Author Topic: Octavia Butler 1947-2006  (Read 1635 times)

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Octavia Butler 1947-2006
« on: 15-08-2006, 09:36:48 »
umrla je Octavia Butler
Ne znam, da li je več ko to spomeno, ali ja saznao juče
Pročitao sam maltene svaku rečenicu, što je ona napisala. Ima jako malo kratkih priča, ni za jednu dobru kolekciju nije toga dovoljno. Poznata je priča Bloodchild, a ja imam da prevedem Speech Sounds.  Njezini romani su O.K. lošiji je jedino Survivor, te da dodam još Clays Ark. Al to procenjujem po najvišim kriterijima. Koji mnogi pisci nikad ni ne dostignu. Pet romana je postavljeno u jedan te isti univerzum, sa iznimkom Xenogenesis trilogije(Lilith's Brood) koju apsolutno preporučujem. Iznimno kvalitetan je Wild Seed(1980), te natprosječni Patternmaster(1976)
Te jedan najboljih SF romana svih vremena, a to jeste Kindred(1979). Ellison ga usporedjuje sa Roots Arthura Haileya i ocenjuje, da je Kindred daleko bolji. Ako vam to bilo šta znači.
Jednom ču to prevesti, siguran sam. To je time travel story o robovlasništvu. O mladoj, civiliziranoj crnki, koja se snadje u prošlosti, kao robinja i kako to doživljava. Ubedljivo, potresno. Pravi umjetnički rad.
ma, ima da to pročitate
onaj, koji sniva tudje snove


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Octavia Butler 1947-2006
« Reply #1 on: 15-08-2006, 09:58:33 »
Neverovatno. Par dana već surfujem u potrazi za njenim stvarima a to da mi promakne.
Enivej, baš danas mi jedan čovek poveri kako ni u jednom ženskom autoru nije uspeo da nađe ni grama utehe. Trebalo je da ga pitam da li je čitao Oktaviju.

Well, za njega i sve ostale, jedan adekvatan in memoriam:


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Octavia Butler 1947-2006
« Reply #2 on: 15-08-2006, 10:07:51 »
The Book of Martha
                  by Octavia E. Butler

                  "It's difficult, isn't it?" God said with a weary smile.
                  "You're truly free for the first time. What could be more
                  difficult than that?"
                  Martha Bes looked around at the endless grayness that was,
                  along with God, all that she could see. In fear and confusion,
                  she covered her broad black face with her hands. "If only I
                  could wake up," she whispered.
                  God kept silent but was so palpably, disturbingly present that
                  even in the silence Martha felt rebuked. "Where is this?" she
                  asked, not really wanting to know, not wanting to be dead when
                  she was only forty-three. "Where am I?"
                  "Here with me," God said.
                  "Really here?" she asked. "Not at home in bed dreaming? Not
                  locked up in a mental institution? Not … not lying dead in a
                  "Here," God said softly. "With me."
                  After a moment, Martha was able to take her hands from her
                  face and look again at the grayness around her and at God.
                  "This can't be heaven," she said. "There's nothing here, no
                  one here but you."
                  "Is that all you see?" God asked.
                  This confused her even more. "Don't you know what I see?" she
                  demanded and then quickly softened her voice. "Don't you know
                  God smiled. "No, I outgrew that trick long ago. You can't
                  imagine how boring it was."
                  This struck Martha as such a human thing to say that her fear
                  diminished a little—although she was still impossibly
                  confused. She had, she remembered, been sitting at her
                  computer, wrapping up one more day's work on her fifth novel.
                  The writing had been going well for a change, and she'd been
                  enjoying it. For hours, she'd been spilling her new story onto
                  paper in that sweet frenzy of creation that she lived for.
                  Finally, she had stopped, turned the computer off, and
                  realized that she felt stiff. Her back hurt. She was hungry
                  and thirsty, and it was almost five A.M. She had worked
                  through the night. Amused in spite of her various aches and
                  pains, she got up and went to the kitchen to find something to
                  And then she was here, confused and scared. The comfort of her
                  small, disorderly house was gone, and she was standing before
                  this amazing figure who had convinced her at once that he was
                  God—or someone so powerful that he might as well be God. He
                  had work for her to do, he said—work that would mean a great
                  deal to her and to the rest of humankind.
                  If she had been a little less frightened, she might have
                  laughed. Beyond comic books and bad movies, who said things
                  like that?
                  "Why," she dared to ask, "do you look like a twice-live-sized,
                  bearded white man?" In fact, seated as he was on his huge
                  thronelike chair, he looked, she thought, like a living
                  version of Michelangelo's Moses, a sculpture that she
                  remembered seeing pictured in her college art-history textbook
                  about twenty years before. Except that God was more fully
                  dressed than Michelangelo's Moses, wearing, from neck to
                  ankles, the kind of long, white robe that she had so often
                  seen in paintings of Christ.
