Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dawn, by Octavia Butler

In the first volume of her Xenogenesis Trilogy Octavia Butler introduces us the wreckage of an Earth we once knew, but no longer. Nuclear Holocaust. It happened. Millions and Billions died. And then the aliens came to rescue the survivors.

Lilith Iyapo is one of the survivors. The novel opens with Lilith being Awakened and interrogated. She does not know where she is or who her captors are. Turns out it isn't the Russians or some other group, but rather the Oankali, an alien race come to save humanity but also to change humanity and change themselves in the process. Told through Lilith's perspective we are given a very personal and narrow reaction to finding oneself isolated on an alien ship and being told two hundred and fifty years have passed and that the aliens have mostly cleaned Earth and intend to recolonize the planet with human Oankali hybrids.

Lilith is to be the mother of this new civilization but she wants nothing to do with it, of course. She knows this would be the end of humanity but what choice does she have?

Dawn is a novel about first contact, what it means to be human, humanity, genetics, and at times sexuality. With two more novels set in this trilogy, Dawn is an ambitious opening volume to the trilogy with a lot of story left open to interpretation and Butler never quite tells the story the reader expects. Keeping the viewpoint narrowed on Lilith, we are given, as we are in her other novels, a very particular perspective and a strong female lead.

As her other work is, Dawn is a very fine science fiction novel. While more overt science fiction than later novels (or Kindred, for that matter), Dawn is a novel worth recommending even to those who might not necessarily enjoy science fiction (though I would recommend Kindred or Parable of the Sower first).

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