I call myself a science fiction fan, and a progressive, but somehow, I’d reached middle age without having read Parable of the Sower. FAIL.
Very pleased to have filled this gap in my education.
Parable of the Sower is a modern classic of the dystopian future subgenre of science fiction. In a future Southern California plagued by drought, massive economic inequality, and violence*, Lauren Olamina, a young African American woman, who can literally feel your pain, sets out to found a new religion and head north to a better life. This is book is ostensibly a journal she keeps of her journey. The book is divided into two parts: The first covers Olamina’s discovery of her religious calling, which blossoms as her home life disintegrates under the pressures of a failing society. In the second half, she finds her first followers, and clarifies her vision, while traveling north with thousands of other economic refugees to a better life.
There is action, there is philosophy, and there are political lessons. Olimina battles sexism, racism, ageism, and the dark impulses of late capitalism, all while falling in love and contemplating the meaning of life.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been trite. But Butler has the chops to develop her characters, and advance the plot, without sacrificing the larger political and cultural issues she wishes to engaged in. That isn’t to say this is a perfect novel. Despite Butler’s skills, the dialogue can be clunky, and the secondary characters aren’t always as vivid as they could be, but it’s still a great read. Thoughtful enough to feel like you’re not wasting your time on mind candy, but fun enough that the pages go by quickly.
There’s a sequel to Sower, Parable of the Talents, which I haven’t gotten around to yet. But on the strength of this first volume, I will.
*Sound familiar? Shit’s even worse in the book than it is currently IRL there.