“All that you touch, you Change. All that you Change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change.”

Books on Tap met on Thursday, February 2 to discuss Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. This is a 1993 speculative, dystopian novel about the “far off” future of 2025. We were inspired to read Butler again after reading Kindred in October. Once again, Butler’s writing was bleak and sobering, but plot-driven, compelling, and spare. 

In Butler’s imaginings, 2025 is a haunting place to be. There is moral and economic disintegration. Illiteracy is at an all-time high in modern history. Fear, brutality, and senselessness erode communities; cannibalism, rape, wild dogs, torture, and murder are accepted components of life. People disappear and you don’t get to find out why. Butler writes, “The world goes crazy every three or four decades. The trick is to survive until it goes sane again.” Lauren is the protagonist living through this iteration of the “world going crazy.” 

While the novel is dark and difficult to stomach, the symbols and themes ring loud and triumphant. This is in large part due to Lauren. She is a skilled, upstanding character: her belief in self-determinism and her extensive knowledge of maps, foliage, and survival techniques allow her to create and sustain a ragtag family of nomadic refugees in pursuit of a noble goal. Even Lauren’s point of difference that sometimes rendered her “useless” in a utilitarian sense – her hyper-empathy – was referred to by some readers as a “disability” but by others as a “power.” We couldn’t help but feel like things were going to get better, because Lauren was at the helm. 

This novel could have fallen hopelessly into darkness, but instead studies the principle of putting community over individuals, as well as what it means to be thoughtfully and intellectually prepared for the future. Lauren’s father is another example of the novel’s bend towards resilience and goodness. A major coming-of-age turning point in Lauren’s character comes after a conversation father and daughter share, when he passes on this piece of wisdom: “It’s better to teach people than to scare them, Lauren. If you scare them and nothing happens, they lose their fear, and you lose some of your authority with them. It’s harder to scare them a second time, harder to teach them, harder to win back their trust. Best to begin by teaching.”

We talked about the symbol of seeds, of course. At one point people are equated with seeds. We also realized this novel, with its characteristic Octavia Butler sci-fi/fantasy twist, is like “sowing seeds in reverse.” Instead of planting seeds into the ground, this was a projection upwards, into the vast and grand universe of space and stars – almost like the entire earth, as large as it seems to us, is really just one, teeny, tiny seed… This “reversal” is also realized in Lauren’s religion, Earthseed, a belief that “God is change.” God changes humans, and humans also have the power to change God. Instead of hoping in God, God has hope in humanity. Lauren “believes that our only dependable help must come from ourselves and from one another.” The exploration of faith and religion is so pivotal to the story that none of Lauren’s religious verses are cut when the novel is adapted into a graphic novel. If you’d like to see which words were kept, and how images were incorporated into the novel, click here to find the graphic novel. A movie adaptation is also in the works. 

Other titles mentioned: 

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson 

The Peach Rebellion by Wendelin Van Draanen

The Stand by Stephen King 

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (or any other Octavia Butler books)

Starry Messenger by Neil deGrasse Tyson 

Upcoming titles: 

March 2:  Same Page Community Read: Ross Gay – The Book of Delights

April 6: Will Harlan – Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight For Cumberland Island

May 4: Shelby Van Pelt – Remarkably Bright Creatures: A Novel

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