This Nebula Award-winning sequel to Parable of the Sower continues the story of Lauren Olamina in socially and economically depressed California in the 2030s. Convinced that her community should colonize the stars, Lauren and her followers make preparations. But the collapse of society and rise of fanatics result in Lauren's followers being enslaved, and her daughter stolen from her. Now, Lauren must fight back to save the new world order.
Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.
After her father died, Butler was raised by her widowed mother. Extremely shy as a child, Octavia found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and in writing. She began writing science fiction as a teenager. She attended community college during the Black Power movement, and while participating in a local writer's workshop was encouraged to attend the Clarion Workshop, which focused on science fiction.
She soon sold her first stories and by the late 1970s had become sufficiently successful as an author that she was able to pursue writing full-time. Her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public and awards judges. She also taught writer's workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington state. Butler died of a stroke at the age of 58. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library.
Neither Amazon nor the Library of Congress has a classification in which The Parable of the Talents fits easily. So it typically gets dumped into science fiction by default. But while the book does take place in the future, and extrapolates some of the possible consequences of things like climate change and computer-controlled weaponry, there is nothing unrecognisable as probably existing on somebody's drawing board, somewhere. There is certainly no typical sci-fi bending of the rules of Newtonian physics, or speculation about time travel, or revolutionary technology.
The Parable of the Talents is in fact, as the title suggests, a work of theology, specifically political theology, the study of the link between community and individual belief. And although it overtly criticises evangelical Christianity, particularly the militant American brand, its target is really the monotheistic religions of the world - notably Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - not because they are monotheistic but because they are dogmatic, and consequently sectarian, and therefore useful for political manipulation, especially in modern democracies. The tale that Butler spins (in 1998) is eerily prescient of not just Donald Trump and his collusion with the American evangelical Right, but of Vladimir Putin's manipulation of Russian Orthodoxy and any number of Muslim politicians' tactics from Turkey to Indonesia. Monotheism, at least in its dogmatic forms, is clearly susceptible to political co-optation from Moses to Constantine to Khomeini.
It may not be obvious to those outside the theological community that the great monotheistic religions are heresies of each other. All other religions are merely pagan. The Christian Trinity is a polytheistic heresy to Judaism and Islam. Muslim views of Jesus are variants of the Arian heresy of the 3rd century. Jewish rejection of Jesus as more than a not untypical rabbinic preacher is also a heretical rejection of the Christian doctrine of supersessionism which claims that the Christian Church is the true Israel. The theological complexity of all dogmatic religion is such that each of these distinguishing heresies, as it were, promote further differences and ultimately conflicts and schisms within each major religion ad infinitum.
Butler is acutely aware of the role of monotheistic religion in the creation of her American dystopia, and in its reconstruction. Her main character is descended from a fundamentalist Baptist minister; her brother is a congenital religious fanatic. It is the diversity of dogmatic views that has caused, in the first instance, the disintegration of the American polity, and is, in the second, the rationale for the election of a dictator and the violent persecution of all who do not the doctrinal position of this Trump-like figure and his sympathisers.
The spine of the novel, introducing each chapter and referred to continuously throughout, is the 'new faith' of Earthseed, which is the invention or, if you prefer, the revelation, of the protagonist as an antidote to dogmatic monotheism and its consequences. There are historical allusions to Ann Lee, the Shaker leader who brought that proto-feminist faith of Northern England to America, and to Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, whose life-long concern was the primal religion that appears perennially throughout the world in various symbolic manifestations. But the main influence on Butler is clearly the so-called Process Theology that was developed originally by Alfred Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne in the 1920's and 1930's.
The central insight of Process Theology, one can hardly call it a dogma, is that it is an essential attribute of God to affect and be affected by temporal processes. Although not consistent with some developed theology, this insight is not at odds with the fundamental scriptures of any of the monotheistic religions, which all present an acting, feeling, mutable God who apparently learns about human beings as they learn about Him. Process Theology does not deny various monotheistic tenets such as divine eternity, omnipotence or even the immutability of the 'core' of God, as it were. It just doesn't care about these dogmatic issues.
Butler presents her theology in the form of a poem which develops as her story unfolds, a poem that Whitehead and Hartshorne would not, I am sure, be ashamed to have written. A single verse is enough to give the substance of the piece: "All that you touch You change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change." Change for Butler is not a fetish such as that proposed by current-day management consultants and psychological improvement merchants. Change is simply that which is inevitable and necessary for life, divine as well as human. We shape change which shapes us. This includes of course the shape we mould God into, which certainly in turn affects the shape we assume.*
The fashion for Process Theology comes and goes with hemlines, but it has become an abiding force in academic religious thinking and affects many of the mainstream schools of theological thought. The fact that it is a somewhat esoteric discipline means that its relevance for practical affairs isn't immediately apparent. Quite apart from its literary value, which is considerable, Butler's work is important because it makes explicit both a fundamental issue in American, indeed modern European and Middle Eastern, society, namely the religious foundation of national unity, and a way in which that issue can be dealt with in an intellectual but practical way. For this achievement alone her brilliance must not be under-appreciated.
Thus is presented Octavia Butler’s brilliant and brutally powerful 1998 Earthseed novel Parable of the Talents.
