Monday, March 27, 2017

Parable of the Sower

Every so often I pick up a book by an author I'd never heard of, caught by an attractive piece of cover art or back-jacket blurb, and find a work, as I did a few years ago, that really hits home.  Xenogenesis, by Octavia E. Butler was one such book.  Doing a bit more research, I discovered that I had stumbled onto a treasure -- she was the first well known black female science fiction writer, and had won a number of awards.  I decided to find more of her books, but shortly thereafter, got onto reading primarily non-fiction and that thought got pushed into back storage.

My addiction to online discount book sellers and second hand bookstores, however, saved me.  I ran across another of her books at Daedalus.com, "Parable of the Sower," published in 2000.  Watching cultural trends, and people's behaviors throughout her life (she was writing stories even as a child), Butler felt that if we kept going in the same general direction, some very bad things would be in the offing.  Our separation of people by race and class, the rich turning their backs on communities, preferring to live among their peers in gated communities of the like-minded and the economically secure, to avoid having to deal with the outside world, the growth of drug culture, the fears of global warming, the lack of sensitivity to the plight of others, all led into the creation of her vision in "Parable," of the coming 2020s.  The vision is dismaying and hopeful, violent and steadfast, terrifying and promising.  Butler had once again proved her writing was well worth my reading.

Unfortunately, she died only 6 years after this book was published, before reaching 60, to my mind a great loss to readers everywhere, so there aren't any new books coming, but if you ever come across one of her works, I highly recommend reading it.  She wanted a better world, with better people in it, and whether that improvement came from science, religion or alien intervention, she believed it could be achieved, and her body of work tries to show us how it could/might come to pass.

"Parable" is not easy reading for the squeamish -- it is a rotting, dysfunctional, and self-destructive society her main character Laurel is born into -- but it is thought-provoking and may, perhaps, if her message gets through, keep us from falling into the patterns of distrust and violence that give us a window into the world faced by refugees everywhere, and help us find that hopeful future.

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