There are about ten million reviews of this short story out on the internets, and many of them are so sophisticated and elegantly written, bring such acumen and nuanced analysis to bear that I shall not attempt to write a competing review. Rather, I’ll just describe my own reaction, a personal coda, if you will, to the body of criticism that’s already out there.
First off, Butler is a writer of whom I’ve heard much praise but not read anything by. Touted as the greatest female African American SF author, I sort of assumed she was the Toni Morrison of space ships, wirting about slavery and oppression on distant planets, and as such was never able to muster enough enthusiasm to buy one of her books. Perhaps this is because I took courses at undergrad on Morrison, and came to see her as an emotionally taxing and rewarding author if you but put the time and effort into mining her books for all their raw power and painful beauty. When it’s come to SF, however, I’ve been looking to relax and enjoy myself, not gird my loins and confront the woes of the world. Which, now that I come to think of it, reveals a certain paucity in my goals as a reader.
(Also, interesting how Butler isn’t a SF writer, or even just an African American SF writer, but rather a female African American SF writer, a category which acts like a prism through which her work is understood, contexualized fairly or not as the product of her sex and race.)
But! Regardless. A friend sent me a copy of Bloodchild, and knowing nothing of the short story but the name, I plunged right in. And slid smoothly through the 29 pages, fascinated and repulsed in equal measure, until I reached the ending and sat back. What a thought provoking story. It’s akin to a Rorsharch test, a mirror in which to examine your own assumptions and reactions. Beautifully and simply told, it packs a visceral whallop with its descriptions of men willingly playing host to alien larvae, asking if there can truly be love when the power imbalance is so overwhelming, and offers me as a man some insight into how physical weakness can create a space through which trust is made more daring and dangerous due to vulnerability.
This is a form of SF at its best, where it contrasts and juxtaposes assumptions and social stigmas and persuades the reader to question. Barabara Kingsolver once said something like, ‘It’s not what you end up believing in that matters so much as the decision to believe.’ In similar vein, what conclusions you reach upon finishing Bloodchild are perhaps not quite as important as the act of questioning itself.