Octavia Butler’s weird science fiction masterpiece “Bloodchild” (1984) is set in a world where bot flies are sentient and lay eggs in human beings as incubators to propagate their species.
It was difficult for me to to tell, at first, whether the narrator, Gan, was human or an oversized fly, since the worldbuilding details are presented in such a masterful way. Gan would not notice the obvious difference between the two species, so it is not explicitly stated, only implied. The worldbuilding lies in what is unsaid, in what Gan takes for granted. Only the occasional exposition lump appears, never breaking point of view.
Humans and the gadfly-like Tlics coexist in a world that resembles ours on the surface: the Tlic sit on couches and cars are modified for their use. It reminded me, oddly enough, of Gary Larson’s Far Side comics, as well as the Khepri from China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station.
The humans, however, are not the equals of the Tlics. They are kept in a Preserve for breeding, where they are fed eggs that fill them with a sense of well-being. However, if the Tlic eggs are not harvested properly, a hatching may cause the death of the host.
Humans are fed an ideology to believe this arrangement is in their best interest. “I had been told all my life that this was a good and necessary thing Tlic and Terran did together—a kind of birth,” Gan states. He soon learns the truth about how his mother’s species incubates their young in human bodies.
The fate of one unfortunate human is too atrocious for Gan to stomache. It triggers a reaction in him to throw up, to mentally and physically purge what is intolerable. Kristeva would consider this a classic example of abject horror. “The whole procedure was wrong, alien,” Gan explains. “I wouldn’t have thought anything about [T’Gatoi, a Tlic government official living in my house] could seem alien to me.”
In the end, Gan agrees to have the eggs extracted from his body as he forever leaves behind his childhood naïvety.
“Bloodchild” is science fiction that truly plants the reader in a strange society that has a logic and language of its own which must be learned … on the fly.
Next week, I’ll be reading “In the Hills, the Cities” by Clive Barker (1984).