An Ode to the Birthday Girl
June 22, 2016, would have been Octavia E. Butler’s 69th birthday. Unfortunately, she passed in 2006. Her work still resonates and moves those of us fortunate enough to read her work. Her name is synonymous with Science Fiction and was the first Sci-fi writer to win the MacArthur “Genius Grant.” I cannot believe it has taken me this long to read one of her books.
A casual acquaintance suggested Parable of the Sower after I mentioned I liked to read dystopian stories. I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but within a week, I had her worn copy in my hands. Although it goes without saying, I didn’t read it. For at least a year. It sat on my (borrowed) shelf and I went on with my life. I was unfamiliar with the life and work of Octavia Butler and so, I did not know how important this book would be.
Diving Into A Familiar Unknown: Dystopian Los Angeles
After I got my act together, I remembered that long lost borrowed book. Published in 1993, Parable of the Sower follows the life of Lauren Olamina through her diary. At 15, she is fortunate to live within a gated community located in Los Angeles county. She lives in a future world that has little to no government and a neighborhood in constant fear of the outside. Any traveling is dangerous, and parents teach their children to hunt and defend themselves. Those who can afford it have guards at their gates. Those who can’t become victims of crime and unspeakable acts outside those secure walls.
At 15, Lauren is practically an adult, helping teach the neighborhood children to read and write. She also hides a special secret from those around her- she can feel the pain of others. Not “you’re sad so I’m sad” sort of pain. She shares the pain. Afraid to kill an animal because she doesn’t know if doing so will kill her as well. But she learns to hunt and feels, deep down, that things are going to change. And they do. One terrible night brings the worst of her fears- the walls come down and now she must face the outside world with little help and only her studies guide her.
I would Recommend This Over And Over And Over Again
There is no critique to give to a book written by Octavia Butler. There is laughing and crying, there are frustrations and anguish. There is no “could have been better if” with Octavia Butler. That is not to say some people don’t like her work, I’m just not one of those people. You live the life of the characters and when the book is over, you are a new person. I changed as if Buttler had rewritten me too. Of course, I had moments of frustrations while reading, but they mirrored the characters. When they would come up against conflict or strife, I too would be upset. When they would find comfort or happiness, shared their joys.
She must enjoy circumlocution as much as I do. It’s one of my favorite things. It’s when you describe or talk about something without naming what the something is. It’s a great way to get into the head of a character, or know what they are speaking of even before they know. There is quite a bit of that in this novel, as you learn what Lauren experiences and how she copes with her losses. The embodiment of strength and determination, Lauren sets goals and makes them happen. She doesn’t let anyone deter her from choosing the path she sees as her right path.
As it neared the end of the book, I could see that Butler was not going to wrap everything up. Thankfully, she also wrote a second book to this series. I haven’t read it yet, but the sequel, Parable of the Talents, is very close to the top of my ToBeRead (TBR) pile. I’ve also bought one of her most popular books, Kindred, and added it to my shelf. And books like Octavia’s Brood and artist like Janelle Monae bring Butler’s Sci-Fi into other mediums.
Butler’s philosophy on humanity worked its way inside my brain, reminding me that we need to work together or perish. I can’t believe it took almost 32 years to read an Octavia Butler book. She is an iconic writer in my favorite genre, and after completing this book, I know I will be reading everything she has ever written. My recommendation for this book is to read it now. Butler’s assessment of life and living are profound, and this bookish brown girl will feel her presence with me for the rest of my days.