This Nebula Award-winning sequel to "Parable of the Sower" continues the story of Lauren Olamina in socially and economically depressed California in the 2030s. Convinced that her community should colonize the stars, Lauren and her followers make preparations. But the collapse of society and rise of fanatics result in Lauren's followers being enslaved, and her daughter stolen from her. Now, Lauren must fight back to save the new world order.
Content / trigger warnings: death, slavery, concentration camps, rape, kidnapping.
This is a sequel to 'Parable of the Sower', and the story of Lauren Olamina and Earthseed continues here. However, I believe it can be read as a standalone, as it provides enough context for what happened in the first book to make sense on its own.
I feel like this book shouldn't even work, given its structure, and I think it's a testament of Octavia Butler's talent and skill that she made it work. In fact, she made it work so well that I couldn't put the book down and was immensely invested in it. It made me feel so many things. It made me think.
It is, just like the first Earthseed book, based on diary entries, but this time it's not only Lauren's diary, it's also her daughter Larkin's, Bankole's and another character's (whose identity I won't reveal since their appearance was a major plot twist). As Larkin tells her own story, she also uses her mother's, father's and another person's diary entries to tell their story and the story of Earthseed. I really have no idea how on Earth something like that can work, especially taking into account that the voices in the diaries are almost indistinguishable from each other, particularly Lauren's and her daughter's. And yet, somehow, it all coalesces into a gripping and emotionally intense narrative, while each character feels real and unique. There are two parallel timelines in the book: Lauren's and Larkin's. Larkin tells her story as she's in her early thirties, but she recaps her childhood and young adulthood.
It seemed in the beginning that Larkin was the main character, since it was her diary that the book started with. But it turned out that it was still very much Lauren Olamina's story. It's her entries that take up most of the book, even though they are organized by Larkin, who is trying to make sense of her mother's life and work.
Octavia Butler doesn't hesitate to dive into deep waters, exploring subjects like slavery, concentration camps, exploitation, religious zealotry, politics, the outcomes of shortsightedness and the banality of evil. She's really good at showing how ordinary people are capable of extraordinary evil if they believe they're doing the right thing.
Some people will probably take this book as a harsh criticism of Christianity. I personally don't believe it is. Even though it's Christian America's crusaders who wreck havoc on 'heathens' and establish the so-called 'reeducation camps', I believe it's not about Christianity itself. It is about taking religion as far as deciding whose lives matter, dividing people into worthy and unworthy and acting on those beliefs. It is about mixing religion with politics, using religion to gain support, manipulate and brainwash. It is about choosing an enemy to divert people's attention from the politicians' failure to solve their actual problems. It is about violently imposing one 'right' religion upon others. It is about using it to oppress and subdue. And I believe all or at least most of the above can be attributed to all major religions.
Octavia Butler managed to capture the dehumanizing experience of being imprisoned and enslaved with acute emotional intensity. The events in the book feel so real because similar things have happened before and are still happening (take Nazi and Soviet concentration camps or modern-day Chinese 'reeducation camps', slavery, both historical and modern, environmental destruction and the resulting suffering etc.).
However, depicting all those large-scale events, the author pays a lot of attention to small personal tragedies. Through her characters' experiences she shows how different beliefs and life experiences can drive relatives who love each other apart. How one's religious beliefs can push someone to make extremely cruel choices while believing they're doing the right thing or have a higher moral ground. How trauma and losing everything we know can make us cling to something that provides comfort while pushing people who really care away. There is a lot of pain in this book, but not all of it comes from mindless physical violence that so much of 'Parable of the Sower' seemed to rely on. It somehow feels deeper, more personal, more real, more intricate. It is still dystopian and quite violent sci-fi, and yet to me it was all around so much more than that.
The book also allowed me to understand Earthseed much better. I still think it's an interesting philosophy, and I must admit that a lot of the ideas make sense to me. In this book, we get to see its growth and change, from the first Acorn community into something different.
In the end, I really enjoyed the book. It is about humanity. From atrocities and cruelty to resilience and adaptability, creativity and vision, persistence and love. It's full of insightful and wise observations of human nature.
You might enjoy the book as well if you like speculative fiction that deals with big ideas and difficult subjects and makes you think, if you like philosophy and don't mind quite a lot of violence and criticism of religion.
Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.
After her father died, Butler was raised by her widowed mother. Extremely shy as a child, Octavia found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and in writing. She began writing science fiction as a teenager. She attended community college during the Black Power movement, and while participating in a local writer's workshop was encouraged to attend the Clarion Workshop, which focused on science fiction.
She soon sold her first stories and by the late 1970s had become sufficiently successful as an author that she was able to pursue writing full-time. Her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public and awards judges. She also taught writer's workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington state. Butler died of a stroke at the age of 58. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library.