Taking its title from the Biblical parable from St. Matthew, Butler describes a near future dystopian American society that has been decimated by apocalypse, The Pox, and is unraveling along socio-economic and theological lines.
Religion as power
Some religious critics will see this novel as an attack on religious fundamentalism, most specifically Christian extremism, as horribly exemplified by Christian America (CA) Crusaders. Certainly, Butler’s attack is focused on a Christian organization, but she is revealing a primary problem with lowest common denominators in fear and trembling before an angry God, and His hypocritical followers.
Andrew Steele Jarrett, reminiscent of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, from Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 It Can't Happen Here and also Robert A. Heinlein’s Nehemiah Scudder, is a populist, jingoistic preacher turned politician who is elected president and helps to transform the already fatally injured nation. Under Steele’s rule, the novel’s protagonist Lauren Olamina, suffers dreadfully, as does the country.
There is an old saying that religion has caused more wars than anything else in history. I’ve never really believed that, it seems like land, money or power is always the real underlying cause. In college, a professor taught us how the American Civil War was caused by cotton and the economics of cotton production rather than slavery and states rights. War is caused by many factors, and frequently with a dogmatic face such as religion, nationalism or racism to provide an idealistic front.
Steele’s black clad crusaders made me think of the black clad and masked fundamentalist extremists we see on television these days as they behead orange clad victims. Butler is showing us how nationalistic and religious fronts can hide gross and deplorable moves for power by playing on inner fears and prejudices.
Religion as a spiritual movement
Butler describes a movement created by and championed by the protagonist Lauren Olamina: Earthseed. Comprising her writings in “The Books of the Living” and in her model community Acorn, "Earthseed" comes from the idea that the seeds of all life on Earth can be transplanted, and through adaptation will grow, in many different types of situations or places. "The Books of the Living" is chosen in direct contrast to many other religions' use of the phrase "The Books of the Dead". Earthseed, as defined by Olamina is a religion of the present and the future, of the living, not of the dead or the past. (partially from Wikipedia)
While Earthseed, as beginning in the American Pacific coast, is categorically opposed to the Christian America movement of President Steele, Butler’s philosophy is a posthumanist statement intending and anticipating a radical change and a paradigm shift in the course of human evolution.
Butler describes organized religion as hypocritical, corrupt and focused on worldly and individual power rather than eternal salvation or harmony. Earthseed, by contrast is shown as a practical, if harsh, means to an end – eschewing the religious structures and conventions of the past.
Post-Apocalypse / Dystopian / posthumanism
Similar in theme and scope to Arthur C. Clarke’s magnificent novel Childhood's End, Butler chooses to set her narrative close in time; much of the action takes place in the 2030s. Like much of Philip K. Dick’s work (many now set in the recent past) this decision creates a theatrical tension with the reader who is able to identify closely with the events in the novel. This type of setting is in stark contrast to science fiction settings far, far in the future where speculative fantasy can have a freehand in developing the plot. Butler, like Dick and Clarke (I’m shameless) interprets her vision of the future through a glass darkly.
A powerful, sometimes painful, journey through endurance, determination and ultimately atonement.
The Bible's Parable of the Sower talks about seeds. Seeds need to fall on good earth in order to grow into majestic trees. Butler's Parable of the Sower told a similar tale: The seeds of a new religion need to find fertile minds.
The Bible's Parable of the Talents talks about talents that get buried in earth. These hidden talents don't grow but become pointless and represent a significant waste. Butler's Parable of the Talents told a seemingly totally unrelated tale.
"Parable of the Talents" continues the story of the birth of a religion and its evolution into a way of life, Earthseed. Where its predecessor, Parable of the Sower, was set in a society damaged by chaos, violence and poverty, this installment looks at how the seeds of a religion fare under a biblically inspired totalitarian regime set on reinstating law and order.
This book is written in the form of a diary and employs the exact same style as the first in this duology, bringing the same problems with it. The protagonist has the propensity of distancing herself from what occurred to her through her diary writing as a way of self-therapy. Regardless of how therapeutic this kind of factual representation of events can be, it doesn't necessarily ensure an engaging read. The experiences lived through make for a truly interesting story, but the tone just isn't there in order to sympathise with the person you're meant to be sympathising with.
There is a silver lining however. Where the first part of the series was a monologue of Lauren Olamina, new narrators are brought into this volume. For starters, Lauren's husband gets a couple of pages and so does one of her brothers, but these contributions are so small they're actually quite pointless in hindsight. The star narrator of this book is Olamina's daughter. She provides a completely new and fresh perspective, which is not surprising considering she grew up without and far away from her mother. This voice gives the reader a breather from Lauren's self-indulgent narrative and, for those like me who had difficulties relating to the self-declared Messiah, a voice of reason one could relate to.
A frightening future
Having read the interviews with Octavia Butler at the end of the books, the main aim was to give an idea of the challenges that come with starting up a new religion. This was done reasonably well, and basically boiled down to "not knowing where to begin" and "looking for peoples' support". Because a story needs more flesh than that, more complications were thrown at it, in the form of chaos in the first book, and in the form of oppression in the second. This added color came to dominate the central theme, however, and the main thing I praise in the Earthseed series is the dystopian setting it depicts. The oppressive regime, the way it came about and operates was described supremely well, not just in its viciousness but especially in how close to home it all sounded. Those who have been following my updates got a taste of how eerily close to reality these descriptions sometimes were.
