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Unexpected Stories

Unexpected Stories

4.0 1
by Octavia E. Butler
     
 
An NPR Books Great Read of 2014: Two never-before-published stories from the archives of one of science fiction’s all-time masters

The novella “A Necessary Being” showcases Octavia E. Butler’s ability to create alien yet fully believable “others.” Tahneh’s father was a Hao, one of a dwindling race whose

Overview

An NPR Books Great Read of 2014: Two never-before-published stories from the archives of one of science fiction’s all-time masters

The novella “A Necessary Being” showcases Octavia E. Butler’s ability to create alien yet fully believable “others.” Tahneh’s father was a Hao, one of a dwindling race whose leadership abilities render them so valuable that their members are captured and forced to govern. When her father dies, Tahneh steps into his place, both chief and prisoner, and for twenty years has ruled without ever meeting another of her kind. She bears her loneliness privately until the day that a Hao youth is spotted wandering into her territory. As her warriors sharpen their weapons, Tahneh must choose between imprisoning the newcomer—and living the rest of her life alone.

The second story in this volume, “Childfinder,” was commissioned by Harlan Ellison for his legendary (and never-published) anthology The Last Dangerous Visions™. A disaffected telepath connects with a young girl in a desperate attempt to help her harness her growing powers. But in the richly evocative fiction of Octavia E. Butler, mentorship is a rocky path, and every lesson comes at a price.
Harlan Ellison and Dangerous Visions are registered trademarks of the Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 05/05/2014
This exciting collection presents two previously unpublished stories by SF legend Butler: a novella titled "A Necessary Being," and a short story titled "Childfinder," which, according to the June 1979 issue of Locus, was originally slated for inclusion in the projected third volume of Harlan Ellison's notorious Last Dangerous Visions anthology. "A Necessary Being" precedes the events of Survivor, Butler's third (famously disowned) installment in her Patternist series, and includes characters from it, focusing exclusively on the Kohn, aliens who build their social hierarchies on the blueness of their fur. The bluest, called Hao, are revered as leaders, but are deemed so crucial to a tribe's survival that it's acceptable to capture and if necessary mutilate them into staying. Tahneh, Hao of the Rohkohn, has been unable to produce another Hao to succeed her. When her hunters report sighting a young Hao nearby ripe for capture, she must decide what to do. The result is a tense and provocative exploration of power dynamics reminiscent of Bloodchild. In "Childfinder," a black woman with the gift of identifying children with latent psychic ability refuses to share her skill with an organization of white telepaths. These riveting additions to Butler's oeuvre are superb examples of her craft and will be welcomed by Butler fans and scholars alike. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-06-04
Striking social commentary underscores the action in two dark, previously unpublished stories from the late sci-fi master.In the opening novella,A Necessary Being, Tahneh rules the Rohkohn, a small desert tribe facing a severe drought. Tahneh is a Hao, a rare, blue-skinned being prized for their fighting ability and political cunning in the fictional world's stark, allegorical caste system based on skin color in which all people are yellow, green or blue. Traditionally, tribes fight to capture, hobble and force a Hao to lead them. Tahneh's father endured this at the hands of the Rohkohn, yet Tahneh avoided hobbling by being born into the tribe.After her tribe peacefully captures a young male Hao named Diut, she knows that because she is growing old and has not given birth to an heir in her “intercaste liaisons” with her people, they will soon hobble Diut and force him to succeed her. The sharp prose that Hugo and Nebula awards winner Butler (Fledgling, 2005, etc.) is known for isn’t as honed here. But she generates immense tension and shows the loneliness behind Tahneh’s maneuvering as the central power struggle unfolds between the two Hao and their tribes, structured tightly around a moving scene of seduction, a fight and an uneasy pact, forcing Tahneh to strategize for her tribe while she considers if they or the Haoare her true people. In the bleak story “Childfinder,” a black woman named Barbara can read thoughts and find children with similar “psionic ability.” A confrontation with the select group of people with “psi” reveals that Barbara has struck out on her own to train black children and snuff out “psi” powers in white children, which may trigger a lethal race war.A small but important addition to the oeuvre of a writer deeply concerned with issues of race and gender.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781497601376
Publisher:
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Publication date:
06/24/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
95
Sales rank:
89,371
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Unexpected Stories


By Octavia E. Butler

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 2014 Octavia E. Butler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-0137-6



CHAPTER 1

A Necessary Being


The Rohkohn Hao, Tahneh, was sharing her evening meal with her chief judge and discussing the current drought when she first learned of the foreigners who had entered her territory. There were three of them, not traveling north or south over the long strip of coastal desert as she would have expected, but coming from the east through the foothills. Apparently, they were following the narrow dwindling river that had in better times kept Tahneh's people well supplied with water. The hunter who brought the message described the foreigners as a huntress, a judge, and, startlingly, a young Hao. Tahneh looked sharply at the hunter when he said it.

