Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 28, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
This acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from an award-winning author “pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale” and includes a foreword by N. K. Jemisin (John Green, New York Times).
When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions.
Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith . . . and a startling vision of human destiny.
There’s power in threes. The rule of three, we call it in the writing world: repeat a word or phrase or plot element three times in order to give it meaning. Two repetitions isn’t enough to establish pattern recognition; four repetitions and the mind gets bored. Three is the sweet spot.
It took me three tries to get what Octavia Butler was trying to do with Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. I think. I’m still not sure. But I’ve now read these books three times, at three very different points in my life, and each reading has shown me just how powerfully prescient Butler was. The first read took place sometime in my mid-20s, as I struggled through grad school; the second was in my mid-30s, in the early years of my professional writing career; the third was just a few months ago as of this writing, so not long after I turned forty-six.
The mid-20s read would’ve been a few years after Parable of the Sower debuted in 1993. I’d known about the books since they came out, of course, but my earliest attempts to read Sower were bounce-offs. I was used to Butler’s more overtly science-fictional premises: post–nuclear apocalypse aliens (the Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood books), time travel (Kindred), or telepathy and immortality (the Patternist/Seed to Harvest books). In contrast to these, the Parables featured little in the way of scientific or technological advancements or out-of-this-world what-ifs. The books seemed to “merely” be set in the future.
Now, note: I was very much a baby black-power militant in those days. I joined sit-ins to demand that my school divest from apartheid South Africa, went to the Million Man March to help register voters, immersed myself in African American history, all of that. Yet my engagement with the ideas underlying my activism was surface level only; I hadn’t had time to actualize or syncretize much. I also hadn’t yet figured out how limited my own ambitions and expectations really were, largely because I couldn’t visualize a world that was actually better than the one I lived in. I’d spent my life absorbing statistics and societal narratives that predicted a dire future for me—if I even survived young adulthood. This was echoed by the fiction I read. Most of my favorite speculative works, like Star Wars and Star Trek and the “golden age” novels of science fiction, depicted a future that was shiny and exciting… for white guys. The rest of us were present only in token form, if we were present at all. Usually, we simply did not exist. There was no future for us, beyond whatever limited use the heroes might find for a few. (We were never the heroes.) And depictions like this were so ubiquitous in the speculative field that for many years I accepted them without question. Just more dire predictions. The radicalism of “merely” envisioning a future—while American, while black, while female—had not yet become a part of my consciousness.
In grad school, however, I became one of three black women in an intensely competitive sixty-person master’s program. As part of my program, I learned about racial identity development theories—that is, the process through which a member of a racist society moves from superficial engagement with race to a place of deeper, personalized understanding. As part of one class, we were asked to read Butler’s Kindred, which I’d already read, so I decided instead to finally tackle Parable of the Sower.
Still wasn’t ready; I know that now. However, I’d grown enough by then that Lauren Olamina no longer felt anachronistically know-it-all to me, as she had when I’d first sampled the novel. (She always read to me like an older woman’s idea of what a smart teenager should be, rather than a realistic rendering of what smart teenagers are actually like. Naturally, I like her better the older I get.) As an examination of racial identity development, the story doesn’t work at all; Lauren is basically born knowing that racism is systemic and that, as someone born at multiple intersections of marginalization (black, disabled, female, poor), she is doomed if she doesn’t work every angle possible. Kindred’s Dana is a much better example of someone whose understanding of herself transforms radically over the course of a story; Lauren starts deep and stays deep. However, Parable of the Sower works beautifully as an examination of how smart resistance functions—and I, growing jaded with respectability politics, black patriarchy, and other shallow solutions to the problem of racism, needed that badly. I needed to know how to bide my time. I needed to understand the difference between good intentions and good outcomes. Understandably, I found a lot to empathize with in Lauren’s struggle between being a “good girl” and being a grown woman with needs beyond what parental guidance can provide.
