I love Octavia Butler’s fiction and finally picked up PARABLE OF THE SOWER, which tells the story of a young woman laying the foundation for a new religion in the ruins of a dying America.
The premise is intriguing. America is suffering economic collapse, resulting in armies of unemployed roaming the country and pillaging what’s left of the middle class. The police are more apt to arrest than help you, and only try to help you if you pay for their service, as with the fire department and other government services. Indentured servitude is legal, resulting in company towns where skilled workers are dependent on their employers and outright slavery for unskilled workers.
In Los Angeles, Lauren Olamania, a young woman who lives in a middle class walled community, works with her neighbors to defend their way of life while exploring a new belief system called Earthseed, which recognizes God as change, that everything you change changes you, that life means rolling with change, and that mankind’s destiny is in the stars. When her community is overrun, she ends up on the road with other survivors, building a tribe of Earthseed followers as they go.
It’s an interesting story, though in my opinion–and I say this as a big fan–it’s not Butler’s finest. If you disagree with me, you’re not alone. It’s a beloved novel, has a big following, and was nominated in 1994 for Nebula Award for Best Novel. Butler followed up to it with PARABLE OF THE TALENTS, and had planned a third novel, PARABLE OF THE TRICKSTER, though it went unfinished before her death in 2006.
The novel is written as a journal, which is a great deal of the problem for me. Every big dramatic thing that happens is prefaced with, “Last night, something big happened,” which destroys the tension. There’s a lot of lazy writing such as, “He looked at me.” Despite America being a brutal place, Lauren and her tribe don’t really suffer much, they always seem to have money and weapons, and get by. The action sequences are weak, the Earthseed religion isn’t that compelling, and overall the novel, despite its great ideas, falls flat.
I really wanted to like this one as it brought together Butler and a fantastic dystopian premise, and I did enjoy it, but it just didn’t hit the nail on the head for me.