"You're certain that it was a Hao and not just a high judge?"

"So the message said, Rohkohn Hao." And the man quoted. "'The foreign Hao is male and very young. Perhaps even too young to have been acknowledged by his people. His coloring is unmistakably pure blue and he is much taller and larger than the judge who is with him.'"

Tahneh heard this silently, her face turned away from the hunter. She felt just the beginnings of dread as she began to believe the report. A stupid child-Hao out almost alone on land that belonged to her people! What could his own people have been thinking of to let him wander around so unguarded?

"How far is he from here?" she asked the hunter.

"Two days, perhaps two and a half, Rohkohn Hao. He's traveling slowly. He had just emerged from the mountains when a group of our hunters saw him and sent word back to us. Since he is coming toward us, our fighters could reach him from here in only a day."

"Is there any possibility that he saw our hunters—saw them signaling us perhaps?" Tahneh had trouble keeping the hope out of her voice. Even a young Hao would have the sense to take his friends and run if he realized that there were other Kohn in the area. He would not know whether Tahneh's Rohkohn were hostile or friendly and he would not be foolish enough to wait and find out. If only he had seen her hunters' light signals.

"He could not have seen them, Rohkohn Hao," the hunter assured her. "Our hunters made certain that both he and his friends were asleep when they sent their message." The hunter seemed proud that members of his caste had acted so carefully, so correctly. He added, "Our hunters also ask that we hold our answer until we receive another signal from them—so that we don't accidently alert the Hao and his party."

Thorough hunters, Tahneh thought bitterly. A tribute to her insistence on training and discipline. Her body whitened and became slightly luminescent. This was a sign of the approval that she should have felt, but did not feel, a sign to the hunter that he and his fellow hunters had done well.

"Is there anything more?" she asked.

"No, Rohkohn Hao."

Tahneh let the light go out of her coloring, let her normal blue return and the hunter, understanding that he had been dismissed, turned and left her apartment.

She sat still, ignoring the silent chief judge who sat beside her and staring into the fire of her large fireplace. This particular judge was a friend as well as the top official of her government. She had had liaisons with him before his marriage and after the death of his wife; he was a good companion. But she wished beyond expressing that she had not invited him to eat with her this particular night. In another moment he would speak and say the things she did not want to hear.

After a moment the chief judge's normal blue-green coloring soared to brilliant white luminescence with his joy. "At last, Tahneh, at last!" The words came out in a harsh whisper. "We must send more fighters—judges—to capture him before those hunters frighten him away!"

Tahneh watched him silently, knowing that his elation would soon be shared by the rest of her people. Another Hao at last. A young one to be the successor that her body had been unable to produce, a child who could probably be captured without the danger and loss of life that would be involved in capturing an experienced adult.

"With his youth," the chief judge said, "it might even be possible to persuade him to accept the Rohkohn as his people without the usual ... coercion."

"Perhaps," said Tahneh. She knew that this was a vain hope, that there was no possibility of "persuading" a Hao to betray his people other than by the brutal traditional methods. But she knew too that the words had been meant as a kindness. This judge, more than any other, understood how deeply she hated the traditional ways.

She longed to see the young Hao. She had not seen one of her own kind since the death of her father twenty years before. She had felt her loneliness agonizingly right after his death, but she had been very young herself then—just acknowledged by her people. Her loneliness had passed, or she thought it had. She was surprised at the new loneliness, the desperate need she felt now—need that she knew was in conflict with her fear for the boy, with her hope that he had already fled.

But no matter what she hoped, she had to assume that he had not escaped. For the sake of her people, she had to plan his capture.

She spoke to her chief judge. "We will obey the conventions in this, Ehreh. The Hao and his party are to be brought here unharmed, untouched if possible. They are to be treated as potential friends, not as prisoners. They're to be convinced that we're only being cautious with them. If we can make them understand that, then they'll be careful not to do anything that might make us turn hostile."

"We can't be too gentle with them," Ehreh said. "We can't take the chance of their escaping."

"Take a large enough force with you to prevent their escape. Take as many fighters, both judges and hunters, as you think you'll need. But remember, the point is to give them no reason to risk trying to escape."

Ehreh stared at her. "You want me to go after them, Tahneh?"

"Would you rather I send someone else—someone with less knowledge of the Hao, someone who'll lose this boy?"

He considered this, then gave the slight flash of white that indicated agreement. "For that matter," he said slowly, "you should go yourself."

"You won't need me if you do as I've ordered!" The words came out more sharply than she had intended and she knew that Ehreh would notice.

He looked at her silently for several seconds. "You've been alone for a long time, Tahneh. You should welcome this chance to capture another Hao."

"The people need him, not me," she said shortly. "They'll have him."

