Friday, 22 January 2010

Parable of the Sower, Book Review

Parable of the Sower
Octavia Butler
ISBN: 9780446675505

Pros: highly original in that it deals with a society in the midst of collapse (as opposed to being post-apocalyptic), good writing, examines racial issues (realistic portrayal of the diversity of the US population)

Cons: excessive religious overtones (not preachy but close), towards the end some of the relationships seem contrived (given the timeline of the novel and economic conditions)

This is another book I read in university and decided was worth a reread. It's the only novel I've come across that, rather than showing how humanity rebuilds after an apocalypse, shows the gradual collapse of society.

The book is told through journal entries of 15 to 18 year old Lauren Olamina. When the novel begins, she lives in a walled community in California. Conditions are bad - limited food and necessities, paying jobs are hard to come by, multitudes of homeless beg or steal or kill to survive, and pyro (makes setting fires more fun than sex) is becoming the drug of choice.

When a new presidential candidate comes into the oval office things get even worse. One of his policies is "to get laws changed, suspend 'overly restrictive' minimum wage", opening the way for indentured slavery (as the wages new communities offer are not enough to pay for the supplied room and board).

Laruen is working on a new system of belief called Earthseed, and when the walls around her neighbourhood come down, she sees it as an opportunity to start spreading the word.

My complaint about the religion is that it's more of a philosophy. She argues (perhaps rightly) that prayers only helps the one who's praying, "and then, only if they strengthen and focus that person's resolve". Her God, on the other hand, is Change. It "doesn't love me or hate me or watch over me or know me at all, and I feel no love for or loyalty to my God. My God just is." In that case, why have one? Change is an aspect of life. Call it that. Luckily, Butler does stop short of having her character preach to the reader.

Her civilization's collapse is very realistic, citing climate change among other factors. And having a racially mixed cast gives her book a verisimilitude many others lack.


One problem I had with the book was the speed with which Lauren forgets the man she's in love with and was planning to marry, and falls in love with another man. She never really grieves the man she left behind (most likely dead) and the man she falls for is old enough to be her father. Their attraction is not adequately explained, especially considering they sleep with each other within a week of meeting, when they still don't trust each other. I can accept that (they're both living through difficult times and humans want physical comfort). What I can't accept is their deciding to marry only a short time later, while constantly learning new things (that they don't necessarily like) about each other. Yes, the future is uncertain, but that doesn't mean you should do stupid things.

On the other hand, so much is happening that I actually had to go back and look at the dates for when they met vs when they agreed to get married. It feels like more time has passed so most people probably won't notice.

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