Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, is not an easy book to review. It is a collection of about 50 letters written to Octavia Butler after her death by people who were influenced in one way or another by her work. The letters are personal, and also political, as is appropriate.
I have not read any of Butler’s work (it always sounded like the sort of stories that were guaranteed to give me nightmares), and don’t know many of the authors of the letters in this book, so the threads, such as they are, are very tenuous for me. The Hugo Voter Pack gave me the entire book, which may not have been doing me a real service – I understand that there was, at the launch, a sampler booklet, containing two letters from each section for the reader to review, and I think this would have been helpful here. Rather than attempt to review 50+ individual letters, or try to find some sort of narrative or argumentative arc for them in my head, I decided to choose, somewhat randomly, two letters from each section of the book myself, and review these.
And… that didn’t really work either. How do you review 50 essays by different authors, linked not by a theme, but by a person? There are certain recurring themes – racism, representation, grief, politics, feminism, and the way these things are reflected in literature generally and the work of Butler in particular. They are good essays. They feel a lot like reading the sorts of blogs I like reading – political, left-leaning, concerned with race and gender and intersectionality and occasionally just really good books.
And they are kind of depressing, because the internal evidence suggests that a lot of these letters were written very soon after the election of Trump, and, unsurprisingly, the sorts of people who would be writing letters to Octavia Butler are also the sorts of people who find Trump’s presidency deeply upsetting.
This is, I think, a book to dip into, rather than to read from cover to cover. I’ve liked the bits I’ve read, but right now, I don’t feel as though I’m going to take much more in if I keep going. I may come back to it later. I think I’m putting it second on this ballot for now, after Sleeping with Monsters, and ahead of the Ellison and Banks books.