Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Welcome back to the crapsack/grimdark world of America in the 2020s as created by Octavia Butler in the 1990s. It is sometimes eerily prophetic. More about that later.
The addition of Lauren’s daughter’s (Larkin) annotations to her mother’s journals provides a very interesting context to the stories. Similar to the chapter openings made up of Encyclopedia entries in Asimov’s original Foundation book, it helps to prove a premise that has been making the rounds on the internet for some five years now – that spoilers aren’t necessarily bad. When we read Larkin’s annotations, we understand something about the future. We know that Larken suvives to adulthood. We know that she resents her mother and Earthseed. We know that Earthseed as a movement lasts. But we still want to read on to learn the details of how we got there. It’s why people went to see Titanic in the 1990s even though they knew the boat was going to sink.
Larkin’s annotations also keep things fresh and give us some hope. The USA (much of the world?) is still a crapsack world. A dystopia no one but the richest person would want to live in. There’s a lot more hope than the first novel, but it’s still baby hope. And boy is it so hard to read about Jarrett’s presidency after what we went through with the last guy. Shoot, what we might still go through, perhaps with someone more competent. It all makes me wonder if Ms. Butler was just such a great student of psychology that she could see the inevitable direction we were all headed in. Even the depictions of Christian America (the religious sect) seem to have parallels in real world sects that have been in the news here and there recently.
The annotations are also interesting near the end of the book with Len and Larkin accusing Lauren of seduction and manipulation. It makes me wonder if Ms. Butler meant for there to be a slight element of unreliable narrator in the journal entries. Not that Lauren is intentionally being misleading, but that maybe she’s unconsciously lying to herself. There’s definitely enough of that to make for some interesting discussion.
As a side note, it’s odd reading this book with its slave collars after reading The Wheel of Time 2 and the damane sul’man. Something in the air in the 90s?
I read this pair of books because NPR’s Throughline was going to be speaking about Octavia Butler and I wanted to have read some of her books first – both to avoid end-of-book spoilers and to have a better understand of what they were going to say about her work. It was interesting to be reading them around the time of the current Mars lander and having them name the landing spot for Ms. Butler. But it has been VERY tough reading this book and seeing how easily we could tip back into it. Just like some of the episodes of The Dollop, it becomes clear that we could tip into a hole like this one where many folks would be crushed, but just enough folks would be making enough money to keep things moving along. Watching the entire world slowly move towards a gig economy without any safety net seems to be getting us back to a possibility of indentured or semi-indentured states for most workers. It’s already been rigged so that you cannot default on your college loans.
I have to leave this review before I get depressed again – something that has been happening a lot while reading these books. They’re great books, but they’re very heavy. Read them, but understand what you’re getting into.
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