These days projecting blame is an art form

I wound up reading this book very quickly.  I finished it before the deadlines of the first week’s read.  I was totally sucked in.  I hated parts of it–the woes of 2033 were unbearable–but I couldn’t stop reading it.

And wow, did Butler mess around with my head.

Contradict the first page of the story late in the book, but have it be a totally justifiable reason!  Check.

Not reveal why one of the character has a book published until almost the very end and have it be a real surprise!  Check.

Make me completely reassess the tone of the book and why Butler was writing it?  Check.

This break was a pretty fortuitous one because this week’s reading starts with a lengthy introduction from Asha Vere.  She began making up her own Dreamasks when she was 12.  When she was discovered he was punished. But that didn’t stop her from writing fictions to escape her own life.

When she was 15, an enemy in her school told her that her mother was a heathen and a whore–Asha punched the girl and broke her jaw.  She was spared detention by her stepfather who mostly just liked to molest her.

Once the diaries resume, we see what Olamina’s dealing with.  She is desperately seeking her daughter and is still trying to build up Earthseed.  Allie has actually been settling down with Justin.  She’s making furniture and instructing younger kids how to make it as well. But Olamina can’t stay in Georgetown.  She has decided to head up north.  Inexplicably she is going to go to Portland to find her brother–the brother who disagrees with everything she stands for and who ran away from her.

Allie has arranged a traveling companion for her–against her wishes.  Her name was Belen Ross but she went by Len.  She was born to a rich family; however, she was born from a surrogate and once the family had a natural birth, they gave the cold shoulder.  At 18 ,she was kidnapped and held for ransom.  But her familty never paid it.  Eventually her captors just abandoned her.  When she returned home she found that her parents has moved to Alaska.  She had no other option but to go to Alaska.

So here were two people going in search of those who don’t want them.

As they talked, Olamina recognized that Len was a sharer.  When she addressed it, Len got furious and stormed off.  But she came back in time to leave explaining that she’d never met another sharer before and wasn’t sure that others existed.  She believes that if her brother had been a sharer too, her life might have been different–she would have felt less ostracized.  It was like her parents blamed her for being a sharer.

People do blame you for the things they do to you …
These days projecting blame is an art form (306).

Every since she’d been on her own, she has had to resort to stealing things to survive.  When she was younger, she was idealistic and would never steal anything

Now I feel moral because I’m a thief instead of a prositute (308).

Len also reveals that her mother had gotten hooked on her V-room (a kind of Star Trek Holodeck).  Her mother’s real friends were all addicted to their v-rooms as well. Nobody saw each other they just created idealized versions of their own friends and hung out with them instead.  She couldn’t stand real people with real egos of their own.

I thought it was interesting that her mother was in a futuristic technological realm while her father returned to slave-owner turf.

He was busy making money and screwing the maids and thier children–some of whom were also his children (311).

In the next chapter, Larkin reveals that she met Uncle Marc when she was 19.  He was the Reverend Marcos Duran.  She , like many others, thought he was the most beautiful person she’d ever seen.

She had left the home of her adoptive parents when she was 18 (and told to never come back).  She did some local jobs trying to save up money to start a small business “a small café perhaps” (314).

She had been going to church with them for as long as she could remember–just another habit.  She started singing at the church because it was a place to belong and it got her away from her stepfather’s hands.  The detail that he would grope her in church is wonderfully lurid.

But since she left the church, rumors started that she was sleeping with all different men and that she was pregnant.  Or she had joined her mother in a heathen cult.  She gave up the church.  Until she heard that Marcos Duran was coming to town to preach.

She gathered in front of the First Christian American Church of Seattle.  (President Jarret was long dead and his church no longer had influence, but it was still sizable).  Many more faithful had gatehred before the show and waited outside form the Reverend.  While she was there a woman approached her and asked if she was Asha Alexander.  She had a note from Marc saying he thought they might be related.  I wondered how on earth he found her (it’s implied her found her because of her voice), but we find out later that Marc had been keeping tabs on her since she was very little–completely undermining his sister’s desires by not telling her.

That’s how Asha learned that her mother was dead.  Marc explained that her mother was his half-sister, but he wouldn’t tell Asha anything else about her. He told her about their life in Rebledo and about Acorn.   She notes “Not until he began to talk about Acorn did he begin to lie.”  He said nothing about Earthseed

Marc hadn’t found out about Acorn’s destruction until a few years later.  He knew that she Asha had been placed in a new Christian American house; he kept track of her but never reached out to her.  If she pieced two and two together then–he knew about her horrible adoptive parents–she would have been pissed.

