Short Stories 366:150 — “The Book of Martha,” by Octavia Butler

coverOh wow. From Year’s Best Fantasy 4, a delightful find in an old paperback I picked up on vacation on a rainy day, this story has so very much going on in it, but is at its core just a conversation between Martha, a writer, and God. She’s just somehow, suddenly, standing there with God. And God has a very big request: God wants Martha to help fix humanity. Or buy it more time. Or something. God isn’t very clear about a lot of things, and Martha is just doing her best here, but, yeah. It’s a strange moment and Martha isn’t completely convinced at first that she hasn’t just lost her mind.

Instead, Martha ends up floating some ideas past God, and as God evolves and changes (Martha’s conceptions are colouring her vision of God and everything around her, so there’s a wonderful progression of Martha slowly coming to be at peace with hanging out with, y’know, God as God shifts from being this large archetype to someone she feels the urge to hug by the story’s end.) Her ideas start out with population control, to which she quickly realizes the problems, and then shifts to another avenue that struck me as so very much a thing a writer would suggest.

“The Book of Martha” ends without knowing what will happen to humanity, and I’m glad. This is a story about one character, one woman, faced with an impossible decision, and her coming up with an answer that she hopes will do the least harm and the most good. It’s a great piece (which I suppose shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s read Octavia Butler, really), and I’m so glad I randomly bumped into it by random chance, thanks to a rainy day on a vacation, and a used bookstore.

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