Book Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Posted April 20, 2021 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower

by Octavia E. Butler

Series: Earthseed #1
Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows on October 1, 1993
Genre: Classics, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult
Representation: BIPOC Character(s), Biracial Character(s), Black Character(s), Own Voices Author
Content Warnings: Blood, Cannibalism, Child Death, Death, Gun Violence, Racism, Rape, Sexual Assault, Sexual Violence, Slavery, Violence

Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads or buy the book at Bookshop.org

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future.

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

 

If you like slow, thoughtful, complex dystopias... you’ll like Parable of the Sower.

Octavia E. Butler’s story of a world fallen to ruin feels like something that could still be in our near future.  Those types of stories – the ones that are close enough to reality you get chills – are the best kind.  They’re the sort you can indulge in and fear simultaneously.  And they’re familiar enough not to feel outlandish.  Butler’s world building is sublime in this way.

The characters are all fantastic and, for a change, mostly diverse.  Parable of the Sower made a point of that diversity.  It highlights the higher levels of violence Black and POC characters are likely to come across.  In the presence of Harry’s character (who is perfectly nice), we also see the complexity of distrust for white people, particularly white men, as Harry must prove himself an friend over and over again as the group grows.  This world also features indentured servitude, which essentially is slavery under a more palatable name.  We can see in a lot of ways how the world has fallen to the worst of all people, trampling the poor beneath it.  And, like any world with so many levels of in-built systemic racism, most of the people walking the barren highways and being killed are people of color.

In short, this story feels terrifyingly possible.  It is the sort of thing we can expect to befall the United States if hate is allowed to continue its reign.  If things do not change both in the hearts and laws of this country, this is the fallout we can expect.  It’s terrible and I hate it but this book is really fantastic so read it and be angry at the possibility with me.

Storytelling-wise, the book moves slowly.  It is a journey book, with most of it spent on the road.  Although leisurely, the pacing is good and Butler breaks up sequences with outbursts of fire and violence, as one would expect in a world such as this.  It is not a “nice book”.  Not a flowery dystopia with heroes and hope.  Be ready for that, going in.  Be ready for a thoughtful novel, filled with warnings.  Most the story is spent world building and laying the foundation for Earthseed, Lauren’s religion.  It’s not preachy, not really, but compelling in its thoughtfulness.  Parable of the Sower is a good book to read slowly, both to savor and best understand.

I honestly recommend this book, but it is not your-popular-mainstream-dystopia.  This is definitely an adult dystopia.  There are upsetting scenes rife with gore and violence.  There is death.  There is also a good amount of sexual content, though not shared in great detail.  Parable of the Sower will appeal to fans of classic dystopias like 1984, and Fahrenheit 451, but also to fans of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.  It’s very good, very interesting, and worth adding to your TBR.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★

4 Star Rating

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What other Black or POC science fiction writers would you recommend?  I want to continue to read more diversely, and I’d love to hear some of your favorite Black, POC, AAPI, Indigenous, etc. authors, particularly in fantasy and sci-fi!  Drop you faves in the comments!

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