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161 of 176 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 15, 2004
Review by C. Douglas Baker

This is a collection of three novels that make up the Xenogensis Trilogy. Readers interested in the trilogy should read the series in order: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.

DAWN introduces the reader to a fascinating alien race that intends to save a post-nuclear holocaust earth by repopulating it with half-human, half-alien beings. The concept of crossbreeding through genetic engineering with an alien race to create a new species is a truly innovative storyline. The Oankali intend to take a number of humans they saved from a nucleated earth, cross-breed with them, and reintroduce them and their alien offspring to the earth. The highly negative reaction of the humans to this idea is very realistic and their interactions with the aliens are conceivable. The main character, Lilith Iyapo, is a strong willed African-American woman who learns to accept the aliens for what they are but never fully comes to accept their plans for the human race.

The Oankali are an imaginative race with three genders, the third being a necessary intermediary between the male and female Oankali during intercourse and for procreation. Therefore it is not surprising that the "third" gender (it is not really neuter) is the dominant gender of the race. They travel in an interstellar ship that is entirely made of living tissue and the Oankali physically interact with the ship to produce food, dispose of waste, and reproduce other needs. The Oankali travel about the universe and cross breed with other sapient beings out of necessity. Humans are just another of their "victims" or "beneficiaries", depending on one's point of view. The new species is ostensibly better than its parent species.

Part two of the Xenogenesis Trilogy, Adulthood Rites is much more engaging and well thought out than its precursor, Dawn. The first half-human, half-Oankali male becomes the focal point for the Oankali attempt to cross-breed with humans. According to the Oankali, the human male is very dangerous and prone to violence. Indeed, the human male is the embodiment of the so called human contradiction that leads to self destruction. If this human/Oankali "construct" is flawed and prone to destructive tendencies, the whole genetic "trade" or cross-breeding would be jeopardized. Indeed, the Oankali themselves would be jeopardized.

Akin, the half-human, half-Oankali male child is kidnapped by human "resisters" who have refused to mate with the aliens at the price of their own fertility. The Oankali, while lengthening the life and health of these human survivors of nuclear holocaust, plan to allow them eventually to become extinct. The best human genetic traits would then be carried by the new species of Oankali whose genes were mixed. The aliens decide to allow the kidnapped child to remain with the resisters for some time so he can learn about his human side. The novel centers around Akin's rectifying his conflicting loyalties to his human and alien selves.

Adulthood Rites expands on the alien Oankali and leads the reader to an understanding of why they must cross-breed with other races. Their raison d'etre is to collect and expand upon all life forms and become a better race through adapting the better traits of races they come into contact with. They view life in a more holistic fashion, as consisting of the cells and even sub-atomic particles of living matter. Every being is genetically engineered to function for a purpose. The purpose of the Oankali is to collect and expand upon life forms, including their own. We can surmise that at their origin, the Oankali looked nothing like they are currently described as they have continued to metamorphosis genetically over the ages.

Bulter does an excellent job of portraying human reaction to the aliens who want to cross-breed with them but allow the human race as they know it to become extinct. We can both empathize with Lilith who has, more or less, accepted the fate of the human race and has born human/Oankali children and become a member of an alien community. While she does not fully accept the fate of her species she is resigned to it and does what she thinks best to preserve what is left of humanity. Conversely, we also empathize with Tate, who would rather die than be disloyal to the human race by giving in to the alien predators. The Oankali are a truly fascinating and ingenious creation.

The most dismaying aspect of the book is the big "contradiction" in human genes the Oankali keep proclaiming is the reason humans should be allowed to become extinct. This contradiction is "intelligence and hierarchical" behavior. It seems that males are particularly prone to this trait . There is no explication as to why this is such a contradiction or why hierarchical behavior necessarily leads to self-destruction in the human race. This was a very unsophisticated attempt to explain human tendency toward violence and destruction. It greatly detracted from an otherwise excellent novel.

