You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Parable of the Sower

I had never read any of Octavia E. Butler's works before so I picked up Parable of the Sower at the library recently. I found it to be hard and gritty. It is a cold and brutal look at the near future, not so much post-apocalyptic but apocalyptic of the slow sort where the world crumbles due to ignored environmental and economic problems.

The center of the story is Lauren Olamina, a black fifteen-year-old living with her father, stepmother and four half-brothers in a tough city near Los Angeles. The narrative is Lauren's diary as she writes about her life and verses of Earthseed, the religion she envisions. The United States has fallen into decay, with states closing their borders, few jobs that pay money, extreme poverty, no police to speak of, and gangs that rob and kill. Lauren and her family live in a compound of several homes, where the neighborhood has a wall and a gate and the neighbors take turns keeping watch. They survive on her father's meager earnings and doing odd jobs and harvesting acorns and fruit from their trees.

Lauren has a condition called hyperempathy which makes her feel the pain of others. This sets her up as a sacrificial lamb of sorts, since every time someone gets hurt she feels it too--everyone's pain is her pain. This also means she finds it difficult to harm others, even though there are times when she must in order to protect herself or others.

As her world continues to fall apart, Lauren builds Earthseed privately. It is a religion where the only god is change, and it promotes self-reliance, community and working for improvement. She speaks of it to nobody, least of all her minister father.

The community continues to suffer. When gangs break through the gate and burn down the neighborhood, Lauren starts walking north with two of her surviving neighbors. They form an alliance and other refugees start to join their group. Eventually the motley group makes it to a piece of land in northern California where they decide to build again, forming the first Earthseed community.

The writing is direct and simple, displaying Lauren's voice well but revealing deeper truths. The world of this near future is dark, where individuals must struggle against gangs and trust is hard to come by. Butler doesn't ease up on the violence; the characters are always fighting or on the lookout. Somehow Lauren takes the lead in creating something durable out of all this chaos. She envisions Earthseed as a religion for the stars, though it is hard to see how this could be possible in a world that can't even protect its citizens.

Lauren and the other characters are resilient, survivors in a tumultuous time. Many of the scenes were gruesome yet engaging. I found Lauren's struggles with her family and friends to be realistic; they formed an important part of her personality. She becomes a sort of mother to those around her, protecting them and urging them to make a better life. The plot itself is simplistic and seems mostly a vehicle for Lauren and her philosophy. The story is missing any big surprise or revelation that might make it a great story, but it is good for what it is. B+


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