If Octavia Butler hadn’t died, I might not have heard about her. I know, that sounds a tad awful, but when this visionary writer passed away, a lot of my friends in graduate school were really bummed out. I didn’t know who she was and my classmates were a bit disappointed and astonished and sent me to read some of her work right away. I read, devoured rather, The Parable of the Sower and then The Parable of the Talents. They were amazing works and I meant to read more of Butler’s writing, but graduate school dictated a lot of what I was reading around that time and it wasn’t until I saw Lilith’s Brood on my Amazon.com wish list that I was reminded to delve back into Butler’s fine prose.
Lilith’s Brood is a series of three books: Dawn, Adulthood, and Imago. It takes place in a time when humanity has almost destroyed itself and an alien race makes contact with Earth to save what aspects of our culture can be salvaged. I’ve read many post apocalyptic stories but the tenacity of spirit, strength and hope have never been as well represented here. The small triumphs are made even more sweet by the backdrop of humanity’s fall. Yes, there’s something biblical to be read into the narrative if that’s what you’re looking for. This is a story about mankind’s fall from grace and since this book begins and ends with Lilith’s story, her name conjures up the story of Adam’s first wife (who is reputed by some accounts to be the mother of demons). I’ve never read a book in which the aliens feels as truly “other” as the Ooankali feel to me in this trilogy. My notions of culture, gender and genetics were tested and expanded in this concise narrative about individual and community identity.
Here’s a taste of Butler’s masterful prose:
“The splash of icy-sweet pleasure, when it reached him, won him completely. This was the half-remembered feeling he had come back for. This was the way it began.
Before the long-awaited rush of sensation swallowed him completely, he saw Lilith lie down alongside the ooloi, saw the second sensory arm loop around her neck. He tried to reach out to her across the body of the ooloi, to touch her, touch the warm Human flesh. It seemed to him that he reached and reached, yet she remained too far away to touch.
He though he shouted as the sensation deepened, as it took him. It seemed that she was with him suddenly, her body against his own. He thought he said her name and repeated it, but he could not hear the sound of his own voice.”
You’ll have to read the book to understand what an ooloi is, and what exactly is going on in this passage, but it’s worth it, dear reader. This trilogy is a masterpiece in the scope of its imagination and elegance. Science fiction, or fiction in general for that matter, would be all the poorer without it. Octavia Butler may have left this realm, but her amazing worlds remain for us to explore. Her written legacy is a testament to her innovative mind and profound spirit.