                  "You see what your life has prepared you to see," God said.
                  "I want to see what's really here!"
                  "Do you? What you see is up to you, Martha. Everything is up
                  to you."
                  She sighed. "Do you mind if I sit down?"
                  And she was sitting. She did not sit down, but simply found
                  herself sitting in a comfortable armchair that had surely not
                  been there a moment before. Another trick, she thought
                  resentfully—like the grayness, like the giant on his throne,
                  like her own sudden appearance here. Everything was just one
                  more effort to amaze and frighten her. And, of course, it was
                  working. She was amazed and badly frightened. Worse, she
                  disliked the giant for manipulating her, and this frightened
                  her even more. Surely he could read her mind. Surely he would
                  punish …
                  She made herself speak through her fear. "You said you had
                  work for me." She paused, licked her lips, tried to steady her
                  voice. "What do you want me to do?"
                  He didn't answer at once. He looked at her with what she read
                  as amusement—looked at her long enough to make her even more
                  "What do you want me to do?" she repeated, her voice stronger
                  this time.
                  "I have a great deal of work for you," he said at last. "As I
                  tell you about it, I want you to keep three people in mind:
                  Jonah, Job, and Noah. Remember them. Be guided by their
                  "All right," she said because he had stopped speaking, and it
                  seemed that she should say something. "All right."
                  When she was a girl, she had gone to church and to Sunday
                  School, to Bible class and to vacation Bible school. Her
                  mother, only a girl herself, hadn't known much about being a
                  mother, but she had wanted her child to be "good," and to her,
                  "good" meant "religious." As a result, Martha knew very well
                  what the Bible said about Jonah, Job, and Noah. She had come
                  to regard their stories as parables rather than literal
                  truths, but she remembered them. God had ordered Jonah to go
                  to the city of Nineveh and to tell the people there to mend
                  their ways. Frightened, Jonah had tried to run away from the
                  work and from God, but God had caused him to be shipwrecked,
                  swallowed by a great fish, and given to know that he could not
                  Job had been the tormented pawn who lost his property, his
                  children, and his health, in a bet between God and Satan. And
                  when Job proved faithful in spite of all that God had
                  permitted Satan to do to him, God rewarded Job with even
                  greater wealth, new children, and restored health.
                  As for Noah, of course, God ordered him to build an ark and
                  save his family and a lot of animals because God had decided
                  to flood the world and kill everyone and everything else.
                  Why was she to remember these three Biblical figures in
                  particular? What had they do with her—especially Job and all
                  his agony?
                  "This is what you're to do," God said. "You will help
                  humankind to survive its greedy, murderous, wasteful
                  adolescence. Help it to find less destructive, more peaceful,
                  sustainable ways to live."
                  Martha stared at him. After a while, she said feebly, "…
                  "If you don't help them, they will be destroyed."
                  "You're going to destroy them … again?" she whispered.
                  "Of course not," God said, sounding annoyed. "They're well on
                  the way to destroying billions of themselves by greatly
                  changing the ability of the earth to sustain them. That's why
                  they need help. That's why you will help them."
                  "How?" she asked. She shook her head. "What can I do?"
                  "Don't worry," God said. "I won't be sending you back home
                  with another message that people can ignore or twist to suit
                  themselves. It's too late for that kind of thing anyway." God
                  shifted on his throne and looked at her with his head cocked
                  to one side. "You'll borrow some of my power," he said.
                  "You'll arrange it so that people treat one another better and
                  treat their environment more sensibly. You'll give them a
                  better chance to survive than they've given themselves. I'll
                  lend you the power, and you'll do this." He paused, but this
                  time she could think of nothing to say. After a while, he went
                  "When you've finished your work, you'll go back and live among
                  them again as one of their lowliest. You're the one who will
                  decide what that will mean, but whatever you decide is to be
                  the bottom level of society, the lowest class or caste or
                  race, that's what you'll be."
                  This time when he stopped talking, Martha laughed. She felt
                  overwhelmed with questions, fears, and bitter laughter, but it
                  was the laughter that broke free. She needed to laugh. It gave
                  her strength somehow.
                  "I was born on the bottom level of society," she said. "You
                  must have known that."
                  God did not answer.
                  "Sure you did." Martha stopped laughing and managed, somehow,
                  not to cry. She stood up, stepped toward God. "How could you
                  not know? I was born poor, black, and female to a
                  fourteen-year-old mother who could barely read. We were
                  homeless half the time while I was growing up. Is that
                  bottom-level enough for you? I was born on the bottom, but I
                  didn't stay there. I didn't leave my mother there, either. And
                  I'm not going back there!"
                  Still God said nothing. He smiled.
                  Martha sat down again, frightened by the smile, aware that she
                  had been shouting—shouting at God! After a while, she
                  whispered, "Is that why you chose me to do this … this work?
