Octavia Butler died last weekend. She was only 58. (Newspaper obituaries here and here, and appreciations by other SF writers here, here and here, among other places). What a bummer. I just read Fledgling, which now turns out to have been her last novel, a few weeks ago. Butler’s novels are downbeat, pessimistic, and utterly gripping. They all deal, in various ways, with issues of otherness, pain, and dependency; as well as, obviously, with race and gender, and racism and misogyny. They are never didactic, however, because they are as deeply concerned with affect as they are with cognition: the two simply can’t be separated in Butler’s world. These novels offer little hope of release, transcendence, or liberation. They sometimes flirt with religio-ethical responses in various ways, but they always also emphasize the fictiveness of such responses. They also often envision the posthuman, the transhuman, and the hybrid-no-longer-quite-human; but they never portray these in the salvific terms white technogeeks are so prone to. Above all, Butler’s novels never pretend to alleviate the pain that they so eloquently describe and evoke: in this sense, they are utterly, shockingly clear as to the forms of domination and oppression that are so often taken for granted in our (post)modern, highly technologized, supposedly enlightened world. They bear witness to the intolerable, to how much of our social life today remains intolerable. This makes them indispensable, both aesthetically and (dare I say it) politically. I think that we still have a lot to learn from Butler’s texts: about how to understand human limits and constraints without turning such an understanding into an apologia for the current ruling order; about how to construct a politics of the Other, in a way that goes well beyond today’s alternatives of insipid multiculturalism, Levinasian depoliticized ethics, or Zizek’s and Badiou’s deeply suspect universalism; about how to think the posthuman, the no-longer-merely-human. And above all, about a politics of affect (not a politics of emotions against reason, but one that rejects such binary altenatives altogether, and thus moves away from the common basis of both liberalism and fascism). I never met Butler in person (though I saw her speak or read a couple of times); but I am deeply grieved that we will never get any more novels from her.