Ok, all I have to say about this one is “Wow.”
Parable of the Sower, published by Octavia Butler in 1993 is startlingly prescient about the state of United States, and where those of us with a modicum of forward thinking can see it steadily sinking unless the brakes are put on really fucking quickly.
Two things to get out of the way really quickly here.
1. I cannot believe it took me this fucking long to read this book. I’ve had copies of it, physically and ebook for awhile now. Hell, I met Octavia Butler shortly before she died, and I can see more than a little of her in her descriptions of the point of view character, Lauren Olamina.
2. This book is not an easy read. Particularly now, when you can see the seeds of the future it describes in police shootings and the Trump administration. Reading this book was a weird combination of “I don’t want to put this down,” and “Sweet Gods, I can’t keep reading without slitting my wrists over the futility of everything going on right now.”
If you are at all socially aware, this book will punch you in the gut, and keep punching you.
Right now I’m about two thirds through the second book, Parable of the Talents, but I needed to take a break.
Things I love about this book.
Lauren feels real. The book starts when she’s in her teens, and her voice feels genuine. It’s the voice of a teen girl who had to grow up too damn fast, in part because she’s smart enough the adults forget she isn’t one of them or don’t have the luxury of letting that kind of brain coast through childhood.
Lauren isn’t beautiful. She doesn’t even describe herself as pretty. By merely cutting her hair and wearing baggy clothes, she passes easily as a man. What she is, is wicked smart, resourceful and heartbreakingly realistic even when the adults around her can’t manage to look reality as straight in the eye as they think they can.
In spite of Lauren not being a beauty, men want her and love her. Because that happens in the really real world. Not everyone is a super model, and not everyone is attracted to super models.*
The book opens with Lauren and her family living in a walled compound of a few blocks outside of LA. They post guards, they keep the gates locked, and they never go out of the compound alone. The surrounding streets and hills are populated with crazed drug addicts and terrifyingly intelligent feral dogs. Every chapter opens with a quote from the book of Earthseed, which Lauren is writing and keeping secret from everyone else because she knows they won’t understand.
A little over halfway through the book, after her older brother and father have both been killed, the compound is attacked, and nearly everyone inside of it is killed by a gang.
I’m not really doing this justice. Honestly, the interactions between class and other vertices of social oppression are breathtaking if you’re paying attention and I had to go back and re-read several passages.
After the destruction of the compound, she and two survivors start hiking north. Along the way they pick up other refugees, including the man Lauren will eventually marry.
I don’t really want to go into too much detail on this, because then I’d just be vomitting the book back at you, and you really should read it yourself. Butler’s writing is part and parcel of the effectiveness of this story and the characters in it.
If William Gibson is the bright and shiny underworld of fifteen minutes into the future, Butler is the dirty, gritty, grimy world of real darkness and the hope that can bloom there. And I almost feel like I’m over-talking this book, but I don’t really think I am.
Seriously, other social justice warriors, read this book if you haven’t.
*Yes, I know I drool over Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan, but in the real world, I tend to date tall, chubby nerd boys with glasses and problems with being pedantic.
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