                  Because of where I came from?"
                  "I chose you for all that you are and all that you are not,"
                  God said. "I could have chosen someone much poorer and more
                  downtrodden. I chose you because you were the one I wanted for
                  Martha couldn't decide whether he sounded annoyed. She
                  couldn't decide whether it was an honor to be chosen to do a
                  job so huge, so poorly defined, so impossible.
                  "Please let me go home," she whispered. She was instantly
                  ashamed of herself. She was begging, sounding pitiful,
                  humiliating herself. Yet these were the most honest words
                  she'd spoken so far.
                  "You're free to ask me questions," God said as though he
                  hadn't heard her plea at all. "You're free to argue and think
                  and investigate all of human history for ideas and warnings.
                  You're free to take all the time you need to do these things.
                  As I said earlier, you're truly free. You're even free to be
                  terrified. But I assure you, you will do this work."


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Octavia Butler 1947-2006
« Reply #3 on: 15-08-2006, 10:12:41 »
Martha thought of Job, Jonah, and Noah. After a while, she
                  "Good," God said. He stood up and stepped toward her. He was
                  at least twelve feet high and inhumanly beautiful. He
                  literally glowed. "Walk with me," he said.
                  And abruptly, he was not twelve feet high. Martha never saw
                  him change, but now he was her size—just under six feet—and he
                  no longer glowed. Now when he looked at her, they were eye to
                  eye. He did look at her. He saw that something was disturbing
                  her, and he asked, "What is it now? Has your image of me grown
                  feathered wings or a blinding halo?"
                  "Your halo's gone," she answered. "And you're smaller. More
                  "Good," he said. "What else do you see?"
                  "Nothing. Grayness."
                  "That will change."
                  It seemed that they walked over a smooth, hard, level surface,
                  although when she looked down, she couldn't see her feet. It
                  was as though she walked through ankle-high, ground-hugging
                  "What are we walking on?" she asked.
                  "What would you like?" God asked. "A sidewalk? Beach sand? A
                  dirt road?"
                  "A healthy, green lawn," she said, and was somehow not
                  surprised to find herself walking on short, green grass. "And
                  there should be trees," she said, getting the idea and
                  discovering she liked it. "There should be sunshine—blue sky
                  with a few clouds. It should be May or early June."
                  And it was so. It was as though it had always been so. They
                  were walking through what could have been a vast city park.
                  Martha looked at God, her eyes wide. "Is that it?" she
                  whispered. "I'm supposed to change people by deciding what
                  they'll be like, and then just … just saying it?"
                  "Yes," God said.
                  And she went from being elated to—once again—being terrified.
                  "What if I say something wrong, make a mistake?"
                  "You will."
                  "But … people could get hurt. People could die."
                  God went to a huge deep red Norway Maple tree and sat down
                  beneath it on a long wooden bench. Martha realized that he had
                  created both the ancient tree and the comfortable-looking
                  bench only a moment before. She knew this, but again, it had
                  happened so smoothly that she was not jarred by it.
                  "It's so easy," she said. "Is it always this easy for you?"
                  God sighed. "Always," he said.
                  She thought about that—his sigh, the fact that he looked away
                  into the trees instead of at her. Was an eternity of absolute
                  ease just another name for hell? Or was that just the most
                  sacrilegious thought she'd had so far? She said, "I don't want
                  to hurt people. Not even by accident."
                  God turned away from the trees, looked at her for several
                  seconds, then said, "It would be better for you if you had
                  raised a child or two."
                  Then, she thought with irritation, he should have chosen
                  someone who'd raised a child or two. But she didn't have the
                  courage to say that. Instead, she said, "Won't you fix it so I
                  don't hurt or kill anyone? I mean, I'm new at this. I could do
                  something stupid and wipe people out and not even know I'd
                  done it until afterward."
                  "I won't fix things for you," God said. "You have a free
                  She sat down next to him because sitting and staring out into
                  the endless park was easier than standing and facing him and
                  asking him questions that she thought might make him angry.
                  She said, "Why should it be my work? Why don't you do it? You
                  know how. You could do it without making mistakes. Why make me
                  do it? I don't know anything."
                  "Quite right," God said. And he smiled. "That's why."
                  She thought about this with growing horror. "Is it just a game
                  to you, then?" she asked. "Are you playing with us because
                  you're bored?"
                  God seemed to consider the question. "I'm not bored," he said.
                  He seemed pleased somehow. "You should be thinking about the
                  changes you'll make. We can talk about them. You don't have to
                  just suddenly proclaim."
                  She looked at him, then stared down at the grass, trying to
                  get her thoughts in order. "Okay. How do I start?"
                  "Think about this: What change would you want to make if you
                  could make only one? Think of one important change."
                  She looked at the grass again and thought about the novels she
                  had written. What if she were going to write a novel in which
                  human beings had to be changed in only one positive way?
