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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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Imminent Arrivals and TBR #2

July 15, 2010 8 comments

The first time I did an Imminent Arrivals and TBR post it turned out to be surprisingly popular with you guys. Yay!  So I decided to continue doing them periodically.

Imminent Arrivals (books with the shortest estimated arrival from PaperBackSwap)

Paintbrush on woman's chest.Top of the queue is Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore.  I honestly have no idea what this book is about, but Jane Kamensky was my advisor for my History major in university.  She mysteriously took a year’s sabbatical and only told us later it was to write this book.  She specializes in US History, particularly women’s roles and colonial New England.  I kind of heart her.  A lot.  She’s a brilliant woman and taught me so much.  How could I not read her book?

Woman in a red dress.Next is Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder.  You guys know that I don’t normally do fantasy, but the concept of a woman convicted of murder being offered the choice between immediate death or being the food taster for the Commander of Ixia really struck me.  There’s a lot of room for interesting plot there from the methods and types of poisoning to free will to the original murder.  I’m curious and hopeful this will be a door into fantasy for me.  Or at least a window.

Woman standing in front of a city skyline.Third in line is Deadtown by Nancy Holzner.  It sounds largely like your typical paranormal plot-line (woman must keep people safe from monsters) but it’s set in Boston!  I mean I have to read anything set in Boston that isn’t about the Irish mob.  I get so sick of Boston equating Irish mob in people’s heads.  Anyway, it also appears to feature every type of paranormal creature you can imagine, so it should at least be entertaining.

TBR

Woman's blurry face.I’m trying to dig down to the books that have been in my TBR pile the longest.  First is S by John Updike.  After reading The Witches of Eastwick and enjoying it, I poked around to see what else Updike has written.  I have a weakness for epistolary novels, and this one is a bit unique in that it is set in the 1960s as opposed to the 1800s or some such.  The letters are also from a woman living on a religious commune.  It all sounds rather fascinating, but I’m not sure if I’m in the mood for what could be a slow-paced novel right now.

Woman wearing a glowing necklace.Also sitting on the TBR shelf for a while is Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler.  It was recommended to me by a friend due to my love of Margaret Atwood.  I honestly didn’t even read the summary at the time, just bought it.  Allow me to go look at the blurb.  Ok.  It’s set in the future and is about a woman who is an empath–a person who is crippled by the pain of others.  Ohhh, this sounds really good!

Wires.Finally there’s Neuromancer by William Gibson, which was recommended to me by an IT geek friend of mine.  It’s about a computer cowboy who gets banished from cyberspace (I think it’s fairly obvious that this is set in the future).  Rumors of a movie keep circulating, so I do want to get on this relatively soon.  I just hope it won’t disappoint me the way Feed did (review).

There we have it!  Please tell me what you think, my lovely readers!