Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Kindred new cover Kindred (1979)

Beacon Press trade paperback
25th Anniversary edition
Cover art Jana Leon (Model: Chastity Jackson)
264 pages (left)

Doubleday first edition hardcover
cover art by Larry Schwinger
264 pages (right)
Kindred cover old

From the new trade paperback back cover:
       Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned across the years to save him. After this first summons, Dana is drawn back again and a again to the plantation to protect Rufus and ensure that he will grow to manhood and father the daughter who will be come Dana's ancestor. Yet each time the stays grow longer and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has even begun.

From the back cover of the Doubleday edition:
       "Are we far from Baltimore now, Rufus?"
       "Across the bay."
       "But...we're still in Maryland, aren't we?"  I had relatives in Maryland -- people who would help me if I needed them, and if I could reach them.  I was beginning to wonder, though, whether I would be able to reach anyone I knew.  I had a new, slowly growing fear.
       "Sure we're in Maryland," said Rufus.  "How could you not know that?"
       "What's the date?"
       "I don't know."
       "The year!  Just tell me the year!"
       He glanced across the room toward the door, then quickly back at me.  I realized I was making him nervous.  I forced myself to speak calmly.  "Come on, Rufus, you know what year it is, don't you?"
       "It's . . 1815."
       ". . . when?"

Read for group discussion on June 14, 2006

How we each rated these books
Dan - Amy 8 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 10 Barb -
Aaron 8 Cynthia 7
Jackie 9 Ron 9
Christine - Deb -
Mike - Stephanie 8.5
Gary - Patty -
Andres - Shannon 9.5

Aaron's Commentary   Octavia E. Butler - Kindred

This is probably Octavia E. Butler's most famous book, and while I wouldn't rank it as her best work it is certainly very good.  The time travel premise is a clever reversal of the cliché of a man going back in time to murder his ancestor: the protagonist Dana has to go back in time to protect her (at least partly) despicable ancestor Rufus.  The love-hate relationship between Dana and Rufus is fascinating, although the supporting cast is a bit weak - in particular, it is difficult to tell the various slaves apart.

As a commentary on slavery, Kindred is very interesting.  Butler effectively conveys how the slaves' plight went so much deeper than the beatings and physical deprivations.  Even worse were the cruel dilemmas slavery imposed on blacks, exemplified by Dana having to go along with the system and keep Rufus alive in order to save herself.  She watches the other slaves similarly forego any slim chance at escape for the sake of their mates or children, even knowing that they might be sold off later.

Just as bad was the moral corruption of whites raised in the antebellum South, trained by the system to manipulate their slaves in horrible ways, such as selling off all a slave woman's children but one so that her need to protect the remaining child would keep her in line.  Rufus was arguably a kind-hearted kid when Dana met him, as evidenced by his death wish, but is inexorably twisted by the system in which he lives.  He honestly believes he cares for Dana and her ancestor Alice, yet cannot restrain himself from beating and raping them.  Butler has a remarkable degree of sympathy for this evil man, knowing that in different circumstances he could have been a decent human being.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Our book group has also read the following books by Octavia E. Butler:
-- Parable of the Sower  in June 1995
-- Parable of the Talents  in September 2000
-- Fledgling  in January 2008

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) was a US SF writer, one of the few African American writers of note in science fiction.

1980 James Tiptree Jr. Award for novel Wild Seed
1984 Hugo Award for Best Short Story "Speech Sounds"
1985 Nebula Award for Best Novelette "Bloodchild"
1985 Hugo Award for Best Novelette "Bloodchild"
1985 Locus Award for Best Novelette "Bloodchild"
1995 Recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award
2000 Nebula Award for Best Novel Parable of the Talents

In Kindred (1979), the most popular of all of Butler's books, a contemporary black woman is sent back in time to a pre-Civil War plantation, becomes a slave and rescues her white, slave-owning ancestor.

Earthseed or Parable novels
--Parable of the Sower (1993), a finalist for the Nebula Award
--Parable of the Talents (1998), winner of 1999 Nebula Award for best novel

Patternist series
--Patternmaster (1976), her first novel
--Mind of My Mind (1977)
--Clay's Ark (1984)

Xenogenesis trilogy
--Dawn (1987)
--Adulthood Rites (1988)
--Imago (1989)
Ominbus editions
--Xenogenesis (1989), SFBC edition
--Lilith's Brood (2000)

Other novels
-- Survivor (1978)
-- Wild Seed (1980)
-- Fledgling (2005), a vampire novel

Short fiction books
-- Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995), collection of five stories and two essays
-- The Evening and the Morning and the Night (1991), a story published as book

In June 1995, the MacArthur Foundation awarded her a "Genius Grant" in recognition of a writing career that spans four decades and has included eleven novels.

Our book club's page for Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
Aaron's review of Bloodchild & Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler on Fantastic Reviews
Octavia Estelle Butler: An Unofficial Web Page
Octavia E. Butler - Wikipedia
Kindred (novel) - Wikipedia
SciFiDimensions: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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This page was last updated October 17, 2008