                  "Well," she said after a while, "the growing population is
                  making a lot of the other problems worse. What if people could
                  only have two children? I mean, what if people who wanted
                  children could only have two, no matter how many more they
                  wanted or how many medical techniques they used to try to get
                  "You believe the population problem is the worst one, then?"
                  God asked.
                  "I think so," she said. "Too many people. If we solve that
                  one, we'll have more time to solve other problems. And we
                  can't solve it on our own. We all know about it, but some of
                  us won't admit it. And nobody wants some big government
                  authority telling them how many kids to have." She glanced at
                  God and saw that he seemed to be listening politely. She
                  wondered how far he would let her go. What might offend him.
                  What might he do to her if he were offended? "So everyone's
                  reproductive system shuts down after two kids," she said. "I
                  mean, they get to live as long as before, and they aren't
                  sick. They just can't have kids any more."
                  "They'll try," God said. "The effort they put into building
                  pyramids, cathedrals, and moon rockets will be as nothing to
                  the effort they'll put into trying to end what will seem to
                  them a plague of barrenness. What about people whose children
                  die or are seriously disabled? What about a woman who's first
                  child is a result of rape? What about surrogate motherhood?
                  What about men who become fathers without realizing it? What
                  about cloning?"
                  Martha stared at him, chagrined. "That's why you should do
                  this. It's too complicated."
                  "All right," Martha sighed and gave up. "All right. What if
                  even with accidents and modern medicine, even something like
                  cloning, the two-kid limit holds. I don't know how that could
                  be made to work, but you do."
                  "It could be made to work," God said, "but keep in mind that
                  you won't be coming here again to repair any changes you make.
                  What you do is what people will live with. Or in this case,
                  die with."
                  "Oh," Martha said. She thought for a moment, then said, "Oh,
                  "They would last for a good many generations," God said. "But
                  they would be dwindling all the time. In the end, they would
                  be extinguished. With the usual diseases, disabilities,
                  disasters, wars, deliberate childlessness, and murder, they
                  wouldn't be able to replace themselves. Think of the needs of
                  the future, Martha, as well as the needs of the present."
                  "I thought I was," she said. "What if I made four kids the
                  maximum number instead of two?"
                  God shook his head. "Free will coupled with morality has been
                  an interesting experiment. Free will is, among other things,
                  the freedom to make mistakes. One group of mistakes will
                  sometimes cancel another. That's saved any number of human
                  groups, although it isn't dependable. Sometimes mistakes cause
                  people to be wiped out, enslaved, or driven from their homes
                  because they've so damaged or altered their land or their
                  water or their climate. Free will isn't a guarantee of
                  anything, but it's a potentially useful tool—too useful to
                  erase casually."
                  "I thought you wanted me to put a stop to war and slavery and
                  environmental destruction!" Martha snapped, remembering the
                  history of her own people. How could God be so casual about
                  such things?
                  God laughed. It was a startling sound—deep, full, and, Martha
                  thought, inappropriately happy. Why would this particular
                  subject make him laugh? Was he God? Was he Satan? Martha, in
                  spite of her mother's efforts, had not been able to believe in
                  the literal existence of either. Now, she did not know what to
                  think—or what to do.
                  God recovered himself, shook his head, and looked at Martha.
                  "Well, there's no hurry," he said. "Do you know what a nova is
                  Martha frowned. "It's … a star that explodes," she said,
                  willing, even eager, to be distracted from her doubts.
                  "It's a pair of stars," God said. "A large one—a giant—and a
                  small, very dense dwarf. The dwarf pulls material from the
                  giant. After a while, the dwarf has taken more material than
                  it can control, and it explodes. It doesn't necessarily
                  destroy itself, but it does throw off a great deal of excess
                  material. It makes a very bright, violent display. But once
                  the dwarf has quieted down, it begins to siphon material from
                  the giant again. It can do this over and over. That's what a
                  nova is. If you change it—move the two stars farther apart or
                  equalize their density, then it's no longer a nova."
                  Martha listened, catching his meaning even though she didn't
                  want to. "Are you saying that if … if humanity is changed, it
                  won't be humanity any more?"
                  "I'm saying more than that," God told her. "I'm saying that
                  even though this is true, I will permit you to do it. What you
                  decide should be done with humankind will be done. But
                  whatever you do, your decisions will have consequences. If you
                  limit their fertility, you will probably destroy them. If you
                  limit their competitiveness or their inventiveness, you might
                  destroy their ability to survive the many disasters and
                  challenges that they must face."
                  Worse and worse, Martha thought, and she actually felt
                  nauseous with fear. She turned away from God, hugging herself,
                  suddenly crying, tears streaming down her face. After a while,
                  she sniffed and wiped her face on her hands, since she had
                  nothing else. "What will you do to me if I refuse?" she asked,
                  thinking of Job and Jonah in particular.
