Book 6: Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler

In my last post I said that I hadn’t binge-read a book since Harry Potter 7 came out a decade ago (jeez has it really been 10 years?!), but I only started the binge once I got around half way through the book. This time, I exceeded myself;  I read Parable of the Sower cover to cover in less than 24 hours. I left my family watching TV and went into another room and just stayed there. I’m impressed (with myself 😜)

I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken me so long to read another book by Octavia Butler. Kindred sat on my parents’ bookshelf for years before I decided to pick it up and read it, and then I couldn’t put it down. That was also probably over a decade ago. I clearly love this genre, her style of writing. Why have I deprived myself from her other work?

This book was phenomenal! I know that I’ve basically said the same thing about every book I’ve reviewed to this point, and that I’m risking sounding hyperbolic and my words losing meaning, but…this book was phenomenal! It was also eerily timely. I mean, she wrote this in the early 90s and it was like she was able to see into the future. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since most disasters are forecasted by academics and activists. Their warnings are ignored as the ravings of crazy people, bleeding heart liberals, largely for political and power reasons. When the disaster happens everyone sits around wide-eyed and says, “who could’ve seen this coming?” Then historians write a book about it and say, ‘all the signs were there but nobody wanted to listen,’ and, ‘here are some lessons and warning signs we should take going forward.’ And the people say, oh well that won’t happen again/that was a fluke. Then the cycle starts anew.

The book is set in 2024: after decades of denying climate change and the extreme inequality in wealth distribution, a massive economic and environmental crisis occurs.  Water, food, and other natural resources are scarce,  monster natural disasters occur regularly, infectious diseases are ravaging whole communities, and throughout all this deprivation and disaster, a drug epidemic breaks out and people become addicted to a designer hallucinogen–think PCP with pyromania. Governance breaks down and society turns on each other. Everybody has a gun to protect their property that have become like walled fortresses in a war zone. The icing on top: there was just an election, and on November 6, 2024, the country elects a president who promises to dismantle “wasteful, pointless, [and] unnecessary” research programs, to privatize everything, to put people back to work, and to ‘suspend “overly restrictive” minimum wage, environmental, and worker protection laws.’ Sound familiar?

We beat her forecast by almost 8 years  to the date. We haven’t managed to hit complete chaos yet, but we’re certainly on the brink of a breakdown in governance. We’ve got an opioid epidemic; we’ve had increasingly monstrous weather events from the hurricanes, snow bomb cyclones, freezes, earthquakes, wildfires, mudslides, etc.; we’re having a resurgence in what used to be relatively contained infectious diseases thanks to the increasing push to not vaccinate–measles outbreaks, diptheria made a comeback, and this year’s flu has been terribly deadly; education is increasingly privatized, we’re moving towards privatizing more and more public goods and services; #45 is succeeding in deregulating everything and slashing funding to do needed research…Make America Great Again…

Basically, we’re right on track to live out the dystopian reality portrayed in this book.

Beyond the doom and gloom, this book is incredible philosophic. The real meat of this story is about the main character’s journey in developing her own faith system amidst all of this chaos. When established religions and dogmas weren’t resonating with her, she created her own, called “Earthseed.” And surprisingly, it really resonated with me. I think that even if you, as a reader, are very committed to your own religious ideology, the way that Earthseed is presented will, at the very least, force you to really think about what you believe and why, and how you maintain faith and sanity when humans seem so intent on devolving society into a living hell.

Each chapter begins with a short poem, or, a parable (it is called parable of the sower). And the central tenet of ‘Earthseed,’ is this:

All that you touch
You change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change.

And maybe secondarily:

We do not worship God.
We perceive and attend God.
We learn from God.
With forethought and work,
We shape God.
In the end, we yield to God.
We adapt and endure,
For we are Earthseed
And God is Change.

If you’re still with me at this point, I would highly encourage everyone to read this book. It’s an easy read, it’s interesting, and it’s relevant. It’s so relevant, in fact, that it’s been made into an opera by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon!! You should check out their vision for this work and support their project so that they can take the show to more places.

Since I loved the parables and message of this book so much, I’ll leave one more excerpt:

A lot of people seem to believe in a big-daddy-God or a big-cop-God or a big-king-God. They believe in a kind of super person. A few believe God is another word for nature. And nature turns out to mean just about anything they happen not to understand or feel in control of.

Some say God is a spirit, a force, an ultimate reality. Ask seven people what all of that means and you’ll get seven different answers. So what is God? Just another name for whatever makes you feel special and protected? (p. 15)…

I am Earthseed. Anyone can be. Someday, I think there will be a lot of us. And I think we’ll have to seed ourselves farther and farther from this dying place (p. 78)