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Parable of the Sower

2 Ratings: 2.0
A book by Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler, the grande dame of science fiction, writes extraordinary, inspirational stories of ordinary people.Parable of the Soweris a hopeful tale set in a dystopian future United States of walled cities, disease, fires, and madness. Lauren … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Science Fiction Books, African American Fiction, Dystopias, Octavia E Butler, African American Science Fiction
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
1 review about Parable of the Sower

Intriguing precursor to "The Road" but no match for McCarthy's vision

  • Jan 11, 2010
Post-apocalyptic literary scenarios have been a dime a dozen since well before Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and these days it takes something quite remarkable - like Cormack McCarthy's sublime The Road - to raise even a flicker of interest in this genre from all but the dullest sci-fi fanboy. Octavia Butler's essay on the same theme is now getting on for 20 years old, and stands up well - indeed, it so closely anticipates McCarthy's novel that you have to wonder whether he was aware of it. That is not to suggest plagiarism, however, for the similarities are general indeed: an un-described catastrophe has caused the total breakdown of society and forced a family unit on the road, where they fend for themselves against allcomers in vain hope of a promised land.

While Butler employs a couple of nice devices - the P.K.Dick-eque hyperempathy condition is a neat literary device - much better in fact than the hokey "Earthseed" concept which gets unwarranted prominence in the story - but Butler doesn't do nearly enough with it to make it worthwhile. In other aspects, the novel is a little flat. There's not a much in the way of a plot arc - it's more linear: things sort of episodically muddle along to a fairly uninvolving conclusion - and nor do the characters get well fleshed out or developed. Like her protagonist Lauren, Butler throws quite a lot of "seed" about which then appears to fall on stony ground: Lauren's father disappears, presumed dead but unresolved - to no effect. Likewise, Lauren's original sweetheart is introduced, developed, and disposed with for no discernible plot-functional reason.

My hunch is that Butler was more interested in developing a quasi-religion than writing a science fiction novel, yet 20 years later, the post-apocalyptic road story is the only part that really holds up. But, all the same, it pales in comparison with Cormack McCarthy's bleaker, more eloquent visualisation, and ultimately I couldn't recommend this novel over, or even really as a complement to, The Road.

Olly Buxton

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