Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler's dystopian novel tells a tale that feels far too familiar and also horrifying. The world has turned into a violent hell as environmental disasters and poverty ravage the population. Lauren Olamina has a unique ability, or curse, to feel ultra-empathetic towards individuals even to the point she bleeds if they are hurt or feels their pleasure as long as their alive. This ability works with line of sight and diminishes slightly as she grows older. Her father is a preacher but Lauren begins to develop her own religious beliefs, which she calls Earthseed. The central belief as I understand is that God is change, not an entity.

Lauren lives with her family within a walled community slowly becoming affected by the surrounded poverty. Robbers climb over the fence and steal from community members at night leaving some of them dead. To make matters worse, a new drug called Pyro makes addicts burn things down just to watch the flames. As the threat grows, the parents teach the children how to shoot in the mountains though they keep finding bodies lying dead along the path and dangerous stray dogs. Lauren makes a plan to leave just in case anything should happen; she prepares a pack and begins to look at a map. Her brother Keith ventures out after her father beats him as punishment and falls in with a dangerous gang.

Lauren is never sure what her brother is really up to but from what she tells him, she knows he's dealing drugs and robbing people to bring back money to the family. When Keith is finally murdered, it destroys the family and Lauren hears horror stories about his fate. The residents of the city continue to die in fires and robberies, suffering awful fates and even Lauren's father disappears without a word. Still living grief-stricken with her stepmother and two brothers, Lauren continues to build her beliefs until her entire neighborhood is attacked by addicts and her house is burned down. She escapes with a few neighbors and they agree to set out North towards the Canadian border and news of better places.

There were stories of space travel before the loss of her home and an astronaut dying on Mars. Also, Lauren had heard of companies that were taking in workers that were slaves. The horrible stories continue as she encounters dangers on the road North with other refugees. She keeps a gun and food and her group steadily grows. After a long struggle of travel, Lauren falls for an older man on the road, a doctor who has a hidden plot of land. She meets other empaths and they try to survive the constant warring of others. They find destruction on the land but Lauren has already converted many of the other travelers to her Earthseed beliefs.

Octavia Butler writes a bleak story but has an extraordinary ability to find hope in the most terrible of situations. Lauren is an amazing character who remains steadfast despite so much adversity. This novel deserves an adaptation to bring to more people immediately. The second in the series is incredibly prescient to our current moment in society and I look forward to reading it. I've read a few short stories from Butler and this novel simply confirms her great ability as a science fiction writer. 

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