A new religion
The reason Earthseed and her Messiah were so easily overshadowed is not only due to the strength of the dystopian element, I'm sorry to say. I can imagine it's not easy to come up with a new religion, but Earthseed and its cursed verses never said anything substantially new, insightful, or... substantial. That might be my fault, due to a personal difficulty with relating to abstract ideas (which also hindered a pleasant experience with Hesse's widely lauded Siddharta). As in Hesse's work, there's a lot of circular reasoning, wordplay hinting at symmetries and interconnections between lofty ideas, resulting in the equivalent of a rose-scented burp. There's a vague sense of something nice in there, but the actual flower is nowhere to be seen.
Every chapter starts with a verse like the one below:
We have lived before. We will live again. We will be silk, Stone, Mind, Star. We will be scattered, Gathered, Molded, Probed. We will live And we will serve life. We will shape God And God will shape us Again, Always again, Forevermore.
To me, that sounds like a heap of drivel. A big bag of airy nothing. Not only does each chapter start with it, but there are numerous references to these verses throughout the story itself. I think there's a little less than twenty verses in total over the two books, but they are repeated ad nauseam, ensuring that even the more acceptable and inspiring poems made me sick in the end.
Again, I don't blame Butler for not having come up with a great new religion, but it made the whole thing harder to relate to, especially if, aside from the religion's fanatic founder, you see people in the book vehemently cling to these words and make them their own. This led me to underestimate Butler herself for a while because she seemed to take herself and Earthseed too seriously. In Butler's universe, universities and other intellectual societies were enraptured by the verses, giving the impression that not only Butler's protagonist but also the author herself was seemingly proud of those pompous poems. Thankfully, as the story progresses, criticism on the religion grows and takes the same tone as the one in my mind: "I don't believe in Earthseed. It's just a lot of simplistic nonsense." The person uttering these words later goes on to become a missionary for Earthseed without any explanation for the change of heart, but fine, at least that wall between me and the author was broken for a bit. The introduction of voices different to that of Olamina was what saved Butler's story in my view, and especially the daughter's voice further helped break down that wall and my image of an author who takes herself too seriously.
As this is a story about the birth and growth of a religion, it should also be about people touched by it, characters fighting against it. At least in my book. But not in this one. It tries, but it fails. And that's another element where Octavia Butler's Parables lose much of their appeal for me: there are very few characters you can relate to. There are a lot of names to plow through. Olamina meets a great many people (I guess that comes with the job) but almost none of them left a mark. Scores of people important to Olamina die and disappear, but it's all told in such an overwhelming context and in such a dispassionate way the emotional weight of these events falls short of what was intended. Another orphan got raped? A mother watched her husband die? A girl is slowly tortured to death? Oh well, nothing a little verse can't help us to deal with.
Purpose and power
At its strongest, it's a story that brings up a lot of questions with regards to religion. In essence it shows one religion at the height of its power in the form of a totalitarian regime that controls a whole society, on the other hand it shows a fledgling religion that exists only of ideals, fragile and easily crushed. It's rather natural to sympathise with the latter, yet you can see how both are similar in potential and purpose. Some interesting take-aways:
People will follow people who seem to know where they're going.
Emphasis on the "seem", right?
Earthseed will force us to become more than we might ever become without it.
A great pick-up line, apparently also valid for religions.
People need purpose as much as I need to give it to them.
The protagonist's line of thinking and the cause of many problems, in my view.
Everyone looks for purpose. Sources of inspiration aside, I tend not to outsource that quest, but many do. That's where religion comes in. That's where power comes in. If you allow your purpose to be defined by others, you essentially become their slave. I find it striking how such a deeply personal thing as "purpose" tends to be socialised, politicised, religionised, time and again. These all seem like mechanisms that boil down to the same thing: purposes being force-fed to one another. This story shows perfectly how, with good intentions, this all can come about.
Pros of this book are definitely there: the setting, the idea of telling this kind of story and the questions it provokes. Weaker points are the main narrator's voice, the aggravating repetitions of lofty verses and the lack of a connection with any of the characters. These all come together in what became a mildly enriching, sometimes entertaining but ultimately mediocre reading experience.
The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars.
“In order to rise From its own ashes A phoenix First Must Burn.”
Loved Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler's second installment in the Earthseed series! I really enjoyed Parable of the Sower, but Parable of the Talents is more forward-looking, philosophical and aspirational in the face of the continued collapse of society. In this 1998 novel, Butler is eerily prescient about the breakdown of society and the kinds of voices we will listen to when we are living in fear. The 2024 presidential candidate's slogan is "Help us to make America great again.” Her protagonist, Lauren Olamina, analyzes his rhetoric, “How much of this nonsense does he believe, I wonder, and how much does he say just because he knows the value of dividing in order to conquer and to rule?" Highly recommended!
Sobre la esclavitud en el futuro (muy cercano), los populismos, dictaduras y extremismos religiosos. Una novela muy perturbadora por lo próxima que se siente en muchos aspectos y un cierre fantástico para esta aterradora bilogía.
