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Parable of the Sower (Earthseed) Paperback – January 1, 2000
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Octavia E. Butler, the grande dame of science fiction, writes extraordinary, inspirational stories of ordinary people. Parable of the Sower is a hopeful tale set in a dystopian future United States of walled cities, disease, fires, and madness. Lauren Olamina is an 18-year-old woman with hyperempathy syndrome--if she sees another in pain, she feels their pain as acutely as if it were real. When her relatively safe neighborhood enclave is inevitably destroyed, along with her family and dreams for the future, Lauren grabs a backpack full of supplies and begins a journey north. Along the way, she recruits fellow refugees to her embryonic faith, Earthseed, the prime tenet of which is that "God is change." This is a great book--simple and elegant, with enough message to make you think, but not so much that you feel preached to. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Hugo and Nebula Award-winner Butler's first novel since 1989's Imago offers an uncommonly sensitive rendering of a very common SF scenario: by 2025, global warming, pollution, racial and ethnic tensions and other ills have precipitated a worldwide decline. In the Los Angeles area, small beleaguered communities of the still-employed hide behind makeshift walls from hordes of desperate homeless scavengers and violent pyromaniac addicts known as "paints" who, with water and work growing scarcer, have become increasingly aggressive. Lauren Olamina, a young black woman, flees when the paints overrun her community, heading north with thousands of other refugees seeking a better life. Lauren suffers from 'hyperempathy," a genetic condition that causes her to experience the pain of others as viscerally as her own--a heavy liability in this future world of cruelty and hunger. But she dreams of a better world, and with her philosophy/religion, Earthseed, she hopes to found an enclave which will weather the tough times and which may one day help carry humans to the stars. Butler tells her story with unusual warmth, sensitivity, honesty and grace; though science fiction readers will recognize this future Earth, Lauren Olamina and her vision make this novel stand out like a tree amid saplings.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Amid all this two leaders arise: one, a demagogue playing on the nation's fears and religious sensitivities promising to 'make America great again' (the author's words in 1993, mind you) convinces a large swath of the population to turn against those who don't conform even as his 'Crusaders' commit atrocities in his name (but never of course with his *official* sanction).
The other is a young, very precocious black woman with a vision to transcend human misery and build a community to seek humankind's Destiny. Barely escaping with her life when her once solid middle-class neighborhood is overrun by a violent gang, she sets off on a trek through a country that is much like ours if things were just a little more desperate, a little more divided, and a lot less caring. It is a stark portrait made even more ominous by being entirely possible and exposing a lot about us as a society we may not care to confront. These books aren't so much a portrait as a mirror.
If there is a weak spot, it's that Olaimina is too obviously an author avatar, but then again this *is* Butler's philosophy and much of her personal experience laid bare. It is the closest thing to an autobiography of the notoriously private author as we are likely to see nearly 10 years after her death. It provides a warning...and, perhaps, a pathway out.
The story that Octavia Butler tells is a compelling story of survival and community. The opening of the book starts en medias res, exactly as a good futuristic novel can. I personally feel that telling too much of a back-story can destroy the reader’s ability to concoct one itself, it also takes away from the author’s ability to create suspense and mystery in the novel itself. Butler does a very good job of giving us a gripping story without boring us with the details of the failing of the society that once existed. It is very easy to take on the mindset of a young girl while reading, and that makes digesting all of the new and sometimes confusing information much more easily. The novel then goes on to talk about the sense of community that is felt in the walled “neighborhood” that Lauren, the main character and narrator, lives in. This neighborhood seems to be a well-oiled machine, despite the immediately apparent racial tensions to be found inside of the community. There is a division among the white members of the community and the other racial groups. This makes a lot of sense considering the racial tensions that exist even in the world today, but it was interesting to see that Butler does not envision a post-racial world for our future.
One of the bigger themes of this book is “new slavery”; I put this in quotes only because I believe it to be a coined term and not merely an expression that I have made up. “New slavery” was introduced around the same time, as prisons became an industry rather than a place of reform. Butler speaks of this issue in a speech she gave which is the secondary reading for this week, “Every now and then you hear– and I’m not talking about ante-bellum slavery but modern-day slavery–every now and then you hear about some group of homeless people or illegal aliens or other people who have been held in slavery and I sort of combined slavery and throw-away workers and prison problems because in Parable of the Sower there is slavery and it is entirely legal because it isn’t called “slavery.” This quote speaks to her inclusion of the “new slavery” in her novel. This kind of slavery is found encapsulated in the city of Olivar, the fictional city being built where “skilled” workers are needed. The characters in the novel fear that this city is merely an excuse to capture people and indenture them to the larger corporate structure. This is a frightening reality because it is not unrealistic. There are certainly places in this dystopian America where slaves are found. They are people who do not have money and then work for company credit, but they never make quite enough money to afford their living expenses, so they become indebted to the company they work for, and end up owing the company massive amounts of money, and passing that on to their children when they die, creating a system of debt slavery that persists indefinitely.
