Winner of the 1984 Nebula Award for Best Novelette and the 1985 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. Winner of the 1985 Locus Award for Best Novelette and the 1985 Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette.
Published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 1984; in Bloodchild and Other Stories, Four Walls Eight Windows in 1995; by Seven Stories Press in 1996 and 2005.
Gan, the young male Terran chosen by the lead female Tlic, T’Gatoi, accepts his impending fate of being a host for her eggs and offers his body out of love, rage and desperation:
"I knew what to do, what to expect. I had been told all my life. I felt the familiar sting, narcotic, mildly pleasant. Then the blind probing of her ovipositor. The puncture was painless, easy."
Butler, "Bloodchild," 27.
"Bloodchild" describes the unusual bond between a race of insect-like lifeforms called the Tlic and a colony of humans who have escaped Earth and settled on the Tlic planet. When the Tlic realize that humans make excellent hosts for Tlic eggs, they establish the Preserve to protect the humans, and in return require that every family choose a child for implantation.
The story is narrated by Gan, a young boy chosen before birth to carry the eggs of a female Tlic named T’Gatoi. Gan and his sisters perceive being a host as a privilege; however, their elder brother Qui disagrees, having witnessed an N’Tlic birth when he was young. Gan's own opinion changes when he is forced to help T'Gatoi perform an emergency cesarean section on a pregnant male N'Tlic named Bram Lomas, who, abandoned by his Tlic, is being eaten alive by his hatched larvae. Gan uses an illegal rifle to kill an Achti, a large animal kept on the Preserve, to provide nonhuman sustenance for the larvae.
After witnessing the graphic surgery, Gan has second thoughts about being a host and entertains suicide rather than impregnation. He questions T’Gatoi about the relationship between humans and the Tlic. T'Gatoi, who must begin to lay her first eggs that night, asks Gan if she should impregnate Gan's sister instead. However, Gan consents to impregnation on the condition that T'Gatoi allows the family to keep the illegal gun. As T'Gatoi impregnates Gan, she lovingly promises him that she will take care of him and will never abandon him.
In several interviews as well as in her afterword to "Bloodchild", Butler explains the different situations that led her to write the story. To begin with, she wanted to "write out" her fear of her body being invaded by a parasitic insect, specifically the botfly. She also wanted to write about a human male becoming pregnant; about the risks to his body as well as what it would take for him to have maternal feelings towards his alien brood, and so she ended crafting a story about a symbiotic, loving relationship between two very different species. This is why, she insists again and again, critics read "Bloodchild" wrongly when they argue it is about slavery. Lastly, she wanted to write a story about "paying the rent"—of how a realistic depiction of human immigration into space would not just repeat the colonialist tropes of traditional science fiction but rather require some kind of quid pro quo or "accommodation" from the part of humanity.
Critic Jane Donawerth observes that "[i]n this short story... the conventional adolescent male narrator/hero is punished by rape, incest, reproductive exploitation by the dominant race, and anticipation of a painful caesarean birth—and he is expected to like it, as women in many cultures have been expected to comply with their oppression." Specifically, the narrator takes on the role of black female slaves in the United States, who were "forced to carry the offspring of an alien race." Kristen Lillvis further argues that this reference to historical reproductive slavery allows the male narrator to have "access to the power of maternal love" that follows the "tradition of nonphallic maternal authority that developed out of black women's experiences during slavery."
María Ferrández San Miguel construes the relationships between the Terrans and the Tlics as a kind of continuous traumatic stress (CTS). Ferrández mentions a 2013 article from the Journal of Peace Psychology about CTS research by mental health professionals who studied the effect of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. The Terrans' habitation in the Preserve convinces the Terrans that there is a real threat to their existence. This fear leads to a symbiotic relationship between the two species.
Readers often put their own objectives and ideas into their interpreted texts. Often readers incorporate the read information with themes learned from prior scholarship. In the case of forced symbiosis, the most common association from scholarship is the topic of slavery. According to Matt Brauer in "A Critical Examination of Octavia Butler's 'Bloodchild'" the slave narrative is eisegesis. Readers may interpret the oppression of a superior being (T'lic) over a weaker faction (Terran) with slavery.
"The Evening and the Morning and the Night"
Winner of the 1987 Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award, and nominated for the 1987 Nebula Award for Best Novelette, The Evening and the Morning and the Night explores a world where a genetic disease has caused the appearance of a new social caste. Decades after the introduction of a successful cancer cure, it is revealed that the children of its users develop "Duryea-Gode Disease", a dangerous genetic disorder that causes "drift", a dissociative state characterized by violent psychosis and self-harm. The onset of symptoms is inevitable but can be delayed by restricting one's self to a minimal diet. The incredible violence caused by DGD patients experiencing drift has caused people with this disease to be shunned by society.
The short story follows Lynn, a second generation DGD patient as she visits Dilg, a retreat specifically designed to safely house DGD patients experiencing drift and bring them under control by encouraging creative behavior and artistic expression.
"Near of Kin"
Published in Chrysalis 4 in 1979; in Bloodchild and Other Stories, Four Walls Eight Windows in 1995; by Seven Stories Press in 1996 and 2005.
