Having never read anything by Octavia Butler before, I was unprepared for the wonderful energy, wit, and precision of these short stories and essays. They were fantastic- the kind of science fiction that strikes a match in your brain and makes you want to write ALL THE SCIFI STORIES yourself. Now that's what I call good writing.
And then, just because being awesome wasn't enough, Butler had to go and add brief afterwords to each story, laying out her inspiration or thoughts on the issues that were raised. You guys, I wish every book of short stories was like this! It was like reading a story, and then going to the author and saying, "but why did you write it this way? How did you come up with this idea?" etc. Such a small book (just over 200 pages), but such a powerful punch.
But you don't have to take my word for it- "Bloodchild" (about a human-alien relationship in which human men carry and give birth to alien babies) won the 1984 Nebula Award for Best Novelette and the 1985 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, while "Speech Sounds" (in which a disease wipes out much of the world's population and leaves many survivors without speech or the ability to read and write) won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1984.
I'd have to say that my favorite story of the collection was "Amnesty," in which an alien species has taken over the Earth's deserts and kidnaps humans to experiment on them. Now, that may sound pretty freakin' awful, but as the story develops, we learn to see the situation through the eyes of Noah, a former captive-turned-ambassador, who tries to explain to other humans just what the aliens were trying to do. She suggests that they didn't set out to hurt humans, just tried figure out what they were. It was up to people like Noah to work on developing a method of communication between the two species.
Butler also included two essays about how she became a successful writer and what inspired her. Butler's prose is clear, deft, and lovely. I'm hooked.