Octavia Butler is definitively one of the greatest sci-fi writers of all time.
She pulled no emotional punches, represented real life violences in her work without it taking on the air of pageantry, and asked the important moral questions in all her work.
In her own words: "I'm a 46-year-old writer who can remember being a 10-year-old writer and who expects to be an 80-year-old writer. I'm also comfortably asocial - a hermit in the middle of Los Angeles - a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive."
Butler was a major innovator for the field of science fiction. Her work is instrumental to the ongoing discourse of visionary fiction. Visionary fiction is defined generally as a literary form that describes and depicts the evolution of human consciousness. The genre is still evolving, with much debate going on about what qualifies (and doesn't,) as "visionary".
has a take on visionary novels that went as such; "'visionary fiction' is a term we developed to distinguish science fiction that has relevance toward building new, freer worlds from the mainstream strain of science fiction, which most often reinforces dominant narratives of power. Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the arc always bending toward justice."
In this sense, visionary fiction is somewhat prophetic in nature, or at very lest deeply imaginative and speculative. In many cases, it can be apocalyptic. Though, apocalypse takes on different meaning in different contexts.
As a general term, apocalypse is when some massive, world-changing event completely shatters the status quo and drastically changes social paradigms. In many cases, apocalypse is brought upon the human race by the invasion of more powerful others- aliens, zombies, etc.
In cases like this, it is easy to see that this version of apocalypse is, for the white man, the kind of subjugation and horrors experienced by people of color on a daily basis. Visionary apocalypse for the white man is effectively imagining what it would be for priviledged people to experience violence akin to that which marginalized groups experience.
In Butler's first series ever published, the Patternmaster series (released in a single volume in 2007 called Seed To Harvest) she tackles this notion of apocalypse, though not as a visionary piece framed in a white perspective.
With her protagonists of color, Butler addresses the fact that racial and gendered biases do not cease to exist just because it's the future. In these novels, she wrestles with the signifcance of gender in society and the powers it gives and takes away from an individual. She examines the kinds of violence experienced by men and women of color without censorship, though she does it not for shock value or showy-ness, but to serve a narrative purpose.
This concept of tackling racialized and gendered issues continues in her most famous work, Kindred. Kindred is simultaneously a time-travel novel and a slave narrative, where a young black woman is transported from 1976 California to early 19th century Maryland.
The premise of the book is that the protagonist, Dana, is transported back in time to a Maryland plantation every time one of her ancestors, a white slave-owner named Rufus, is in near-fatal trouble.
This concept faces the moral issues of having to become an accomplice to your own suffering; because Dana is transported back to the slave-owning south as a Black woman, she is forced to face the discriminations that her ancestors faced, all the while having to protect her own racist ancestor in order to protect her family lineage.
For reasons such as this, Octavia Butler is an important artist. She envisions these narratives and determines the best way to tell the story, while not sacrificing anything by censoring the violence inherent in the material. She raises complex moral questions and leaves answers ambiguous for the reader, because there are no clearly defined answers.
Octavia Butler was the first science fiction writer to recieve the MacArthur fellowship "Genius Grant". She was also the first Black woman to win both the Nebula and Hugo awards, two of the most coveted awards in literature.
Yet despite the accolades awarded to her, she is conspicuously absent from many "top" lists of science fiction writers. Check now- if you google "Top science fiction books ever" a band of books appear at the top of the results as frequently mentioned on the web. Not a one of her works is among those listed.
In fact, if you go to bestsciencefictionbooks.com, you will find that their list of the top 25 doesn't include any women whatsoever. They made a separate list called "the best science fiction by women".
This implies that women's writing is only comparable to other women, while only men can have the definitive bests.
This is the kind of thing Octavia Butler wrote against. This is the reason why she is so important as a writer. You need to go out and pick up some of her work, and start reading. We all do.