"Near of Kin" relates a discussion between a girl and her uncle. Having recently lost her mother, the girl confides in her uncle about the lack of relationship that she had with her mother, as she was left to be raised by her grandmother. The girl and her uncle talk around a family secret that the girl felt was the justification of her abandonment. She compares her looks and personality with that of her uncle, seeking confirmation that she was his child. With this knowledge, the girl finds understanding for her abandonment and neglect.
In her afterword, Butler explains that the influences for "Near of Kin" come from her Baptist background and incestuous Bible stories such as those of Lot's daughters, Abraham's sister-wife, and the sons of Adam having sex with the daughters of Eve.
Winner of the 1984 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, "Speech Sounds" explores a universe where a virus has eradicated speech.
Published in Clarion in 1971., "Crossover" is about a lonely woman who works a lousy factory job she hates and struggles with alcoholism. During the three months that her boyfriend was in jail she contemplated suicide but never went through with it. Her actions and behavior become more self-destructive, constantly visiting the liquor store and turning to alcohol to forget about life.
In the afterword, Butler explains how the characters in "Crossover" were influenced by her old, dull jobs and the strange people she met while doing them, as well as her own fears of failing as a writer.
Published in SciFi.com in 2003; in Bloodchild and Other Stories, Seven Stories Press in 2005.
In "Amnesty", Noah, the main character, meets with prospective human employees for the Communities, an alien species that has taken over Earth's desert areas. Noah, who was abducted by the Communities when she was a child, attempts to convince the humans to overcome their fear of the aliens so they can prosper alongside them. During her pitch, Noah compares her experiences with both the Communities and the humans. Despite being treated as a lab experiment by the aliens, Noah stated that she never once faced as much cruelty as she did once her own government captured her after being released by the Communities. As a result of her experiences with both aliens and humans, Noah has become one of thirty "translators" to participate in the enfolding process which allows communication with the Communities and also enforces a bond between humans and aliens.
In her afterword to "Amnesty", Butler explains that the story was inspired by Dr. Wen Ho Lee's wrongful imprisonment for espionage by the US government.
One of the main themes of "Amnesty" is fear, mostly the fear the humans have of the alien Communities. Claire Curtis discusses this fear as a natural and rather overwhelming feeling. She states that humans do things simply out of fear, whether it's fear for others, fear for ourselves, fear of the unknown or, more importantly, fear of the known. "Amnesty" explores the idea that people are so afraid of the Communities simply because humans know nothing of who the aliens are, how they function, or what their intentions are. It is because of fear that humans turn to destruction rather than collaboration. Elisa Edward also discusses how the human race is fearful of their existence and how fear is turned into anger and frustration towards the Communities.
One of the most discussed themes in "Amnesty" is the use of violence by both the alien Communities and the U.S. government against Noah. However, the alien communities stopped using violence against humans once they learned more about them. Elisa Edwards points out the U.S. government's violent behavior towards the alien Communities' "collaborators". As she explains, violence is acceptable when it is used for "the greater good for mankind." She discusses this violent behavior as means for the U.S. government to protect humanity and to ensure its survival. Noah, who was considered a traitor and a collaborator, had to endure physical and psychological torture in the hands of the U.S. government because it was willing to act unethically towards humans in order to destroy their enemies.
Another theme that defines many aspects within the short story "Amnesty" is the human need for dominance, which Sarah Outterson describes as the main issue faced by the human race. There is never a concern for learning, or collaboration between the two species, just the overwhelming fear of the "imminent destruction of the human race as they know it."
"The Book of Martha"
Published in SciFi.com in 2005; in Bloodchild and Other Stories, Seven Stories Press in 2005.
"The Book of Martha" is a story about trying to create a perfect world. God gives a woman named Martha the task of helping humans become less destructive. Although afraid of making mistakes and resentful of god for the way he had designed the world, Martha eventually starts to create ways that she can help humanity. God shoots down some of her early ideas, explaining the unintended consequences, but Martha ultimately resolves to give people vivid, life-like dreams every night, for a more fulfilling life. She later adds that once the people wake up from these dreams, they become aware of their potential. This is bittersweet for Martha because as a novelist, she knows that people will no longer read books for pleasure, since they will be seeking pleasure in their dreams. She is willing to risk her career, and the life that she has made for herself from writing novels, just so that everyone in the world can have some sort of fantasy that would make them better people.
In the afterword to "The Book of Martha", Butler realizes that everyone has a different idea of perfection, making the task from God seemingly impossible. Each person's utopia would be another person's hell due to the different wants and desires. Butler wrote "The Book of Martha" to express her belief that utopias can only exist in our individual dreams.
In "The Book of Martha", Butler questions society's authority over individuals' interpretations of God. Her story strongly focuses on religion and how it "polices the borders of social value and disvalue" by raising certain members of society above others. Butler's de-gendering of God throughout "The Book of Martha" is evidence of the inequality in the perception of God by society. Butler writes to encourage minorities to question society's approach to labeling groups by color, class, and gender.