                  "Nothing." God didn't even sound annoyed. "You won't refuse."
                  "But what if I do? What if I really can't think of anything
                  worth doing?"
                  "That won't happen. But if it did somehow, and if you asked, I
                  would send you home. After all, there are millions of human
                  beings who would give anything to do this work."
                  And, instantly, she thought of some of these—people who would
                  be happy to wipe out whole segments of the population whom
                  they hated and feared, or people who would set up vast
                  tyrannies that forced everyone into a single mold, no matter
                  how much suffering that created. And what about those who
                  would treat the work as fun—as nothing more than a
                  good-guys-versus-bad-guys computer game, and damn the
                  consequences. There were people like that. Martha knew people
                  like that.
                  But God wouldn't choose that kind of person. If he was God.
                  Why had he chosen her, after all? For all of her adult life,
                  she hadn't even believed in God as a literal being. If this
                  terrifyingly powerful entity, God or not, could choose her, he
                  could make even worse choices.
                  After a while, she asked, "Was there really a Noah?"
                  "Not one man dealing with a worldwide flood," God said. "But
                  there have been a number of people who've had to deal with
                  smaller disasters."
                  "People you ordered to save a few and let the rest die?"
                  "Yes," God said.
                  She shuddered and turned to face him again. "And what then?
                  Did they go mad?" Even she could hear the disapproval and
                  disgust in her voice.
                  God chose to hear the question as only a question. "Some took
                  refuge in madness, some in drunkenness, some in sexual
                  license. Some killed themselves. Some survived and lived long,
                  fruitful lives."
                  Martha shook her head and managed to keep quiet.
                  "I don't do that any longer," God said.
                  No, Martha thought. Now he had found a different amusement.
                  "How big a change do I have to make?" she asked. "What will
                  please you and cause you to let me go and not bring in someone
                  else to replace me?"
                  "I don't know," God said, and he smiled. He rested his head
                  back against the tree. "Because I don't know what you will do.
                  That's a lovely sensation—anticipating, not knowing."
                  "Not from my point of view," Martha said bitterly. After a
                  while, she said in a different tone, "Definitely not from my
                  point of view. Because I don't know what to do. I really
                  "You write stories for a living," God said. "You create
                  characters and situations, problems and solutions. That's less
                  than I've given you to do."
                  "But you want me to tamper with real people. I don't want do
                  that. I'm afraid I'll make some horrible mistake."
                  "I'll answer your questions," God said. "Ask."
                  She didn't want to ask. After a while, though, she gave in.
                  "What, exactly, do you want? A utopia? Because I don't believe
                  in them. I don't believe it's possible to arrange a society so
                  that everyone is content, everyone has what he or she wants."
                  "Not for more than a few moments," God said. "That's how long
                  it would take for someone to decide that he wanted what his
                  neighbor had—or that he wanted his neighbor as a slave of one
                  kind or another, or that he wanted his neighbor dead. But
                  never mind. I'm not asking you to create a utopia, Martha,
                  although it would be interesting to see what you could come up
                  "So what are you asking me to do?"
                  "To help them, of course. Haven't you wanted to do that?"
                  "Always," she said. "And I never could in any meaningful way.
                  Famines, epidemics, floods, fires, greed, slavery, revenge,
                  stupid, stupid wars …"
                  "Now you can. Of course, you can't put an end to all of those
                  things without putting an end to humanity, but you can
                  diminish some of the problems. Fewer wars, less covetousness,
                  more forethought and care with the environment … What might
                  cause that?"
                  She looked at her hands, then at him. Something had occurred
                  to her as he spoke, but it seemed both too simple and too
                  fantastic, and to her personally, perhaps, too painful. Could
                  it be done? Should it be done? Would it really help if it were
                  done? She asked, "Was there really anything like the Tower of
                  Babel? Did you make people suddenly unable to understand each
                  God nodded. "Again, it happened several times in one way or
                  "So what did you do? Change their thinking somehow, alter
                  their memories?"
                  "Yes, I've done both. Although before literacy, all I had to
                  do was divide them physically, send one group to a new land or
                  give one group a custom that altered their mouths—knocking out
                  the front teeth during puberty rites, for instance. Or give
                  them a strong aversion to something others of their kind
                  consider precious or sacred or—"
                  To her amazement, Martha interrupted him. "What about changing
                  people's … I don't know, their brain activity. Can I do that?"


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Octavia Butler 1947-2006
« Reply #4 on: 15-08-2006, 10:18:21 »
"Interesting," God said. "And probably dangerous. But you can
                  do that if you decide to. What do you have in mind?"
                  "Dreams," she said. "Powerful, unavoidable, realistic dreams
                  that come every time people sleep."
                  "Do you mean," God asked, "that they should be taught some
                  lesson through their dreams?"
