Published by Open Road Media on June 24, 2014
Until her death in 2006, Octavia Butler was one of the jewels of science fiction. She was primarily a novelist. This volume collects two early works of her short fiction, although the first one is long enough to categorize as a novella. The important themes she explores in these excellent stories are representative of those she tackled in her longer work.
"A Necessary Being" imagines a caste-based alien society divided among hunters, judges, fighters, artisans, and other groups. The color-changing aliens are particularly adept at camouflage. Their empire has splintered into tribes. The leader of each tribe is a Hao, an individual of superior strength and abilities. Since the Hao are rare, tribes sometimes kidnap a Hao from another tribe with the hope that the Hao will eventually be assimilated into their tribal society. Against that intricate backdrop, a young Hao and the judge and hunter who accompany him face a dangerous encounter with another tribe. The story is in some ways a clever allegory of racial differences, where skin tone determines value in society, and of slavery and the forced assimilation that follows from it. It is also an insightful story about war and diplomacy as conflicting solutions to political conflict.
Shorter and slightly less compelling, "Childfinder" is told from the point of view of Barbara, a black woman who has the ability to detect nascent psionic ability in children. She has left the Organization to help black kids develop their psi talents in ways and for reasons the Organization doesn't appreciate. This is a story about how race divides society and how thoughts that should have the potential to unify are suppressed by oppressors who want to hold onto power.
Neither story has been previously published. "Childfinder" was purchased for The Last Dangerous Visions, the legendary Harlan Ellison anthology that never made it to publication. It's good to see these stories finding the audience they deserve.