“Bloodchild,” which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, was first published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. Butler has said that she wanted to experiment with the idea of a man bearing children. The “children” in the story are worm-like creatures that will grow into adults resembling sea serpents with tentacles. The central event is the horrifying birth of the alien worms, which are torn from the body of the male host in a bloody operation.
Butler imagines an alien planet to which Terrans have escaped from the disasters of their native Earth. The alien Tlics cannot bear their own young and must use the male Terrans as hosts. The Tlics use a form of narcotic to seduce the Terrans and develop familial bonds with their hosts, a strange love-hate relationship which foregrounds the conflict.
Gan is a young man whose mother, in exchange for the right to bear her own human children, has agreed to sacrifice her son as a host for the alien embryos. The female Tlic T’Gatoi has an honored place in the home, but the original friendship between the mother, Lien, and T’Gatoi has turned into hostility. Gan, torn between his horror at witnessing an alien birth and his desire to secure his family’s well-being, agrees to be impregnated by T’Gatoi. This impregnation is grotesquely reminiscent of human sexuality but with the reversal of the male and female roles.
In this story Butler explores favorite themes: the reversal of gender roles and the inevitable power struggle between two species who must become interdependent if they are to survive. Butler called this a love story, but readers who find the explicit details repulsive might not agree.