                  "Maybe. But I really mean that somehow people should spend a
                  lot of their energy in their dreams. They would have their own
                  personal best of all possible worlds during their dreams. The
                  dreams should be much more realistic and intense than most
                  dreams are now. Whatever people love to do most, they should
                  dream about doing it, and the dreams should change to keep up
                  with their individual interests. Whatever grabs their
                  attention, whatever they desire, they can have it in their
                  sleep. In fact, they can't avoid having it. Nothing should be
                  able to keep the dreams away—not drugs, not surgery, not
                  anything. And the dreams should satisfy much more deeply, more
                  thoroughly, than reality can. I mean, the satisfaction should
                  be in the dreaming, not in trying to make the dream real."
                  God smiled. "Why?"
                  "I want them to have the only possible utopia." Martha thought
                  for a moment. "Each person will have a private, perfect utopia
                  every night—or an imperfect one. If they crave conflict and
                  struggle, they get that. If they want peace and love, they get
                  that. Whatever they want or need comes to them. I think if
                  people go to a … well, a private heaven every night, it might
                  take the edge off their willingness to spend their waking
                  hours trying to dominate or destroy one another." She
                  hesitated. "Won't it?"
                  God was still smiling. "It might. Some people will be taken
                  over by it as though it were an addictive drug. Some will try
                  to fight it in themselves or others. Some will give up on
                  their lives and decide to die because nothing they do matters
                  as much as their dreams. Some will enjoy it and try to go on
                  with their familiar lives, but even they will find that the
                  dreams interfere with their relations with other people. What
                  will humankind in general do? I don't know." He seemed
                  interested, almost excited. "I think it might dull them too
                  much at first—until they're used to it. I wonder whether they
                  can get used to it."
                  Martha nodded. "I think you're right about it dulling them. I
                  think at first most people will lose interest in a lot of
                  other things—including real, wide-awake sex. Real sex is risky
                  to both the health and the ego. Dream sex will be fantastic
                  and not risky at all. Fewer children will be born for a
                  "And fewer of those will survive," God said.
                  "Some parents will certainly be too involved in dreams to take
                  care of their children. Loving and raising children is risky,
                  too, and it's hard work.
                  "That shouldn't happen. Taking care of their kids should be
                  the one thing that parents want to do for real in spite of the
                  dreams. I don't want to be responsible for a lot of neglected
                  "So you want people—adults and children—to have nights filled
                  with vivid, wish-fulfilling dreams, but parents should somehow
                  see child care as more important than the dreams, and the
                  children should not be seduced away from their parents by the
                  dreams, but should want and need a relationship with them as
                  though there were no dreams?"
                  "As much as possible." Martha frowned, imagining what it might
                  be like to live in such a world. Would people still read
                  books? Perhaps they would to feed their dreams. Would she
                  still be able to write books? Would she want to? What would
                  happen to her if the only work she had ever cared for was
                  lost? "People should still care about their families and their
                  work," she said. "The dreams shouldn't take away their
                  self-respect. They shouldn't be content to dream on a park
                  bench or in an alley. I just want the dreams to slow things
                  down a little. A little less aggression, as you said, less
                  covetousness. Nothing slows people down like satisfaction, and
                  this satisfaction will come every night."
                  God nodded. "Is that it, then? Do you want this to happen."
                  "Yes. I mean, I think so."
                  "Are you sure?"
                  She stood up and looked down at him. "Is it what I should do?
                  Will it work? Please tell me."
                  "I truly don't know. I don't want to know. I want to watch it
                  all unfold. I've used dreams before, you know, but not like
                  His pleasure was so obvious that she almost took the whole
                  idea back. He seemed able to be amused by terrible things.
                  "Let me think about this," she said. "Can I be by myself for a
                  God nodded. "Speak aloud to me when you want to talk. I'll
                  come to you."
                  And she was alone. She was alone inside what looked and felt
                  like her home—her little house in Seattle, Washington. She was
                  in her living room.
                  Without thinking, she turned on a lamp and stood looking at
                  her books. Three of the walls of the room were covered with
                  bookshelves. Her books were there in their familiar order. She
                  picked up several, one after another—history, medicine,
                  religion, art, crime. She opened them to see that they were,
                  indeed her books, highlighted and written in by her own hand
                  as she researched this novel or that short story.
                  She began to believe she really was at home. She had had some
                  sort of strange waking dream about meeting with a God who
                  looked like Michelangelo's Moses and who ordered her to come
                  up with a way to make humanity a less self-destructive
                  species. The experience felt completely, unnervingly real, but
                  it couldn't have been. It was too ridiculous.
                  She went to her front window and opened the drapes. Her house
                  was on a hill and faced east. Its great luxury was that it
                  offered a beautiful view of Lake Washington just a few blocks
                  down the hill.
