Review: Parable of the Sower

Review: Parable of the SowerParable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Series: Earthseed #1
Published by Warner Books on November 1, 1993
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic
Pages: 345
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
two-stars

Octavia E. Butler, the grande dame of science fiction, writes extraordinary, inspirational stories of ordinary people. Parable of the Sower is a hopeful tale set in a dystopian future United States of walled cities, disease, fires, and madness. Lauren Olamina is an 18-year-old woman with hyperempathy syndrome--if she sees another in pain, she feels their pain as acutely as if it were real. When her relatively safe neighborhood enclave is inevitably destroyed, along with her family and dreams for the future, Lauren grabs a backpack full of supplies and begins a journey north. Along the way, she recruits fellow refugees to her embryonic faith, Earthseed, the prime tenet of which is that "God is change." This is a great book--simple and elegant, with enough message to make you think, but not so much that you feel preached to.

Unfortunately, much of this book was lost on me. I feel somewhat unqualified to make a judgment of its quality overall, given my own deficiencies which definitely colored my view of Parable of the Sower. I have never been religious and attended public school for most of my K-12 education, so I do not have much of a biblical foundation. I know the big stories, but a lot of the smaller, but still important, references go way over my head. This book is steeped in biblical references, which I cannot appreciate. Keep this in mind when choosing to read thisbook.

The dystopian future presented is truly terrifying. The environment has been totally screwed up; global warming definitely seems to be an aspect of that. Water is disappearing and rain is incredibly rare. What water there is tends to be polluted. Inflation runs rampant; a pair of boots (average ones, although in decent condition, but still used) are worth $1,ooo. Some are very wealthy, but most people can only get money by stealing, especially since jobs are nigh impossible to find. Because of the cost and danger of life, the nuclear family is a thing of the past and people now live with extended families. Of course, birth control is now rare and expensive, so even more children are being born, which exacerbates the problems. Even the ‘safe’ areas are so perilous that almost everyone who can afford to owns at least one gun. A drug called pyro, which makes watching flames dance feel better than sex, is circulating wildly and so are the fires which these addicts are setting. People flood north on foot, having heard rumors that things are better up there, where food and water are easier to come by, but this may be rumor alone. The hard economic times have also brought an end to protection for workers, so slavery has returned in many places.

The other thing I feel compelled to comment on is that Lauren Olamina, because of her mother’s drug addiction during pregnancy, is a sharer. What this means is that she feels other people’s pain. As a child, she would even begin bleeding when someone else was. This is, I believe, intended to make her somewhat Christ-like, because she is suffering other people’s pain and also to give her the motivation to make life better for everyone, not just herself. The idea of a sharer is cool, but, again, I think my lack of biblical awareness may lessen my understanding of the intended implications.

I recommend this to dystopia fans primarily, but reiterate that it will be less enjoyable without a firm knowledge of the Christian religion.

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