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Nothing Will End Will When They Try To Make America Great Again
[Image: OctaviaEButler.jpg]

OCTAVIA BUTLER, WHO died in 2006, was the author of such visionary science fiction novels as Kindred, The Parable of the Sower, and Dawn. Gerry Canavan, who just published a book-length study of Butler, describes her as one of the greatest writers of her era.
“I think you’d put her up there with Philip K. Dick and Le Guin and Delany and these other people who really made an impact on the way that science fiction circulates,” Canavan says in Episode 234 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Especially that mode of literary science fiction that’s somewhere in the middle between genre fiction and prize-winning novels, she has to be top two, top three in that list.”
Butler made headlines this year when fans noted that her 1998 novel The Parable of the Talents features a fascist politician who rises to power by promising to “make America great again.” The comparisons to Donald Trump are obvious, but Canavan says the character was actually inspired by Ronald Reagan.
“That we would elect Reagan and then elect him a second time seemed to her to be almost confirmation that there was something fundamentally wrong with us,” he says. “And so she thought the system was always teetering at the brink of some kind of dictatorial nightmare.”
It wasn’t unusual for public figures to inspire Butler’s imagination. Her personal notebooks, now housed at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, reveal that she also based characters on Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, and fellow science fiction writers whose politics she disliked.
“A lot of her heroic female characters start off as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, or other major figures from African-American history,” Canavan says. “And a lot of times the antagonists start out as right-wing politicians.”
Butler had a singularly dark imagination, and often had to do multiple rewrites in order to tell her stories in a way that readers would find palatable. But Canavan says that in the current political climate, Butler’s dim view of humanity is starting to seem ever more relevant.
“She often thought about how easy it would be for everything to just kind of go back to the way it was,” he says. “That the things that seemed like they were permanent progress were really just a kind of epiphenomenon of the wealth of the United States in the latter half of the 20th century, and that when that fell apart, all the bad days would come back again.”
Listen to our complete interview with Gerry Canavan in Episode 234 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Gerry Canavan on the Patternmaster series:

“The Patternmasters are bad people—they’re slavers, they don’t really care about the normals, and they do effectively take over the world, as well as murder each other without a lot of compunction. So it’s this very dark take on the superhero stories that interested her when she was a child. … She really anticipates a lot of what happened to superhero stories in the decades since she wrote and was reading them, that in some sense these stories turn toxic—they all wind up murdering each other, and you can’t tell the heroes from the bad guys anymore. And she was there much earlier, I think, than the industry wound up being.”

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