My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Parable Of The Sower is the first half of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed series, and introduces us to a near future dystopia in which society has all but disintegrated following an ecological collapse. While the novel centres itself on the Western seaboard of the USA, it is implied (though not specifically confirmed) that the effects of the collapse have been felt worldwide. The story is presented through the eyes of the novel’s protagonist, Lauren Olamina, a teenage girl who initially lives with her father, step-mother and step-brothers in a walled community on the fringes of what’s left of Los Angeles. Lauren also has a condition which Butler calls ‘hyperempathy’, an ability which causes her to feel the perceived pleasure and pain of those around her.
The story itself follows Lauren as she begins to develop her own religious system in the form of Earthseed, a philosophy that revolves around the idea that God is change, and as such isn’t something to be worshipped but instead something to be recognised and respected.
The first half of the novel gives us a good look at Lauren’s life at home, and does a good job of imparting her fear of the future, that the violence and chaos taking place outside the walls of her home community will one day come through the walls and tear down the fragile safety she has grown used to. Despite her attempts to warn others of the danger she perceives she is quietened by her father, a minister whose own fears are that if the community is forced to recognise the danger then they’ll simply lose hope and ultimately give in to the ongoing degeneration around them. Eventually Lauren’s fears become real, and the community is attacked and destroyed in a single night of violence and fire.
Fleeing from the destruction, and having lost everything she considered important, Lauren heads North, hoping that somewhere along the way she will find a safe haven from the violence. On the way she joins with a growing group of travellers, relying on numbers to provide security. Some of these begin to show an interest in her ideas regarding Earthseed, eventually leading to the group settling down on land owned by one of the pilgrims to form the first Earthseed community.
I found this to be a riveting read, despite it being a dark and somewhat depressing view of the future. Of the books I’ve read by Butler it’s definitely my favourite so far, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one. I would certainly recommend it to others, and would suggest that if you’ve not read any Butler so far you make this the first one you pick up.