It’s been eight years since Octavia Butler died from a stroke. In all that time, fans have wondered long and hard about the unfinished manuscript that she was working on at the time of her death. Luckily, she bequeathed her archives to Huntington Library and Gerry Canavan, a literary scholar at Marquette University, has gotten a good look. In a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Canavan writes about what he’s found:
Nearly all of the texts focus on a character named Imara — who has been named the Guardian of Lauren Olamina’s ashes, who is often said to be her distant relative, and who is plainly imagined as the St. Paul to Olamina’s Christ (her story sometimes begins as a journalist who has gone undercover with the Earthseed "cult" to expose Olamina as a fraud, and winds up getting roped in). Imara awakens from cryonic suspension on an alien world where she and most of her fellow Earthseed colonists are saddened to discover they wish they’d never left Earth in the first place. The world — called "Bow" — is gray and dank, and utterly miserable; it takes its name from the only splash of color the planet has to offer, its rare, naturally occurring rainbows. They have no way to return to Earth, or to even to contact it; all they have is what little they’ve brought with them, which for most (but not all) of them is a strong belief in the wisdom of the teachings of Earthseed. Some are terrified; many are bored; nearly all are deeply unhappy. Her personal notes frame this in biological terms. From her notes to herself: "Think of our homesickness as a phantom-limb pain — a somehow neurologically incomplete amputation. Think of problems with the new world as graft-versus-host disease — a mutual attempt at rejection."