"They will if I can catch him without your help."

"A moment ago you didn't even think you were needed to make the capture."

"A moment ago I hadn't thought at all. I'm thinking now, though. A Hao ... We'll need you, Tahneh. If he decides to leave his friends, escape alone, we may lose him no matter how many fighters I have."

"He won't do that if you don't give him reason. We Hao don't particularly like abandoning our friends even when it's necessary."

Ehreh laid a hand on her shoulder and she felt the pressure of it heavily. "'We,' Tahneh? Already, 'we'? You must have been more lonely than I thought."

She said nothing.

"By refusing to go after this boy, you are giving him a chance to escape."

"I'm giving you a chance to prove that you deserve your high position!" The words stung him as she had intended them to. She saw yellow flicker in his coloring and was pleased. It was better to have him angry and defensive than to have him beginning to doubt that she was acting in the best interests of the people.

"I am not Hao," he said quietly. "I cannot perform Hao duties."

"Nor will you define Hao duties."

His yellow flickering stopped, and to her surprise his coloring faded toward gray. Gray was for the most private and deeply felt grief. "This is an ordeal that both you and the boy must bear, Tahneh." Ehreh spoke very softly. "We are close, you and I, and I can see the pain that you think your harsh words hide. I understand your sentiment, but the people can't afford it."

Tahneh let some of her own gray come through bleakly. "All right, Ehreh, we'll stop snarling at each other. It's meaningless anyway; I've already made my decision. Gather your judges and hunters and go capture the young Hao."

"You must come with us!"

Her blue returned at that—returned harshly metallic, a cold threatening color. She said nothing to Ehreh. She only looked at him. He understood that he had gone too far. He rose silently and left her.

When he was gone, she sat still for a long moment, then bent over slowly, very slowly, until her head touched her knees. She rocked back and forth, still moving with agonizing slowness, and her body became a deep gray. Once she spoke the name of her father loudly, sharply as though she were asking a question. But the dead were dead; death was an end. She neither expected nor received guidance. But she did call to mind the memory of her father, sitting on his mat, lying on his pallet, sitting in the litter that the people had used to carry him. She had never seen him standing. He had been old when she was born, and his legs had been useless for two-thirds of his life. The Rohkohn had had to follow the tradition when they captured him. He had refused to renounce his former people—the people from whom the Rohkohn had stolen him—as a Hao was duty bound to refuse, and the Rohkohn had had to cripple him to prevent his ever returning to them. They had burned him with hot irons behind his knees until his lower legs were permanently useless. He had been bitterly vengeful at first, and his agony until his burns healed had helped him make the lives of those who had chosen to serve him hard.

Finally though, as both his physical pain and his emotional anguish receded, as he saw that those he abused and tormented never struck back, he had begun to make the adjustment that some captive Hao never made. He had admitted to himself that the Rohkohn had not acted out of cruelty but out of severe need. They had been without a Hao and that had made them desperate. A Kohn tribe without a Hao was a tribe in the process of dying. Even a captive Hao who might remain forever hostile was a symbol around which the people could gather, and thus was better than no Hao at all. Without a Hao, people had no purpose, no direction, no unity. It was remarkable that the Rohkohn had even been able to work together across the lines of caste to capture him. He had finally accepted their need as sufficient excuse for what they had done to him and he had ceased to fight them. He had accepted liaisons with women of their judge caste, and one of these women had borne him a Hao daughter, Tahneh. He had given advice that had proven good and valuable to the council of judges. Finally, the people, seeing that he had accepted them, acknowledged him as their leader instead of merely a symbol of their unity. He had given them years of good government. He had been a better leader than any tribe had a right to expect of a captive Hao. Only Tahneh's memory of his legs marred her picture of him. She remembered the way he had propelled himself with short handheld sticks in the wheeled cart that he had had his artisans build. Sometimes, however, within the privacy of his apartment, the cart had been too awkward and he, not wanting to ask for help, had dragged himself on his hands and knees, unwittingly embittering his young daughter, turning her against the tradition that had so disabled him. Even now, it was painful for Tahneh to remember him crawling.


The Tehkohn Hao, Diut, and his party had followed a narrow river down from the mountains, detouring only when sheer drops made it necessary. They watched the land beyond the river grow dryer and more barren as they descended, while the river itself grew narrower. Vegetation, except in the vicinity of the river, became tough and spiny and Diut had to show Jeh and Cheah the ancient map he carried so that they would be certain they were still on the old trade route—still on a trail that would support life. Once they saw, however, that the trail was outlined in green, a pro-life color, they did not complain about the poor hunting or the increasing heat. They did begin traveling at night, though, at Jeh's suggestion, and their hunting improved.

