IT WAS GREAT to do fun things with Octavia because she was genuinely interested in everything and present in the moment. She loved exploring the mountains and going on hikes, and a weekend trip we took to the ocean turned out to be the first time she had gone to the beach since she was a child.

Octavia’s request to drive her up to the North Cascades Scenic Byway turned out to be one of the coolest road trips we took. We wandered remote roads in search of potential locations for her vampire book, “Fledgling.” Like, “OK; where can a group of vampires live? Where can they hide out and not be noticed?” She had something very specific in mind and directed me to turn down whatever side roads caught her eye for a closer look until she filled several pages of notes on locations that came close to matching her criteria.

She was a news junkie and a big fan of NPR; she listened to it on the radio in her kitchen and sometimes on a small portable radio with headphones when she was out walking. If you went into her living room, you’d see an ever-changing assortment of magazines on the coffee table: Scientific American, National Geographic, The Atlantic. Octavia read from many sources to keep on top of what was going on in the world, and she assimilated it all. Her understanding of history and the future was informed not just by her reading, but also by her deep understanding of human nature.  

When I met her, in 1985, she shared her concerns about global warming and various social and political trends that she was seeing and reading about. Her commentary was delivered with wisdom, insight, compassion, worry and humor. She was able to assemble everything she learned into a comprehensive view of what was going on in the world and could easily identify concerning trends. I learned a lot from her. 

If she were alive today to see kids in cages at the border and some of the other degradations of human rights going on, she’d be devastated. Her hope for humanity was that we’d evolve, become more empathetic and humane, not feed the fear and ignorance that were at the heart of the problems she wrote about in the “Parable” books. Donald Trump’s similarity to the presidential candidate who used “Make America Great Again” as his slogan in “Parable of the Sower” would’ve blown her mind, and not in a good way. Like having one of your nightmares leap off the page into the real world!

We had many conversations about the ways humanity is going wrong in terms of creating a sustainable future, but she also held out hope for solutions that might inspire and motivate humans to care about and accept each other more, to rise above our differences and work together to protect, preserve and sustain all life on the planet. That’s the best explanation I can give of what I think was in her heart. Despite her pessimism, she hoped that the good in humanity would persevere.


Leslie Howle’s personal recommendation

I’ve been asking myself: Is there a kinder and gentler Octavia for new readers to start with? There really isn’t. She was kind, but she wasn’t gentle. She did the science-fiction writer’s job, which is holding a mirror up to humanity and, based on the trajectory of the present and the patterns of the past, saying, “How do you like this possible future?”

That said, I think the short story “The Book of Martha” points out how much she cared about trying to make things better, how much she hoped that humans could maybe fix the problems we’re making before we destroy ourselves. In “Martha,” a woman — the character is a writer “in her little house in Seattle,” clearly a stand-in for Octavia — is visited by God, who asks her to change one thing about the world to make it better. With each suggestion — fixing overpopulation, eliminating competition — God points out what would happen; human nature more or less screws it up every time. Eventually, she decides that if people can have consistent, fulfilling dreams of a perfect world, they’d be inspired to work together to make that world a reality in their waking lives. But that would mean they no longer need stories or books to help them live their dreams, so the main character would lose her career, the thing she loves most. That sacrifice represents how badly Octavia wanted people to be more peaceful and empathetic and do what’s right for the world, not just themselves.

Octavia was a humanist with a strong moral conscience and conviction of what was right. She cared about the survival of humanity. People see her as a social justice activist and feminist who worked to combat racism and other -isms in her work. And yeah; she was all of those things — and more. She was passionate about all kinds of environmental and social justice issues, for sure.

But even back in the ’90s, she was saying that we’re running out of time, and it’s too late to devote ourselves to any one single issue. It’s the equitable survival of humanity as a whole that we need to solve for, especially given the rapid progress of climate change and the rise of authoritarian leaders. 

I wish she were still here and providing leadership through storytelling. I miss her wisdom and humor, her curious balance of pessimism and hope, her moral center that had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with who she was.