When I first heard Octavia Butler’s estate had found unpublished material by the famous sci-fi author, I almost lost my breath. Since I knew the discovered stories would most likely be unedited or rough starts of Ms. Butler’s beautiful writings, I was hesitant to read this collection because I did not want to be disappointed. However, on a random lunch break, I finally cracked open the book; or rather whipped out my smartphone’s Overdrive app, since this is only available as an e-book. Upon reading the first few lines of the first short story, A Necessary Being, I nearly dropped my smartphone in shock. This is a short prequel to Ms. Butler’s out of print book Survivor–set within the Patternist series’ universe, which feels like a godsend to her most devoted fans! I felt like getting up, screaming, and doing a death drop, before realizing that I would look demented.
A Necessary Being takes place on another planet, and deals with several groups called the Kohn. The main protagonists are Diut (Tehkohn Hao) and Tahneh (Rohkohn Hao). Both protagonists lead their respective groups, and both feel weighted by the expectations and responsibilities that ruling entails. Tahneh has ruled her people for a good length of time, but must prepare herself to name a successor. Diut has just come into power, and is trying to learn how to manage his expectations versus his people’s expectations. These two meet, and both must choose whether to follow tradition, or choose a different path for themselves and their people.
The second short story, Childfinder, was written for Harlan Ellison’s anthology Last Dangerous Visions. The anthology was never published, so the story was thought to be lost forever. Butler’s cousin, and her literary executor, found this story and A Necessary Being.
Childfinder takes place in the 1970s. Barbara is a black women who is able to find children with pre-psionic (i.e., telepathy, pre-cognition, etc.) powers, and is able to activate these children. When the story opens, she is currently running away from the organization that she helped start. Barbara is left with the decision to continue with the life she has always known, or to let that life go. “Childfinder” is very short, but it deals with covert racism, classism, and what it means to truly get along with others.
Unexpected Stories is a sparse collection. Although it is a worthy addition for any adoring Octavia Butler fan, it only contains two newly found short stories, a foreword by Walter Mosley, an afterword by Merrilee Heifetz, and a brief biography on Octavia Butler herself. Unexpected Stories will definitely satisfy Ms. Butler’s longtime fans, and allow readers who are unfamiliar with Ms. Butler a better idea on how her experiences influenced her writing, and also shows how her work transformed and became more refined overtime.