Butler definitely set out to make this a main feature in her book, but what is interesting is that the people of color in the novel feel that the city of Olivar would only want white workers. This is interesting because for as taught as the racial tensions are in the future, there does not seem to be hope for anyone who did not already have money when the country collapsed. Some people are simply “slightly better off”.
The effects of this “new slavery” can be found in the people that the characters meet later on in the story; some of the people who they run into like Emery and Tori. They are both escaped slaves who are now dealing with the consequences of living a slave’s existence. They are also both hyper-empathetic, just like our narrator. This means that not only can they see someone in pain and relate, but also they actually feel it, and it is considered to be debilitating. Our narrator does not like to share with people that she has this condition, but she notices that the newer members of the group share her condition and immediately bonds with them over it. This hyper-empathy is a big reason why Lauren makes such an interesting character, because it shows how painful killing is for her, and how everything she does has a reason, and also is in part why she founds her religion, Earthseed.
Religion is an interesting topic in any book, especially so in this one, as our character has spread the seeds for her own religion to take root, Earthseed. Earthseed is a new religion that has some elements of a bunch of already existing belief systems worked into it. The basic idea of Earthseed is that “the destiny of mankind is to take root amongst the stars,” this is interesting because it is both a spiritual philosophy, and a very real belief of the narrator. Lauren believes that the discontinuation of the space program is foolish, and that they should abandon the Earth and that they should try again somewhere else.
Earthseed fascinates me, and I think I know where it stems from. Lauren lives in a firmly Baptist community, but does not have the faith of her father. Earthseed is a comfort to Lauren, and it is that simple. It is a basic philosophy that has sprung out of her discomfort with the world around her. She is living in a virtual hell, and has had to come up with some way to make her own truth. The truth she chooses to believe rather than a truth that is told to her. This is exactly where all religion stems from. People as a whole would not believe in something and it was not comforting to them. This is why I think the theme of religion is so interesting a Cli-fi book. With or without realizing it, Octavia Butler has created a wonderful comparison between a religion founded by an 18 year old, and hundreds of thousands of scientists’ conclusive evidence that climate change is very, very real. In the secondary reading Butler quotes a cartoon, the interesting part was this, “Make up your own truth and stick to it, no matter how little sense it makes. And sooner or later, you’ll have converts. Trust me.” This rings the truth to me about the world in general. People are so much more likely to believe in and idealize something that comforts them, rather than something that tells them they need to change. This is the whole fundamental issue we have had with the class. Our big question, “what can we do?” is answered by this simple quote. We need to make up a truth that people want to believe in, we cannot keep throwing the discomforting truth in their faces or they will continue to believe their own truths, namely “there is nothing that I can do.” Octavia Butler draws a comparison between a people who are still in disbelief about how broken their world is, and their deep belief that things will return to what they once were. This is a constant theme throughout the beginning of the book. Instead, a new religion is formed, which has the potential to have hundreds of followers, all because it is comforting and simple. This struck me as genius, and I may be reading a little too deeply, but I gleamed from Butler’s speech that this may have been on purpose. I liked that in particular about this book.
The Parable of the Sower has struck me in a way that a lot of books have not. I do not however think that this book will make waves in the ocean of denial surrounding climate change. I don’t think that the book deals closely enough with what we, as a species, have done to destroy the planet, and therefore keeps us from feeling particularly guilty. This book is rather a story about survival, friendship, and faith. I liked it immensely and would even consider adding it to my course syllabus when I am finally a teacher rather than a student.
Also loved the pacing. Chapters sometimes skip forward in time--each chapter is an important and interesting vignette that moves the story forward, and in this way Parable is one of the few books that I was always looking forward to picking up and reading when I had a spare minute, as opposed to those books you finish out of duty and half-interest.
I'm not sure if I'll read the second book or not. One thing that Butler does very well is to make this book stand alone--a clear goal develops throughout, and when this project is concluded, you can tell that the characters will embark on a completely new chapter of their project in the next book. At the same time, lack of a cliffhanger means that if I read the next book, it probably won't be for a few years, or whenever I'm in the mood to read Octavia Butler again. She's such a titan, with such a unique style and mind, that I know I *will* have a craving for more Butler again, and when that time comes no other author will satisfy it.