Audiobook Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

19 07 2013

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Read by Lynne Thigpen

Recorded Books

Length: 12 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Octavia Butler’s slow boil apocalypse is a mesmerizing journey, both physically and spiritually, through a haunting broken America. Parable of the Sower defied my expectations, while it is a visionary almost prophet look at a very possible future, it is also a compelling character study and an accessible tale of survival.

Grade: A

I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I have a whole slew of names on a list of authors I need to read before I die, once some flexibility in my current reading list opens up. Of course, such flexibility doesn’t exist. Every week when the new books come out there are about 4 or 5 that I just HAVE TO read, and a few that I really would like to read. Being that I listen to about four or five books a week, and read a few a month, I can barely find time to listen to all the books I want to in the current year, let alone spend time checking out overlooked classic authors I have neglected. I have considered doing reading challenges where you try to take on a certain level of books from your TBR pile, yet I am beginning to realize that these types of challenges feel like a chore to me. So, instead, I have decided to naturally try to incorporate some of these classics into my reading rotation, current releases be damned. One author I have particularly neglected, which it could be considered criminal due to my predilection for post apocalyptic fiction, is Octavia Butler. Butler’s Parable series has been on my radar for over 10 years, in fact, I actually purchased a print copy of Parable of the Sower about 7 years ago, which unfortunately, fell right around the time where I began  doing most of my reading through audio. Yet, I think I was also daunted a bit by the ideas behind the novel. Butler has often been described to me as visionary, and a literary science fiction writer. These are good things. Yet, for a guy who likes explosions and zombies and walking dudes, and sometimes find myself shaking my head at "literary" masterpieces in appreciative confusion and I couldn’t help but worry that Butler’s philosophical vision may be destined to be a bit over my head.

Lauren Olimina is a sharer, a rare empathic condition that allows her to feel the pain and sensations of those around her. She hides her condition from the small walled community she lives in. She also hides the truth that she begins to believe in, that God is Change and that their destiny lies on the stars, a truth she calls Earthseed. Yet, as society becomes more and more unstable due to economic collapse and climate change, Lauren finds herself preparing to join the endless mob of homeless travelers looking for a better life in the north. When tragedy hits her community, she joins a few survivors on a journey where she spreads the philosophy of Earthseed to those around her. Octavia Butler’s slow boil apocalypse is a mesmerizing journey, both physically and spiritually, through a haunting broken America. Butler has created one of the most resonant worlds I have experienced. Her society is a vision of contradictions where no one can trust anyone else, yet they need the help of others to survive. Lauren Olimina is such a beautiful and complex character, it is almost impossible to believe she is only 18 years old. She is unwavering in her conviction of the tenets of Earthseed. In many ways, Parable of the Sower is a new gospel, the tale of a prophet of a new religion that incorporates but isn’t dependent on the many other belief structures. Butler tells Lauren story in a way that you fear she may be just a bit insane, but you hope she isn’t. I’ll be honest, part of me feared the world Butler created, because it is a truly visionary and realistic account of a path that’s just a bit too believable. Yet, another part of me couldn’t help but wish Lauren was real, that Earthseed was more than just a fictional philosophy. Yet, Parable of the Sower isn’t just a preachy philosophical journey through a new religion, but a strong tale of survival in the face of devastation. Butler’s descriptions of the rise of a new indentured slavery through company towns is terrifying. It reminded me a lot of the world of Brian Francis Slattery’s Liberation, where people began willingly to sell themselves as slaves to avoid starving.  It’s scary that two separate voices, decades apart, can create a situation where one of the biggest evils in our history becomes a viable alternative. Despite the direness of the world Butler created, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of hope as many of these characters came together to survive. The Parable of the Sower defied my expectations, while it is a visionary almost prophet look at a very possible future, it is also a compelling and fascinating character study and an accessible tale of survival.

There were a lot of things about Lynne Thigpen’s narration that typically I would point to as problems. She read with a slow, deliberate and consistent pace that at times almost bordered on monotonous. Her characterizations were mostly subtle, and rarely did she emote in any significant way. There were these very tragic, heartbreaking moments which she read it with a careful, almost muted matter-of-factness. Yet, for some reason, the sum of her performance was simply mesmerizing. I truly felt drawn into the world,. I really can’t put my finger on why, but Thigpen’s reading just worked. It was hauntingly beautiful. It felt like a poem trying to avoid being poetry, a song spoken but not sung. It many ways it complemented Butler’s broken, muted world of mistrust, and monotony. Despite her minimalistic characterization, I found each character came alive in its own way. The softness of the accents and slight changes in the rhythms of the speech did more that a perfect capturing of character could do. Sometimes, I think there is a bit of destiny at play in the world. Perhaps the reason I never read those copies of the Parable series I bought so long ago is that God is Change, and my change from a print to audio reader offered me the perfect way to experience this tale.

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. Click on the banner below for more posts.



One response

19 07 2013

Great review of a great book from a GREAT writer. It had a similar effect on me. Thanks, Bob!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: