by Emma Hyndman
It’s unsettling to dive into a science-fiction book about a dystopian future set in 2026 when it’s only eight years away. Written in 1993, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower presents a sobering look at a not-so-distant future. The first book in a two-part series, I couldn’t put this book down as I followed the story of survival from the perspective of a young African-American girl in California, Lauren Oya Olamina. I’ve been meaning to read an Octavia Butler book for a long time and since February is Black History Month, I thought it would be a great time to honor her legacy. The science fiction genre has historically been dominated by white men so it’s a refreshing change of pace to have a story centered on a strong female character where issues of race, class, and ability are openly discussed and central to the plot.
Lauren is no ordinary teenager. Forced to grow up much faster than her peers, she is the glue that holds her family and community together as they attempt to survive in a gated neighborhood in the fictional town of Robledo, California. The story does not go into detail about why exactly society is crumbling, instead hinting at changed policies, increased corporate influence, and climate change that contributed to its rapid decline.
The first-hand account is written in the form of journal entries, where Lauren writes about her day but also shares her thoughts on spirituality, God, and the religion she is developing. She calls it Earthseed and each chapter begins with a verse about change, compassion, forgiveness, and more. These verses are poetic and contrast nicely with Lauren’s chaotic stream-of-consciousness as she navigates the high-pressure society she lives in. Lauren was also born with a special condition: hyper-empathy syndrome that makes her feel other’s physical pain as if it were her own. While both her views on religion and her hyper-empathy syndrome may not be relatable to everyone, especially set in a dystopian future, Butler manages to weave in relatable stories and experiences. Strong themes related to family, community, and sacrifice made me reconsider how I practice empathy as well as my own relationship with spirituality. I would give Parable of the Sower 3.5 stars. It’s a great read, especially for young women who love science fiction, and once the plot picks up it’s impossible to put it down. However, I was not tempted to read the next book in the series, Parable of the Talents. The religious themes in the book felt a bit heavy-handed although I loved the poetry sprinkled in throughout that were influenced by Lauren’s religion.