For quite some time I have been intrigued and fascinated by dystopian stories. I think it is the mix of prophecy and description of how people cope with a difficult and sometimes deadly society that triggers me. After plowing through the classics I was tired of the gloomy big brother'esque stories.
Not too long ago I came across "Parable of the Sower", a book written by American Octavia Butler. Apart from having an incredible first name, she also wrote an amazing story called "Parable of the sower". As I do not enjoy spoilers myself, I will keep this spoiler free.
The story centres around Lauren Olamina, a 15 year old daughter of a baptist preacher living in a walled neighborhood, set in a semi dystopian 2024 USA. We never truly get an explanation of what went wrong with the world, but it seems like a mix of climate change and economic collapse hurled the US into chaos. We follow Lauren throughout several traumatic experiences in an unforgiving world and her spiritual journey of creating a new religion for herself.
The two qualities about this book that makes it stand out is its excellent character development and believable society. With only 329 pages, there isn't too much space for cramming descriptions into the story. What Butler did well for this story was to weave character personality and traits into their dialogue and actions. Society is experienced as the characters live it rather than explained. This is done with the finesse that I loved Dune (book by Frank Herbert) for.
Throughout the book, several new characters are introduced without being too vague or too elaborated. I heavily enjoyed this. I also want to give the book a heads up for the believable character development. I especially enjoyed a segment where a few characters who were neighbors their entire life found out that they never knew one another at all and restarted their friendship.
This book deals with several themes that usually isn't found in popular dystopian literature. The protagonist is an African American woman, which in itself is a fresh change and also understandable as Octavia Butler herself was of the same background. This is however never the main point of the story, while there still are hints of a world with women's issues and trouble for mixed couples. The story also digs into the paranoia of growing up in a world where your neighbor could quickly become your enemy, who do you help and who do you abandon?
As the story progresses we also learn to know Earthseed, the new religion created by Lauren. As I personally love religious references and explanation, I wish that the story would dig into the core of Earthseed instead of swirling around its edges. This is my personal opinion and the descriptions might have been enough for others. I enjoyed reading the Earthseed verses at the beginning of each chapter and did not perceive this as preachy in any way. I think it is refreshing to read a book where religion is used as a part of the narrative because it allows for dialogue between characters you normally wouldn't find.
When asked about this book while reading it, I described it as "The Walking Dead" (Game or TV series, you chose) without the zombies, plus a sprinkle of religion. Overall, I think this description captures the feeling I got from most of this book. Eerie, scary and immersive. A great read!