Friday, July 07, 2006

Book 49: Parable of the Sower

Friday, July 07, 2006
Parable of the Sower is a stark imagining of our future by author Octavia E. Butler.  The future is grim.  There have been environmental and economic disasters and America is a broken land.  Water is more expensive than gasoline and those with jobs live in walled enclaves and only leave when they absolutely must.  It is said to venture into the open city that people must travel in groups and well armed.  Food is precious and almost as rare as water.  To help provide a better understanding of the world it should be pointed out that dogs run wild now.  Owners can no longer spare the money to buy dog food and dogs eat meat, meat which now must be saved for humans...dogs are an unnecessary expense and live as scavengers and hunters...perhaps like wolves. 
Lauren Olamina is eighteen.  She is the daughter of a preacher and teacher but she doesn't believe in his god.  She has found, or formed, her own.  Lauren believes in something called Earthseed.  It is a different way of viewing God, that God is absent and that God exists to be changed by humanity.  The viewpoint makes a bit more sense in the novel.  Lauren also suffers from "hyperempathy", an imaginary but very real disorder where she can physically feel the pain of others.  If someone breaks an arm and she sees the injury, she physically feels all the pain from the injury.  It works the other way, with pleasure, but there is far more pain than pleasure in the world.  The disease is all in her mind, and she knows it, but she still feels the pain.  It can incapacitate her and so is a great liability the way the world is today. 
At some point in the novel the city/compound/community Lauren lives in is overrun by the homeless, the vagrants, the violent.  Most are slaughtered, Lauren escapes because she planned for such an occurance.  She begins a trek north to find a place to live and settle and found the first Earthseed community.  Along the way she picks up people who are willing to trust and travel together in this time of distrust and danger. 
Octavia Butler is one heck of a writer.  As brutal as the world is, Butler tells a very human story of survival and hope for the future.  Lauren Olamina may bother some readers because she does not develop much as a character.  She is a very intelligent young woman who has done a lot of thinking about Earthseed and about how to survive in the world and is willing to take any bit of information regarding survival that she can from anyone.  She knows she needs to learn, but she is the same character at the end that she is at the beginning.  So, the character development isn't there, but Parable of the Sower has raw power.  The destruction of society and the situations that Lauren and company find themselves is astounding to think this could be a vision of the future.  But Butler's storytelling is excellent as she brings the reader along on a journey through a wasted California in Lauren's need to found Earthseed.  I do not know what Parable of the Talents will bring this storyline, but I am willing to find out. 


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