Here we are at the third and final book of Butler's Lilith's Brood/Xenogenesis series. I originally typed down that I liked this one best, but I don't know if that's the case. The first book, Dawn is probably my favorite. It not only provoked the most emotion from me, but I was surprised by it. It never went the way I anticipated, I connected with Lilith more than I thought and overall it was a nice surprise. Imago wasn't as good as Dawn but by this point I had connected with the characters and become more familiar with the alien Oankali that I found myself missing them when I finished the book.
Just as the point of view changed in Adulthood Rites, so it changes again in Imago. The Oankali aliens are made up of 3 sexes: male, female and ooloi, which has no sex. Butler says ooloi does not directly translate into English but can mean: "'Treasured stranger.' 'Bridge.' 'Life trader.' 'Weaver.' 'Magnet.'" (526). Males and females cannot mate without an ooloi. When new Oankali or construct (part Oankali, part human) children are born until they mature they don't have a sex and can become any of the 3 sexes. Normally I try to avoid plot details in reviews because really, you can read those anywhere. In this case understanding of what ooloi is is necessary to understand the main character Jodahs, who becomes a construct ooloi. This is the first book that takes place in the first person, although I commented in my review of Dawn that I kept forgetting that it wasn't actually from Lilith's PoV.
The aliens in the first two novels remain completely alien. Even in the second novel, when Akin, the Oankali male construct is the main character, they were still separate. By having Jodahs become the main character and to put the story in his point of view in the first person I was able to connect with the characters, to understand them in a way that I wasn't able to before. I would say my lack of empathy with Akin from Adulthood Rites is a problem with Butler's writing but it's clear that this was her intention. I learned more of Oankali via Akin but not enough to understand their motivations, for them to not seem so alien anymore.
I mentioned above the different translations for the word ooloi and Lilith tells Jodahs that "magnet" is the definition she prefers. "People are drawn to ooloi and can't escape...the chemical bonds of mating were as difficult to break as the habit of breathing," (526). What you learn once you see the world for Jodahs point of view is the ooloi don't capture humans but are just as drawn to humans. Ooloi literally cannot survive without their mates and something about this detail made them seem more relate-able. Other ooloi would tell Lilith about the connection but it never seemed true. They were always so seemingly disconnected from everything.
I just realized I said that the ooloi would tell people about their attraction but that it didn't seem true, that it seemed like a lie. But the Oankali do not lie. They may not tell the truth but they don't lie. Butler uses the Oankali to examine the human experience and I wonder if my disbelief about what the Oankali actually meant is based on my own experience is that people lie all the time and why should I believe this alien? Even when Butler sets up the Oankali to be so completely different I still understand them based on my own experience and obviously (in case you thought I was from another planet) that is the human experience.
I have enjoyed the Lilith's Brood trilogy and I would recommend it even if you aren't a sci fi fan. I'm not typically. The story is well written and doesn't expect you to be a sci fi fan to appreciate it.
Title quote from page 649
Butler, Octavia E. Imago. Lilith's Brood. Warner Books, New York. 1989.