REVIEW: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler’s been on my TBR forever, so I jumped at the chance to review Headline’s beautiful new editions. Parable of the Sower hits the spot perfectly, balancing social criticism and complex characters with a timeless story. Set distinctly within the tradition of Afrofuturism, Parable of the Sower introduces the reader to a world ravaged by climate change, a world in which the lack of natural resources has driven society into small communities. As small, isolated communities tend to, they have regressed in mindset, growing more rigid in what they accept. And with that, Butler holds a mirror up to our collective faces.

Cover of Parable of the SowerWhile the book was initially published in 1993, the story starts in 2024 – and is no less relevant to this 2024. We meet Lauren, the story’s protagonist, as a teen chafing against society. Her role as a young woman is heavily regimented – until disaster hits. Having lost her home, Lauren and her companions set out to find safety in the north. The world is hostile, in terms of human dangers just as much as the lack of resources. The story takes place over a longer period of time, echoing the Canterbury Tales in their itinerant manner. The destination isn’t all that important, it is the journey that matters. This means Parable of the Sower isn’t fast-paced or stuffed with plot. The reader gets time to really get to know the characters, an aspect in which Butler’s work shines.

There is no such thing as a good person in this world. Survival being uncertain doesn’t lend itself to caring about others. The characters are inherently selfish – as we all would be likely to be. And that’s part of what makes Parable of the Sower so compelling and keeps it relevant thirty years on. There are elements that didn’t quite work for me, though, despite loving the book as a whole. I struggled with the deeply entrenched gender roles (which made sense in the context of the world!) and with one relationship in particular. Age gap romance is something that’s a hard sell – for me – in the best of cases. Here, it’s interwoven with hierarchy and power, making it a very uncomfortable situation. This does stem from conversations moving on in the last three decades, showing perhaps not something that doesn’t exist, but something that doesn’t get as much traction in fiction these days. In any case, this is a tiny gripe with the book as a whole.

I don’t think I will stop thinking about Parable of the Sower anytime soon. Octavia E. Butler has created one of the great (foundational, even) works of speculative fiction and lives up to her stellar reputation. With these stunning new editions, there has never been a better time to pick up her books.

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.

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