It's still wild to me that this was written in the 90's because in many ways it feels prophetic. I'm not sure if this book would have hit the same way for me if I had read it at a different time in my life. But reading it as a parent in her mid-30's, deconstructing from American evangelical Christianity, seeing in real time the effects of climate change and the Trump administration, this narrative struck me in a way I didn't expect and I will probably be thinking about it for awhile.
While the ending is hopeful, much of this book is quite bleak as America elects a racist, religiously strident president whose tagline is "Make America Great Again" (I'm not even kidding). As a result violent, sexist, homophobic forms of religious extremism flourish. All the while Lauren is a new mom trying to establish her new religion of Earthseed. I'm still gathering my thoughts on this one but I can tell you I had a strong reaction to it.
The removal of children and their placement in religious homes is deeply reminiscent of what has happened to indigenous communities. And Lauren's desperation to balance motherhood and the search for her daughter with her calling and legacy for the future of humanity also feels very real. There is a lot to unpack here and I think it is well worth the effort.
Content warnings include sexual assault, enslavement, torture, violence, murder, harm to children in many forms, homphobia
There are times when I wish I believed in hell-other than the hells we make for one another, I mean.
These are tough books to review, and I'll just use this space to talk about both of them.
Butler unflinchingly looks at the effect the steady deterioration of society would have on women, people of color, and the economically marginalized- I love this.
She also has a strong female character making her way through this world in a believable way- I love this too.
This black woman slowly gathers a band of survivors who take care of one another, who rescue orphaned children, and who eventually put together a new home based on communitarian values of sharing and mutual support- I love this.
She does this, though, by espousing this bizarro humanist/materialist "religion" that basically boils down to the assertion that "God is Change." Get used to that phrase-if you read these books you'll encounter it hundreds of times, often in the middle of some truly execrable "poetic" scripture that this character Lauren has written. After about 20 pages of the first book I quickly learned to skip anything in italics to avoid throwing the book down in disgust. Then when she was on the road I learned to do the same any time "Earthseed" (the religion) was mentioned in any kind of proximity to "truth" or "discover." In the second book I added "Destiny" to the list (the "Destiny" of Earthseed being to colonize the stars, further weakening and trivializing Lauren's commitment to building some sort of post-capitalist communitarian society here. ugh).
Butler almost (ALMOST) redeems this stuff in the second book, by expanding the number of POV characters (from one to four), and having all of the new ones react to this religion with varying degrees of scorn. The first book left me with the uncomfortable feeling that we were supposed to find this religion appealing, and to view Lauren's domineering personality as simply the result of someone who had, in fact, discovered the TRUTH. I think we were still supposed to sympathize with Lauren the most (and you do, at the end in particular, which is truly emotionally jarring for reasons I don't want to spoil), but it was still gratifying to have an acknowledgment of the fact that she consistently bullied or seduced people into embracing her religion.
To be fair, I am only being so critical of this stuff because Butler came so close to writing a post-apocalyptic story that was totally on-point with regard to the creation of a better, post-capitalist society in the ashes of the old, avoiding the libertarian/hyper-individualist bent that afflicts so many stories of this genre. She never stops hammering home the point that no one could survive this on their own, and even if she falls just short of expanding that into exactly the message I wanted her to, I think it was closer than anyone else has gotten.
(More negativity: I also think the "hyper-empathy" stuff is baloney, but it's much less irritating than the religion. While we're at it, I also hated that the 18-year-old Lauren ended up marrying a man who was almost 60.)
“We learn more and more about the physical universe, more about our own bodies, more technology, but somehow, down through history, we go on building empires of one kind or another, then destroying them in one way or another. We go on having stupid wars that we justify and get passionate about, but in the end, all they do is kill huge numbers of people, maim others, impoverish still more, spread disease and hunger”
The above passage is the essence of what Octavia Butler wanted to communicate with her Earthseed duology — of which Parable of the Talents is the concluding volume — I think. The previous book Parable of the Sower sets the dystopian — almost post-apocalyptic — scene for the two books; it depicts the decline of civilization and the heroine Lauren Oya Olamina’s struggle to survive and find a safe place to settle down and build a community that will help revive human civilization and also move it forward. At the end of Parable of the Sower Lauren has founded a community called Acorn, which she intends to form the foundation of her “Earthseed” project with an ultimate goal of space colonization for mankind. Parable of the Talents continues directly with this state of affairs. The year is now 2032 and the Acorn community continues to grow with new hungry and homeless travelers drifting in, and the community has begun trading with nearby communities. The Earthseed project is beginning to take root with Lauren’s leadership and business acumen when it is suddenly invaded by government sponsored religious fanatics called “The Crusaders”, a tacitly approved faction of “The Church of Christian America” ruling the US.
This happens around the middle of the book and begins the second phase of the storyline where the Acorn residents are captured, enslaved, and tortured by the Crusaders zealots. This section of the book is a harrowing read due to the vivid depiction of the Acorn people being violently abused by the Crusaders, they are forced to wear which can cause tremendous pain at the touch of a button on a remote control. All the women — including Lauren — are raped by their captors. How Lauren and her friends end their imprisonment will have readers cheering. Then we move on to the final section of the book which I won't elaborate on at all. Suffice it to say that the book ends very well and should leave most readers fully satisfied.