She’s also the one who tells us that it was Belen Ross who really seemed to focus Olamina’s missionary designs.  Belen knew that Olamina had to teach teachers–gathering families had not worked. She needed people to scatter and teach on her behalf.

And indeed, Len, who was skeptical of Earthseed, was charmed by Olamina and her verses.  She told her that if she really wanted to get people to listen to her she had to do what religions do:

Focus on what people want and tell them how your system will help them get it.  (322)

She has to think differently.

Politicians are short-term thinkers, opportunists, sometimes with oncsciences, but opportunitists nonetheless.  Business people are hungry for profit.  A lot of people would stand to make money from interstellar travel (322).

She needs to realize that

the world is full of needy people.  The don’t all need the same things, but they all need prurpose. Even some of the ones with plenty of money need purpose.  (334)

And I think this sentence sums up why Earthseed was a religion (something we’d wondered while reading).

It will take something as essentially human and as essentially irrational as religion to keep them focused and keep it going (323)

If that’s what you believe why don’t you tell people to go to the stars because that’s God want them to do–and don’t start explaining to me that your God doesn’t want anything. I understand that, but most people wont understand it. (323)

They began walking and Olamina was inspired by Len’s ideas, so she took an unexpected detour to talk to an older woman who was working in her garden.  Olamina used her charm and offered to help the woman dig.  Then she drew pictures of the woman (Nia) and soon enough they were staying for a few days and discussing Eartheseed.

Nia is probably the best first candidate they could have had.    She had been a public school teacher for many years–as disgusted by Jarret as anyone could be.  She was bitter about politicians in general.

Even the pretense of having an educated populace was ending.  Politicians shook their heads and said sadly that universal education was a failed experiment.

People who could afford to educate their children in private school were glad to see the government finally stop wasting their tax money, educating other people’s children.  They imagined that a country filled with poor, uneducated, unemployable people somehow wouldn’t hurt them.

Homosexuality has come up a few times in the book.  First, there was the two women in Camp Christian.  Olamina was okay with that but some others were not and those two women were eventually punished for it.  Later on in the book Asha reveals that Marc preferred men sexually.  He never said it but it was appanetly clear, but his church taught that homosexuality was a sin and he chose to live by that doctrine.

Here Olamina says that she found Nia (a much older woman, it might be noted) to be so welcoming and so needy that she might have taken her to bed.

I had gone through 17 months at Camp Christian without wanting to be with anyone…and I have never been tempted to want to make love with a woman. Now I found myself alwmost wanting to.  And she almost wanted meto. But that wasnt the relationship that I needed between us. (333)

She decided to keep trying to find new converts on their way to Portland.  But the next person they tried to talk to sicc’d her dogs on them. I’m glad the story didn’t make it all perfectly easy for her.

It’s also nice having Olamina interacting with people in the real world to see that not everyone is crazy for Jarret. She meets a local businessman who complained that Jarret’s crusaders had been in town recently–rounding up vagrants and watches. The Crusaders are bad for business.  They collar his highway customers or frighten them away, and they intimidate his local customers so that he’s lost a lot of his regulars.  …

Jarret says he can’t control his own Crusaders …Next time out I’ll vote for someone who’ll put the bastards in jhail where they belong. (336)

The last chapter before the epilogue must be how Olamina dies, right?  But Earthseed is still in its infancy, so how can she possibly have accomplished anything with so few acolytes?

Asha’s story picks up as she tells us that she went back to church because of Uncle Marc.  She had hated what the Christian Americans had done and she decided to live a decent life and behave well toward other people.  She didn’t care so much about the church but she liked the community.

Uncle Marc took her in and she earned as Masters in history. Then she began working on her PhD–living at marcs in upstate NY.  She also continued to make Dreamasks, but now she had the technology at her disposal to make really good ones.  She created them under the name Asha Vare because she didn’t want anything to do with the Alexanders and she didn’t want to trade on Marcs last name.  And Marc hadn’t said much about Bankole, so the name meant nothing to her.  I love that she was so casual bout her PhD that she didn’t get it until she was 32.

