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SYFY WIRE Perseverance

Octavia Butler’s sci-fi classic ‘Kindred’ in the works at FX, as NASA honors beloved author with Mars landing site

By Nivea Serrao
Octavia E. Butler author photo and Kindred book cover

Acclaimed science fiction author Octavia E. Butler's star continues to shine bright, as Deadline reports that FX is developing a pilot based on her bestselling novel Kindred

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a consulting producer on HBO's Watchmen, wrote the pilot and will be executive producing the series alongside Courtney Lee-Mitchell (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Darren Aronofsky (mother!), and Joe Weisberg (The Americans) and Joel Fields (Fosse/Verdon). 

"Since my first encounter with the novel nearly two decades ago, there have been few, if any, books and even fewer authors who have meant as much to me as Kindred and Octavia Butler," said Jacobs-Jenkins in a statement. "It has been the highlight and honor of my career thus far to try and finally bring this timeless story to life — and especially at FX, whose catalogue of bold, thought-provoking, and cutting-edge television has been an endless source of inspiration and delight."

Kindred tells the story of Dana, a young Black aspiring writer who finds herself being pulled back and forth in time; from her life in modern-day Los Angeles, all the way back to a plantation in the nineteenth-century, where she must confront the very real horrors of slavery. As she travels between the past and the present, she discovers that not only does she have familial ties to the place she keeps being brought back to, but also that her present is echoing strains of the past, and that it's up to her to confront the hidden secrets of her own bloodline. 

"Branden, like Octavia, is a recipient of a MacArthur 'Genius' grant. As soon as I heard he was being considered, I went to see one of his plays and I was blown away," Merrilee Heifetz, the literary executor of Butler's estate tells SYFY WIRE. "We also spoke at length and I believe he will write an intelligent, sensitive and beautiful adaptation. He has enormous love and respect for the book and will do his best to be a trustworthy steward. Television is not a novel though — it won’t be an exact interpretation."

Since it's publication in 1979, Kindred has sold more than a million copies, with Butler herself gaining much acclaim for her use of science fiction for a nuanced and genre-breaking exploration of the impacts of both racism and sexism. It has since also been adapted into an Eisner Award-winning graphic novel by John Jennings and Damian Duffy.

Heifetz says Lee-Mitchell bought the rights to Kindred quite a while ago. Before this, they were under option to Thalia Shire (Adrian Balboa in Rocky) and her husband Jack Schwartzman (Being There) for about 10 years in the 80's. Unfortunately, despite their passion, they weren't able to adapt the book. 

"Only recently has there been such interest from Hollywood in bringing stories by Black women, with other Black creatives involved to the screen," says Heifetz. "Octavia was always way ahead of her time and the themes and characters now seem urgently relevant." 

She adds, "A lot of readers are put off by science fiction. They think they won’t be drawn into a story that doesn’t reflect their own experience. So [Kindred], her most realistic and accessible for any reader, was for a long time considered to be the sort of gateway Octavia drug. It explores issues of power, gender and race through the story of a contemporary Black woman who has to figure out why she is being thrown back in time to a slave plantation — and how to survive."

Octavia E Butler Landing on Mars

But that's not the only big news for fans of the now-New York Times-bestselling author this week as NASA has announced that the site where the Perseverance rover touched down on Mars will now be named "Octavia E. Butler Landing."

While this is technically the informal name for that location — officially the rover touched down in the Jezero Crater, a particularly significant spot because it may have housed water once — it's not uncommon for researchers to use unofficial nicknames and even reference them in papers. (You can see the landing, which is marked with a star in the image above, thanks to a photo taken from the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.) 

"Butler's pioneering work explores themes of race, gender equality in humanity, centering on the experiences of Black women at a time when such voices were largely absent from science fiction," Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project scientist, said in a press conference. "Butler's protagonists embodied determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges."

Stack Morgan went on to add: "Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond — including those typically underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. The fact that her works are as relevant today — if not more so — than when they were originally written and published is a testament to her vision, genius and timelessness."

And while this isn't the first celestial feature to be named after Butler — she has an asteroid named after her, as well as a mountain on the Charon, a moon of Pluto — it is the first feature on Mars to bear her name, with the esteemed literary icon now joining the company of other select science fiction authors including Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. 

This is just the latest achievement in Butler's impressive career as an author. Not only is she lauded as the "mother" of Afrofuturism, a movement that uses science fiction and fantasy to examine the history and experiences of the African diaspora so as to imagine a more hopeful, technologically advanced future, but she was also the first science fiction author to be awarded a MacArthur "Genius Grant," in addition to her Locas award and her multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. She passed in 2006, and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame posthumously in 2010. 

Kindred is currently available to read. It is available for purchase here