I really want to rate parable of talents 5 stars because it is an excellent novel and a well deserved the Nebula Award winner, but I can't do that in good conscience as I do have one minor issue with it. Lauren’s Earthseed religion is fine as an idea, it differs from most religions in that it has no supernatural elements in its teaching, a sort of atheistic religion if that is not an oxymoron. Still it does require a lot of faith from its followers with its long-term goal of interstellar emigration. The issue I have with this book is with the frequent litany of “God is Change” and several less than convincing passages from Lauren’s “Earthseed: The Books Of The Living” which is basically their bible. My issue probably has more to do with my aversion to litanies than any misstep on Butler's part. Her prose is as powerful as ever.
Octavia Butler’s ability to develop believable characters in just a few paragraph is as impressive as ever. For example:
“Len is a likable person to work with. She learns fast, complains endlessly, and does an excellent job, however long it takes. Most of the time, she enjoys herself. The complaining was just one of her quirks.”
In just a few lines this Len is made to seem like a real living and breathing person. Lauren is, of course, badass, even without any martial arts skills, her indomitable will practically jump off the page. With her baby daughter stolen by The Crusaders and being beaten and raped:
“It was all I could do not to fold up among the rows of plants and just lie there and moan and cry. But I stayed upright”.
Curiously I tend to picture Lauren Oya Olamina as looking rather like Octavia Butler herself — based on the author's photos — with her strong features, intelligent and kind face.
Parable of the Talents is a riveting, thought-provoking, and at times harrowing read, it should be read after Parable of the Sower, though if you insist on reading this second volume first you should have no problem following it but it's a bit like reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn before The Adventures of Tom Sawyer you just won't get the full effect. If you have already read Parable of the Sower — and like it — I would recommend that you don't leave too long a gap before starting on Parable of the Talents, not more than, say, 3-4 months. This is so you don't lose your familiarity with the characters and the emotional investment you may have made in their story. Whatever you do, read them both. Come to think of it read all the Octavia Butler books you can get your mitts on because there are only a few of them and she is no longer with us. Her soul was too beautiful for this world :'(
4.5 stars rating then, half a star knocked off for the litany. I still rounded it up to 5 graphical stars though because Octavia Butler is my sci-fi queen!
________________________ Notes: • Butler planned quite a few more volumes for this series which would have dealt with space colonization — and no doubt a lot of heartaches. Unfortunately she never got around to it :_(
• YA Dystopian fiction is — for some reasons — all the rage these days, but for me a great dystopian novel should be about more than good looking teens hacking and slashing. In all fairness The Hunger Games probably has more depth than what I have gleaned from the first book (I haven't read the others) but this is all that have taken from it. The nuances — if they are there — did not reverberate with me. As for the numerous Hunger Games knock-offs I have no time for them. The two Earthseed books are much more substantial, the adventures, slicing and dicing are there, but there is so much more to it, and it even rings true.
How was this written in the 90’s? If this was written last year, I would have thought it was a little too on the nose.
It helps to know that Parable Of The Sower and Parable Of The Talents were originally meant as one book. They’re so good. Really easy to read, journalistic and conversational. I liked the commentary by the new character preceding entries in this book, that oppositional voice widened the scope of the story so much. Earthseed is timeless wisdom, though personally Acorn made more sense to me than the Destiny. And it was disappointing that money essentially made the dream happen.
Ya me gustaban las anteriores novelas que había leído de Butler, pero esta me parece brillante.
Una novela distópica visionaria en la que la autora muestra un futuro perturbador y plausible, y donde vuelca sus inquietudes respecto al desarrollo de la sociedad y su manejo de los extremismos de manera pesimista y aun así esperanzadora.
I did not want to wait too long between my reading of “Parable of the Sower” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and the sequel, “Parable of the Talents”. The first book has a great momentum that made me very eager to find out the rest of Lauren’s story – even if the setting felt uncomfortably realistic.
The manipulation of religion for the benefit of political advancement is something that has always been a huge problem for me, and when good speculative writers toy with that idea, it inevitably ends up freaking me out (I’m referring to “The Handmaid’s Tale (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), but also “The Acolyte” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), which took that idea down a pretty terrifying road). Using religion to exacerbate the worst sides of a group of people until they are riled up to the point where they forget their faith was supposed to be based on love and start hurting other people is the most egregious manipulation of a good thing I can think of. The very word “religion” means to “re-link” or “re-join”: it is supposed to bring people together, so as soon as it starts creating exceptions to ideas such as “love one another”, it's missing the point. In the second book of her “Earthseed” duology, Octavia Butler drives that point home by adding two new voices to her narrative: Lauren’s husband Bankole, and their daughter Larkin/Asha.
We know early on that something terrible has happened to the small Earthseed colony founded by Lauren and her companion, and my interweaving her journal’s, Bankole’s notes and Larkin’s own writing, Butler shows us a world that hasn’t gotten better since the end of “Parable of the Sower”. If anything, things have gotten much worse, and a hate-mongering, religious fanatic new president works his followers into an increasingly violent frenzy. I will not give any of the plot away, but this is a gripping story about resilience and survival in the face of oppression and destruction.
