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.
“Embrace diversity or be destroyed” (ch.16)
As my first foray into my Study Black Lit intensive, The Parable of the Sower is a fantastic beginning. It’s a science fiction and dystopian novel by black author Octavia E. Butler. I remember picking up novels by her as a kid but I’m not sure if I remember reading them. That’s the trouble when you’re an avid reader that blows through pages as quickly as I did.
“What we don’t see can kill us” (ch.23)
I used the chapter references for quotes on this post because I listened to this book via Overdrive. The narrator is Lynne Thigpen and she is absolutely phenomenal. The emotions, the tension, suspense, fear, the surety in the voice of a 15-year-old girl turned prophet. It was phenomenal and I listened to the entire book straight through.
“All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you” (ch. 7)
I started with Octavia E. Butler because I’m a big fan of science fiction. I wanted to read something new and inventive that still created converse about today’s issues. This novel tackles many controversial topics and blends them with the quiet intelligence of an empathic teen. Homelessness, god and religion, fear, hierarchy and classism, and the ever burdening of capitalism.
“People without homes will build fires” (ch.16)
In The Parable of the Sower, I see seeds of my own novel Solaria. The intense need to speak about the world around us is a profound feeling many black authors have. Butler does this in one chapter, describing a world where companies hire workers, give them a home, provide for their families, and take care of their needs. Then once the workers are settled, they make them legal slaves, citing them with debts they can’t repay. If that doesn’t sound like the world today, I don’t know what will.
“Why is the universe? To shape god. Why is god? To shape the universe” (ch.7)
Her thoughts on god remind me of church songs I sang growing up. My parents were pastors and we were in church a minimum of two times a week. Often times from eight in the morning until evening. One hymn, in particular, comes to mind. “Everything must chaaaange” was sung every Sunday, deep altos repeating the phrase over and over until tears streaked faces and hands rose in exaltation. The fact that no matter what you’re going through, no matter how hard times are, everything must change – and let the churchgoers tell it, it’ll change for the better. The idea that ‘Earthseed’ is based on god being change, about living a good life while you’re still here to experience it, and embracing self is one that deeply resonates with me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m no longer religious but I ate up every Earthseed scripture I heard.
“Your teachers are all around you” (ch.23)
Another interesting thing taught is that the world is your education. I love this. My entire life I’ve worked under this optimistic principle that even the negative things in my life teach me things. They either shape my wounds, showing me what I can or can’t handle. They push me forward, toward my goals or away from them but always moving. Another quote of hers that I loved is “God is trickster, teacher, chaos, clay” (ch.18). Yes, yes, and yes.
“No one is who we think they are, that’s what we get for not being telepathic” Ch. 16
I’d definitely recommend this book if you are looking for something with a great premise and characters with depth. No need to look further beyond the words on the page However, reading, rereading, looking at the layers, and reading her other works would benefit any reader! I plan to read the second book in the series (and others if I can). I also plan to read Kindred, Fledgling, her Xenogenesis series, and a few others.
If you have any suggestions of Black women writers, comment below and subscribe for more posts!
Other Quotes from the novel that I loved:
“There’s always a lot to do before you go to heaven” (ch.8)
“Could I have been seen? A figure of darker darkness in an otherwise empty street” (ch.14)
“No one is who we think they are, that’s what we get for not being telepathic” (ch.16)
“What we don’t see can kill us” (ch.23)
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