By Emily Heffter
For more than 30 years, Seattle science-fiction novelist Octavia Butler dreamed up fantastic worlds and religions, made-up creatures and futuristic plots. Then, in her stylistic prose, she used them to tackle the social issues she was most passionate about.
"Parable of the Talents," a futuristic story about a utopian community ravaged by civil war, explored modern-day issues of intolerance, the growing gap between rich and poor, and environmentalism. In her first novel, "Kindred," she plunged into racial issues when a modern-day character was transported into the body of a pre-Civil War slave.
"What [Ms. Butler] was writing for the first time was a kind of woman's-eye view, a very smart woman's-eye view, of say, 'Brave New World' or '1984,' " said writer Harlan Ellison, Ms. Butler's friend and mentor.
Ms. Butler died Friday at Northwest Hospital after a fall at her home in Lake Forest Park. She was 58.
"I consider Octavia to be the most important science-fiction writer since Mary Shelley," said Steven Barnes, an African-American science-fiction writer and friend of Ms. Butler's. She wrote about race successfully because she did it with such subtlety, he said.
Though she was a giant in the science-fiction world, Ms. Butler was such a private person that even her closest friends said they knew little about her.
Ellison said Ms. Butler had a number of obstacles to overcome in the writing business, among them being female and being black.
But Ms. Butler persevered to become one of the few well-known African-American science-fiction writers.
In 1995, she won a $295,000 MacArthur Fellowship, known as the "genius grant." In 2000, she received the Nebula Award for her novel "Parable of the Talents." The Nebula award is science fiction's highest prize.