Parable of the Talents cements Octavia Butler as one of my favorite speculative fiction authors. The second and final in the Earthseed books, Talents offers a disturbing view of the near future.
At the end of Book #1, Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina, her husband Taylor Franklin Bankole, and their motley crew have arrived at a homestead they call Acorn. Lauren has been teaching Earthseed, her quasi-religious views of God and man. They begin building homes, cultivating land, and developing traditions. The timeline has moved to 2032.
Butler offers multiple points-of-view in Talents, returning to Lauren’s voice but adding her husband’s and daughter’s voices too. By including Bankole’s writing, we learn about the time before Book #1. This particularly highlights the age difference between husband and wife, and the potential conflicts of their separate perspectives.
Lauren’s daughter provides a foil to her parents, by writing after the fact about them both and the world they lived in. And yet we don’t quite know how or if the two timelines will meet in Talents. She has quite a lot to say about Acorn, Earthseed, and their times. But the real details come from Lauren’s longer and more transactional chapters.
Acorn endures much. Some of the events are common to dystopia—missing people found, conflict, death, mayhem, etc. However, Butler’s unique spin includes topics such as rape, slavery, and rabid evangelism. Plenty of it is difficult to read. These things happened in the nonfictional past, and no preventative measure is foolproof.
This quote was the book’s biggest gut punch for me. Butler wasn’t talking about any one man. I think she simply saw the very real potential to repeat history.
“From EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING
Choose your leaders
with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward
is to be controlled
by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool
is to be led
by the opportunists
who control the fool.
To be led by a thief
Is to offer up
your most precious treasures
to be stolen.
To be led by a liar
is to ask
to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant
Is to sell yourself
and those you love
I don’t believe Butler was a clairvoyant. I believe she looked objectively at history, and at the world’s state in the late 1990s. Given both views, Butler used her brilliant imagination to build a world not so far different from the place we’ve arrived at today.
The mother-daughter relationship struck me to my core. I had a complicated relationship with my ultra-religious mother, although the similarities end there. Butler does a credible job of portraying the emotions involved on both sides of this divide.
Butler had intended to write a trilogy. But as she wrote Talents, she realized that time spent writing another book in this world would be too much to bear. I appreciate an author who can be honest with her readers like that.
And I wondered if I’d notice this in the structure or execution of her book. I did notice it. The ending seems somewhat choppy and artificial. I can guess where the details of book three might have fallen. I wanted to read them, and at the same time, I was ready to move on.
Butler has inspired me, both to resist more and to be more prepared. In Sower, Lauren has a “go bag,” which ultimately provides her protection in an emergency. Now I’m working on “go bags” for our home. And I’m participating with more intention in the democracy, because I want to do my part to avoid a world like Lauren’s.
Thank you Ms. Octavia Butler, I wish you were here with your wisdom. And then again, I think our world would have broken your heart.