Still, I didn’t like the books, not back then, nor did I find them particularly prescient. For context, this was the 1990s. The dot-com boom had begun to democratize society in new ways, by giving a blog and a platform to anyone who could yell loudly or market themselves cleverly enough. The Gulf War was over, crack was wack, and the economy was booming so much that taking on thousands of dollars in student loan debt didn’t sound like a terrible idea to me, at the time. Lauren’s world still felt unrealistic to me, even impossible. Roving, uncontested gangs of pedophiles and drug-addicted pyromaniacs? Slavery 2.0? A powerful coalition of white-supremacist, homophobic Christian zealots taking over the country? Nah, I thought, and hoped Butler would get back to aliens soon.
Yeah. Okay. Look, I was young.
The mid-30s read, in the late 2000s or so, hit me in the middle of a career-specific encounter with institutional racism. I’d decided to become a writer by then, by profession rather than just hobby, and had added my voice to others demanding change within this genre of possibility. Octavia Butler, to our collective horror, died in 2006. Yet here were we, her spiritual children numbering in the thousands, come to claim the future. By this time I’d begun to understand just how rare, and how strange, the mere idea of thinking about the future was, for those of us from marginalized backgrounds. Worse, I’d seen how complicit science fiction and fantasy were in making our futures so hard to imagine. It was time for this to change. We weren’t asking for much from our fellow writers: just more than European myths in our fantasy, and more than token representation in the future, present, and past.
But that fight is when I saw far too many of my once-favorite writers and editors reacting to our demand for a future and our existence in the present as if both were a threat. So we fought them. Of course we did; Butler’s memory demanded no less. But I won’t pretend I wasn’t heartbroken by how hard it was to make presumably intelligent, well-meaning people understand just how much harm they were doing.
That’s when I paid more attention to a thread in the Parables which had frustrated me to no end during that first read-through: the story of Marc, Lauren’s younger brother, thought dead at first and later rescued from horrific sexual slavery. Marc understands pain, in spades—and yet he eventually betrays Lauren, because he cannot acknowledge her pain without also acknowledging the harm that his fellow militant evangelicals have inflicted on others. He isn’t an evil man; throughout the two books, he helps many, though always (and only) within the framework of the Christianity he embraces. Eventually, though, his need for the status quo, for conformity, trumps his basic goodness. “I cannot help you until you suffer the way I want you to suffer, express your pain in a way that pleases my ears—and stop doing both when I’ve heard enough,” is what he seems to say.
This resonated powerfully with me amid the ongoing context of the American social justice movement. For every attempt made by marginalized people to express anguish and seek change for historical (and ongoing) harm, there’s always pushback from those who demand that we suffer only in the expected ways, express that suffering with an acceptable tone, and end both our suffering and our complaints on demand. Marc’s ultimatum was the exact refrain of those SFF figures I once admired, as they proceeded to question why we demanded a better future, how that demand should be framed, and whether we deserved it. After that, I couldn’t help wondering how much of Marc was informed by Butler’s fellow authors. Maybe none. Or maybe Butler’s message is that Marcs aren’t exactly rare in our society—so anyone who wants to understand and guide positive change, like Lauren, must also be prepared to work around them.
Then we come to the mid-40s read. Right now.
All that you touch, you Change. All that you Change Changes you.
What we have touched has changed: the SFF genre has improved slightly, despite its plague of Marcs. Instead of just Butler and a handful of others, now there are dozens of published black writers—and disabled writers, queer writers, indigenous writers, and more. But what we have changed has changed us in turn; I and other marginalized writers must be constantly braced for internet harassment, death threats, and campaigns to Make Science Fiction Racist Again. And as science fiction reflects its present, the same ugliness afflicts our society on the macro scale. In the wake of America’s first black president, we now endure an incompetent crook and bigot. We are more wired than ever, able to enact change through crowdsourcing and callout culture, for good or for ill… but most of us are less hopeful, more tired, struggling to keep the future in mind as a handful of powerful figures seem determined to drag us back to Jim Crow. Climate change looms. Human beings are resilient and resourceful; there’s little doubt that as a species we’ll survive. And those of us who want a better world will doubtless prevail, just as Lauren Olamina eventually did… but it may take everything we have.
