Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower

Octavia E. Butler

1993

 
Parable of the Sower book cover

We are Here:  Done!

Spoilers?     Yes

Reflections

Societal collapse is real, man. And we’re probably not ready.

This book shows us what happens to culture and people as the society they’ve built crumbles around them. I could not stop reading. Butler’s style is deft, her prose sparse.  This mirrors the stripped-down society we find in the book. People are recognizable, but customs have changed by necessity. Coping and survival are paramount–even in the sanctity of a neighborhood fortress.

In this book, as well as in Dawn, I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way Butler deftly presents interpersonal struggles. They ring true–the way that these unusual situations make for honest conversations and considerations around who is in charge and how one navigates alliances to stay safe and sane.

When we’re first dropped into this decaying society, it is familiar, but it is clinging to a fraction of the foothold it needs to thrive. This throws power dynamics into sharp relief–and when the circumstances shift, how power works becomes even more stark. Insistent. When the book changes abruptly, it doesn’t stop to make sure the reader is ready to go with it. In that it thrusts readers into the same dilemma our protagonist faces: stop and reflect, or flee and hopefully survive?

This is a masterwork of characterization, though it may not seem to be on the surface. In this post-apocalyptic hellscape, Butler shows us the ways in which characters relate to one another when everything around them changes. While the status quo was a shadow of its former self, part-way through the book it is thrown out entirely. Butler’s gift is showing us the possibilities this presents for society and human behavior.

Fixations

If Earthseed were a religion, I’d sign up. Even if I weren’t living in a wasteland of waking nightmares, it speaks to my trees-are-people-too side.  I dig the cosmic Change-is-Everything-is-Change philosophy.

Butler’s work has this uncomfortable motif about girls who present as young being older internally (see also Fledgling). This manifests itself outwardly through eye-brow-raising sexual relationships between much older men and young protagonists. In both books, these uncomfortable pairings are made socially acceptable by virtue of the alien societies Butler creates and contextualizes them in. Internally speaking, this motif simply validates what 10-year-old girls have known all along: we have rich inner lives and are capable of so much more than society thinks we are. Dammit. Now give me back my book and let me get back to imagining a better world…

Why is this book better than people?

People kill each other for water. Books create new religions called Earthseed.

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