The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O’Brien and Kindred (1979) by Octavia Butler would seem to have little in common except for their comparatively enthusiastic reception in the undergraduate classroom. O’Brien’s work is a powerful, somewhat circular Vietnam War story that borrows as much from the lyric as the narrative mode, while Butler’s more linear novel uses a science fiction device to transmit a contemporary black woman into a brutal past (the Deep South during slavery), where she finds herself facing what critic Gerry Canavan refers to as a site “of horror and abiding dread” (5).

But in fact, O’Brien, one of the most important American writers to emerge from the US war in Vietnam, and Butler, the first black woman to make her living writing science fiction in a predominantly white male genre, share some commonalities. Both manipulate time to...

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