                  But now, there was no lake. Outside was the park that she had
                  wished into existence earlier. Perhaps twenty yards from her
                  front window was the big red Norway maple tree and the bench
                  where she had sat and talked with God.
                  The bench was empty now and in deep shadow. It was getting
                  dark outside.
                  She closed the drapes and looked at the lamp that lit the
                  room. For a moment, it bothered her that it was on and using
                  electricity in this Twilight Zone of a place. Had her house
                  been transported here, or had it been duplicated? Or was it
                  all a complex hallucination?
                  She sighed. The lamp worked. Best to just accept it. There was
                  light in the room. There was a room, a house. How it all
                  worked was the least of her problems.
                  She went to the kitchen and there found all the food she had
                  had at home. Like the lamp, the refrigerator, the electric
                  stovetop, and the ovens worked. She could prepare a meal. It
                  would be at least as real as anything else she'd run across
                  recently. And she was hungry.
                  She took a small can of solid white albacore tuna and
                  containers of dill weed and curry power from the cupboard and
                  got bread, lettuce, dill pickles, green onions, mayonnaise,
                  and chunky salsa from the refrigerator. She would have a
                  tuna-salad sandwich or two. Thinking about it made her even
                  Then she had another thought, and she said aloud, "May I ask
                  you a question?"
                  And they were walking together on a broad, level dirt pathway
                  bordered by dark, ghostly silhouettes of trees. Night had
                  fallen, and the darkness beneath the trees was impenetrable.
                  Only the pathway was a ribbon of pale light—starlight and
                  moonlight. There was a full moon, brilliant, yellow-white, and
                  huge. And there was a vast canopy of stars. She had seen the
                  night sky this way only a few times in her life. She had
                  always lived in cities where the lights and the smog obscured
                  all but the brightest few stars.
                  She looked upward for several seconds, then looked at God and
                  saw, somehow, without surprise, that he was black now, and
                  clean-shaven. He was a tall, stocky black man wearing
                  ordinary, modern clothing—a dark sweater over a white shirt
                  and dark pants. He didn't tower over her, but he was taller
                  than the human-sized version of the white God had been. He
                  didn't look anything like the white Moses-God, and yet he was
                  the same person. She never doubted that.
                  "You're seeing something different," God said. "What is it?"
                  Even his voice was changed, deepened.
                  She told him what she was seeing, and he nodded. "At some
                  point, you'll probably decide to see me as a woman," he said.
                  "I didn't decide to do this," she said. "None of it is real,
                  "I've told you," he said. "Everything is real. It's just not
                  as you see it."
                  She shrugged. It didn't matter—not compared to what she wanted
                  to ask. "I had a thought," she said, "and it scared me. That's
                  why I called you. I sort of asked about it before, but you
                  didn't give me a direct answer, and I guess I need one."
                  He waited.
                  "Am I dead?"
                  "Of course not," he said, smiling. "You're here."
                  "With you," she said bitterly.
                  "Does it matter how long I take to decide what to do?"
                  "I've told you, no. Take as long as you like."
                  That was odd, Martha thought. Well, everything was odd. On
                  impulse, she said, "Would you like a tuna-salad sandwich?"
                  "Yes," God said. "Thank you."
                  They walked back to the house together instead of simply
                  appearing there. Martha was grateful for that. Once inside,
                  she left him sitting in her living room, paging through a
                  fantasy novel and smiling. She went through the motions of
                  making the best tuna-salad sandwiches she could. Maybe effort
                  counted. She didn't believe for a moment that she was
                  preparing real food or that she and God were going to eat it.
                  And yet, the sandwiches were delicious. As they ate, Martha
                  remembered the sparkling apple cider that she kept in the
                  refrigerator for company. She went to get it, and when she got
                  back to the living room, she saw that God had, in fact, become
                  a woman.
                  Martha stopped, startled, then sighed. "I see you as female
                  now," she said. "Actually, I think you look a little like me.
                  We look like sisters." She smiled wearily and handed over a
                  glass of cider.
                  God said, "You really are doing this yourself, you know. But
                  as long as it isn't upsetting you, I suppose it doesn't
                  "It does bother me. If I'm doing it, why did it take so long
                  for me to see you as a black woman—since that's no more true
                  than seeing you as a white or a black man?"
                  "As I've told you, you see what your life has prepared you to
                  see." God looked at her, and for a moment, Martha felt that
                  she was looking into a mirror.
                  Martha looked away. "I believe you. I just thought I had
                  already broken out of the mental cage I was born and raised
                  in—a human God, a white God, a male God …"
                  "If it were truly a cage," God said, "you would still be in
                  it, and I would still look the way I did when you first saw
                  "There is that," Martha said. "What would you call it then?"
                  "An old habit," God said. "That's the trouble with habits.
                  They tend to outlive their usefulness."
                  Martha was quiet for a while. Finally she said, "What do you
                  think about my dream idea? I'm not asking you to foresee the
                  future. Just find fault. Punch holes. Warn me."
