Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler
I first read this book in the 80s as a teenager. I've had the trilogy sitting on my bookshelves since, but never picked them up to re-read until now.
Nearly thirty years ago (yikes!) it was Dawn that made the biggest impression. It was the first time I’d heard the idea that there are contradictory human impulses embedded into our genetics. It was provocative and challenging, and fit it my teenager perspective that humanity was a fundamentally flawed species on a relentless trajectory towards self-destruction. The second two books I remember very little about, other than decreasing interest.
This time around it was different. Dawn is still the most provocative and the most challenging. It’s a deeply unsettling story of misunderstanding, violence and fear. Everybody loses. It’s compelling and fascinating, but I had to grit my teeth to get through parts of it because it was just so dismal.
Adulthood Rites was a little softer. The story is still primarily one of misunderstanding, violence and fear, but a little hope starts to creep in around the edges. There’s a challenge to rise to and a chance that it might actually be met.
Imago was softer still. The characters are more skilled, there’s less misunderstanding. There are still many challenges but much less suffering. It was the only one of the three that I actually enjoyed reading.
BUT … they are all fantastic books diving headlong into ideas of what it means to be human, what it means to love and what it means to have your fundamental being changed. Seriously, this is an epic read.
The only reason I gave four stars is that from my current vantage, I no can no longer accept her analysis of humanity. I see this story as an expression of the time it was written in, very cleverly projecting the bias and context of the 80s into a possible near future story.
Is it fair to take away a star because I disagree with a fictional premise? Probably not, but from where I stand today … it’s not fatalism or nihilism we need any more. We need reasons to step with joy into the work that must be done. If we can’t find that joy, perhaps we can dream about the Oankali.