She died in 2006. That said, I intend no exaggeration when I say Octavia E. Butler saw Trump and his enablers/supporters coming. Ten years after she died, Trump was elected. Within these pages, there is a destructive and incompetent politician, Andrew Steele Jarret, who actually says he wants to Make America Great Again. No lie. And there are even “maggots” that invade safe spaces and destroy the property and lives of those who don’t agree with said politician. (This made me think of “MAGAts”, a term for frothing at the mouth Trump supporters like those who attacked the Capitol). Butler writes of the spread of disease long before COVID reared it’s ugly head. And most important of all, she writes of the tragic impact uneducated demagogues and their vicious refusal to listen to science have on humanity and the planet. The time period of the books is our NOW and the years ahead, and while there are clear differences between reality and Parable, it’s still scary as hell that there are even more similarities. She wrote these books in the 90s.
These are hard books to read, but worth it. The story of Lauren Oya Olamina, the motherless daughter of a Reverend who can feel what you feel. And I mean, really feel it. Her mother was addicted to a drug that left Lauren with the ability to experience what others do. And it’s to her detriment because she’s living in a violent, collapsed America where survival isn’t likely. If people know she can feel another’s pain or sickness, they can use it against her and harm her. As a result, Lauren has no choice to be violent to protect herself and others. She has to kill, look the other way when she knows she shouldn’t, and never, ever let her guard down. People are rabid with sickness and addiction and communities have fractured, and this existence is hell. Life changes for Lauren, who lives in a compound, when she is separated from her family and must survive on her own. Ever the realist, though just a teen, she forges ahead and connects with others who are also looking for safety. Her intentions change when she realizes she wants to start her own belief system called Earthseed, something she started working on as a child but kept secret due to her Reverend father’s religious leanings. Earthseed is a simple but straightforward approach to viewing and making it in our ever-changing world. A world Lauren has realized humans must leave if our species is to survive.
I was torn about Lauren. Is she well intentioned? Not always. Can she be cruel? She must. Is she just another manipulative cult leader? Kinda. Is she a survivor? Absolutely.
Parable represents one of those rare cases where the genre are multiple things at once. Dystopian, science fiction, black American experience, technology, women’s literature, politics, romance, religion, young adult? Yes. All of it. I was left heartbroken, angry, and speechless by these amazing works of fiction. I cared about the characters, flawed as they were. I was also in awe of Butler, who not only gave us something special and timeless, but a red alert warning for what is to come. And here we are. At each other’s throats, confused, and dealing with people who have a ferocious refusal to put health and safety first. I’m not a religious person, but I pray it never gets as bad as Parable. We still have time to turn things around. Why don’t we?
As an aside, I looked into Octavia E. Butler. A black woman who writes science fiction? A fellow nerd and minority? I feel like I would have been best friends with her if I’d ever met her. Maybe I give myself too much credit that someone so talented would want to be friends with me in return. I wish she was here. I wish I could thank her for writing something so very hard, but so extremely necessary. Why I never read her books sooner, I’ll never know. I just didn’t know about her. So don’t be me, don’t wait another moment. Read these books, and know that you will be better for it.
Rating for both books: 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
DREAMCAST: 🍿 🎥 🎭
If Hollywood adapted the books, I think it should be a mini-series. You can’t property capture this story in a two or even three hour movie. That said, this is my dream cast. And they all have such kickass names:
Lauren Oya Olamina (Teen/YA): Amandla Stenberg
Lauren Oya Olamina (Adult): Queen Latifah
Doctor Taylor Bankole: Colman Domingo
Reverend Olamina: Samuel L. Jackson
Zahra Moss: Juno Temple
Travis Douglas: Jeffrey Wright
Natividad Douglas: Alexis Bledel
Harry Balter: Domnall Gleeson (older version played by his father Brendan Gleeson)
President Andrew Steele Jarret: Bryan Cranston
Larkin/ Ashe Vere: Zazie Beetz
Marc Olamina: Mahershala Ali