                  God rested her head against the back of the chair. "Well, the
                  evolving environmental problems will be less likely to cause
                  wars, so there will probably be less starvation, less disease.
                  Real power will be less satisfying than the vast, absolute
                  power they can possess in their dreams, so fewer people will
                  be driven to try to conquer their neighbors or exterminate
                  their minorities. All in all, the dreams will probably give
                  humanity more time than it would have without them.
                  Martha was alarmed in spite of herself. "Time to do what?"
                  "Time to grow up a little. Or at least, time to find some way
                  of surviving what remains of its adolescence." God smiled.
                  "How many times have you wondered how some especially
                  self-destructive individual managed to survive adolescence?
                  It's a valid concern for humanity as well as for individual
                  human beings."
                  "Why can't the dreams do more than that?" she asked. "Why
                  can't the dreams be used not just to give them their heart's
                  desire when they sleep, but to push them toward some kind of
                  waking maturity. Although I'm not sure what species maturity
                  might be like."
                  "Exhaust them with pleasure," God mused, "while teaching them
                  that pleasure isn't everything."
                  "They already know that."
                  "Individuals usually know that by the time they reach
                  adulthood. But all too often, they don't care. It's too easy
                  to follow bad but attractive leaders, embrace pleasurable but
                  destructive habits, ignore looming disaster because maybe it
                  won't happen after all—or maybe it will only happen to other
                  people. That kind of thinking is part of what it means to be
                  "Can the dreams teach—or at least promote—more thoughtfulness
                  when people are awake, promote more concern for real
                  "It can be that way if you like."
                  "I do. I want them to enjoy themselves as much as they can
                  while they're asleep, but to be a lot more awake and aware
                  when they are awake, a lot less susceptible to lies, peer
                  pressure, and self-delusion."
                  "None of this will make them perfect, Martha."
                  Martha stood looking down at God, fearing that she had missed
                  something important, and that God knew it and was amused. "But
                  this will help?" she said. "It will help more than it will
                  "Yes, it will probably do that. And it will no doubt do other
                  things. I don't know what they are, but they are inevitable.
                  Nothing ever works smoothly with humankind."
                  "You like that, don't you?"
                  "I didn't at first. They were mine, and I didn't know them.
                  You cannot begin to understand how strange that was." God
                  shook her head. "They were as familiar as my own substance,
                  and yet they weren't."
                  "Make the dreams happen." Martha said.
                  "Are you sure?"
                  "Make them happen."
                  "You're ready to go home, then."
                  God stood and faced her. "You want to go. Why?"
                  "Because I don't find them interesting in the same way you do.
                  Because your ways scare me."
                  God laughed—a less disturbing laugh now. "No, they don't," she
                  said. "You're beginning to like my ways."
                  After a time, Martha nodded. "You're right. It did scare me at
                  first, and now it doesn't. I've gotten used to it. In just the
                  short time that I've been here, I've gotten used to it, and
                  I'm starting to like it. That's what scares me."
                  In mirror image, God nodded, too. "You really could have
                  stayed here, you know. No time would pass for you. No time has
                  "I wondered why you didn't care about time."
                  "You'll go back to the life you remember, at first. But soon,
                  I think you'll have to find another way of earning a living.
                  Beginning again at your age won't be easy."
                  Martha stared at the neat shelves of books on her walls.
                  "Reading will suffer, won't it—pleasure reading, anyway?"
                  "It will—for a while, anyway. People will read for information
                  and for ideas, but they'll create their own fantasies. Did you
                  think of that before you made your decision?"
                  Martha sighed. "Yes," she said. "I did." Sometime later, she
                  added, "I want to go home."
                  "Do you want to remember being here?" God asked.
                  "No." On impulse, she stepped to God and hugged her—hugged her
                  hard, feeling the familiar woman's body beneath the blue jeans
                  and black T-shirt that looked as though it had come from
                  Martha's own closet. Martha realized that somehow, in spite of
                  everything, she had come to like this seductive, childlike,
                  very dangerous being. "No," she repeated. "I'm afraid of the
                  unintended damage that the dreams might do."
                  "Even though in the long run they'll almost certainly do more
                  good than harm?" God asked.
                  "Even so," Martha said. "I'm afraid the time might come when I
                  won't be able to stand knowing that I'm the one who caused not
                  only the harm, but the end of the only career I've ever cared
                  about. I'm afraid knowing all that might drive me out of my
                  mind someday. She stepped away from God, and already God
                  seemed to be fading, becoming translucent, transparent, gone.
                  "I want to forget," Martha said, and she stood alone in her
                  living room, looking blankly past the open drapes of her front
                  window at the surface of Lake Washington and the mist that
                  hung above it. She wondered at the words she had just spoken,
                  wondered what it was she wanted so badly to forget.
                  The End