Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Octavia E. Butler’s books are not for the squeamish and most certainly not for people who want happy, Hollywood endings. Things work out in the end – but never in a nice neat package. There is always a lot of loss in all of its most painful forms. Her works are very realistic in that matter. In fact, her works are realistic in all matters. They are a reflection of life and of the human spirit. They don’t allow you to escape into science fiction and fantasy as easily as other books in the genre might. They are harsh truths.
Butler’s books are considered science fiction, but she stresses that science fiction is not just about the fantastical, requiring a big suspension of disbelief. Even when her stories involve aliens, mutants or vampires, there is still the sense that such things could very well happen in our very near future.
The story takes place in and around the 2030s and, considering that that is not that far from now, it contains some rather frightening predictions for our future. There is an election that occurs in the background of the plot that is very much reminiscent of what is happening right now. I would like to believe that certain aspects, such as the religious “Crusaders” and slave collars is an exaggeration, and yet, part of me knows that, even now, the kind of thinking that the book’s Christian Church of America instills is very much prevalent.
Community – and the meaning of family with in the community – is a prominent theme, as it is in all of Butler’s books so far. One way or another, people are brought together and they form their own community that is very different from the outside world, but functions – for the most part – harmoniously, until the outside world inevitably comes violently knocking.
In this, the disruption of the little community of Acorn is at the hands of Christian extremists who considers Acorn a cult of heathens. Earthseed, the religion created by the main character, Lauren Oya Olamina is based on the Parable of the Talents in the Bible; it is based on truth. Though I’m not overly keen on the ultimate Destiny of Earthseed, there is a lot of merit in the religion itself and I took a lot away from this book on those terms. (Side note: How is Scientology such a thing, but Earthseed is not? If I weren’t so lazy, I’d definitely convert to Earthseed…)
"God is Change.
To shape God
With wisdom and forethought
To benefit our world,
"It means that Change is the one unavoidable, irresistible,on-going reality of the universe. To us, that makes it the most powerful reality, and just another word for God."It’s not a book solely about religion or the religion of Earthseed itself. It doesn’t necessarily preach. In fact, it does exactly what all religions should do: it shows what Earthseed is through the actions of its people. It’s a book about survival and, as my husband points out, religions are born or are at their strongest when we have something to lose. In this case, Earthseed is what the poor and abused have come to cling to in order to survive and not give up hope, while extremist Christianity runs rampant among the rich and those who fear everything else.
"But what can you do with a God like that? I mean... it isn't even a person. It doesn't love you or protect you. It doesn't know anything. What's the point?"
"The point is, it's the truth. It's a hard truth. Too hard for some people to take, but that doesn't make it any less true."
For the second time, I’ve ended up reading Butler’s books out of order. Parable of the Sower comes first, as a biography of Olamina, but I didn’t realize this until I read the interview on Talent and Sower at the back of my edition. I already intended to read Sower, but Butler’s descriptions of how Talent came about – during the sickness and eventual death of her own mother – as well as how she struggled with where Olamina was going in her story made it all the more intriguing.
Having now finished a handful of Butler’s books, with several more to go, I am once again saddened by her loss. Her writing encompasses so many harsh truths and ignorances and abuses – baring the soul of humanity, warts and all.
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