Wednesday, January 9, 2013

God Is Change

Ever since reading Kindred (and to a lesser extent the Lilith's Brood trilogy) I've wanted to read more Octavia Butler. Mostly because she kicks ass. I mean she was a black, female sci-fi author, with her first books published in '76. Look at all the shit "fake geek girls" get now for daring to hang out in a space typically reserved for white males. It's a nice bonus that makes my author stats look better. So whenever I went to my local bookstore I would browse the stacks to see if they had any of her books, especially Fledgling. For whatever reason, her books are hard to find. Or at least they're not regularly kept in stock at bookstores. In any case, there was only 1 Butler book, Parable of the Sower. The summary looked interesting ("unattended environmental & economic crises lead to social chaos", "night of fire and death", "flight for survival", "birth of a new faith") but the copy was a little battered* and I always found an excuse to put the book back. Yes, "always" because each time I went to the store, the same copy was sitting on the shelf. Eventually it tugged at my heartstrings enough** that I HAD to bring it home. And once again, Butler does not disappoint.

Parable of the Sower starts in 2024 in a dystopian world where the US has been plunged into what seems to be the Great Depression to the nth degree. The main character, Lauren Olamina, is born into this world and while her father remembers the world as it was, we never get a clear idea what happened to cause this chaos. There's ecological disaster (it hardly rains anymore), extreme poverty (a few companies have managed to set up situations where indentured servitude is a pretty good deal), and rampant drug abuse (in the form of a new drug that makes people set fire to EVERYTHING). So yeah, not a fun place.

Long before the book starts, Lauren has been keeping a journal she calls Earthseed: The Books of the Living as sort of an understanding of her world through a new understanding of God, which I know I just made sound pretentious or preachy but it's not. The book itself is made up of Lauren's journals, but only a sentence or two at the beginning of each chapter is from Earthseed. The rest is her talking about her life, her family, and once her home is destroyed, her travels as she and her band of survivors try to make it out in the world. How can humanity survive in such chaos?

My favorite thing about Butler is she creates some of the strongest female characters AND she realizes that "strong female character" doesn't equal "like a dude, but with boobs". Lauren is smart, a leader, tough but vulnerable. Actually vulnerable. Lauren has something called "hyperempathy" which means if she sees or hears anyone else in pain, she feels their pain. It can get to the point that she will start bleeding if she sees someone else bleed. A world where it's every man for himself and you better be prepared to defend yourself (with lethal force if necessary) this condition is a bit of a handicap.

Parable was supposed to be a trilogy but Butler only managed the second book, Parable of the Talents, before writer's block and then a case of "death" kept her from writing the final book.

While this isn't my favorite Butler book it's still an excellent book and if you guys still have yet to read any Butler, you should really fix that. Cos seriously, she kicks ass.

Oh hey, look, I've already completed one of my 2013 reading goals. Success!

*I always try to find the MOST PERFECT copy of any book. I'll grab the bottom book in a stack cos that is the copy least likely to have any folded edges.
**Damn you Brave Little Toaster!!

Title quote from page 3

Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. Grand Central Publishing, 1993.