Greatness doesn’t always beget greatness. Octavia Butler, who was born on this day 70 years ago, credited her remarkable, influential literary career to one sci-fi train wreck.
When she was 12 years old, Butler turned on the television and stumbled across a movie called Devil Girl From Mars. The basic plot was about a man-obsessed Martian and her mission to find humans to mate with. The movie was…not good. Critics called it “delightfuly bad” at best and “undeniably awful” at worst.
Butler could’ve turned the channel. Instead she watched the entire campy thing from start to finish.
“It changed my life,” Butler confessed years later in an essay about why she started writing science fiction “As I was watching this film, I had a series of revelations. The first was that ‘Geez, I can write a better story than that.’ And then I thought, ‘Gee, anybody can write a better story than that.’ And my third thought was the clincher: ‘Somebody got paid for writing that awful story.’ So I was off and writing, and a year later I was busy submitting terrible pieces of fiction to innocent magazines.”
She was being modest, of course. Those “terrible pieces” became the foundation of Wild Seed and the rest of her beloved Patternist series. Butler was the first science fiction writer to receive the presigious MacArthur Fellowship(nicknamed the “Genius Grant”), and her books won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards.
So next time you’re watching an awful movie, think of Butler. She turned one terrible film-watching experience into an award-winning writing career. What could you do?
Article by Hayley Igarashi.
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