If you are not a fan of short stories but want to give them a try and don’t mind ones that sometimes have alien life forms or other science fiction scenarios in them, then allow me to suggest Octavia E. Butler’s collection, Blood Child.

The first story, “Blood Child,” is definitely the best one and I have written about it before in conjunction with a Virginia Woolf story. Because it is so good and comes first it kind of overshadows the other stories in the book which are also quite good, just not as good. A couple of the stories I found most interesting in the collection are grounded in the premise of a disease that has struck the entire human population. In “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” it is a disease visited upon the children of parents who took a great new drug that cured cancer and several viral diseases. The children of one or both of the parents would eventually “drift,” and be seized with an uncontrolled desire to hurt themselves and others. The story deals with the rights of parents who have taken the drug to reproduce and the rights of the children to live free, normal lives.

The other disease story is “Speech Sounds.” In this one civilization has pretty much fallen apart after an infectious disease has robbed everyone to varying degrees of their language skills, particularly the ability to speak. Some can still speak and these people are hated and often killed by those who can’t talk. But even if a person can talk, she may no longer be able to read or write. The main character in the story is a woman who was a history teacher at UCLA and a writer. She can talk but doesn’t dare. And her house full of books, some of them she wrote, are now incomprehensible to her.

After each of the stories Butler has a short note in which she talks about why she wrote the story and what she thought the story was about. There are also two short essays at the end of the book, one autobiographical about how she came to be a writer. The other is addressed to those who would like to be writers and Butler offers sound advice like “Read,” and “Write.” But over and over the thing she stresses most is persistence. She is one who knows about this as she was (she died in early 2006) one of the few Black science fiction writers and as far as I know, the only Black woman science fiction writer. Blood Child is a good book. Butler is down to earth, modest and matter-of-fact about herself and her writing, and is always a pleasure to read.