Home > Book, dystopian, Genre, Review > Book Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Book Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Woman wearing the Earth as a necklace.Summary:
Lauren is an empath.  She feels other people’s pain as intensely as they do.  She lives near Los Angeles in the near future in a walled community.  The gap between rich and poor has increased to an extent that being street poor is the norm.  Lauren’s community is one of the few “middle-class” ones left.  In the confines of the walls, this preacher’s daughter starts to come up with her own religion that she calls Earthseed.  She gets the chance to put it to the test when their walled community is destroyed, and she a few survivors strike north, hoping to find better land and jobs.

Review:
A lot of dystopian novels clearly establish a believable dystopian society, but struggle with characterization.  This was interesting in that it was the opposite.  Butler establishes multiple, easily distinguished characters, both sympathetic and non-sympathetic.  Lauren in particular is believable and understandable in spite of the fact that she’s essentially starting a cult.  Lauren’s inner life is eloquently drawn out in such a way that her actions are almost entirely understandable to the reader, even when they aren’t to the people around her.

On the other hand, the dystopian society was not well drawn-out.  In spite of the fact that the older generations were all around when the shit hit the fan in American society, not a single one of them even attempts to explain why everything started to go wrong.  We get one glimpse of the world between the early 1990s and the US 30 years later in which the book takes place, and that isn’t really enough to establish how the dystopia occurred.  The how isn’t necessarily necessary for stories that take place far into the future, but 30 years isn’t very far off.  It’s reasonable to expect a bit of an explanation for how society fell so drastically apart.

The sections where Lauren discusses her Earthseed beliefs are pleasant to read, but there’s nothing earth-shattering about them.  They’re basically The Secret mixed with Buddhism mixed with Deism.  There was nothing that made me stop and think about my own world-view.  A character does address a similar criticism to Lauren about Earthseed, but she only admits to being “influenced” by eastern philosophy.  Similarly, she won’t admit to creating her own religion.  She insists she just found it.  Whether Butler sides with the critical character or Lauren, I still would rather that the reader saw something appealing in Earthseed, since so many characters do end up clinging to it.  It makes the whole situation a bit less believable.

There is a relationship in the book between a teenage girl and a man old enough to be her father.  It is presented as a bit odd, yet positive.  Honestly, the whole thing made me squeamish.  It might not have if I hadn’t found the older male character creepy from the instant he was introduced.  I’m really not sure why Butler chose to go there.  It certainly has no point in this book, although it might in the sequel, Parable of the Talents.  I hope it was introduced for a reason and not just for shock value.  In either case, I wish he had established a father/daughter type relationship with the teenager instead of the sexual one.

Overall, Parable of the Sower is a pleasant read, but not one that makes much of an impact.  If character studies are more up your alley, and you don’t mind dystopian settings, you’ll probably enjoy this book.  If you want a solidly established dystopia, you should look elsewhere, such as Brave New World or The Handmaid’s Tale.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: SwapTree

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