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Author Octavia Butler reaches New York Times Best Seller List, 14 years after her death

By Nivea Serrao
Octavia E. Butler author photo and The Parable of the Sower Cover

It may have taken more than 44 years since the publication of her first-ever novel, but one of Octavia E. Butler's books has finally made it into the New York Times Best Seller List — something the widely-acclaimed science fiction author had envisioned for herself several years ago. 

The novel to reach the list is 1993's The Parable of the Sower, which offers an uncanny, but no less prescient glimpse at California in the early 2020s, a dystopian future where people are dealing with global climate change, as well as an economic crisis. Amidst all this, the story revolves around Lauren Olamina, a 15-year-old Black girl living in a gated community that shelters her family and neighbors from the social chaos and anarchy on the other side of it. However, due to her extreme sensitivity to other people's emotions, Lauren must find her inner strength so she can protect her loved ones from a future full of dangers that continue to threaten them. 

This is the book's first time on the NYTimes Paperback Trade Fiction list, where it currently sits at no. 13, though future weeks could see it rise, if not stay, due to both Butler's cultural impact as an author, as well as the plot's renewed relevance, given the current global climate — not unlike the surge in popularity seen by other dystopian novels following the 2016 election, such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and George Orwell's 1984. The book is currently a bestseller on Amazon, where it's also No. 1 in the African American Science Fiction category. 

Making it onto the NYTimes Best Seller list — and 14 years after her passing in 2006, no less — is just one of many accomplishments Butler achieved as an author. She was the first science fiction author to receive a MacArthur "Genius Grant," and was the recipient of a Locus award and multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. She went on to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the PEN American Center and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame posthumously. She even has an asteroid named after her, as well as a mountain on the Charon, a moon of Pluto. 

Butler is often regarded as the "mother" of Afrofuturism, a movement that examines the history and experience of the African diaspora through the lens of science fiction and fantasy, in order to envision a more hopeful future with great technological advancement. (Think: the nation of Wakanda in Marvel's Black Panther.) But the true significance of her work lies in the fact that not only did she tackle themes like racism, gender, slavery, and even politics in her books, but she also centered Black women in her novels during a time when there very few Black science fiction authors, and even fewer books with lead characters who were Black women. 

Her work has since inspired many other creators, including fellow science fiction authors Nnedi Okorafor (Binti), Nalo Hopkinson (Skin Folk), and N.K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season), as well as singer-actress Janelle Monae (Antebellum), and director Ava DuVernay (DC's New Gods), who will actually be adapting Butler's novel Dawn into a television series, a first for one of her works. 

DuVernay even celebrated the news on Twitter, commenting: "This is long overdue. She was a genius." 

"Honestly, it made me tremble. It felt as though the world had righted itself in this one particular way," Merrilee Heifetz, the literary executor of Butler's estate told SYFY WIRE of her reaction to the news. "I knew it was selling well, but you need a certain velocity to hit the list and there was no way to know it would happen."

As for why it is this specific novel that has struck such a chord, Heifetz added, "Unfortunately, she predicted so much of what’s happening now in that book and its sequel, The Parable of the Talents. She studied the world, saw what was happening, and gave us a scenario that she saw coming if nothing changed. And nothing did, so here we are."

The Parable of the Sower is the first book in the Parable series, and is followed by The Parable of the Talents. Both are available for purchase here


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