wander the sea

Bloodchild, by Octavia E. Butler

isaac-asimovs-science-fiction-magazine-june-1984-a

 

Reading Bloodchild makes one feel sticky and gross, as if having small aliens growing inside your stomach. Just thinking about humans being implanted with larva that grow into giant creatures with tentacles can make anyone cringe.

This science fiction tale is told from the POV of a young boy named Gan, who will no longer be a child after the day is done. The boy is finding out what it means to be a Terran and how his role as a host will come to fruition. Butler has subtle ways of unfolding the back story, as Gan embarks on a new phase of life—adolescence.  The narration absorbs us into an alien world where there’s sensual, violent, and territorial action. Butler creates a complex society without interrupting the story’s flow and gradually expands the character’s thoughts with few instances of exposition, cleverly layered. What could take many pages, the author does in a few pages. Her sentences are short but they reveal the depth of the character’s reservations about how Gan’s life will change.

There’s a whole society being explained from one small scene in the living room, through the character of Gan who is eating some eggs with his siblings and mother. The eggs allow them to fall into a slumber, hallucinate, and prolong life making their suffering less present. But Gan’s mom doesn’t want to eat them, which leave us wondering: why would she refrain from prolonging her life? In one instance Gan says, “T’Gatoi meant to cage my mother,” as the creature enveloped the mother with its limbs.

The layering of exposition, dialogue and action seem effortless from the part of the author. The set-up of the story unravels through action and dialogue, as the conflict unfolds, and we begin to understand the balance of power between the Terrans and the Tlic that allow both to exist peacefully in the Preserve. Both sides have something to gain from peace. Gan understands this dynamic when T’gatoi, the Tlic creature finds him with a gun under his chin. This moment serves as a way for Gan to bargain for something beyond his position as a host, but he also doesn’t want to suffer. He wants his people to have an easier life, and T’ Gatoi can help since she’s a government official. T’Gatoi is the only one standing between the Terrans and the desperate masses who will treat them as animals. Although, she is manipulative, she values diplomacy in order to further her agenda.

In the past, Terrans rebelled against the Tlics, but a more holistic approach to implant eggs and keep the host living emerged, allowing them to coexist. The Terrans feel awful about carrying this burden, but do not want to abandon the Tlic since they depend on them for survival. Gan has spent most of his childhood with the creature, T’gatoi instead of his mother. He was raised to host her babies. Gan is part of the alien’s sustenance, and he too feels close to T’Gatoi, as she mentions here: “You know me as no other does,” she said softly. “You must decide.”

 

 

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