becoming a published science fiction writer, which was unheard of for a black woman at the time. Even today the genre is still dominated by white males. In the second essay, Butler gives advice to aspiring writers. Butler believes that being a successful writer depends less on talent and more on consistency and practice. While I currently have no plans on writing fiction, I did find this passage motivating in terms of creating content for this blog. One of my favorite things as a reader is discovering new authors who already have a giant backlog of books written. I am looking forward to delving into the great Octavia Butler’s catalog.

Trigger Warnings: Incest, Body Horror, Rape


Now for arguably the best short story I’ve ever read, Bloodchild. I am a big fan of gnarly body horror, which Butler absolutely, terrifyingly provides in this story. I also love when a science fiction/fantasy story doesn’t tell a reader how the world operates. Instead, I prefer when authors parcel out little bits of info, so that readers slowly piece together the experience themselves. The realization of the mechanics behind the symbiotic relationship between the humans and Tlic had me gleefully horrified. After reading the story I immediately went on google images and spent half an hour looking at fan art of the millipede-like Tlic. Interestingly, in Butler’s notes for the book she explains how many readers interpret the story as a metaphor for slavery, which was not her intention. I did not have that interpretation on my first read of the story, but I can see how the Tlic colonizing the humans can be read that way. Instead, Butler’s goal was to write a story of the “pregnant man”. To put male characters through the pain and trauma of childbirth.


Does Reading Books by Authors from Marginalized Communities make me an Activist?

Recently, I listened to Ocean Vuong’s discussion with Sam Fragoso on the Talk Easy podcast for a third time (because it was so good).  Ocean Vuong is a Vietnamese American, queer poet and novelist that grew up in Hartford, CT.  He is the author of the fantastic novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which has the best writing I’ve encountered this year. Because we grew up in the same metropolitan area and because of his immense talents, I’ve become an Ocean Vuong stan.  Ocean Vuong’s speech is as thoughtful and poetic as his writing, making the podcast worth multiple listens.  One particular portion of the podcast has stuck with me and impacted how I read.  In the podcast, Vuong discusses his frustration that many readers, mainly white, pick up novels related to social justice topics with the primary goal of developing empathy or understanding.  He believes that empathy should not be the sole objective when one interacts with any form of art.

In the podcast Sam Fragoso brings up the senseless shootings that took place at Asian salons in the Atlanta area on March 16th.  Vuong has a personal connection to this tragedy because his mom once worked at a nail salon.  Sadly, she sadly passed away from cancer in 2019.  In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong beautifully describes the harsh wear the work had on his mom’s hands:

“Because I am your son, what I know of work I know equally of loss.  And what I know of both I know of your hands.  Their once supple contours I’ve never felt, the palms already callused and blistered long before I was born, then ruined further from three decades in factories and nail salons.  Your hands are hideous—and I hate everything that made them that way.  I hate how they are the wreck and reckoning of a dream” (Vuong 79)

Because of his literary success, Vuong received many requests for his thoughts on the shootings from the media.  He explains, “All of a sudden my books were on these lists, you know my name was referenced in all these places and there were all these reading lists to…empathize with Asian-American life.  So, it is a horrific feeling I think to suddenly be relevant because six Asian American women are murdered.  I don’t wish that feeling on any artist.”  I often read books that are written by authors who are part of marginalized groups featured in the news.   I never considered how authors must feel horribly when their book sales are increasing because of tragic events within their communities.  While a portion of those readers are people of color seeking resilience in a time of stress, there are a lot of white readers, like myself, also picking up copies.  Vuong is not optimistic about the intentions of the white audience that reads these books.

