I have a love / hate relationship with The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I love the book and hate how much I think her speculative fiction feels like our 21st century reality. Butler creates a world, set in our near future 2025, where anarchy reigns. I also have mixed feelings about the concept of Earthseed.
The narrator, Lauren Olimaya, is a teen with purpose and plans. But they aren’t what you’d think—it’s not about post-high school education and losing her virginity. Lauren is planning how to survive. She’s also developing her own sense of God and religion, called Earthseed. It’s from that concept that Butler draws the series title for this and the following book.
Lauren’s world is dark, full of fear and loss. In fact, Butler intended to write a trilogy but couldn’t stomach a third book in this world she created. Sower begins in the fictional California city of Robledo, 20 miles outside Los Angeles. Lauren’s family lives inside a small gated community. While this affords them some advantages, the people within and without are living in conflict.
In some ways Lauren is a typical teen. She fights with her brothers and has a bestie. But she’s also got a survival pack in her closet, with all the essentials for life on the run. Yet she’s introspective, thinking about how her God is different from her Baptist minister father’s. She’s a bit of a contradiction, and that also makes her a typical teen.
Butler’s writing style is straightforward and open. She never falls victim to using words for their own sake. Instead, each word has a purpose and a goal. The story moves at a fast pace, with dramatic events and conflicts. Her world building is comprehensive without being overbearing.
Reading this as a scheduled, month-long buddy read was excruciating. I just wanted to spend an afternoon and finish it already! And I mean that in the best possible way. Butler creates a world I want to understand, if only so I can do my part to keep it from becoming a real-life actuality.
On the flip side, this is a depressing book in many ways. Reading about the inhuman ways the human characters behave isn’t easy. And Lauren’s perspective on God and Earthseed don’t lighten the story.
Earthseed is Lauren’s way to make sense of an incomprehensible world. It doesn’t offer much hope, but I can imagine how the process of developing it grounds Lauren. I like the aspects of community it engenders, even if the God aspects don’t work much for me. Interestingly, people have taken the fictional creation and created an actual religion.
I’m anxious to read the second book. Octavia Butler is truly a brilliant writer and visionary.