Unexpected Stories (Octavia Butler; Open Road Integrated Media) is a slight but revealing work; a novelette and a short story, one set in an alien ecology among photophore-skinned not-quite humans, another set in a near future barely distinguishable from her own time. The second piece (Childfinder) was originally intended for publication in Harlan Ellison’s never-completed New Wave anthology The Last Dangerous Visions; this is its first appearance.
These stories do not show Butler at her best. They are fairly transparent allegories about race and revenge of the kind that causes writers to be much caressed by the people who like political message fiction more than science fiction. The first, A Necessary Being almost manages to rise above its allegorical content into being interesting SF; the second, Childfinder, is merely angry and trite.
The only real attraction here is the worldbuilding in A Necessary Being; Butler explores the possible social consequences of humanoids having genetic lines that differ dramatically in physical capabilities, mindset, and ability to express varying colors in the photophores that cover their skins. But having laid out the premise and some consequences, Butler never really gets to any moment of conceptual breakthrough; the resolution of the plot could have gone down the same way in any human tribal society with charismatic leaders. The counterfactual/SF premise is effectively discarded a half-step before it should have paid off in some kind of transformative insight that changes the condition of the world.
This illustrates one of the ways in which allegorical or political preoccupations can damage SF writers. A Necessary Being fails as SF because Butler was distracted by her allegorical agenda and forgot what she owed the reader. This is a particular shame because the story displays imagination and an ability to write.
Childfinder is not merely flawed, it is an actively nasty revenge fantasy. There’s very little here other than a thin attempt at justification for a black woman psychically crippling white children who might otherwise have become telepaths. The framing story is rudimentary and poorly written. It would probably be better for Butler’s reputation if this one had remained in the trunk.