Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book review: PARABLE OF THE SOWER by Octavia Butler

Book review: PARABLE OF THE SOWER (1993) by Octavia Butler

Well, this was an earnest novel. It has its heart in the right place, the near-future scenario is believable, the plot is (more or less) realistic, the characters are well written... but even so, I got bored while reading it.

The "big idea" of PARABLE OF THE SOWER is to turn survival - both individual and collective - into a kind of religion called "Earthseed." The novel contains lots of quotes from this fictional new religion.

The narrator of the story is on a mission to spread her new religion. This of course makes her an "unreliable narrator" - should we trust that she's not spinning the facts to "sell" her faith? Is the story really a kind of religious tract existing within the fictional world? Such ambiguity is a good thing.

Thankfully, the writing is free from sentimentality. There are no cringeworthy moments, and the narrative focuses on the protagonist dealing with the nuts-and-bolts aspects of life during a social collapse.

So why then was I, in the end, more bored than engaged by this novel?

I think it's just me - I have very little patience with novels turning into sermons. (I have been ruthlessly critical of other SF writers who lapse into sermons, so why should I give this one a pass?)

The novel's quotes from the "Earthseed" scriptures evoked in me the feeling of being lectured to by a very, very earnest person - I don't mean Octavia Butler, but the book itself. (One shouldn't confuse the artist with the artwork.)

Also, I felt that even though the story was fairly realistic, it focused too much on the small details - to the point where it became overtly didactic. If I were a survivalist, I would probably enjoy the narrator's obsession with survival gear and packing.

Is THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER actually a parable, an allegory? It probably is. It is also a rather conventional story about survival, hardship and community-building. It ends in such a way that you're aware it is only the first part of a longer story.

I can recommend it to readers who like this sort of story... but it didn't engage me enough to want to read the sequels.

If you want to explore the other literary works by Octavia Butler, try her novel KINDRED:

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