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on 12 March 2015
Parable Of The Sower is the first half of Octavia Butler's Earthseed series, and introduces us to a near future dystopia in which society has all but disintegrated following an ecological collapse. While the novel centres itself on the Western seaboard of the USA, it is implied (though not specifically confirmed) that the effects of the collapse have been felt worldwide. The story is presented through the eyes of the novel's protagonist, Lauren Olamina, a teenage girl who initially lives with her father, step-mother and step-brothers in a walled community on the fringes of what's left of Los Angeles. Lauren also has a condition which Butler calls 'hyperempathy', an ability which causes her to feel the perceived pleasure and pain of those around her.

The story itself follows Lauren as she begins to develop her own religious system in the form of Earthseed, a philosophy that revolves around the idea that God is change, and as such isn't something to be worshipped but instead something to be recognised and respected.

The first half of the novel gives us a good look at Lauren's life at home, and does a good job of imparting her fear of the future, that the violence and chaos taking place outside the walls of her home community will one day come through the walls and tear down the fragile safety she has grown used to. Despite her attempts to warn others of the danger she perceives she is quietened by her father, a minister whose own fears are that if the community is forced to recognise the danger then they'll simply lose hope and ultimately give in to the ongoing degeneration around them. Eventually Lauren's fears become real, and the community is attacked and destroyed in a single night of violence and fire.

Fleeing from the destruction, and having lost everything she considered important, Lauren heads North, hoping that somewhere along the way she will find a safe haven from the violence. On the way she joins with a growing group of travellers, relying on numbers to provide security. Some of these begin to show an interest in her ideas regarding Earthseed, eventually leading to the group settling down on land owned by one of the pilgrims to form the first Earthseed community.

I found this to be a riveting read, despite it being a dark and somewhat depressing view of the future. Of the books I've read by Butler it's definitely my favourite so far, and I'm looking forward to reading the next one. I would certainly recommend it to others, and would suggest that if you've not read any Butler so far you make this the first one you pick up.
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VINE VOICEon 27 February 2008
Parable of the Sower is a vivid, often harrowing, story of survival, loss and companionship, set in a United States in the near future, where the environment and society have degraded to the point of breakdown. An account of a young woman's journey away from the dangerous neighbourhood of her childhood, and of the perils and the people encountered in the search for a safe haven, this novel is about the triumph and resilience of the human spirit. Although I felt it would have been just as good without its religious element, reading this story was ultimately an uplifting experience.
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on 29 August 1996
This book shows clearly why Octavia Butler is one of the
best writers in the business. The novel succeeds on
multiple levels; the characters are well-drawn and engaging,
particularly the protagonist. The examination of a society
destroyed not by some impending apocalypse, but by the
breakdown of an obsolete structure, is only one aspect of
this modern parable. Butler's writing is beautifully
clear, spare and concise; she uses the epistolary form to
its best advantage. I highly recommend it!
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This is a very intense story set against the backdrop of the breakdown of an industrial society. Butler's vision of a chaotic LA is truly chilling, from the near-defenselessness of its innocents to the killing fury of its villains. In a way, it is the most realistic and grim from of all her science fiction, the most likely to happen.

It never ceases to amaze me how ambitious Butler is! In earlier novels, she invents a divide of human speciation as well as a hybrid race that springs from extraterrestrial genetic traders. At the center of this story is an empath - a mutant whose abilities are not as fantstic as those in Butler's other novels - who embarks on a crusade to found and lead a new religion.

Thus, Butler addresses the great themes of humanity with great inventiveness and utterly superb writing. She is a first rate novelist.

Howver, I did find this novel rather slower than her others.

Warmly recommended.
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on 16 January 1998
Parable of the Sower is artfully written. Every detail of life in a depleted, violent future Califoria is plausible, and anyone who's been an adolescent can instantly relate to Lauren, the narrator and protaganist. The unflinching realism of the rest of the book makes the Earthseed philosophy into an unconvincing afterthought. Could a band of multi-culti ragtag survivors make it out of the imploding city and up to the relative haven of Northern California? Yes, Butler makes me believe. Does that human triumph have anything to do with the mystic pseudo-faith espoused by Lauren in her diary and in the chapter headings? I'm unconvinced.

Read this book for the author's unflinching apocolyptic vision and the very human hope which springs from it, and leave the poorly articulated spiritual element behind.
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on 24 August 1996
BY: Octavia E. Butler
296 pp New York
Aspect. $5.99 Paper ($6 who are they fooling?)
$17.96 Hard Cover ($18)
By: Joe Katz for ICS

There is more to _Parable_ than just a good story. Octavia Butler is
one of the Best Authors I've read. Every book she writes leaves you thinking
about humanity. I know the genera "science fiction" turns many people off,
but as Octavia Butler says, "I write stories about people; if they want to
call it science fiction, they can." For _Parable_, she has won the McCarthy
Genius award. This prize grants the recipient an undisclosed amount of money
so the "genius" will be able to do whatever they want for three years. As far
as I know, no one who has read this book has hated it. As for me, I've read
it 5 times now and I'm still moved by it.

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change

EARTHSEED: The book of the living

These passages are from the opening of _Parable_, a story of a Journey of
spirit and foot. Lauren Olamina is a young African-American girl growing up
in a walled-in cul-de-sac in the suburbs of Los Angeles. This cul-de-sac is
your average lower middle class walled-in neighborhood. Steel gates and
laser-wire, topped with broken glass. Outside the wall, starving people
want in.
Behind these walls, Lauren is growing up. Her father is a Baptist
minister and Lauren, well, she doesn't know what she is. Outside, people
are starving and they use a drug that makes burning things better than an
orgasm. People are burning the cities down. LA hasn't seen rain in six years;
when they finally do, it comes in a hurricane. The only people killed in the
Hurricane were the poor, who had no warning and no way to get out of the city
to safety. Lauren wonders how in god's eyes is it a sin to be poor.
The rich have food and water. The Rich have guards against intruders.
But she is not rich. Every day someone else loses a job in their neighborhood.
Every year, it is harder and harder to pay the property taxes. One day,
they too will be on the streets. And if that day does not come, the people
outside will break in and burn their home down. Her parents, on the other
hand, do not see this. They have the wall, they have guns, they have some
jobs. And this is why, when the walls did break and the Pyro-freaks burned
down their homes, almost no one was prepared.
Lauren with the first idea of Earthseed: she begins her second journey,
the first being EARTHSEED. The second journey covers the highways of
California in quest of a place with jobs, in search of a place where
water is not as expensive as gasoline. And on this journey she will
pick up the first few members of the Church or EARTHSEED.
For Lauren, the god or EARTHSEED is change. Why change?
Change is an idea, not a god, right? Maybe, but with change as a god you
can shape it, nay, you have a duty to shape it. Lauren was prepared to face
the outside world and she shapes it to suit her. Follow Lauren on her journey
of discovery, through the highways of California, through the thoughts of her
mind. Find out where she goes in this brilliant paperback gem (look for a
gleam on the rack).

orginaly published for ICS to subscribe send e-mail to
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on 11 January 2010
Post-apocalyptic literary scenarios have been a dime a dozen since well before Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and these days it takes something quite remarkable - like Cormack McCarthy's sublime The Road - to raise even a flicker of interest in this genre from all but the dullest sci-fi fanboy. Octavia Butler's essay on the same theme is now getting on for 20 years old, and stands up well - indeed, it so closely anticipates McCarthy's novel that you have to wonder whether he was aware of it. That is not to suggest plagiarism, however, for the similarities are general indeed: an un-described catastrophe has caused the total breakdown of society and forced a family unit on the road, where they fend for themselves against allcomers in vain hope of a promised land.

While Butler employs a couple of nice devices - the P.K.Dick-eque hyperempathy condition is a neat literary device - much better in fact than the hokey "Earthseed" concept which gets unwarranted prominence in the story - but Butler doesn't do nearly enough with it to make it worthwhile. In other aspects, the novel is a little flat. There's not a much in the way of a plot arc - it's more linear: things sort of episodically muddle along to a fairly uninvolving conclusion - and nor do the characters get well fleshed out or developed. Like her protagonist Lauren, Butler throws quite a lot of "seed" about which then appears to fall on stony ground: Lauren's father disappears, presumed dead but unresolved - to no effect. Likewise, Lauren's original sweetheart is introduced, developed, and disposed with for no discernible plot-functional reason.

My hunch is that Butler was more interested in developing a quasi-religion than writing a science fiction novel, yet 20 years later, the post-apocalyptic road story is the only part that really holds up. But, all the same, it pales in comparison with Cormack McCarthy's bleaker, more eloquent visualisation, and ultimately I couldn't recommend this novel over, or even really as a complement to, The Road.

Olly Buxton
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on 8 October 1997
It was a slow moving story. The overall premise is very good, but to me something of the story was lacking. I would have like to know how society got to that point where everyone lived in gated communities and community services such as the police department have to be paid for out of pocket etc. However, I found the character's concept of Earthseed fascinating.
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on 13 September 2005
After seeing how some people reacted during Katrina... this could perfectly be our futur, but I realy hope not.
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on 31 August 2014
Unusual view of the future. All quite plausible written carefully with well described characters. I enjoyed it enough to buy the next in the series.
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