By the time they reached the foothills, Diut knew that he was close to the ancient ruins that had been his excuse for traveling so far from his mountain home, his people, and his new Hao responsibilities. He knew too that in spite of the map he carried he could pass by the ruins without seeing them if he was not careful. Even when the desert dwelling was new it must have been well camouflaged. By now, unless it had begun to cave in, it would probably be almost indistinguishable from the various hills and mounds that were normal to this area.

It was because Diut was watching so carefully for the ruins that he spotted his captors before Jeh and Cheah saw them. He was alarmed but he gave no sign to his friends until he had looked around very carefully and seen that the three of them had walked into a wide, remarkably well camouflaged circle of fighters—a circle that was now beginning to move with them.

Diut's immediate reaction was humiliation. He had been quietly, efficiently captured by a group of hunters and judges. He could see them as though they were uncamouflaged now that he had been alerted to their presence. But he should have seen them before he walked into their midst. He should have seen them before he led Jeh and Cheah into their midst.

He looked at Jeh, saw that the young judge was just discovering his captivity. Jeh's coloring had not changed. He did not look around wildly to give notice to his captors that he had become aware of them. But in his eyes, in his movements now there was an animal wariness that had not been there before, and Diut knew that he was looking for a break, a flaw in the circle—an escape route.

The wariness was even more pronounced in Cheah. She was a high huntress, and using her speed and camouflage to escape predators too powerful to kill was second nature to her. Diut spoke to them both very softly, knowing that he might not only be overheard by his captors, but also understood by them. The Tehkohn dialect was very close to the ancient imperial language that all Kohn tribes knew. Diut had seen for himself that strangers picked up his language very easily.

"Jeh," he whispered. "Cheah! Be still. Don't resist."

The two relaxed cautiously, then glanced at him, perhaps wondering how sure he could be of himself in a situation that he had faced before only in training. Diut thought he saw doubt in their eyes and he turned his own gaze bitterly forward. Jeh and Cheah were young, but still they were several years older than he was; they had had more experience. But he was Hao. His eyes and ears were sharper than theirs. He could see that there was no flaw in this circle. More, he could see that this circle contained twice as many people as it should have needed to make it secure, and that those people were a well-disciplined force. The foreign fighters had spaced themselves evenly and now moved together in spite of their numbers.

They did not get in each other's way as they would have, had they been less well trained. They left no holes big enough for an alert hunter or judge to go through. There was no way out for Jeh and Cheah. But Diut saw that he alone, using the greater strength and speed that was part of his Hao heritage—and perhaps breaking a neck or two—might be able to get free.

He thought about it. Would his escape provide enough of a diversion to give Jeh and Cheah their opening? It would if their captors were too startled to move in at once and kill them. But that seemed unlikely.

The fighters of the circle were moving along easily with Diut's party now, subtly guiding it but never closing in or being obvious. This was a form of courtesy extended to captives whose status had not yet been decided—captives who had not yet been judged dangerous. Perhaps the desert people considered Diut's party too small to be actively hostile. But if Diut broke through their circle, killed one or two of their fighters, they would change their minds quickly. And they would do their best to make Jeh and Cheah pay for the deaths Diut had caused. They looked far too efficient to lose all three of their captives. Diut decided to wait. The desert people were obeying the conventions meticulously, when with their superior numbers they certainly did not have to. He would suspend judgment on them as they apparently had on him.

He kept his party moving as slowly as it had before he became aware of his captors. The desert people did not hurry him, did not prod him at all as long as he continued to follow the river. If he strayed, however—and he did, testing—the fighters toward whom he strayed ceased to move, became more visible, quietly threatening. He allowed himself to be intimidated and spent the rest of the long night going where they wanted him to go.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler. Copyright © 2014 Octavia E. Butler. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006) was a bestselling and award-winning author, considered one of the best science fiction writers of her generation. She received both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and in 1995 became the first author of science fiction to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. She was also awarded the prestigious PEN Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Her first novel, Patternmaster (1976), was praised both for its imaginative vision and for Butler’s powerful prose, and spawned four prequels, beginning with Mind of My Mind (1977) and finishing with Clay’s Ark (1984).

Although the Patternist series established Butler among the science fiction elite, it was Kindred (1979), a story of a black woman who travels back in time to the antebellum South, that brought her mainstream success. In 1985, Butler won Nebula and Hugo awards for the novella “Bloodchild,” and in 1987 she published Dawn, the first novel of the Xenogenesis trilogy, about a race of aliens who visit earth to save humanity from itself. Fledgling (2005) was Butler’s final novel. She died at her home in 2006.

Walter Mosley (b. 1952) is the author of the bestselling mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins, as well as numerous other works, from literary fiction and science fiction to a young adult novel and political monographs. His short fiction has been widely published, and his nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and the Nation, among other publications. Mosley is the winner of numerous awards, including an O. Henry Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, a Grammy, and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in New York City. 

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