In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future.Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.When fire destroys their compound, Lauren s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind. I stared down the hill from our camp where just a glint of water was visible in the distance through the trees and bushes The world is full of painful stories Sometimes it seems as though there aren t any other kind and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that glint of water was through the trees There is only one word to describe the world that Butler built in Parable of the Sower and that word isBRUTAL.I recently read a review of one of her other books, Kindred, in which the reviewer used the same word, and I was wondering if that really could be an appropriate description because, after all, a book is just words on a page right What could possible be so bad about that And then I started reading The Parable of the Sower, Butler s story set in California in 2024, where communities rely on walls to keep them safe from wild animals, robbery, rape, and murder But of course, walls are made to crumble Communities disperse or are erased, and all that is left is a dog eat dog world Civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals It is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation What made this book special for me was its immediacy The book was published in 1993, but is set in a 2024 that is not all that futuristic There are no clocks striking thirteen The only thing that has advanced are drugs I was going to add human atrocities but they have remained the same throughout time, they just disappear from focus, are kept outside the walls of social order In this sense, The Parable of the Sower, tears down the illusion that social order is ever stable and that social constructs that are based on ideologies or intangible ideas are of any use to man when faced with a battle for survival.I guess from the setting, the description of looting and arson, and the depiction of the police as corrupt and untrustworthy, that Butler may have drawn some inspiration from the 1992 Los Angeles riots Remembering the images of the time and having seen similar events unfold in recent years, Butler really captures the volatility of society in this novel.Fortunately, however, in her motley crew of main characters, Butler also captures some of that human spirit that fights against this brutality and that has compassion for its fellow beings and draws strength from the support of and belief in mankind There may be few of them, but given a chance they are set to thrive, much like the seeds that hit a fertile ground.I am sorry if I have waffled my way through this review but The Parable of the Sower was one of those books that just provides so much food for thought For all its brutality and distressing scenes and descriptions, it was a gripping read and I am looking forward to reading by the author. YA dystopian fiction but written decades before that term was coined I am embarrassed to say I had never read Octavia Butler before I m happy I finally corrected this glaring oversight This novel set in the near future is so frighteningly prescient it is difficult to read The year is 2026 American society is rapidly breaking down thanks to global warning, economic stagnation and wealth disparity 18 year old Lauren Olamina lives with her family in a walled off middle class neighborhood outside LA, but she knows that their little island of relative safety will not last No one can leave the compound without risking their lives People are desperate and bereft of any hope Police and fire fighters only come to help if you have the money to pay them, and even then they are likely to arrest you than assist you Few jobs pay money Most people are slipping into de facto slavery as servants to the wealthy or employees in company run towns The new president promises to Make America Great Again, sound familiar but does so by eliminating the space program and loosening all labor protections, which only gives large corporations a freer hand in cutting up the carcass of the United States.Lauren is born with a dangerous condition, hyper empathy, which means she feels whatever pain she witnesses inflicted on others When her neighborhood is finally breached and she is forced out into the harsh new world, this empathy is only one of her great challenges Lauren has an idea for a new kind of society a new religion that will teach self sufficiency and a new understanding of what God is but to realize her dream, she first has to stay alive and learn who she can trust.This book was written in the 90s The scary thing is the 2026 Butler imagined twenty years ago could easily happen within ten years Reading this book, I felt a growing sense of claustrophobia, as if I were already trapped in Butler s disintegrating vision of America It is a haunting, powerful read, but not for the faint of heart. I am going to start this review off by asking a theoretical question There is a huge wave coming, it will wash you and everyone you love out to see What do you do Do you back up away from the water Move to higher ground Build a boat to ride it out Or do you turn your back on it, play on the beach and pretend that it isn t coming Now imagine that it isn t a wave of water, but a wave of violence, crime and people that will be unstoppable No wall will hold them back