She never wanted to marry–marriage had the feel of people tolerating each other, enduring each other because they were afraid to be alone .(339)

And then there’s that bitterness once again

Meanwhile my mother was giving her attention to her other child, her older and best beloved child, Earthseed. (340)

Asha asked him questions about Earthseed–she was history major after all–because it was growing. But it was an unusual cult in that it financed scientific exploration and inquiry, and technological creativity. It set up grade schools and eventually colleges and offered full scholarships to poor but gifted students.  Eventually, there were prominent Earthseed practitioners: lawyers, physicians, journalists, scientists, politicians even members of Congress. (340)

Marc still dismissed them: “the answer to all human problems is to fly off to Alpha Centauri” (340).  Why does he keep saying Alpha Centauri?).

Then comes Olamina’s last few journal entries.

She says that she finally got to Portland and tried to reach out to Marc on several occasions.   He didn’t want to see her but eventually agreed.  He met her in his apartment which was like a dorm.  “It was gray and sad–the place worked hard at being as dreary and cheerless as could be managed” (345).

When Olamina says that he should care about his niece, he reiterates his suggestion that she join CA.  She asks if he could have joined Cougar as an employee?  He gets mad and says its not the same.

What Cougar did to you, CA’s Crusaders did to me. The only difference is they did it to me longer.  (346).

Reading it through the first time, you feel like Marc is a callous guy who genuinely doesn’t care about his niece or his half-sister.  But as you learn what happens at the end, these responses come to be so much more pointed and brutal.

–I’ve finally got a chance to have what I want …. You’re not going to wreck it for me.
–This isn’t about you….I wish you had a child, Marc. If you did, you might be able to understand what it’s like not to know where she is, whether she’s being well treated or even whether she’s still alive.  If I could only know!

We know he could answer all of her questions, but

He stood over me for a very long time, looking down at me as though he hated me.  I don’t believe you feel anything…. You think you’re supposed to care, so you pretend to.  Maybe you even want to but you don’t.  (346)

And all along he knew everything about her.  Ouch.

Especially when in the next diary entry he says,  We aren’t enemies.  You’re my sister and I love you, too” (347).

Then she explains the incremental growth of Earthseed.  She finds influential people who invite her to speak to others.  And with each session she gets one or two more converts.

As 2035 draws to a close, she says that she talked Harry into coming north.  He hasn’t found his children, but he has picked up three orphans. He saw their mother get his by a truck.

And then in a fascinating technological twist, Olamina put The First Book of the Living “free on the nets.”  She says she was always afraid that someone would take her words and twist them into something else. By making it free for everyone wit her name on it, no one can change it.

They aimed the publications to small universities and smaller free cities.  This should lead to more attention than she’ll know what to do with.

2035 draws to a close on Dec 30 (a month an and half after she put the book on the nets).  She has been invited to tour the country speaking to university groups.  She is paid to travel.

I’m curious why she mentions specifically the towns that she does–although we do get to se a little of the country outside of California.  She goes to Newark, Delaware; Clarion, PA; Syracuse, NY; Toledo, Ohio; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin, Iowa City, Iowa.

They’ve been welcomed, listened to and taken seriously.  They’ve also been laughed at argued with booed and threatened with hellfire–or gunfire.

But Jarret’s kind of religion and Jarret himself are getting less and less popular these days.

They are bad for business, bad for the U.S. Constitution, and bad for a large percentage of the population.  …The Crusaders have terrorized some people into silence, but they’ve just made others very angry (351).

It’s a remarkably happy ending for Olamina whom we’ve assumed was long dead.

Until the epilogue.  Where Asha says “My mother, when I met her, was still a drifter.  She was immensely rich-or at least Earthseed was immensely rich.  It had established communities in both North and South America.

Asha went to meet her at an Earthseed community in Red Spruce in the Adirondacks.

Asha was 34 [so that’s pretty huge global exposure in under thirty years].  She had been researching Lauren Olamina and learned that the woman had had a daughter. 

People always said how much Asha looked like the heathen cult leader.  Olamina had publicly said that CA destroyed Acorn and enslaved her people.  CA sued and she countersued and they settled out of court

Jarret’s fall and the revelation of his past (he and his friend had burned accused prostitutes’, drug dealers and junkies (many of whom were innocent).  They paid off and threatened silences..

Angry business people, protestors against the Al-Can War and champions of the First Amendment worked hard to defeat him for reelection in 2036.  And then Jarret drank himself to death.

