Booked Solid: A ReviewParable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, both by Octavia E. Butler
by Rebecca James
Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents
both by Octavia E. Butler
God is Power
And yet, God is Pliable
God exists to be shaped.
God is Change.
In the year 2024, chaos reigns. The United States' public is mostly poor and illiterate. Fires burn out of control, clean water is scarce. Inflation has driven prices so high that even people who are able to work for money instead of simply room and board cannot afford basic necessities. Ordinary people are driven to murder and steal for their own survival. Junkies and rapists rule the streets. Brutal slayings are everyday occurrences and human bodies litter the streets like roadkill. Those lucky enough to have shelter in the form of a house share it with one or even two other families, usually in a community of a dozen homes walled in with concrete, razor wire and glass. Filth and starvation are a fact of life. Out of the smoking ruins and social warfare comes an unlikely hero: Lauren Olamina, age 18.
Octavia Butler is primarily known as a science fiction writer, but I would hesitate to classify Parable of the Sower or Talents as such. This story, told in two volumes, is a carefully constructed threat; ultimately a possibility of what is to come if the world continues to follow its current path. There is nothing far-fetched about Butler's predictions; each has ties to some real problem in today's society. As the story unfolds and her logical thought process becomes more and more apparent, the destruction readers witness becomes real, completely possible and utterly terrifying.
The daughter of a Baptist minister, Lauren is thrown into the streets when junkies, rich kids addicted to a drug called pyro, destroy her poor suburban L.A. community's walls. Armed with automatic weapons, guns and explosives, they make quick work of the fleeing population. Only a few members survive and escape the wreckage. Two young people join Lauren as she begins her journey north, searching for cheaper, more accessible water, undisturbed land and sustainable living. With most of the surrounding states' borders being closed, this is not an easy task. The three friends join throngs of poor, starving individuals walking north on California's little used highway system. Along the way, Lauren begins to inspire hope with the people they collect and protect. For the first time in her life, she tells people about Earthseed.
Lauren rejected her father's religion when she was only 12. Through her studies of history and society, she recognizes certain truths and formulates a theology that reflects those truths better than Christianity. This new vision is called Earthseed. Lauren does not see God as a deity to be worshiped. Rather, the controlling factor in her life, the only one she has ever known, has been the force of Change. Ancient cultures revered wind and fire as their gods, the most powerful forces in their lives. Christians bow to an omnipotent being. Anthropologists and other scholars examine these beliefs and note that they frequently reflect a sense of powerlessness and lack of control over their lives. In Lauren's eyes, this has led to a lack of personal and societal responsibility. Earthseed represents a response to destruction and hope for the future. She sees God as a force to shape, mold and respect. GodChangeboth responds and initiates. God is a relationship between living things and the forces that affect them, both natural and self-inflicted. God is Change.
This young, strong, black woman and her motley group of believers set out to create a new world for themselves. It is a story of faith, trust, strength and perseverance, the ultimate version of "Survivors." To fail is to die. It is difficult, yet fascinating to read what this community creates, loses and resurrects for the good of humanity. This band of men and women are persecuted first for their audacity to live, then for their beliefs. Through it all, they must remain true to each other and their dream. When Earthseed's children are stolen in the aftermath of what is later referred to as the Pox, that period of time when Lauren lost her father and brothers, the young community fears that all hope is lost. Lauren, however, eventually views the tragedy as an opportunity: God is Change, now shape change. As they search for their children, word of their belief system spreads, and what Lauren could never figure out how to do happens: Earthseed begins to grow nationwide.
Both of Octavia Butler's novels are politically minded. They are very real consequences to the environmental, social, and economic decisions we makeor ignoreeveryday. Lauren, our powerful black female hero articulates universal truths which make it difficult to remember that Butler's work is fiction. Without a doubt, these books are two of the most compelling examples of futuristic literature I've read. Don't miss them!
Rebecca James lives in Rehoboth Beach. She recently began practicing massage after completing certification at the Baltimore School of Massage. For rates, availability and appointments please call 302-226-9685.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 10, No. 8, June 30, 2000.