I have to admit that I got kind of annoyed with the Earthseed “gospel”, or whatever you want to call those little poems and texts that punctuate the book. There were fewer in “Parable of the Sower”, but here, it got on my nerves, as there are plenty and they are not especially well written, nor inspiring. The religious system created by Lauren in and of itself doesn’t really bother me, as it’s based in practicality, and tangible reality: things change constantly, and we must support each other through these changes. That’s a big fat “duh” for me, but I can also see why it bears repeating. But her preachiness gets tiring, which is why this book is stronger for having more than one narrator, who are well aware that Lauren’s convictions were strong and important, but could also be rather grating. Larkin’s voice comes to balance out her mother righteousness with the wisdom of regrets and hindsight – but also a certain admiration for the work done by this determined woman.
The balance between hope and despair is not easy to maintain, but just as she did in the first tome of her duology, Butler doesn’t let her readers sink, no matter how bleak things get. In fact, as hard as it can be to read sometimes, it is also strangely comforting to think of Lauren’s perseverance and strength.
Does it freak anyone else out that Butler wrote this in 1998? Not unlike the aforementioned “Handmaid’s Tale”, this work of fiction’s prescience is alarmingly accurate: we are currently experiencing the slow erosion of the world as we knew it, and we have no idea what the next few years have in store for us. And her President Jarret might have more brain cells to rub together than Trump does, but the tone is eerily alike. I did find the way Lauren perceives Jarret’s supporters, and what ultimately motivates them very interesting: there are very thought-provoking parallels to be drawn between them and a certain segment of American voters…
Just as good as its predecessor, this book is a must-read, now more than ever.
third read - 16 December 2021 - ****. I re-read both of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed novels (Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents), because they are covered in Lecture 19, “Octavia Butler and Utopian Hybridity”, from Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature. In this novel, the utopian community of Acorn proposed in the first volume is created and subsequently destroyed from the outside. But then the process theology of Earthseed is rebuilt as a religious movement within society at large, patterned somewhat after Unitarian Universalist principles. Butler has some personal history with Unitarianism (her Kindred was published by Beacon Press), and she makes a couple of references in this novel.
As an adoptive parent, I found the abduction and subsequent abusive adoption of Larkin to be difficult to read. But all the adoptions INTO the Acorn Community were somehow ok, even without any homestudy or vetting except by Lauren herself. Over-idealized. My other comments from my last read still seem appropriate, and this is a powerful novel.
second read - 13 August 2018 - *****. Because I had just re-read Parable of the Sower, I also felt I needed to re-read Parable of the Talents, the second book of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed duology. I borrowed them both from my wife for the second time since I first read them 14 years ago. Since that time, I have read a number of other novels by Octavia Butler, which, unfortunately, I did not enjoy as much as these. Parable of the Talents was the winner of the 2000 Nebula Award.
The novel is divided into roughly two halves. The first half is the story of the Acorn community that was promised at the end of Parable of the Sower, and its successes and conflicts in the development of a haven in a world of chaos, and a religion to inspire it. In order to avoid spoilers, all I will say now regarding the second half, is that Acorn is not able to remain isolated.
25 years ago, this was not intended as a predictive work, but as a cautionary one. However. Here we are in 2018 with a US President whose slogan is the same “Make America Great Again”, and agents of the federal government who practice immoral child separations. Of course, other aspects of the book are far more extreme than our modern reality, but who is to say where the US will be in just a few more years. I, for one, did not see even this much coming, and so quickly.
14 years ago, I found Parable of the Talents to be the lesser work, in comparison to Parable of the Sower. In view of the real 2018, I have changed my mind. Not so much because of cautions that now read like predictions, but because of the texture and depth of that speculative society. Butler shows us how it is that normal citizens can be frightened or belligerent or ignorant of atrocity. She shows us the depth of resentment that can be built into individuals leading to acts of vengeful violence. This book is painfully powerful at this time.
While Parable of the Talents does reach a satisfying ending, Butler had intended for Earthseed to be a trilogy, or perhaps a longer series. She was hit by depression and writer’s block in her later years, and then died unexpected in 2006. Her notes indicate the next volume would be entitled Parable of the Trickster, and if you are curious about where the series was going, you could read this article, that an online acquaintance of mine shared: https://electricliterature.com/now-mo...
first read - 5 December 2004 - ****. I borrowed this book, as well as Parable of the Sower from my wife, and thought they were great! I'm not sure Earthseed qualifies as a "theology", but in any case, I appreciate it.
I loved the first book, but could hardly bear to finish this one. The first half is really boring, and then there's a brief but extremely horrible and violent section, where evil, white Christian men rape, torture, and murder people who don't agree with their views. It's way over the top. Then it's boring again until the end.
Part of the boredom stems from the way this book is written. Unlike Parable of the Sower, which steeps the reader in the middle of the drama, this book consists entirely of diary entries that continue the first story (but told in fragments missing big chunks of time), and bold texted narrative written by Olamina's daughter. The religious side get tedious and a bit lecturing. I imagine L. Ron Hubbard at his desk trying to think of ways to start writing his Scientology when Olamina (who is pretty much nameless in this book -- the journals being in first-person and all) recites her verses over and over again. I also think it is a huge jump to go from poor, desperate woman to someone who can seduce anyone with her words, which is how she ends up within the last 50 pages or so, when her cult begins to grow.