Interestingly, Marc says that all the bad things Jarrett did are true–but they are irrelevant.  Jarret’s teachings were right even if the man himself did wrong (355).

Finally Asha asked him point blank if Olamina could be her mother.  He basically cut her off without answering.  She had to find out and it turned out that Olamina was in upstate New York.

it took a while for her to get to see Olamina. It wasn’t until she met a young acolyte named Edison Balter.  When she told him she was Asha Vare, he knew her from her Dreamasks. And he brought her to see her mother (who was now 58).

Their meeting is initially tender.  Olamina is a warm and hugging type of person but Asha was standoffish.

Earthseed does come across as rather cult-like, though.

As Olamina’s acolytes come and go they all say “God is change” and she replies “Shape God.”  A response that sounded both reflexive and religious.

As she tells her mother about her life she talks about her adoptive parents and then how she met Uncle Marc.  Then we see how Marc came to hate her

She stood up staring down at mem staring with such a closed look, frozen on her face.  It shut me out, that look, and I wondered whether this was what she was really like–cold, distant, unfeeling,.  Did she only pretend to be warm and open to deceive her public?  359

AS they talked, Asha revealed that she never felt that anyone loved her until she met Marc.  Olamina said that she and Bankole loved her very much.  But Olamina hadn’t found her and Uncle Marc had.  I wondered just how hard she’d really looked (360).  Ouch.

When she reveals that Uncle Marc found her at 2 or 3 years old Olamina was understandably freaked out

I never thought he hated me enough to do a thing like that.  I saved him from slavery! I saved his worthless life, goddamnit.

It’s remarkable how dim Asha is. 

I was angry with him but even angrier with her, somehow (362)

She says to Olamina, 

He doesn’t have any children’s.  I don’t think he ever will. But I was like a daughter to him.  He was like a father to me. 

When Olamina called her Larkin, she rejected it: my name is Asha Vare.

Olamina lived to be 81.  She saw the first shuttles leave for he first starship assembled partly on the moon and partly in orbit.  She desperately wanted her daughter to be there.  But Asha rubs it in just a little further.

I was not on any of the shuttles, of course.  Neither was uncle marc, and nether of us has any children.  (362)

At least the book lets us end with Olamina’s final entry  July 20, 2090.  Earthseed’s first starship: The Christopher Columbus

I object to the name. This ship is not about shortcuts to riches and empire.  It’s not about snatching up slaves and presenting them to some European monarch. But one can’t win every battle.  One must know which battles to fight. The name is nothing.

But she know Larkin wasn’t there:

My Larkin would not come  She’s caring for Marc.  How completely thoroughly he has stolen my child.  I have never even tried to forgive him (364).

The book ends with the parable of the talents, which I have to say I rather dislike.  The tone of it is pretty terrible–the servants get punished for not making money for their master?

It’s hard to believe that kind of thing happened here, in the United Stated in the twenty-first century, but it did

When this book started I thought that it was an interesting idea to have Lauren’s child go wholly against her.  I even wondered if it was Butler’s rethinking about Earthseed.   Larkin’s attitude about her mother doesn’t exactly change over these chapters, but it does morph a bit.  So much so that by the time chapter seventeen rolls around, Larkin comes across as a bit more of a petulant, jealous person than a critical thinker.

I wonder what my life would have been life if my mother had found me.  I don’t doubt that she would have stolen me from the Alexanders–or died trying.  But then what?  How long would it have been before she put me aside for Earthseed, her other kid?  I was her weakness.  Earthseed was her strength.  No wonder it was her favoirte. (265)

2033 was a terrible time and, frankly, a painful read.  The chapter of 2035 tells us that all of Olamina’s diaries from 2034 are lost.  Which is just as well for me since 2034 was a year of the same torture and hellishness and I’m just as happy to not have to read it.

Larkin writes that she met some people who were at Camp Christian (we don’t know how yet) and spoke to a woman named Cody Smith who told her about the attempted uprising by Day Turner and his people–an uprising that failed and that caused a massive increase in suffering for everyone there.

Larkin tells us that everything that was done at Camp Christian was illegal–despite what Jarret tried to make legal. The one thing that seems to have been made legal was the removal of children from their families at the Mexican border because of vagrancy laws.