So this time around, what I find myself resonating with most is Earthseed itself. Butler does not appear to have intended the Parable novels to be a guidebook—and yet they are. That’s true for all of the most powerful science fiction novels: they offer not only accurate visions of the future, but also suggestions for coping with the resulting changes. We can only imagine what that vision might have included if Butler had been able to complete it; she apparently had planned a third novel, Parable of the Trickster. But maybe it’s just as well that she and Lauren were unable to “discover” that third book of Earthseed. Now, like the communities of Earthseed, it’s our job to create change in fiction and in life. Like Lauren, these days I am comforted not by the platitudes I was raised with, but by the idea that change is a tool I can shape to my advantage, if I am clever and lucky. Claiming the future will be an ugly, brutal struggle, but I’m prepared to go the distance in that fight. The future is worth it.
And in ten more years? I’ll check in again, and see what else I can learn from these brilliant books.
—N. K. Jemisin
Prodigy is, at its essence, adaptability and persistent, positive obsession. Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all.
EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING
by Lauren Oya Olamina
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING
SATURDAY, JULY 20, 2024
I had my recurring dream last night. I guess I should have expected it. It comes to me when I struggle—when I twist on my own personal hook and try to pretend that nothing unusual is happening. It comes to me when I try to be my father’s daughter.
Today is our birthday—my fifteenth and my father’s fifty-fifth. Tomorrow, I’ll try to please him—him and the community and God. So last night, I dreamed a reminder that it’s all a lie. I think I need to write about the dream because this particular lie bothers me so much.
I’m learning to fly, to levitate myself. No one is teaching me. I’m just learning on my own, little by little, dream lesson by dream lesson. Not a very subtle image, but a persistent one. I’ve had many lessons, and I’m better at flying than I used to be. I trust my ability more now, but I’m still afraid. I can’t quite control my directions yet.
I lean forward toward the doorway. It’s a doorway like the one between my room and the hall. It seems to be a long way from me, but I lean toward it. Holding my body stiff and tense, I let go of whatever I’m grasping, whatever has kept me from rising or falling so far. And I lean into the air, straining upward, not moving upward, but not quite falling down either. Then I do begin to move, as though to slide on the air drifting a few feet above the floor, caught between terror and joy.
I drift toward the doorway. Cool, pale light glows from it. Then I slide a little to the right; and a little more. I can see that I’m going to miss the door and hit the wall beside it, but I can’t stop or turn. I drift away from the door, away from the cool glow into another light.
The wall before me is burning. Fire has sprung from nowhere, has eaten in through the wall, has begun to reach toward me, reach for me. The fire spreads. I drift into it. It blazes up around me. I thrash and scramble and try to swim back out of it, grabbing handfuls of air and fire, kicking, burning! Darkness.
Perhaps I awake a little. I do sometimes when the fire swallows me. That’s bad. When I wake up all the way, I can’t get back to sleep. I try, but I’ve never been able to.
This time I don’t wake up all the way. I fade into the second part of the dream—the part that’s ordinary and real, the part that did happen years ago when I was little, though at the time it didn’t seem to matter.
Stars casting their cool, pale, glinting light.
“We couldn’t see so many stars when I was little,” my stepmother says to me. She speaks in Spanish, her own first language. She stands still and small, looking up at the broad sweep of the Milky Way. She and I have gone out after dark to take the washing down from the clothesline. The day has been hot, as usual, and we both like the cool darkness of early night. There’s no moon, but we can see very well. The sky is full of stars.