Some white readers that consume books related to racial justice topics aim to develop empathy for a marginalized community.  Vuong presents an important question.  “What does it mean to need a book to empathize?  What is the role of empathy? Because in literature it’s often an unquestioned utopic destination…often of white readers only”.    Vuong continues to expose the flaws in this behavior.  He says, “when I see this sort of recruitment of engaging in cultural relics (novels) in order to value life, I get very pessimistic all of a sudden.  Why can’t these lives be inherently valuable without any knowledge, without any books or film”?  Vuong states the obvious, we as humans should have the ability to hold empathy for others, without the aid of a book, or any form of media.  It is not an author’s responsibility or a book’s purpose to make a marginalized group’s cause worth caring about.  I believe some white readers feel that reading these books is a form of activism.  Upon completing it they feel like they’ve checked off a box that makes them anti-racist and then feel better about themselves.  However, I think there is value in white readers continuing (or starting) to pick up these novels.  But the intention, or motivation, behind the reading must be reframed. 

Activism begins after reading the book.  We need to make sure we’re entering these books with the intention to learn and understand, so that we can take that knowledge into action.  Here are some possible anti-racist actions we can take with insight gained from these novels:

  • Using new understanding to engage in informed conversations with family, peers and especially those with problematic thinking
  • Supporting businesses owned by the community you just read about
  • Contact politicians to demand necessary actions are taken to create anti-racist policy
  • Make informed decisions to support anti-racist candidates on election day
  • Donate money to organizations that are aiding the marginalized group you read about

Link to the podcast:


FlamerFlamer by Mike Curato
Published by Henry Holt and Company (BYR) on September 1, 2020
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, Coming of Age, LGBTQ, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368

In Mike Curato’s excellent graphic novel Flamer, Aiden Navarro, a queer Filipino-American teen, comes to terms with his sexuality while at a Scout summer camp. Aiden is attending camp between the end of middle school and the start of high school, a critical time for any teen. During the week Aiden grapples with fitting in, a peer crush, and bullying. Aiden becomes progressively isolated during summer camp leading to the novel’s dramatic conclusion. Curato’s graphic novel focuses on themes related to the intersectionality among queerness, race, body image, and religion.

The fantastic artwork in Curato’s novel is mainly sketched in black and white, but fiery pops of color are used to evoke emotional moments in the story. Curato perfectly captures the brutal and gross words of adolescent boys. Throughout the story at summer camp, Curato expertly weaves in key moments of Aiden’s childhood throughout the narrative. Aiden is given a strong character arc that leads to a well-deserved development at the story’s conclusion.

I devoured this graphic novel in one sitting, because of how engrossing and relatable the story was. I am a gay male who is also an Eagle Scout, like the author. The story makes me nostalgic for the fun of scout summer camp, but Aiden’s story also reminds me of situations I had in Scouting where I felt different than my heterosexual peers. Aiden goes days without showering to avoid being naked around any of his fellow campers, until he is noticeably smelly. While I didn’t abstain from showering, I remember waiting to shower when fewer people would be around. Removing clothes around my fellow scouts made me anxious. I’m sure being naked around same-sex peers is stressful for most adolescents, but for queer boys there is added stress because they may also need to face their burgeoning attraction towards other boys. I also remember conversations about girls starting around that time amongst fellow scouts. I distinctly recall feeling different from my fellow scouts. I didn’t feel the same way as them when talking about girls and sex, but I learned to join the conversations and fake the same feelings for the sake of fitting in. At that time being called gay was one of the worst possible insults, hence everyone using the phrase “no homo” to defend their “straightness”. Unfortunately, Aiden can’t blend in with his fellow scouts and he is bullied for simply being himself.

The book is immensely helpful for young teens. Curato’s book has the power to save lives of at-risk queer teens grappling with their identity, as well as building tolerance in straight readers. I wish this was taught in middle school English classes instead of the typical dated, heteronormative “classics”.

Trigger Warning: Self-harm, Bullying


Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published by Start Publishing LLC on May 5, 2015
Genres: Biopunk, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 376

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, a biopunk, dystopian science fiction novel, depicts a bleak future that feels alarmingly possible. The world’s produce has become limited, due to bio-engineered plagues wiping out crops. Genetic codes for lost produce have become lucrative information sought out by “calorie men”. One such American, Anderson Lake, travels to Bangkok in search of fruits and vegetables to mass produce for the West. Bangkok has managed to isolate itself and remains one of the only regions where produce is still grown without the influence of the capitalistic calorie companies. Anderson runs a kink-spring factory, a futuristic power source, as a cover for his calorie man endeavors. Heck Seng, a Chinese refugee, working at Anderson’s factory is hoping to steal his kink-spring technology to gain wealth. While in Bangkok, Anderson encounters Emiko, a bio engineered woman, or windup girl, who works at a strip club. Windups are seen as evil, non-human beings, designed to be laborers, soldiers or sex workers. Other characters in the story are on either side of a conflict between Bangkok’s Trade Ministry and Environment Agency. These storylines are initially separate but converge by the story’s epic conclusion.

