“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.
The protagonist of ‘‘Bloodchild,’’ Gan, is a Terran—a human—living on an alien planet among its powerful insect-like hosts, the Tlic, some time in the future. The story opens on Gan’s ‘‘last day of childhood.’’ The events that unfold describe a rite of passage that takes place in a society where these two different species must depend on one another in order to survive. Gan’s family has a special relationship with a particular Tlic named T’Gatoi. T’Gatoi has been a friend of Gan’s mother, Lien, since childhood. When, generations earlier, Terrans arrived on the Tlic planet, the Tlic species was dying out. The Tlic needed Terrans in order to reproduce, using the Terrans’ bodies to incubate their eggs. Despite the fact that the Tlic are more powerful physically and politically, they remain dependent on Terrans for the survival of their species. According to the arrangement between the Tlic and the Terrans, Lien would have to provide one of her children for Tlic reproduction. Gan’s older sister Xuan Hoa had wanted to be chosen to play this special role, but T’Gatoi instead chose Gan and nurtured him from his first days.
The action begins with T’Gatoi bringing the family sterile Tlic eggs, which act on humans like both a drug and a medicine. The Tlic eggs make Terrans feel drunk and also prolong their lives. There is some tension between T’Gatoi and Gan’s mother, Lien. Lien initially refuses to partake of the egg, but she eventually succumbs to T’Gatoi’s wishes, sipping the egg and allowing T’Gatoi to embrace her. Gan does not understand why she does not want the egg. T’Gatoi comments that there was not enough egg left for Lien and so she stings her in order to sedate her. The sting loosens Lien’s inhibitions and she refers to the fact that Gan is still hers, saying, ‘‘Nothing can buy him from me.’’
Suddenly T’Gatoi jumps up and goes outside, sensing something wrong. Gan follows and sees her bringing back a man named Bram Lomas who is N’Tlic, meaning that he is about to ‘‘give birth’’ to his Tlic’s eggs as they hatch into flesh-consuming grubs. It is an emergency because his Tlic, T’Khotgif Teh, is sick and therefore unable to help with the ‘‘delivery,’’ putting the man in great pain and grave danger....
(The entire section is 1,270 words.)