Friday Review: Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Published in 1993, Parable of the Sower is set in the 2020s in a society ravaged by climate change, corporate greed, and inequality of wealth. Lauren Olamina lives in a gated community outside Los Angeles with her father, stepmother, and brothers. Lauren is a hyperempath, which means she is able to feel the pain of those around her. She begins to formulate a belief system based on her conviction that mankind’s future is to leave Earth and live among the stars, where the human destiny and potential will be fulfilled. When the community she lives in is attacked and her family killed, she travels north from LA, hoping to find a place where she can establish an Earthseed community to begin to prepare for the ultimate destiny. Along the way, she gathers a diverse group of fellow travelers, who become the initial Earthseed fellowship.

This was an interesting book. It was apocalyptic but not in the way many books dealing with an imagined apocalypse are written. It is intensely personal, focusing fairly tightly on Lauren and her immediate family and friends. It also is somewhat more realistic than many others. And quite predictive. It was written in the 1990s, and reading it now in the 2020s that it portrays, the book is eerily prophetic. Yes, the situations in the book are far more dangerous and broken than what we have, but the ideas behind the collapse and breakdown of the society Lauren’s preacher father remembers are, in many ways, too familiar. There is violence and savagery, with drug addicts using a substance that causes rampant pyromania. There is racial discrimination, class hatred, and a political regime intent on creating a government that will only divide more. The extremes are fictional, but the realities behind them are uncomfortably familiar.

Where it fell apart a bit for me was in the Earthseed idea itself. It seems- a bit of a stretch? I get the idea that for a sixteen year old living in a world where water is scarce, food is a protected resource, and violence lives right outside the gates of your home, a vision of leaving the ravaged planet and corrupt government behind might be comforting in many ways. But Lauren seems to have embraced the “God is Change” tenet of her Earthseed in a way that feels a bit off to me. She is the daughter of a preacher so I suppose turning her ideas into a “religion” of sorts is in character but it just didn’t resonate at times.

Other than those moments of disconnect, the book is solidly written with characters that reveal their diversity through their speech and actions in a very believable way. The devastation, violence, and hopelessness the refugees find on their journey north has real impact, both on their lives and on the reader. And the parallels to what we are seeing in our own world today should, I hope, make us stop and think about where we all are going.

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