I just found out earlier today, that Octavia Butler died at the age of 58. I really cannot fully express how her body of work has effected me on a very personal level. CNN has a short entry about her passing that is probably appropriate to anyone who has never read any of her work - especially in regards to why she was more than just yet another science fiction author.
For me, the thing about her work that impressed upon me (more than anything else) was her ability to blend standard science fiction components (futuristic settings, super natural characters and scenarios, underlying science themes, etc..) with incredibly unique, believable, and powerful characters. Not just strong characters, but characters that found themselves in situations that posed very profound questions about issues of race, gender, culture, and the human condition (with a heavy enphasis on the first two).
I had always felt after reading her literature that the issues were addressed and presented much more effectively (in the science fiction context) than if they were works of non-fiction, biographical literature, essays, or other more 'formal' literary forms.
The most poignant of her characters were black women and she had a way of writing black female characters with such authenticity that it often left me expecting the same authenticity from authors in the same genre (or in general). It was this authenticity (that I couldn't find anywhere else) that kept me coming back to her work, hungry for more glimpses of her vivid, anthropological tapestry.
Character development, especially in stories where the plot is more creative than the norm, is so easily overlooked and underappreciated. For my money, there were few authors who could create characters that stuck with you long after the plots (through which they developed) were lost and displaced by recent readings. Octavia Butler was one of them.
My favorite of her books were:
Wildseed (From the trilogy: Wildseed, Mind of My Mind, and Pattern Master)
Parable of the Sower (From the series: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents)
I had (wistfuly) hoped to meet her someday and ask her (amongst a long list of other, related questions) whether she had come to conclusions / resolutions of her own regarding the depravity of the human condition that she so eloquently described in her books, but I'll never get that oppurtunity.
From one of your most enthusiastic of fans: Rest In Peace, Miss. Butler. You would have made Lao Tse (and his contemporaries - in their time) proud.