I enjoyed the parts about her daughter's life the most. Though brief, there are some tantalizing descriptions of future technology and a society that, after a bad glitch, auto-corrects itself, are interesting.
In any case, I think the first book was far better by itself than with this as a sequel.
Good gravy, is there a hard hitting NOT covered in this book in a beautiful and insightful way? Religion, freedom, politics, family drama, abuse... it just goes on and on. I totally see why people are so blown away by the prescience of Butler's dystopia vis a vis the 2016 election. Pretty wild! I really appreciated this book but I'm not sure I emotionally connected as much because I was so busy processing all the metaphor and ideas
I think both this and its predecessor Parable of the Sower are particularly relevant reads at this time. This one is superior to the first, in my opinion. It did a lot to make me feel absolutely terrible, but I do mean that in a positive way.
2023 Reread: I've always found the aspect of Asha/Larkin's anger towards Lauren baffling. I was 'seduced' by Lauren, as Asha would phrase it immediately from the first novel. Yet what must it be like to have a fucked up and traumatic childhood, to be saved from that childhood and loved by a beautiful but empty and jealous liar. Only to find out the only family you ever had was ultimately responsible for leaving you in a traumatic situation so this grown adult could get revenge for what is in reality bullshit and perceived slights by a self-hating narcissist. Marcus is a turd and Olamina should've left him with Cougar🤷🏾♀️
At the same time, Asha's anger is valid. I think she's angry at her mom because it's easier than resolving her own issues. In the end, Olamina had many children and saved many lives. Mark can't make that same claim, and his bitterness warped him. What a horrid asshole.
In many ways, I like what this novel says about xtianity. It's nastiness and brutality. We're living out the beginning of these witch burnings now, only it'll likely be Trans kids💔😭 This book really feels like the ultimate goal of US style xtianity.
2021 Reread: This is Butlers best work. Without a doubt she put her whole foot in this book! The dynamics between Lauren and her daughter are at times uncomfortable. Butler really explores family relationships and dynamics with this novel. I think she handles the family aspects in a reasonably realistic manner. Lauren's family of origin was quite healthy but she suffers a terrible trauma that ends that family nest. Is it any surprise that trauma impacts her daughter? I also think the religious right is written eerily well.
Review frommy 2016 reread: I'm rereading this as part of the Lemonade Syllabus Book Club. This book isn't technically on it but it leaves the story half finished to read one (Parable of the Sower) without the other. I find myself more impressed with Olamina in this book. She is young but a woman grown. It is wonderful to see who she becomes and to visit the people we were just starting to know in Parable of the Sower. The story is narrated by Olamina and Bankole's daughter: Larkin/Asha Vere. She is editing the journals of her mother with a few scattered passages by her father and another character (don't want to spoil for readers) plus some biographical information about herself. This novel also features many new and expanded Earthseed verses. We see how the 'truths' that Olamina just starts to recognize grow into a functioning religion. The rise of Presidential candidate Jarret is eerily similar in some ways to the rise of Trump. Certainly Trump borrows his slogan, 'Make America great again.'*barf* The rise of toxic religion and intolerant Christianity is nothing short of terrifying in this novel. This novel feels as much like a warning as fiction, partially because the world around me feels surreal. It's 2016 and I'm in the position of having to explain that I'm a person and my life matters. We're debating reproductive rights? In 2016? It's just unreal. So the 'dystopia' in this novel doesn't feel as much like fiction as it did when I first read this it 16+ years ago. A very relevant novel for our times. This may be Butler's best work. I wish she had lived to finish the third book, Parable of the Trickster. I've read that the college who has her papers is going to release what she's written or hire a ghost writer. They need to just release what she's written. No one writes like her. Don't ruin it.
This book is even harder to read than the first one was, but it's difficult to go into why without being a festival of spoilers. So I'll just say a few things -- I noticed some people complaining in their reviews of Parable of the Sower that while Butler did go into some of the ways that minorities are hit harder during difficult times, she didn't go into much into how they fall harder on women. (But wait a second, really? Not with the two sisters who are prostituted by their own father? Not with the return of patriarchal polygamy? Not with all the reasons that Lauren spends much of her time disguised as a man?) Anyway, whether you feel that was a legitimate critique or not, this book makes up for it in spades.
Also, this book is pretty hard on Christianity. There are some truly, truly awful things done in this book by people who've wrapped themselves in the flag and the cross. Even those not participating in violent acts are portrayed as enabling those thugs, with what could at best be described as willful ignorance. There are a few individuals who call themselves Christian, yes, who are not evil. But those associated with the church in this book do not have much to redeem them. And then there is this one scene, where the thugs are quoting the bit about Eve's sins being the reason that women will bear pain in childbirth in order to justify themselves, and I had such a strong, gut-level reaction that I had to put the book away for a moment, and I thought, "I'm done. Me and Christianity are done. I can no longer use a label that in any way implies I lend my support to these men."
Because the truly horrifying thing about this book is that it cannot be put away from you on the basis that it is "fiction." These things have happened, are happening, will continue to happen all over the world. The Holocaust. Aboriginal and Native re-education camps all over the world. Japanese internment camps. The worst of the re-education camps for homosexuals. These things are true. So it is not so easy to just look away.
