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Parable of the Sower

A book by Octavia E. Butler

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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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Olly Buxton ()
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Member Since: Sep 26, 2009
Last Login: Dec 22, 2010 09:37 PM UTC
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About this book


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 Olamina is an 18-year-old woman with hyperempathy syndrome--if she sees another in pain, she feels their pain as acutely as if it were real. When her relatively safe neighborhood enclave is inevitably destroyed, along with her family and dreams for the future, Lauren grabs a backpack full of supplies and begins a journey north. Along the way, she recruits fellow refugees to her embryonic faith, Earthseed, the prime tenet of which is that "God is change." This is a great book--simple and elegant, with enough message to make you think, but not so much that you feel preached to.--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
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ISBN-10: 0446675504
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

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