Octavia E. Butler - Parable of the Sower

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Parable of the Sower: Strikingly Simple, Incredibly Poignant Dystopic Vision

Oct 27, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Writing, story, characters, brevity...

Cons:Graphic nature, religious aspect...

The Bottom Line: Butler's outdone herself with this excellent, brilliant, intelligent, painful, all-too-close-to-home novel of the near future.


The world has digressed into chaos. People are killing one another—and not even one’s own home is safe. The streets are overrun with gangs of shaven, painted people addicted to a drug called pyro that makes them start fires for the fun of it.

As Lauren Olamina’s world crumbles around her, she struggles to understand herself. An empath since birth as a result of her mother’s drug abuse, Lauren embraces the truth as she sees it to be--a religious truth based around the concept of change that she comes to call Earthseed. Lauren’s family is her backbone. She’s a strong girl as a teen, specifically and secretly studying survival and preparing for the worst as she sees her neighbors and family cut down by looters, crooks, killers, and pyro-maniacs.

Of course, the worst does come to pass and Lauren must willfully set out to find some peace within herself and to leave the cities in California overrun by fire and burglary. As with all great novels of the near-future apocalypse the protagonist bands together with an unlikely group of supporters. She finds friends and more importantly love as she travels north to find something close to civilization. And in the process, Lauren (called simply “Olamina” by her love) ends up as the leader of the group and in turn her compatriots accept Earthseed as the truth—and look to the stars for a solution.

Author Octavia Butler outdid herself with this visual, painfully realistic novel titled Parable of the Sower. The end of the world doesn’t happen as the result of nuclear blasts or massive tsunamis. Rather, it is much more subtle. Lauren lives in a world ransacked by failed economic, environmental, and cultural resources. The story leaves the reader wondering if and when such crimes against humanity will begin. The characters on one level seem crazed and their actions impossible…but if there was no food and the all of society were corrupt would people commonly turn to setting fires, stealing, killing, cannibalism, and rape? Maybe so…

This America of the late 2020’s is what can be most easily pigeonholed as a distopic view of the future. Of course, this kind of novel always appeals to me. But only the best do I ever completely and fully recommend to all readers regardless of their usual genre-specific interests. Parable of the Sower is one of these most special of novels.

And even at the same time I wholly and completely recommend it to everybody, I must offer fair warning. First and foremost, it is a graphically written novel. Lauren is not just the protagonist—the book is written in diary form so as such it is in her voice. And her personality is such that she is blunt and impersonal—much like her God. Speaking of Earthseed, it must also be said that the religion aspect of Parable of the Sower is important, but not particularly troubling. As an atheist, I often find books to be preachy. Butler’s vision of Lauren’s creation is earthy and realistic with God not as one or one hundred beings—it just “is” and is contained in everything and anything in the world. Definitely an interesting concept and a perfect release from the sometimes overtly protestant views of many novels of the dystopic and apocalyptic genres.

Butler’s prose is quite simply incredible. Her writing is clean, concise and motivating. She makes me think and makes me feel—thus indicating to me that she is indeed a talented author. But what disturbs me most about the novel aren’t the experiences of the characters. Instead, I find that the “what if” is what gets to me. What if the world is already headed down this path of self-destruction? What if Butler’s vision really isn’t all that out of the realm of possibility? What if…

Octavia Butler is an accomplished writer with over ten novels to her name. Not just that, but the Seattle resident is also a winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards and recently was also the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the PEN Center West Lifetime Achievement Award. So if you don’t believe me, believe the industry. They’ve got it right.

Lauren Olamina turns up again in the followup to this novel. Parable of the Talents is also widely available at your favorite bookstores—in the Science Fiction section.


Recommend this product? Yes

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