The only previous Butler I have read is Lilith’s Brood, which was very definitely science fiction, so I was expecting a very definitely sci fi type of book this time too. That’s sort of what I got…
The Parable of the Sower is set in a near-future dystopia where the United States has pretty much fallen apart. There is rampant poverty, environmental disaster, homelessness, violence, and drug use, and the few who try to maintain the old way of life live in walled communities and venture out as little as possible. The story is centered on Lauren Olamina, a 15 year old girl living just outside L.A. when we first meet her. She lives in on of the poorer walled communities, but her community has food and water, and some of the adults even have jobs that pay money instead of food or other goods. Lauren sees the trend toward ever increasing violence, and doesn’t believe the sanctuary of the walled community will last. Her father is a Baptist minister, but she finds his faith unfulfilling in the face of the horrors around her. She begins to develop her own religious belief system which she calls Earthseed.
Lauren’s fears of her home being destroyed are realized when her community is attacked by addicts one night and the entire community is burned, and most of the occupants are brutally killed. Lauren and two others escape from the wreckage, and decide to make their way north to what they have heard is a better area. Along the way she continues to develop Earthseed and share it with others.
The book is sci fi in the sense that it is set in the future, and there are a few technologies that while possible today are not available. However, there are no aliens swooping down on us – either for attack or rescue. There are no super-technologies to solve all our problems, and no super-humans with special powers either. There are only people, struggling to make it through a nightmare world, and occasionally trying to make it better. With Octavia Butler’s writing skill and command of language to back it up, it’s enough.