"I'VE never liked the heat," explains Octavia Butler by phone from her home in Seattle, in a voice so deep it could easily be mistaken for a man's. Born in Pasadena in 1947, the MacArthur Award winner spent more than 50 years in Southern California before moving north in 1999. What does she miss most? "The main library," she says, without missing a beat. But, she adds, "L.A. is so spread out, I wasn't part of a community of writers down there. Here, there's quite [a science fiction] community -- parties, discussion groups, the science fiction museum. The degrees of separation are pretty small."
Butler started writing science fiction when she was 10. After seeing the B-movie "Devil Girl From Mars," she decided she could do better. Her first novel, "Kindred," was published in 1977. In the 1990s, she poured her heart into a pair of related novels, "Parable of the Sower" and "Parable of the Talents," highly political works inspired by current events. (Both are set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, a city finally crumbling beneath the weight of corporate greed and environmental degradation.) In the end, though, the effort wore her down.
"I had been writing books that were responses to the news and I needed a break, so I wrote this little fantasy," Butler says of her new book, "Fledgling," which still manages to confront its share of racial, gender and environmental issues. "I guess I can't write a completely apolitical book, but I had a good time with the sensual stuff and with Shori's amnesia. I had to learn how to live in her world right alongside her, someone who had simply lost the last 53 years of her life."