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Parable of the Sower, Octavia E. Butler, Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993, ISBN 0-941423-99-9, $19.95, 299pp.

I’m working on reading Butler’s entire oeuvre in preparation for an essay that I plan to write on a common theme in her work. With some authors such a task would be daunting, either because of the volume of writing or the disparate nature of their output. So far, as I can tell, Butler’s limited publications fall into four distinct groups: her early novels in the Patternist series; Kindred, a standalone novel of time travel and slavery; the Xenogenesis trilogy; and the current group of books, likely to go by the heading of Earthseed. The new novel, Parable of the Talents, is the second in the series, which I have on my shelf to be read, but I wanted to make sure I started at the beginning.

In 2030 the U.S. is a nation under siege from within. Violence and new drugs have combined to make the cities war zones, where the citizens live in suburban walled enclaves and must go out in groups or well-armed to shop or work. One drug in particular, which causes the user to find fire so fascinating that he or she immediately turns to arson, wreaks total havoc. This is a post-apocalyptic society, but instead of following a nuclear war or a plague, it is an implosion of the tensions that we have in society today magnified enormously.

Frequent readers of these missives will recall that I don’t care much for post-apocalypses, and it really doesn’t matter if it happened because of war or drugs or plague. It is a setting that seems as if ordered from central casting. I’ve read it so many times that there is nothing new about it. Unfortunately, Butler does not change my opinion with this book. However, her characters and their concerns were somewhat new–especially the idea of creating a new religion that would help people live in these rough times and deal with the change, as well as her creation of a psychosomatic condition that causes empathy as a side-effect of a total cancer cure.

Still, it was a rough 300 pages for me, made all the more so for its obvious set-up of a longer series. Butler’s writing is accomplished and her characters believable. While I was not too excited by this novel, I am interested in seeing where she goes from here, now that all the set-up is complete.

[Finished April 1999]


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