I had never heard of Octavia Butler until I was assigned Dawn to read in a science fiction literature class I took in college. I read so much science fiction in that course, deeply enjoying most every one I read. I devoured Planet of the Apes, The Martian Chronicles (for a second time), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dawn is what affected me the most. That book got under my skin.
When I read Butler’s esteemed Kindred later on, I remember liking it but it was no Dawn. With Kindred, I could not revel in the same themes and penetrating ideas that Dawn had once offered me. Maybe I just liked Butler’s big science fiction worlds, not her more realistic stories. I was wrong.
The Earthseed series, consisting of The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, seamlessly blends realism with the dread of the not so distant future. These novels play so well to a representation of our Earth that is popular in science fiction now: a desolate, barren world with the latest in technology. And it always feels too real. Just thinking about the wasteland of Mad Max: Fury Road becoming reality is terrifying, but with the way we continue to abuse our planet we know some version of this may be coming. That’s what Butler shows us in these books, but it’s more than just a destroyed land. The Parable of the Talents shot a dart right in the bullseye of present day America.
Butler’s world is only a few years ahead of ours, but it has so many allusions to the current political climate and eerie warnings of the future that it felt like reading Orwell’s 1984. No one is safe in America. Corporations are buying towns, people of all classes are struggling to get by, the literacy rate is pitiful, citizens must pay policemen for any kind of service, and a new president, preaching a good and Christian America is not doing anything to help. This president during his campaign uttered words that would send a shiver down my spine as I read them: “Help us to make America great again.”
While there aren’t overt threats of terrorism in these novels, President Jarret is interested in a Christianized America, one without the diversity of other separate religions, separate even from many sects of Christianity. This intolerance makes the life of the novels’ protagonist, Lauren Olamina, quite difficult. She has hopes to create this new religion called Earthseed. The reader thinks of Lauren as a sort of prophet because she speaks about Earthseed as certain truths she has been made aware of. She has compiled these together, creating Earthseed’s religious doctrine. The ultimate goal of Earthseed is to travel among the stars when you are still alive and make your new home somewhere out there in space. You don’t die, you just go to space to live your next life. It’s a pretty strange to religion and it’s exactly what President Jarret would consider a cult and call its followers witches.
The Parable of the Talents is the one that got under my skin most, like Dawn had. I really gravitate towards books that play with religion in interesting ways. But it’s the subtle warnings of what can easily become the state of our planet and our country.
The year has barely begun, but there are more than enough novel to real life similarities to cite.
Halts on funding concerning climate and the prominence of climate deniers.
The travel ban.
Some of the intolerances of present-day U.S. seem to have reached their conclusion in The Parable of the Talents. People empowered under their own interpretation of President Jarret’s Christian America, seek change in horrifying ways. That’s something we saw after this January’s inauguration as well as after this past November’s election results were announced.
I don’t mean to bottle these novels into political propaganda at all. They are so much more than that. The best books reflect on those parts of ourselves that we don’t want to look at. Butler does that in novel ways that feel familiar. Butler implores us to be stronger than we believe ourselves to be, to choose kindness over hate. It’s amazing that anyone can be as strong as the characters in these novels, but we can certainly try.
“In order to rise
From its own ashes