The neighborhood wall is a massive, looming presence nearby. I see it as a crouching animal, perhaps about to spring, more threatening than protective. But my stepmother is there, and she isn’t afraid. I stay close to her. I’m seven years old.
I look up at the stars and the deep, black sky “Why couldn’t you see the stars?” I ask her. “Everyone can see them.” I speak in Spanish, too, as she’s taught me. It’s an intimacy somehow.
“City lights,” she says. “Lights, progress, growth, all those things we’re too hot and too poor to bother with anymore.” She pauses. “When I was your age, my mother told me that the stars—the few stars we could see—were windows into heaven. Windows for God to look through to keep an eye on us. I believed her for almost a year.” My stepmother hands me an armload of my youngest brother’s diapers. I take them, walk back toward the house where she has left her big wicker laundry basket, and pile the diapers atop the rest of the clothes. The basket is full. I look to see that my stepmother is not watching me, then let myself fall backward onto the soft mound of stiff, clean clothes. For a moment, the fall is like floating.
I lie there, looking up at the stars. I pick out some of the constellations and name the stars that make them up. I’ve learned them from an astronomy book that belonged to my father’s mother.
I see the sudden light streak of a meteor flashing westward across the sky. I stare after it, hoping to see another. Then my stepmother calls me and I go back to her.
“There are city lights now,” I say to her. “They don’t hide the stars.”
She shakes her head. “There aren’t anywhere near as many as there were. Kids today have no idea what a blaze of light cities used to be—and not that long ago.”
“I’d rather have the stars,” I say.
“The stars are free.” She shrugs. “I’d rather have the city lights back myself, the sooner the better. But we can afford the stars.”
A gift of God
May sear unready fingers.
EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING
SUNDAY, JULY 21, 2024
At least three years ago, my father’s God stopped being my God. His church stopped being my church. And yet, today, because I’m a coward, I let myself be initiated into that church. I let my father baptize me in all three names of that God who isn’t mine any more.
My God has another name.
We got up early this morning because we had to go across town to church. Most Sundays, Dad holds church services in our front rooms. He’s a Baptist minister, and even though not all of the people who live within our neighborhood walls are Baptists, those who feel the need to go to church are glad to come to us. That way they don’t have to risk going outside where things are so dangerous and crazy. It’s bad enough that some people—my father for one—have to go out to work at least once a week. None of us goes out to school any more. Adults get nervous about kids going outside.
But today was special. For today, my father made arrangements with another minister—a friend of his who still had a real church building with a real baptistery.
Dad once had a church just a few blocks outside our wall. He began it before there were so many walls. But after it had been slept in by the homeless, robbed, and vandalized several times, someone poured gasoline in and around it and burned it down. Seven of the homeless people sleeping inside on that last night burned with it.
But somehow, Dad’s friend Reverend Robinson has managed to keep his church from being destroyed. We rode our bikes to it this morning—me, two of my brothers, four other neighborhood kids who were ready to be baptized, plus my father and some other neighborhood adults riding shotgun. All the adults were armed. That’s the rule. Go out in a bunch, and go armed.
The alternative was to be baptized in the bathtub at home. That would have been cheaper and safer and fine with me. I said so, but no one paid attention to me. To the adults, going outside to a real church was like stepping back into the good old days when there were churches all over the place and too many lights and gasoline was for fueling cars and trucks instead of for torching things. They never miss a chance to relive the good old days or to tell kids how great it’s going to be when the country gets back on its feet and good times come back.
To us kids—most of us—the trip was just an adventure, an excuse to go outside the wall. We would be baptized out of duty or as a kind of insurance, but most of us aren’t that much concerned with religion. I am, but then I have a different religion.
“Why take chances,” Silvia Dunn said to me a few days ago. “Maybe there’s something to all this religion stuff.” Her parents thought there was, so she was with us.