Part three of the Xenogenesis Trilogy, Imago completes the creation of a new species via Oankali and human cross-breeding. Imago deals with the creation of the first "construct" (half-human, half-Oankali) ooloi, the third Oankali gender. Ooloi are necessary for reproduction and the creation of construct ooloi represent the ability of the new species to procreate and become independent of its parent species. The ooloi are explained in fuller detail in Imago than in the previous novels. Here the reader more fully understands the healing and manipulative abilities of the ooloi. The ooloi bind their mates to them through a chemical and psychological process and are equally bonded to their mates. The major difference in the new ooloi species is their ability to metamorphosis or shape-change, which they derive from their human genes' ability to regenerate new types of cells. The construct ooloi tend to take on the shape of their mates, thus the title Imago. Imago is the story of Jodahs, the first construct ooloi, and the struggle to gain acceptance into both the human and Oankali community.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2000
Lilith's Brood, a trilogy set in Earth's distant future, concerns the few remaining humans and their extraterrestial conquerors. Faced with the unpleasant alternatives of extinction or interspecies breeding, the human characters struggle to preserve their cultural and biological heritage against the seemingly insurmountable obstacles set by their keepers. The parallels between their fight to maintain cultural identity and the growing pains facing America's multicultural population in the 21st century are striking. This is the "melting pot" gone one better. Perhaps this is Butler's most biting social satire; surely it is her most thoughtful work since Kindred. As in most of her fiction, Butler is fascinated by the ways society evolves and survives despite our self-destructive impulses. Although this "new" offering from Butler is a collection of three previously published novels, the omnibus format will draw new readers and remind old friends of her substantial powers.
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53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2001
I am not a fan of Science Fiction - but "Lilith's Brood" (the collection of 3 novels known as the Xegenosis series consisting of "Dawn", "Adulthood Rites" and "Imago") is among the best I have read in ANY genre. Butler brings a species that is totally beyond anything imagined before and makes them real to the reader. She sttracts you to them, repels you from them - and in the end, makes you love them even though you may not want to. I actually felt like I missed the alien species, known as the Oankali when I finished reading the books. Basic premise for those considering the book: An alien species, the Oankali, finds an Earth shaken by major war. Most everything is wiped out and the Earth is practically unsalvagable. They save almost all the humans they find and make a plan to restore parts of the Earth and make them hospitable for human life again - for a price. The novels are wonderfully believable and complex, using challenging vocabulary and fully engrossing the reader in rich imagery and postulations of "What if... ?". No words other than those Bulter uses can do this collection justice - I would recommend it to anyone with a love for literature or anyone that just loves an EXCELLENT story that makes you feel like, and even possibly wish you were there.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2006
Now HERE's the kind of book (I bought it in this trilogy omnibus binding as well) you sit down to read a couple chapters, maybe because a friend has recommended Butler, maybe because of a book review or because her tragic death got her written up in your local paper-- it got recommended to me by a brilliant professor whose class I foolishly didn't get around to taking -- and find yourself feverishly turning pages at 5 a.m., desperately hoping the sun stays down long enough for you to get to the end of the second, or in my case third, book.

And now that we're past that tortured sentence, some ground rules. No, if you've never read science fiction before, it's not like what you THINK science fiction is like: check out Ursula LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, James Tiptree Jr., Marge Piercy, or the many other SF writers who use the genre as a literature for deep exploration into what it is to be human and what it is NOT to be human. If you're trapped in the genre ghetto and fear (as I once did, shamefully, long after I had a million reasons to know better) that there's something cheesy or wishy-washy about Butler, what with her other books about new religions and African myths and whatnot, all I have to say is GET OVER IT, because her speculative thinking cuts you like a knife and leaves you shivering, and because unlike most SF authors and most mainstream authors, she has an overwhelming sense of the realities of everyday people building relationships (and breaking them) in adversity. The conflicts between people are very real, no one is motivated just by a single issue, and a lot of things come down to slightly unpleasant compromise.

Now, to Butler's work, and to the novels at hand. Her books almost always have an intense fascination with the dynamics of power in ordinary relationships, but because this is SF, those "ordinary relationships" become something very strange indeed. Can love exist not just between unequals, but in an inequality that is never going away or even shifting into the background for an instant? What power do the dominated have over those who control or coerce them? What happens when someone needs you more than you need them? Can assimilation ever be fair? Are our choices in these areas even our own? Now, the kicker is this: whatever grotesque-seeming (yet strangely appealing) relationship exists in a Butler book, you suddenly realize that _every_ relationship, no matter how forcefully you try to make it equal, has at least a hint of these issues unacknowledged, bubbling beneath the surface. Butler simply uses every trick of SF to expand them to fill your whole field of view, so you CANNOT turn away. And for that she's a great thinker, and a visionary, and a great writer.

Finally, to the books themselves, which are still my favorite Butler and the epitome of all I've just talked about:

DAWN introduces the Oankali, a three-sexed race of beings that finds the burning husk of planet Earth (nuclear war) and decides to bring us back to life. We see this all through the eyes of Lilith Ayapo, a woman remade by them and who, of any humans, does the most to work with the Oankali. She learns that the Oankali have decided we are too destructive for our intelligence, with a kind of behavioral suicide built into our genes; the only solution is to tack on some Oankali genes and produce a race different enough to survive. (Over the series, we learn that the resultant species is far more Oankali than humans ever expected, and that actually the Oankali have an overpowering lust -- and I mean that literally, because this one of the only books ever to treat alien, and alien-human, sexuality in any way other than laughable -- to merge with every species they meet. But these are slow revelations.)

The novel follows Lilith as she serves as a kind of ambassador to the rest of the humans, and it follows her alternate interest and disgust as the level of control the Oankali intend have over us becomes ever more apparent, and how much control they already have used on Lilith to predispose her to get with the program.

Now most series like this would lead to a rebellion, and while there IS a rebellion, the work is never from their point of view. The pure humans are genetic dead-ends, left sterile by the Oankali but given long life to ease the transition. The other two novels follow children of the merging -- the first male born, and then the first ooloi, the third sex -- letting us see both their own struggles of self-definition in a divided world, and guiding us through an ever-more Oankali-shaped Earth, the only shape that can survive. Our human dilemmas give way to Oankali dilemmas, both practical ones and the moral problems of dealing with us humanely and honestly. Again, this is a common Butler theme: we as humans cannot survive long-term as we are, and what COULD survive might frighten us even more than just giving up. But those who do will have their own wants and needs, and they will have a whole universe in which to satisfy them. Unnerving, yes. But also entrancing, seductive, and a powerful look at the price of assimilation and the terms of survival.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2000
One of the best sci fi books I've read in quite awhile (and I read a lot of them). The complexity and believability of the story make it fantastic. Butler also succeeds at creating a new species and actually showing us our world and society through their eyes, quite a feat to do well. She also creates a diverse atmosphere of all kinds of people (different backgrounds, races, languages) coming together under adversity. The struggles that the humans in the story have with accepting ideas and concepts completely outside of their experiences makes for very thoughtful reading. This book (actually 3) makes for very interesing exciting reading (I couldn't put it down) combined with lots of thought provoking material.
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108 of 130 people found the following review helpful
Before you buy this book be very careful. The description is horrible for this book. It is not a new Octavia Butler novel but instead a collection of three of her novels. So if you already own "Dawn," "Adulthood Rites," and "Imago" do not order this book. I highly recommend the three novels -- they are wonderful examples of her work -- so if you do not already own them, this is a "better buy" if you really like Butler.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2000
Compiled in this single book are the 3 books of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago. A well written, engrossing story of the cultural and physical integration of two very different species, human and Oankali, and their progeny.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
... you can't, even if you could imagine what you might be like if you looked a lot different. That is what, as far as I can tell, a lot of science fiction does with aliens. They add a lot of bells and whistles and strange customs and body parts, but in the end make aliens into a peculiar tribe that can be understood more or less like we understand human beings. What is brilliant about this trilogy is that Butler understands this, and doesn't really attempt to give a third person omniscient account of the alien race that comes to mingle with humans. Rather, she tells us, in the first book, how one human woman encountered them and what she was able to learn about them over time. We begin to see the aliens as they see themselves only much more gradually, first from the perspective of a boy (in the second book) who is partly human and yet beginning to understand both aspects of himself through his encounters with both the alien and the human species. In this story, what he comes to understand of his alien nature is equally fascinating with how he comes to understand humanity from the perspective of an outsider. Finally, in the third book, we get an even more alien perspective, that of a third sex alien (an Ooloi) -- but we have been prepared for its strangeness by what came before, and have a point of comparison in the boy from the second book.

Butler has a pared down, direct, descriptive style that is far superior to most of what gets published now and that merits the same kind of respect that is afforded our greatest writers (and I'm not talking about Stephen King or Grisham) in any genre of fiction. Her subject matter, too, is as compelling as you can find anywhere -- especially since here as elsewhere she is experimenting with the logic of hierarchy and of desire, and attempting to identify and recover through her fictional scenarios different responses to oppression and domination than becoming a victim.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2002
Lilth's Brood is a great read on two different planes, either of which would have been sufficient to make it a good book. The first is the story, it is creative, unique and plausable--not just a wild flight of science fiction fantasy! The briefest of summaries--the earth distroys itself in war, an alien race rescues the few remaining people, but as payment for the rescue "trades" with them, the trade being genentic material, and thus a new being is created as a combination of the two. The second plane of the book is the deep, complex look that Butler takes into the soul of the human race, human sexuality, human society and human morals--all using the facade of the alien race's needs and desires as the looking-glass. This is the most facinating aspect of the book. Butler's ability to express emotional need and yearning is amazing, and very real. She must be a wonderful person herself to even understand this aspect of the human soul.
This book illustrates the need for cleaner defintions of the genre "science fiction". It is a book that would appeal more to readers of serious psychological work than science fiction.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2006
Octavia Butler recently died in Seattle. Her passing is a great loss to literature in general and science fiction in particular. She once said that she didn't really write `Science Fiction' as such because she did know much about science. In fact her books do tackle some of the big themes of SciFi, but are not in the `hard science' genre. Her themes were race, sexuality, and the nature of `reality.'

Ms Butler was dyslexic, [...], above average in height, African American, and a genius. She lived as a hermit in the middle of a major city and created a body of work which stands with the very best. She won both Hugo and Nebula Awards several times and the MacArthur Foundation `Genius' Award in 1995. I think she is one of the few SciFi writers to have received this recognition.

I am posting this review on each of the Xenogenesis Trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago) sites as well as the volume where they are collected; `Lilith's Brood.' All are excellent and recommended.

In this series Ms Butler took on sexuality and the nature of `humanity' in a startling new way. She gradually takes the reader from the perspective of a `human,' specifically an Earthling who encounters an alien race to the perspective of the `alien,' specifically the descendent of interbreeding between humans and aliens who is now the `human' and sees Earthlings as the aliens.

Ms Butler skills are so great that this change in perspective goes so slowly that the reader is largely unaware until it has been accomplished. While some will dither about which of Ms Butler's novels are her `greatest,' few will argue that this series is superb. I have read nearly all of Ms Butler's works and enjoyed them all. I think she was one of the finest writers of speculative fiction in recent history and will miss her work.
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