At a very young age I became an avid reader of contemporary science fiction: authors such as Frederick Pohl, William Gibson, and Alan Dean Foster. Despite the popularity and critical acclaim of Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. Le Guin, I shied away from works by woman authors because, I imagined, I could not identify with the female characters they portrayed. What made me think I had more in common with white guys in starships and bug-eyed aliens, I’ll never figure out. Later, my niece repeatedly encouraged me to read the works of Octavia Butler, whom she related to not just because she was a woman, but because she was black. This I also resisted. Even though I am a dedicated fan of the new Star Trek shows—on which African-American actors are almost always fitted with some bizarre, distracting prosthetic—the idea of simple, unadorned black folk in days to come was not enough to entice me. When I finally delved into one of Butler’s novels and began to enjoy it, I realized that reading science fiction is not necessarily about identifying with a specific character. The experience is more about sharing the author’s vision of the future, whether that future is shining, or daunting as in Butler’s newest novel, Parable of the Talents. Her 21st-century vision is a frightening but deceptively hopeful one, inviting consideration, as well as apprehension, for men and women of any color. Butler reads from and signs copies of her book at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, at Sisterspace & Books, 1515 U St. NW. Free. (202) 332-3433; and at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24, at Vertigo Books, 1337 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 429-9272. (Neil Drumming)