Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

I read PARABLE OF THE SOWER for the first time as a teenager and I'm kind of surprised at how much I've forgotten/how much went over my head. It's a typical post-apocalyptic book in some ways, but revolutionary in others. First, it's peopled with a very diverse cast, with black, Asian, and Latino characters, to the point that they overshadow any Caucasian characters. California is one of the most ethnically diverse states in the U.S., so it was refreshing to see a book that actually reflected that makeup.

Second, PARABLE OF THE SOWER isn't dated at all. It still feels contemporary. Many of the issues - climate change, increase in criminal drug use, hyper-inflation, racially charged violence, gangs - are still relevant today. The only thing that truly places a time stamp on this book are the lack of cell phones and internet, but those things don't really have a place in a post-apocalyptic society anyway, which is maybe why this works.

Lauren lives in a cushy gated community with her preacher father. They've walled themselves off from the rest of the world with high-tech razor wire and rely on themselves and no one else. Lauren knows they have it good but isn't sure this is a sustainable way of life; their relative ease is stirring up the resentment of outsiders, and she's afraid that their "safety" is making them soft and unprepared for what awaits them outside.

Spoiler - Lauren is right and the worst does come to pass, only because nobody believed her or took her seriously, everyone is woefully unprepared. Not Lauren, though. She's a great character. It's refreshing to see a female protagonist who makes good decisions, and is willing to do unsavory things if it means survival. She isn't without a moral compass though; in fact, in her journal, she's coming up with the tenets of her own religion, which she calls Earthseed.

The religious angle is a little weird and almost Heinleinesque, made more so by the fact that Lauren has something called "hyper empathy syndrome," which means that she feels the pain and the pleasure that she sees in the people around her. I thought that was pretty weird. Psychic mumbo jumbo like that is pretty common in the sci-fi of the 70s, and man, did those authors love to preach. PARABLE OF THE SOWER is different from those books in that it has strong female heroines, an ethnically diverse cast, morally ambiguous characters, and a genuinely (and terrifyingly) plausible world that sings a swan song for an earth that may be beyond salvation - but also, maybe not.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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