Monday, October 4, 2010

Humans persecute their different ones, yet they need them to give themselves definition and status

I recently finished the second book in Butler's Lilith's Brood/Xenogenisis trilogy.  Unlike in Dawn, Adulthood Rites is told from the point of view of Lilith's male construct son Akin.

Quick background! In the first book, Lilith and other humans are saved from an Earth that has been destroyed due to nuclear war by a group of aliens called Oankali.  The aliens saved them because they want to "trade" with them, meaning essentially creating a new species that is neither Oankali nor human and that will have the best features of each.  Free will and control are examined in the first book, as most of the saved humans aren't too keen on this trade.  Now back on a newly constructed Earth jungle some humans, including Lilith, have agreed to the trade and those that haven't are sterilized.

Like in Dawn, Adulthood Rites continues to examine the morality of the Oankali's decision to end the human race.  They make the argument that human's hierarchical tendencies coupled with their intelligence means the eventual destruction of humans at their own hands is inevitable again.  Humans cannot help but want to dominate each other, the land, other animals and the Oankali believe that giving them back Earth and allowing them to continue on is cruel.  It's like allowing animals to live together, even when you know that they will, in the end, hurt each other.  And so they give the humans long life and allow them to live on Earth but they cannot reproduce without the Oankali.  Butler makes a convincing argument for the aliens to not allow humans to destroy each other again; they are acting in the people's best interest.  But of course no one wants to become obsolete, which is exactly what the Oankali are doing to the human race.

Akin is a human construct: born to a human woman (Lilith) but has characteristics of both human and Oankali. The humans who have refused to live with the Oankali are desperate for children and these "resister" groups kidnap Akin and bring him back to their village Phoenix.  Akin looks mostly human but at a few months old is able to speak and comprehend complex ideas and has the cold logic displayed by the full Oankali.  He sees firsthand the destruction and violence the human resisters are capable of but he also comes to understand their frustration and anger at not being able to have their own children.  Life becomes pointless and even though they know Akin won't be able to give them what they want he represents a ray of hope.

The story tackles the human condition and the seeming inevitability of human violence and domination.  It never suggests that humans are able of overcoming these characteristics; even the humans seem to believe in this yet they want the chance to prove the Oankali wrong.  It also examines the Oankali acting in the people's best interest, yet they remove their choices.  Lilith talks about how the Oankali treat people the way humans treated animals.  The decisions made are for their own good, even if the people don't like it as they don't.

As I said in my review of Dawn, I'm not a huge sci fi fan and it's not really the aliens and the sci fi part that interests me with this trilogy.  I've found, even though this story is told through Akin's eyes, that I still sympathize with the human characters.  I understand why the Oankali behave as they do but I can feel the human's anger.

One more book in the trilogy (obviously) and then I'll be moving away from sci fi for awhile but for now I am enjoying this.  I feel like this review was difficult to write, which sometimes happens if I didn't really care about the book but honestly, I had trouble putting this down.  It slowed for me in the end but I went through this much quicker than I expected.  I hope Imago holds my interest in the same way.

Title quote form page 329.

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