You may have nowhere ideal to go But you have access to books, learning materials and you have time to prepare, pack Octavia Butler speculates that most people would ignore the coming onslaught and attempt to go about their daily business, not prepare and not learn It is scary to move forward and change behavior and scary to imagine the world as we know it is ending But change is necessary to survival, according to Butler This is what Parable is about change, adaptation and working together in a community to accomplish the change in order to survive The main character in Parable, a teenage girl named Lauren, is an agent of change Lauren is unwilling to turn her back on the huge wave she knows is coming instead she teaches herself through books everything she can learn and she prepares for what she knows and fears is coming Lauren is inspired from inside herself and is somewhat of a prophet of a new religion and philosophy Her belief is God is Change And she goes out to preach it The creation of the religion is a vehicle for Lauren s story to be told and for hope to be seeded among her followers Octavia Butler published her book in 1995, so many apocalyptic novels have come after hers have incorporated elements that are present in this book It is interesting for me that Butler appears to have less acclaim but she is the predecessor of so many well known novels There are books that tell the story of the world ending by an apocalyptic event and then there are books that show you what the world would be like during an apocalyptic even without holding back Parable of the Sower is the latter The images of lives being destroyed and violence being wrought on people just for living and just for having something, anything that is wanted by those who do not have anything these images are described in details They are not described, I think, for the delight of reading gore, but to serve as a marker of how far society has fallen And it is a scary world that Butler describes scary and realistic Despite that I have absolutely no point of reference for the scenes described in this book, while reading I felt as though it could have been happening right outside my door There is nothing about this apocalyptic world that is romantic In Parable, much of society s downfall appears to have been caused by environmental devastation, which has in turn caused economic and political devastation Polluted water, toxic chemicals, failed pharmaceutical and science experiments resulting in dangerous addictive drugs Butler s book is a scary warning of pushing consumer and corporate demands to the extreme Reading this book created questions in my mind Is this book really about an apocalyptic event It does take place in the US California and the society that is disintegrating is American society, but is this an apocalyptic event or the failure of one society So many apocalyptic books describe world changing events but in Parable, it is shortages gas, water, food, governmental collapse or increasing ineffectualness but some infrastructure remains There are police, but they investigate and then charge user fees there are property taxes and there are colleges there is electricity and there are entertainment outlets like televisions, etc there are insurance companies and resources but everything for an elevated price and most people do not have the ability to pay for these items and services What happens is that these institutions are not efficient, they are not accessible to most individuals and there is a heavy cost to purchase their services There are still jobs and corporations and apparently very successful corporations People without education and without jobs, crowd in to smaller housing and share space Corporations dominate certain sectors of society and provide protection and infrastructure to those who can afford it Punitive debt policies and employment policies are in place that hurt individuals but benefit corporations Isn t this describing the current state of some countries in this world right now maybe even in this hemisphere Where there is no protection for the individual beyond what they can obtain from people in their community and families Don t people already go on migrations to new places bordering countries, mega cities, factory rich regions with nothing but a small savings and a hope for anything different I see this book as an envisioning of what if these situations happened in the United States The scenarios described in Parable, the extreme violence, the extreme fear and the absolute lack of choices are just so out of the realm of anything most people in the US experience while living in the US that it is hard to imagine, understand and relate to images like written in this book that we may read about in the news, blogs or in non fiction books Butler brings it home she recreates it here and it is absolutely terrifying At one point in the novel, Lauren travels disguised as a man but she travels along side a woman who is described as highly desirable, Zahra Zahra encounters problem after problem because men will just not leave her alone and in a threatening way There is no government, no structure and no laws to protect the weak Butler describes horrible crimes that happen to females of all ages and most of them sexual What point is Butler making about the physicality of being a woman Is she saying that in the absence of the protection of a societal framework a woman is at risk, simply because she is a woman Does this mean Butler believes this threat is inherent I have a hard time accepting this concept, but I also know I approach this concept of equality and physical integrity from an extremely privileged position The mass rapes that happen in war torn countries, the use of rape as a weapon of wars, and the kidnapping and use of children soldiers these horrors that take place and demonstrate this fragile place in society that women and children can occupy But again, from my extremely privileged position, I have a hard time grasping that in the absence of government and infrastructure, human beings will turn violent and devoid of empathy The mass chaos Butler describes is only kept out by walls, guns and guards However, I have mentioned this and been told by some people, very intelligently, that it does not take a majority to create chaos A minority of criminals and desparados are enough to create the chaos that endangers people, the forces them to withdraw from society and that puts women and children at risk If the natural condition in a situation devoid of an effective government is chaos and danger, how could society have evolved Why would we be here I do think the answer is that people would join together, form a community, work as a group and attempt to protect the community members And that, is what I think this book is about community, bonds, joint action and moving forward as a group The acceptance of change and the trusting of each other For reviews like this one check out my blog For a long time I had naively held on to the notion that Octavia E Butler is the African American counterpart to Ursula K Le Guin an assumption begotten out of the commonality that both their creations despite being shoehorned into the genre of science speculative fiction epitomize realities of institutionalized sociopolitical inequities Not only has my first foray into Butler s literary landscapes altered that idea greatly but compounded my respect for Le Guin s masterful way of letting the didactic veins in a narrative segue neatly with the plot pulse so that when one turns over the last page, the fatal blow to the gut has already been delivered along with the crucial message Of course it is too early to discount Butler s calibre as a storyteller of grit but rest assured she is no Le Guin By this time I have devoured enough post apocalyptic fiction to remain inoculated against both the horrors of disintegrating social orders relapsing into caveman era violence and the poignancy of surviving groups regaining lost humanity and optimism in the end But this does not mean I can remain unmoved in the face of even the umpteenth combination of potent story telling, layered characterization and extrapolations of current reality to very probable catastrophic consequences in the future Rampant murder, mayhem, arson and pillage drive the plot ahead here People get killed, raped, mutilated and cannibalized after every few pages And yet none of the savagery of aforementioned actions registers with the reader To cut a long story short, Parable of the Sower shows all the finesse of a bull in a china shop while revealing its many thematic concerns.Lauren Olamina, the young adult protagonist, is a hyperempath with the ability to experience the physical pain of others and yet, ironically, it is her journal entries which are glaringly toneless and devoid of any discernible emotion Even when she expresses her anguish at some tragic turn of events, only a resilient stoicism is palpable in her narrative voice The occasional philosophical rumination that she rustles up hints at all the solemnity of fortune cookie sentiments As is obvious from the blurb, there are issues of gender, class, race, sexual orientation, climate change and human conflict simmering beneath the surface of dystopian barbarity but they are all paraded one by one for the reader s benefit without a modicum of discretion Sprinkling a narrative with sentences like So and so was also raped is hardly the ideal way to drive home the fact of pervasive misogyny.Negatives aside, the book still deserves brownie points for the insightful commentary on religion if not for designating the individual capacity for empathy as the glue which binds together conflicting elements in a civilization Worship is no good without action With action, it s only useful if it steadies you, focuses on your efforts, eases your mind In course of circumventing a minefield of dystopian evils in search of a safe haven, Lauren inadvertently establishes a new religious order centered or less around the idea of secular humanism, intending it to be a guiding force to shape the future endeavours of the survivors she helps unite as a community As per the aphorisms of Lauren s Book of Earthseed aka the new age Bible, God is change, and only by accepting change and embracing the notion of diversity can the welfare of the human race be a realizable prospect This is old wine in new bottle no doubt but there s an oh so unsubtle implication that although all core religious ideas are grounded in survivalist logic at the onset, they eventually fragment into toxic ideologies misused by various groups to advance their respective sectarian agendas The universe is God s self portrait I am not really holding my breath but here s to hoping my next brush with Butler s writing fares better than this one.