One of the many things I loved about this book is the moral complexity of the characters. Bacigalupi’s characters are written as believable people that are motivated by power, greed, and survival. While all the characters are great, I found myself most attached to the characters of Heck Seng and Emiko. I got excited whenever I reached a chapter told from either of their perspectives. Heck Seng became the most interesting character, once his heartbreaking backstory was revealed. I believe Emiko, aka the windup girl, was ironically the most human of any of the book’s characters. When her character was first introduced I was concerned. Emiko seemed to represent the unfortunate stereotype of the submissive, sexualized Asian woman. I was relieved when Bacigalupi rejected this stereotype by taking Emiko’s character in a very different direction. The novel’s worldbuilding is excellent. Rather than have all the info dumped on the reader from the start, Bacigalupi parcels out information about his world at a slow, deliberate pace. Deciphering the society’s structure and figuring out how they got to where they are was a lot of fun. I felt like an anthropologist piecing together the history of Paolo’s world. Another highlight for me was the inclusion of Asian fruits, such as rambutan, durian, and lychee (especially the rambutan, what an addicting snack), all of which my husband recently introduced me to after a trip to H Mart. Religious and cultural themes are weaved throughout the story. The morals of many characters stem from Buddhist beliefs. A fellow reader pointed some subtle references to Noah’s ark that foreshadow later events in the story. I also found themes of colonialism represented by the white calorie man.

There is one queer character in the book that works for the Environment Agency and she is a bad-ass. I found myself rooting for her and her character arc was very satisfying.

This book contains strong scenes of sexual assault. One specific scene (you will know it when you read it) was especially intense and difficult to read.

I rate this book five out of five stars. Fans of Westworld or A Song of Ice and Fire will enjoy this book. I would just recommend that you wait to pick this up until you are in the mood for an immersive, challenging read.

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assualt


All Boys Aren’t Blue

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson
on April 28, 2020
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, LGBTQ, Memoir, Young Adult, Young Adult Nonfiction
Pages: 320

Early on in All Boys Aren’t Blue George M. Johnson quotes Toni Morrison. “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”. George meets Morrison’s challenge in All Boys Aren’t Blue, a memoir-manifesto written for young adults. Black queer boys have always been present, but their stories are rarely shared in media. Johnson shares events from his childhood through his time at the historically black college, Virginia Union University. The stories are told with a focus on his black and queer identity. The manifesto portion of the book comes into play at the end of each chapter, where Johnson uses his lived experiences to offer advice and lessons to his readers. As George grows older, he develops acceptance of his identity and crafts his own version of masculinity.

Readers will experience themes of intersectionality, masculinity, family, coming out, brotherhood, and the loss of loved ones. Johnson shares his early sexual experiences. These are valuable exposures for young queer readers because same-sex intercourse is often intentionally omitted from sex education curricula. A standout figure in Johnson’s work is the delightful Nanny, the grandma every queer child deserves to have. Johnson includes current events and pop culture references throughout the book. Photographs of Johnson alongside family members and friends that are featured in the book make the work more personal. Johnson’s words of advice at the end of each chapter began to feel repetitive the further I got into the book. I would have preferred he did more showing than telling, especially when the lesson of the chapter is obvious after reading the story. But then I remembered this book was intended for an audience much younger than myself, so I believe the style is appropriate.

All Boys Aren’t Blue is an impressive debut for George M. Johnson. While this book is an invaluable read for queer black boys, Johnson’s story deserves attention from everyone.

Trigger Warnings: Sexual Assault, Incest, Death and Dying