My brother Keith who was also with us didn’t share any of my beliefs. He just didn’t care. Dad wanted him to be baptized, so what the hell. There wasn’t much that Keith did care about. He liked to hang out with his friends and pretend to be grown up, dodge work and dodge school and dodge church. He’s only twelve, the oldest of my three brothers. I don’t like him much, but he’s my stepmother’s favorite. Three smart sons and one dumb one, and it’s the dumb one she loves best.
Keith looked around more than anyone as we rode. His ambition, if you could call it that, is to get out of the neighborhood and go to Los Angeles. He’s never too clear about what he’ll do there. He just wants to go to the big city and make big money. According to my father, the big city is a carcass covered with too many maggots. I think he’s right, though not all the maggots are in L.A. They’re here, too.
But maggots tend not to be early-morning types. We rode past people stretched out, sleeping on the sidewalks, and a few just waking up, but they paid no attention to us. I saw at least three people who weren’t going to wake up again, ever. One of them was headless. I caught myself looking around for the head. After that, I tried not to look around at all.
A woman, young, naked, and filthy stumbled along past us. I got a look at her slack expression and realized that she was dazed or drunk or something.
Maybe she had been raped so much that she was crazy. I’d heard stories of that happening. Or maybe she was just high on drugs. The boys in our group almost fell off their bikes, staring at her. What wonderful religious thoughts they would be having for a while.
The naked woman never looked at us. I glanced back after we’d passed her and saw that she had settled down in the weeds against someone else’s neighborhood wall.
A lot of our ride was along one neighborhood wall after another; some a block long, some two blocks, some five.… Up toward the hills there were walled estates—one big house and a lot of shacky little dependencies where the servants lived. We didn’t pass anything like that today. In fact we passed a couple of neighborhoods so poor that their walls were made up of unmortared rocks, chunks of concrete, and trash. Then there were the pitiful, unwalled residential areas. A lot of the houses were trashed—burned, vandalized, infested with drunks or druggies or squatted-in by homeless families with their filthy, gaunt, half-naked children. Their kids were wide awake and watching us this morning. I feel sorry for the little ones, but the ones my age and older make me nervous. We ride down the middle of the cracked street, and the kids come out and stand along the curb to stare at us. They just stand and stare. I think if there were only one or two of us, or if they couldn’t see our guns, they might try to pull us down and steal our bikes, our clothes, our shoes, whatever. Then what? Rape? Murder? We could wind up like that naked woman, stumbling along, dazed, maybe hurt, sure to attract dangerous attention unless she could steal some clothing. I wish we could have given her something.
My stepmother says she and my father stopped to help an injured woman once, and the guys who had injured her jumped out from behind a wall and almost killed them.
And we’re in Robledo—20 miles from Los Angeles, and, according to Dad, once a rich, green, unwalled little city that he had been eager to abandon when he was a young man. Like Keith, he had wanted to escape the dullness of Robledo for big city excitement. L.A. was better then—less lethal. He lived there for 21 years. Then in 2010, his parents were murdered and he inherited their house. Whoever killed them had robbed the house and smashed up the furniture, but they didn’t torch anything. There was no neighborhood wall back then.
Crazy to live without a wall to protect you. Even in Robledo, most of the street poor—squatters, winos, junkies, homeless people in general—are dangerous. They’re desperate or crazy or both. That’s enough to make anyone dangerous.
Worse for me, they often have things wrong with them. They cut off each other’s ears, arms, legs.… They carry untreated diseases and festering wounds. They have no money to spend on water to wash with so even the unwounded have sores. They don’t get enough to eat so they’re malnourished—or they eat bad food and poison themselves. As I rode, I tried not to look around at them, but I couldn’t help seeing—collecting—some of their general misery.
I can take a lot of pain without falling apart. I’ve had to learn to do that. But it was hard, today, to keep peddling and keep up with the others when just about everyone I saw made me feel worse and worse.
