This book is the sequel to Parable of the Sower
, but it stands up pretty well by itself, though I would definitely recommend reading the first book, because Butler is that good and these books are very powerful. In Parable of the Talents
, Lauren Olamina, the protagonist of the first book, continues trying to build a community and a following devoted to her new religion, "Earthseed." Unfortunately, she is trying to found this new religion just when America, in the grip of a near-apocalyptic economic and environmental collapse, elects a witch-burning fundie Talibaptist for President. Lauren and her people are literally enslaved, and Lauren's infant daughter is taken away from her.
This is a dark book, a truly horrific dystopia, but the rape and violence does not read like a gratuitous admixture the way it does in so many books. You know how some authors want to make their books extra dark
to let you know that these are Very Bad Times and Very Bad People, so they toss in a little rape, a little dismemberment, like one of those buckets o' blood horror films that just wind up being too schlocky and over-the-top to really horrify you? Octavia Butler doesn't do that. Instead, Lauren tells us what happened to her and her people in very clear but non-graphic terms, and the impact is felt for the rest of the story because even though she is trying to start a hopeful new religion, she hates
her abusers with the heat of a thousand burning suns and makes no bones about it. It's very refreshing. None of that "I have to get past this" or forgiveness bullshit. She does survive and eventually launch her movement, successfully, but it's not like "Oh, and along the way some bad stuff happened."
More horrific is the fact that Butler wrote this in 1998, and while the raving crush-the-poor blame-everything-on-brown-people sentiment was certainly alive then, Butler probably meant to exaggerate things a bit to make the country seem so horribly out of control. Today, while we're not exactly in the throes of Butler's "pox," the sentiments of President Steel could come right out of the mouths of some of the current crop of GOP candidates.Parable of the Talents
is also, indirectly, a mother-daughter story. It's told in the past tense through the journals of both Lauren Olamina and her daughter, whom she never knew until her daughter reached adulthood. Her daughter has a very difficult time coming to terms with who her mother was, and so there are two very different narrative threads woven through the events described in the novel: Lauren, describing much of it as it was happening, and her daughter, commenting (and often, passing judgment) decades later.
This is one of those science fiction books that really should be considered literature, and it's a shame Octavia Butler isn't more widely known. It's even more of a shame that she died before she could write the third book she planned. I give both of the Earthseed
books a very high recommendation.