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Lilith's Brood

A book by Octavia E. Butler

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Fascinating but Flawed Offering from Octavia E. Butler

  • Mar 5, 2009
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This is a collection of three novels that make up the Xenogensis Trilogy. Readers interested in the trilogy should read the series in order: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.

DAWN introduces the reader to a fascinating alien race that intends to save a post-nuclear holocaust earth by repopulating it with half-human, half-alien beings. The concept of crossbreeding through genetic engineering with an alien race to create a new species is a truly innovative storyline. The Oankali intend to take a number of humans they saved from a nucleated earth, cross-breed with them, and reintroduce them and their alien offspring to the earth. The highly negative reaction of the humans to this idea is very realistic and their interactions with the aliens are conceivable. The main character, Lilith Iyapo, is a strong willed African-American woman who learns to accept the aliens for what they are but never fully comes to accept their plans for the human race.

The Oankali are an imaginative race with three genders, the third being a necessary intermediary between the male and female Oankali during intercourse and for procreation. Therefore it is not surprising that the "third" gender (it is not really neuter) is the dominant gender of the race. They travel in an interstellar ship that is entirely made of living tissue and the Oankali physically interact with the ship to produce food, dispose of waste, and reproduce other needs. The Oankali travel about the universe and cross breed with other sapient beings out of necessity. Humans are just another of their "victims" or "beneficiaries", depending on one's point of view. The new species is ostensibly better than its parent species.

Part two of the Xenogenesis Trilogy, Adulthood Rites is much more engaging and well thought out than its precursor, Dawn. The first half-human, half-Oankali male becomes the focal point for the Oankali attempt to cross-breed with humans. According to the Oankali, the human male is very dangerous and prone to violence. Indeed, the human male is the embodiment of the so called human contradiction that leads to self destruction. If this human/Oankali "construct" is flawed and prone to destructive tendencies, the whole genetic "trade" or cross-breeding would be jeopardized. Indeed, the Oankali themselves would be jeopardized.

Akin, the half-human, half-Oankali male child is kidnapped by human "resisters" who have refused to mate with the aliens at the price of their own fertility. The Oankali, while lengthening the life and health of these human survivors of nuclear holocaust, plan to allow them eventually to become extinct. The best human genetic traits would then be carried by the new species of Oankali whose genes were mixed. The aliens decide to allow the kidnapped child to remain with the resisters for some time so he can learn about his human side. The novel centers around Akin's rectifying his conflicting loyalties to his human and alien selves.

Adulthood Rites expands on the alien Oankali and leads the reader to an understanding of why they must cross-breed with other races. Their raison d'etre is to collect and expand upon all life forms and become a better race through adapting the better traits of races they come into contact with. They view life in a more holistic fashion, as consisting of the cells and even sub-atomic particles of living matter. Every being is genetically engineered to function for a purpose. The purpose of the Oankali is to collect and expand upon life forms, including their own. We can surmise that at their origin, the Oankali looked nothing like they are currently described as they have continued to metamorphosis genetically over the ages.

Butler does an excellent job of portraying human reaction to the aliens who want to cross-breed with them but allow the human race as they know it to become extinct. We can both empathize with Lilith who has, more or less, accepted the fate of the human
race and has born human/Oankali children and become a member of an alien community. While she does not fully accept the fate of her species she is resigned to it and does what she thinks best to preserve what is left of humanity. Conversely, we also empathize with Tate, who would rather die than be disloyal to the human race by giving in to the alien predators. The Oankali are a truly fascinating and ingenious creation.

The most dismaying aspect of the book is the big "contradiction" in human genes the Oankali keep proclaiming is the reason humans should be allowed to become extinct. This contradiction is "intelligence and hierarchical" behavior. It seems that males are particularly prone to this trait . There is no explication as to why this is such a contradiction or why hierarchical behavior necessarily leads to self-destruction in the human race. This was a very unsophisticated attempt to explain human tendency toward violence and destruction. It greatly detracted from an otherwise excellent novel.

Part three of the Xenogenesis Trilogy, Imago completes the creation of a new species via Oankali and human cross-breeding. Imago deals with the creation of the first "construct" (half-human, half-Oankali) ooloi, the third Oankali gender. Ooloi are necessary for reproduction and the creation of construct ooloi represent the ability of the new species to procreate and become independent of its parent species. The ooloi are explained in fuller detail in Imago than in the previous novels. Here the reader more fully understands the healing and manipulative abilities of the ooloi. The ooloi bind their mates to them through a chemical and psychological process and are equally bonded to their mates. The major difference in the new ooloi species is their ability to metamorphosis or shape-change, which they derive from their human genes' ability to regenerate new types of cells. The construct ooloi tend to take on the shape of their mates, thus the title Imago. Imago is the story of Jodahs, the first construct ooloi, and the struggle to gain acceptance into both the human and Oankali community.

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About this book


Dawn: After nuclear war destroys the world, Earths survivors are rescued by the miraculously powerful Oankali aliens- who survive by merging genetically with primitive peoples without their permission. Adulthood Rites: Desperate to regain their world, childless humans seek to cleanse the alien taint by kidnapping hybrid children. But the raiders are blind to the truth of Earths new children. Imago: The futures of both humans and aliens rest in one young beings successful metamorphosis into adulthood.

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Octavia E. Butler (22 June 1947 - 24 February 2006) , author of several crtically acclaimed novels, died at the age of 58 after a fall outside her home.
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ISBN-10: 0446676101
ISBN-13: 978-0446676106
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 1, 2000)
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