My only criticism of this book is that somewhere between the first main action of the book and it's conclusion, maybe about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through -- things get a little wandering and hand-wavy. Which is disappointing, but forgivable. Overall this pair of books ranks very high on my favorite speculative fiction of all time.
A heartbreaking follow up to Parable of the Sower. A tale of a mother and daughter ripped from each other and never truly able to find their way back. This book shows the ease at which rhetoric can become a tool to enslavement and hatred. The story goes back and forth between the mother and daughter and how their lives are impacted by the result of such rhetoric, drawing similarities to modern day society. Highly recommended.
Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents has a familiar sense of urgency that drove both Kindred and Clay's Ark. Like Mind of My Mind, Parable of the Talents features a strong-willed woman as visionary and shaper of a future world.
Most of the tale is told through EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING---a compilation of the journal writings of Lauren Oya Olamina, a hyperempath who is married to a physician known as Bankole, who happens to be 39 years her senior. But there are other tellers as well: there are entries in the voice of Bankole; as well as Lauren’s brother, Marco; and an additional voiceover is supplied by Larkin, daughter to Lauren and Bankole.
The story takes place in the western United States during the years 2032-2090, and chronicles how Lauren leads the small community of Acorn toward her dreamed-of New World amongst the stars, Destiny. Acorn is the community slowly being transformed through a worldview known as Earthseed, or, ”shapers of God.” For Earthseed, “God is Change.”
It seems that Butler’s novel was allowed to develop from that same concept in that it begins with one set of ideas but rather than being bound by those parameters, the story morphs organically through the wills of its characters. Early in the book, Lauren says that she conceives her “talent”---Earthseed---as similar to the biblical parable in which the man with the single talent buries it for safe-keeping, only to anger God.
I think Parable of the Talents would make an excellent book club selection because Butler’s treatment of issues such as religion, visionary ideas, government control, environmentalism, education, and gender roles in society lends itself to great discussions and debates. This book came out in 1998, and reading some of Octavia Butler's speculations about the United States in the year 2035 is a bit eerie.
This is the second instalment in the Earthseed duology. This follows the same protagonist, Lauren, although the time period has shifted forward a few years, from the first book. This primarily follows the same diary-style format, although there are additional small inclusions from other characters. It also deals with primarily the same topics of focusing on the societal and political alterations in an anarchy-ruled dystopian, and the instalment and a creation of a new religion to alleviate the destruction and chaos that is so prevalent.
Although this was well-structured and formulated I had the same issues with this, that I had with Parable of the Sower. This book's plot can be summarised in just one paragraph and little happens beyond this. Whilst this is a distressing and harrowing insight to the world's horrors, there is also not much occurring beyond this. The overall concept was brilliant but it all felt a little lengthy for what it ultimately boiled down to.
As with the first book in this series, my mind is just blown. This book was published in 1998, when the Internet was in its infancy, but the story is set mainly in the late 2020s/early 2030s. There is mention of internet here, but in the year 2022 (during my reading of this) the tech mentioned in this book seems somewhat dated lol (there's disks, and cellphones, but no USB drives, smartphones)
I feel that the ending of this book wrapped up a little too quickly, but on the other hand, I've seen books that dragged on, and with the messages in this book, I'm definitely glad that Butler chose the approach she did for the end, especially as there were meant to be more books.
There were more books planned for this series, and I would have loved to see what would follow Parable of the Talents, but unfortunately, the author passed away at the relatively young age of 58, from either a stroke or a head injury caused by a fall (which in turn could have been caused by a stroke)
Nonetheless, this book, and its predecessor, Parable of the Sower, are powerful, impactful reads, at least to those with minds open to the message. There's a lot in here that makes almost too much sense, and considering when it was written, and what the issues of the 2020s are, this book is eerily prophetic in some ways. I can only hope that people heed the warnings - not just from this book, but other sources such as scientific studies - about climate change, religious bigotry, etc.
An excellent sequel which provides the continuation of and conclusion to the story begun in Parable of the Sower. For this reason, I definitely recommend reading both. If you enjoyed one, you will equally appreciate the other.
Interesting that in this book, published back in 1998, the campaign slogan of the fascist neo-Christian right-wing Presidential candidate is "help make America great again."
Grim, bleak, and intellectual read about the near future. This is my first Octavia Butler book and I enjoyed her simple & elegant writing style. This particular novel is a dystopian story that, sadly, feels prescient. Christian America finally gets a candidate into the oval office and the consequences are terrifying. The US heads to war with Canada and Alaska who have both dared to secede. Citizens who are not good Christians, poor, or homeless are prey to Crusaders and their reeducation camps (much like WWII concentration camps). Again, grim. Much of the story deals with the day to day struggles of living in a society where there is never enough. Nothing is assumed and much of the population is often frightened, victimized, or wondering where they will sleep and eat. In response to such chaos, Olamina founds a new faith Earthseed that teaches God Is Change. She and her husband live in the community of Acorn where Olamina teaches Earthseed, promotes literacy, education, and a stable way of life. The Crusaders are not down & Acorn and its members are soon imprisoned as they are considered cultists. Their young children are quickly adopted into "good CA (Christian America) homes." The community members spend seventeen months being brutalized and worked like animals before being able to escape. The rest of the story deals with the after effects of their imprisonment and the search for their children.