Whatever happened in this dystopian world, it happened quickly. Old people remember the “good old days” but only a few children learn to read and write. Huddled in small enclaves, remnants of our current, doomed America hang on to whatever jobs exist, grow as much food as possible, and try to defend themselves. As with many dystopias, fighting and killing your dangerous fellow citizens is central.
There is no villain in the story, not unless you count the starving, desperate, and murderously drug-crazed mobs as a character. The hero is Lauren, a young woman who sees the end of her fragile safety approaching. When the mob breaks into her walled neighborhood, she flees. Walking north on highways now empty of cars but full of escapees on foot, she meets a few allies and many enemies.
Horrific events fill the story, but they are kept at a distance. There’s plenty of blood and action alternating with endurance and misery, but Lauren only hears about some attacks and sees others from a distance, or in the aftermath. Even when she’s directly involved, the format of the book blunts the gore. Lauren is writing in her journal, after the events she describes. This may make the book acceptable for younger readers than I’d think otherwise. The ending is anti-climactic, fitting the tone of the story.
Lauren is unusual in two ways. First, she is developing a new religion, Earthseed, based on the idea that God is Change. Chapters open with quotes from her Books of the Living. These quotes are short, repetitive, and not especially interesting. The point is more that she continues to write and think, less what she specifically writes.
Secondly, Lauren is hyper-empathic. She feels the physical pain of conscious people around her. While she suffers the results several times during the story, this remarkable trait doesn’t drive the plot or change what happens. Since this is the first of two books, maybe Earthseed and hyper-empathy are important to the second book. They’re bits of interesting background here.
What others say
Maybe I’ve just overdosed on dystopias, but I didn’t like it as much as most reviewers. With loads of reviews on Amazon and 4.5 stars, Earthseed is popular.
Here’s one testament to the book’s significance: “Had to read it for school. Reads quickly and doesn’t get boring, aside from the first two chapters or so.”
For one reviewer, it replaces 1984 as the iconic tale of where today’s world is taking us. Terrifyingly believable, a story that does not assume everyone is white. (Lauren and many of her allies are people of color.)
Development of Earthseed is gripping. This opinion puzzled me, since I thought Earthseed wasn’t a driver for the story. Maybe I missed something.
“We chose Parable of the Sower for our book club reading and it sparked engaging & thoughtful conversations.” I could see myself enjoying such a discussion about this story.
Negative reviews warned the book is not appropriate for younger readers. Pure dystopian that is weighed down with abject hopelessness.
Quick, easy read… almost seemed like a good movie script. Funny – Amazon lists that as a critical review.
Review of Earthseed Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler