Friday, May 15, 2015

Parables of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Oh Octavia Butler, you're magnificent. This is another book from BAE, so there isn't a story to how I acquired it. Parables of the Sower is the first book Butler ever published. I thought I read somewhere that it was a book she began as a child and then finished it when she was order for publication. However, I cannot find the source now, so it's possible I made it all up.

The reason I mention that is that the story of Parable of the Sower is an adult version of those action stories you read as a kid, like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain, where the teenager or adolescent is stranded and they have to survive on their own with only a survival backpack and their gumption. The main character go on a journey to get them out of the wilderness or they make a plan to survive in a new, wild place. I, myself, would often daydream about what it would be like to survive on my own.

SIDESTORY: I actually ran away once to try that. I think my mother and I got into a fight, and I packed my stuff and left. I made it out into the woods by my house (they actually filmed Tuck Everlasting, btw, so it's beautiful), but then I was afraid and hungry, so I went home. I got into a lot of trouble. I also think I stopped my day dreams of living out in the woods after that day.

Ok, back to the review. Parable of the Sower is an adult version of the adventure story littered with sex, drugs and though I wish I could say rock n' roll, violence. Butler is a mastermind at revealing a potential future that we're staring in the face of. Parable of the Sower is set in 2026, which might be a long way off when she wrote the book in 1993, but it's only 11 years down the line. I think that, more than anything, scared me the most. It also scares me because of how Butler writes the characters surrounding the main character. They are in denial about the catastrophic changes in their lives and they hope it will get better, or ignore the increasing amount of struggle outside of their quiet four walls.

The main character's name is Lauren. She is a the daughter of a preacher and she lives in a "gated" community with 10 or so other families. She has a step-mother and 3 younger brothers. The book is set up as a journal first person. Everything that happens, occurs after the fact when Lauren writes it down.

Her "gated" community was self-imposed by the families that live in the cul-de-sac. They put up the walls to keep the homeless, the druggies and the criminals from entering their homes. It's dangerous to go outside of the walls. It is incredibly hard to get a job, and her father, a professor at the university, goes outside of the wall a few times a week to teach. Many people are killed when they go outside.

Lauren, in the first half of the book, describes her daily life, and her complex relationships with her father, step-mother, brothers and the other members of the microsociety she lives with. The threat of the outside world is always a factor, and when a company goes into a similar city to provide jobs with room and board, many families are interested in taking it, no matter the risks and the cost of having a job.

This book is complex and it's so well written that it's hard to unpack the book while not giving much away. A gentle buzz in the background of the book that slowly makes it way front and center at the end of the book is Lauren's Earthseed. It's a new type of religion, though Lauren maintains that it is a way of life. Christianity, her father's religion, doesn't serve her needs and the changing needs of the world in which they live in. Christianity, she feels, does not give her a chance to survive in a violent world.

One final thing about the book worth mentioning (though the entire book is worth mentioning) is Lauren's hyperempathy. Caused by a drug called, I think, Pyro? Pyco? which contributes to much of the decay of American society, Lauren's mother was addicted to it, which gave Lauren something called, "hyperempathy." She feels other's pain or other's pleasure, to mixed results. It becomes evident to why she hides in as the book continues, but it makes for some interesting choices when it comes to people she meets and who she discloses his information too.

Ms. Butler is heads and shoulders above most other science fiction and fantasy I read now and days. Its a shame that she wasn't as famous (maybe she didn't want to be) or that none of her books were ever turned into movies (maybe she didn't want them to be). I'm currently reading Kindred in class, and most of the students are into the novel. Those that aren't into the book aren't much into anything, however. I can't wait to read Parable of the Talent, the second and final book in this series. Apparently she planned to write a 3rd novel, called Parables of the Trickster, but writer's block prevented her from finishing. Her writings are on display at Huntington Library (Indiana).

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