Vagrant adults with children could lose custody of the children unless they were able to establish homes for them within a specified period of time… Not surprisingly children were “rescued” this way much more often from vagrants who were considered heathen than from those who were seen as acceptable Christians.  And “heathens” who were poor… might find themselves reclassified as vagrants so that their children could be placed in good Christian American homes. (219)

And a quote that seem more true every day:

It’s hard to believe that kind of thing happened here, in the United Stated in the twenrty-first century, but it did. (220)

Despite the laws, though, it was Jarret’s fanatical followers that were the greater danger.

During Jarret’s first year in office the worst of his followers ran amok.  Filled with righteous superiority and popular among the many frightened ordinary citizens who only wanted order and stability, the fanatics set up the camps.

Butler and her narrators don’t talk much about war, but I suspect this is her attitude:

Meanwhile Jarret himself was busy with the obscene Al-Can war.  The already weakened country all but collapsed.  Much blood was shed but little was accomplished. … The war just petered out… gradually over 2034 a terrible bitter weariness seemed to creep over people.  Poor families saw their sons drafted and killed, as they said, “for nothing.” (220)

After the war, Alaska seceded and people said Texas would be next.  [Had Texas threatened to secede back in 2005 or did she predict that as well].

In less than year Jarret went from being our savior, almost the Second Coming in some people’s minds, to being an incomptent son a bitch who was wasting our substance  on things that didn’t matter.  I don’t mean that everyone changed their feelings toward him.  Many people never did. (220)

Then it’s back to Olamina’s journals.  The first one February 25, 2035

Every Sunday they Camp Christian had six hours of sermons.  This one was about “the wickedness of bestiality, incest, pedophilia, homosexuality etc.  but here was nothing at all said about rape.” (223).

The sermons are exhausting, but they are warm and offer a chance to rest –the “teachers” don’t want to be cold, after all.  It was during this particular Sunday session that Beth and Jessica Faircloth–18 and 19 year old sisters who look younger–told on Mary Sullivan and Allie for their romantic dalliances.  The teachers dragged the two “sinners” up an shocked them both.  They shocked Mary until she died (while her father, Alfred, watched) and shocked Allie until she was a gibbering mess.  Alfred had a mental breakdown and was soon no longer seen either.

That was the last straw.  Olamina gathered the remaining Earthseeders and planned to break free. They found out where he main power source of the collars was and they decided they were willing to sacrifice some of them to disable it.

But that night there was a storm and huge mudslide–it’s nice poetic justice that the removal of trees loosened up the soil enough to cause a landslide.  It collapsed the cabin where the command center was and destroyed the shock collar machine.  A few women were killed but more importantly, many of the slavers were killed.  And most importantly the collars were ineffectual now.  The prisoners of the camp went berserk, killing all the slavers and taking whatever they could.

They removed their collars and the Earthseed contingent calmly gathered the caches of supplies and made a plan for the future.

That was really cathartic.

The people of Earthseed gathered for one last time trying to come to terms with what they’d been through and what they could do from here.  They decided to split up into smaller groups–no more than 5 or 6–and to go separate ways.  They would have a special location for communicating with each other, but otherwise they would not know where the others went–it was safer that way.  It was the only way that Earthseed could continue.

And then an interesting admission from Olamina:

In order to rise
from its own ashes
a phoenix

It was an Earthseed verse , but not a comforting one.  The problem with Earthseed has always been that it isn’t a very comforting belief system.  (235)

Larkin informs us that the crusaders deliberately split up siblings when they took children. It did not have the desired effect.  Among the Faircloth boys, one became a CA minister the other rejected CA completely.

Christian America was, at first. much more of a refuge for the ignorant and the intolerant than it should have been.  Even people who would never beat, or burn another person could treat suddenly orphaned or abducted children with cold self-righteous cruelty.  (238)

Larkin talks about her own upbringing with the Alexander family.  It was pretty miserable. They would not stop talking about their beloved deceased child Kamaria–comparing her to Larkin (Larkin always coming out worse of course).  They felt that quiet was good and questioning was bad.

People believed that they needed to break and rear child in the CA way.  Of course, breaking people is much easier than putting them together again. (238)

There was a mindless rigidity about some CA.  They were so certain that they were right that they’d kill you to save your soul.

