Gerry Canavan, a literature prof at Marquette University, has been studying the Butler archive and published an article in the LA Review of Books, “There’s Nothing New/Under the Sun/But There Are New Suns: Rediscovering Octavia Butler’s Lost Parables.” In it he outlines the many different options Butler was considering for the third book in her Parables series, Parable of the Trickster.

Nearly all of the texts focus on a character named Imara — who has been named the Guardian of Lauren Olamina’s ashes, who is often said to be her distant relative, and who is plainly imagined as the St. Paul to Olamina’s Christ (her story sometimes begins as a journalist who has gone undercover with the Earthseed “cult” to expose Olamina as a fraud, and winds up getting roped in). Imara awakens from cryonic suspension on an alien world where she and most of her fellow Earthseed colonists are saddened to discover they wish they’d never left Earth in the first place. The world — called “Bow” — is gray and dank, and utterly miserable; it takes its name from the only splash of color the planet has to offer, its rare, naturally occurring rainbows. They have no way to return to Earth, or to even to contact it; all they have is what little they’ve brought with them, which for most (but not all) of them is a strong belief in the wisdom of the teachings of Earthseed. Some are terrified; many are bored; nearly all are deeply unhappy. Her personal notes frame this in biological terms. From her notes to herself: “Think of our homesickness as a phantom-limb pain — a somehow neurologically incomplete amputation. Think of problems with the new world as graft-versus-host disease — a mutual attempt at rejection.”

Over at io9, Annalee Newitz has published an extended email correspondence with Canavan, asking about Butler’s plans for sequels to Fledgling.

And then there were a few tantalizing hints of a novel set a generation or two later, when many more of the vampires can go out in the sun like Shorri, and what they might do when they had no weaknesses and there was nothing stopping them from taking over the world. This is the one that I’m most interested in because it suggest Shorri as a somewhat darker figure than we might have thought — she really is disturbing a delicate ecological balance with her power to walk in the sun, which could cause a lot of problems down the road when played out to its logical conclusion…

Much gratitude to Mr. Canavan for this insight into Butler’s plans and process. I hope to have the chance to look at these papers myself some day.