"A brilliant, endlessly rich dystopian novel that pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale, and it's also a fascinating exploration of how crises can fuel new religious and ideological movements."—John Green, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Turtles All the Way Down, New York Times
"Butler felt to me like a
lighthouse blinking from an island of understanding way out at sea. I had no
idea how to get there, but I knew she had found something life-saving. She had
found a form of resistance. Butler and other writers like Ursula Le
Guin, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood...used the tenets of genre to reveal the injustices of the present and imagine
our evolution."—Brit Marling, New York Times
"In the ongoing contest over which dystopian classic is most applicable to our time, Octavia Butler's 'Parable' books may be unmatched."—New Yorker
"Unnervingly prescient and wise. A worthy read for those intent on building a better world as this pandemic continues to lay bare how untenable, how depravedly unequal, the American way of life is and has always been."—Yaa Gyasi, New York Times
talking must-read authors like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, the one-and-only Octavia Butler needs be a part of
the conversation. The groundbreaking sci-fi and speculative fiction author was
a master of spinning imaginative tales that introduced you to both the
possibilities -- and dangers -- of the human race, all while offering lessons
on tribalism, race, gender, and sexuality."—O, The Oprah Magazine
"Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is a stunner. It's a terrifying vision of a dismal future brought on by the willful ignorance, racism and greed of human beings, and an eerily dangerous parallel to our present path. Ms. Butler gives us a satisfying protagonist in the hypersensitive teenager Lauren, whose courage and wits are an infinite source of inspiration."—Flea, Wall Street Journal
"A gripping tale of survival and a poignant account of growing up sane in a disintegrating world."—New York Times Book Review
"One of the most important and groundbreaking science-fiction authors."—Entertainment Weekly
"A powerful story of hope and faith."—Denver Post
"There isn't a page in this vivid and frightening story that fails to grip the reader."—San Jose Mercury News
conceived and elegantly written . . . Butler's success in making Lauren's
subsequent odyssey feel real is only the most obvious measure of this fine
novel's worth."—Cleveland Plain Dealer
real gut-wrencher . . . What makes Butler's fiction compelling is that it is as
crisply detailed as journalism. . . Often the smallest details are the most
"A prophetic odyssey."—Essence
"Butler tells her story with unusual warmth,
sensitivity, honesty, and grace; though science fiction readers will recognize
this future Earth, Lauren Olamina and her vision make this novel stand out like
a tree among saplings."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"One of science fiction's most important figures, an author who wrote cracking, crackling, accessible and fast-moving adventure stories shot through with trenchant and smart allegories about race, gender and power . . . Parable of the Sower has never been more relevant."—Boing Boing
of Butler's most visceral, accomplished works . . . this is the stuff of the best dystopian science fiction: a
real-life warning made fictional. Even in 1993, Butler understood
climate change could well be the spark that ignites the dry kindling of race,
class, and religious strife into a conflagration that will consume our nation. If
anything, those issues are even more pressing a quarter-century later . .
. Butler's vision of hard-won hope in challenging times is more essential now
than ever before, and well worth seeking out in this new edition."—B&NBlog
"Butler [had a] practically psychic ability to predict the future."—New York Magazine, "The Best Books for Budding Black Feminists, According to Experts"
"A dystopian classic."—Kirkus Reviews
"One of the cornerstone works in the genre of Afrofuturism and the broader science fiction genre. The novel is set in a world a mere ten years in the future where water is as precious as oil, communities are ravaged by substance abuse, and a political leader will gain power under a 'Make America Great' slogan."—Buzzfeed
"The Earthseed books are instructional in a way that other apocalypse fictions are not . . . they offer something beyond practical preparations: a blueprint for adjusting to uncertainty."—Slate
"Serves as a timely reminder for us to take action."—Salon.com
"Prescient . . . [Octavia Butler's] work was notable for engaging with issues such as race, gender, sexuality, power and the environment . . . Butler's stories always involve a deeper exploration of societal issues."—LA Times
- On Sale
- Mar 28, 2023
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing