In Octavia E. Butler's 1993 novel Parable of the Sower, she describes Mars as “a rock—cold, empty, almost airless, dead. Yet it’s heaven in a way.” Butler inspired generations of readers with her iconic science-fiction novels that put strong black female protagonists in the spotlight while weaving social observations into futuristic narratives.
“Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges. Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields,” says Kathryn Stack Morgan, a Perseverance deputy project scientist, in a NASA press release.
The late author began her writing career at the age of 12 after she saw a movie called Devil Girl from Mars and explained in a 1998 speech at MIT that the movie’s awful storyline is what brought her the realization that she could write a better story, reports Carly Cassella for Science Alert. Since her revelation at a young age, Butler has won numerous awards and recognition for her writing, including being the first Black woman to win the Hugo and Nebula awards and the first science fiction writer to be awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, reports Elizabeth Howell for Space.com. Currently as of 2021, no other science fiction writer has received the MacArthur Fellowship, Science Alert reports.
The spot where @NASAPersevere began its journey on Mars now bears the name “Octavia E. Butler Landing." Groundbreaking author @OctaviaEButler is a perfect fit for this mission, as her main characters embody overcoming challenges.— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 5, 2021
Photo credit: Ching-Ming Cheung pic.twitter.com/itgooPxpCN
Through her literary works Kindred, Bloodchild, and Parable of the Sower, Butler explored themes of global warming, gender equality, political disparity and racism. As a result, she is known as the “mother” of Afrofuturism, a movement that examines the history and experiences of the African diaspora through science fiction and fantasy, reports Nivea Serrao for SYFY Wire. These themes allowed Butler to become a pioneering force in a field that was predominantly white and male. Her work shifted the science fiction genre away from focusing solely on space and technology to include more details about biology, disease and reproduction, reports Science Alert.
Naming Perseverance’s landing sit in the Jezero Crater pays homage to Butler’s science fiction works because it is an area that might hold past signs of life on the red planet, Science Alert reports. Other astronomical features that Butler has been named after include a mountain on Pluto’s moon Charon and an asteroid, SYFY Wire reports.
Fifteen years after her death, Butler continues to be a force in the literary world. In 2010, she was inducted to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and in 2020, Parable of the Sower made it on the New York Times Best Seller list, reported SYFY Wire's Serrao in 2020.
"The fact that her works are as relevant today—if not more so—than when they were originally written and published is a testament to her vision, genius and timelessness," Stack commented in a statement.