Sunday, September 26, 2010

A cancer growing in someone's body will go on growing in spite of denial.

I'm currently re-reading Dawn, the first part of the Lilith's Brood trilogy by Octavia E. Butler.  I originally had to read Dawn for a college class: Gender, Sex and the Rhetoric of Science.  It was a great class but it involved a lot of strange books to read and this is up there.  I think the quote on the back of the book sums this up nicely, at least the first book:
Lilith's Brood is a profoundly evocative, sensual - and disturbing - epic of human transformation.
"Evocative", "sensual", and "disturbing" are 3 very good words to describe this book. It's not a traditional sci fi book, according to my very limited understanding of sci fi.  OK, I guess according to my limited stereotype of sci fi.  There are aliens involved and, again this is based on my sci fi generalizations, while they are main characters, they are consistently a source of disgust for the main character Lilith.  There is none of the sense of camaraderie between Lilith and the Oankali that you might fight in something like Star Wars. Everything is so literally alien that Lilith can never completely trust Jdahya (if you know the pronunciation for that, please feel free to add it in the comments. In my head I pretty much just call him "Jad"), any of the other aliens she lives with or the living ship they're on.

The books is written in the third person limited and I keep finding myself repeatedly surprised to find that the story isn't in the first person.  Not that I think stylistically it would be better in the first person, but rather I'll read something that says "she said" and I'll have to go back and re-read before I remember that Lilith, the main character is the "she" and there is no I.  I'd say this is just the case with the style, but I never noticed it with other works, such as Harry Potter (the Wikipedia entry may have pointed out that's written in the same  narrative mode).  You end up empathizing with Lilith so completely probably because Butler has made the aliens so incredibly, well, alien. This style connects you to Lilith without actually letting you as close to her as a first person narrative would do.

I've obviously mentioned a number of times already that aliens play a big part of this book, but I want to again stress this doesn't feel like a typical sci fi book.  There isn't really (so far or in what I remember) much action.  Thus far the book is really an examination of free will or rather the removal of it.  The Oankali want Lilith to learn about them and they want to learn about her but they do keep her ignorant of their actions.  They keep her a prisoner, though a prisoner in nice conditions.  The book opens while Lilith is in isolation and Bulter is such a talented author that within a few pages you really feel Lilith's pain and fear.

The book is split into 4 parts: Womb, Family, Nursery and The Training Floor.  The first two sections deal with Lilith learning about and coming to terms with the Oankali and the second two sections deal with Lilith teaching other humans about the aliens and how to survive in the jungle.  I found I was more interested in the first two sections and wished these parts were longer.  There's more action in the latter sections but I liked the tension and learning about the aliens and the ship with Lilith.  Because I related to her in the first sections I found myself frustrated with the other Awakened humans when they wouldn't just play nice.  Obviously this would have made a much less interesting book but I felt Lilith's frustration and hopelessness. 

When I began reading the book I had only planned on reading Dawn.  The book went by so quickly and I'm not ready to be done so I'm going to continue on Lilith's journal and start reading Adulthood Rites the next part of the trilogy.  I've read the first few pages before, right after I finished Dawn the last time, but books for class got in the way of me finishing it.  At least I'm hoping that's why I never finished it and not because it was so bad I blocked it from memory.  I suppose I'll find out soon.

Title quote from page 39

Butler, Octavia E. Dawn. Lilith's Brood.  Warner Books, New York.  1989.