“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler starts out as a very… usual work of science fiction. When I first started reading this story, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d seen this all before. An alien race enslaves humanity (or rarely, vice versa) and indoctrinates them into accepting their subservient role in society, but one day, some brave, righteous humans find out the truth and begin to strike against their masters in the name of rebellion. The body horror aspects of Tlic reproduction help reinforce the unease they create.
However, that idea is purposeful misdirection. “Bloodchild” isn’t about slavery, brainwashing, or aliens versus humans. It’s a complicated tale of Terrans and Tlic both trying their best to maintain their people and freedom in an uneasy and uncomfortable arrangement for both parties. It’s that complexity that makes “Bloodchild” so interesting.
As an outside reader, it’s easy to bring our own morals and norms into a story without realizing it. The reader is tempted to assume that Terrans are forced into a horrible relationship where they have to give horrifying birth to aliens against their will just to advance the Tlic’s society. It’s important to remember, however, that the Tlic race was dying out before the start of the story. T’Gatoi informs Gan that the host animals the Tlic used to use for implantation had been killing most of their young for generations. Humanity represents the Tlic’s only hope for survival.
Additionally, the humans in the story were not captured as breeding slaves. According to the story, they first came to the Tlic’s world as refugees, escaping oppression and violence in their own society on Earth or elsewhere. While the Tlic did treat the humans badly initially, putting them in pens like animals, the story also indicates that the humans did much the same, treating the Tlic like overgrown worms to be detested. T’Gatoi was one of the first Tlic to advocate for the (limited) rights of Terrans, and although that issue is still not perfect, the arrangement the Terrans have is clearly superior to the one they had beforehand.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the mindset and morals of the Tlic are not exactly the same as ours. T’Gatoi sees nothing inherently wrong with implantation because it’s normal in Tlic culture. Likewise, pregnancy is perfectly normal in our culture, despite it being incredibly painful, and before the 20th century, often lethal. Consuming infertile eggs to lengthen one’s lifespan is also normal for the Tlic, even if it might seem artificial or dubious to humans. Mutual recognition is a key idea here — recognizing each other as subjects, not objects. Recognizing that morals and cultural traditions, while often similar, are not universal, is important to understanding the mindsets of other people.
Indeed, that is what the Tlic are — people. The story refers to them as such. Even though they might look like gross, giant centipede-things with the gift of speech and technology, they are still individuals with their own desires, fears, and personalities. On the third page of the story, Gan’s mother implies in a flashback that T’Gatoi herself was somewhat ostracized among her own people for some time. These are living, breathing people with their own society, and we should not reject it just because it isn’t “human”. Love can take many forms, and whether it’s familiar or not, unless it’s actively hurting someone against their will, we should accept it.