She talks about a time when she found a doll in their yard (clearly a Barbie).  She had no idea what it was since such images were sinful.  Her mother saw her with it and snatched it away.  Then she dug a hole and burned it.  She make Larkin take out that hot melting plastic and said “If you think that hurts you just wait until you get to hell.”  (251)

Pictures of any kind were frowned upon, except for the Dreammasks.  Those were permitted because they mostly showed CA-approved videos.   But older kids would pass around secular masks that offered stories of adventure and sex.  She had one labelled The Story of Moses that was the story of a girl who had wild sex with her pastor.

Despite what Larkin had said about people calling Jarret a son of a bitch, she seems to be right that people hadn’t given up supporting him.  This sounds familiar from oh say 2017, -18 and -19

They say he has to be given plenty of time and a free hand so he can put things right again.

But those dedicated to other religions, and those who are not religious at all sneer at Jarret and call him a hypocrite.  They see him for the tyrant that he is.  And the thugs see him as one of them.  The working poor who love Jarret want to be fooled, need to be fooled.

Olamina has left with Harry, Nina (Dan’s sister) and Allie.  They have moved into Georgetown, because they know they can trust the woman who runs it–she makes you pay for everything, but she’ll never rat you out.  Olamina sets up a business teaching children and drawing pictures. She had been calling herself Cory Duran (her stepmother’s name) because it was so far from her actual name.

They had hoped to find all of their stolen children.  The first they found was Allie’s boy Justin.  He had run away from his foster home and made his way to Georgetown hoping to find information.  Honestly trying to find the children in other people’ houses seems pretty much impossible.

Justin saw Olamina and ran to her.

When we get back to Olamina’s journals in March, she writes

So much has happened.  No that’s wrong.  Things haven’t just happened, I’ve caused them to happen.   Must get back … to knowing and admitting, at least to myself, when I cause things…  Good things were the acts of our teachers or of God, Bad things wr our fault.  If you hear nonsense like that often enough for long enough you begin to believe it.  (240)

The reunion with Justin is very satisfying.

Harry had gotten a job working with the George brothers–they drive around hauling things.  Harry was a good worker and they liked him which allowed him to travel around and gather information.

The biggest surprise is that Olamina went to the police to ask about Larkin.  She gave them a false story about how her daughters was stolen from her and then paid the “fee for police services” that you have to pay for anything other than an emergency.

Things seem to be going well, but then Harry tells Olamina that he quit his job and is going on his own to find his children.   He heard of a children’s home run by CA and he thinks it’s his best lead.  She tries to talk him out of it but she can’t and he is gone the next day.  So Olamina is alone–Zahra is dead, Harry is gone and Allie has the one she cared about (Justin).  And Nina just wants to get married and settle down.

So Olamina sets out teaching–she teaches verses and aphorism from Earthseed but doesn’t really preach the doctrine.  She also does labor around the house.  She hopes for a place to sleep but will take what she can get.

I don’t know if this was intended for comic effect during a very dark period, but I did enjoy that Olamina stays with a old man who was in a band in the 1970s.

They travelled the world, played raucous music, and had wild sex with hundred, maybe thousand of eager young girls.  Lies, I suppose. (281)

In May, she finally gets the courage to go to one of the Christian America centers. She won’t sleep there but she accepted their food (in exchange for a sermon).  On her third visit, the minister was Marc!

Then there is a quote from Marcos’ Warrior book.

He praised Jarret for creating Christian America and moving from the pulpit to politics.  And then he says a shocking line: “Jarret became his teacher.”

As the week’s reading ends, Olamina tries to meet up with Marc on a later night.  She leaves him a note signed by their (presumed dead) brother.  Olamina dressed like a man and surprised Marc outside of the congregation area.

Marc is freaked out by pretty much everything she says.  Olamina quickly loses her cool and unleashes everything that happened to her on him–how can he stay with CA when CA people did what they did to his sister?  He doesn’t believe her stories, she must have misunderstood what was going on.

The questions he asks in reply are telling:  “How did you get away?  Was your sentence up?”

His questions are also concerning to me: “How did you get free?  There’s no escape from a collar.”  And “You killed people?”

He started to walk away and when Olamina grabbed him, he turned and punched her in the face.

She went back a few nights later, this time dressed as a woman, to see if Marc would at least help her find Larkin. But when she got there she learned that he had left for Portland.

[In light of what we’re learning about the Jan 6 insurrection]
I had heard on one of my earlier visits that the all-male CA Center Security Force was made up of retired and off-duty cops.  That, if it were true, was terrifying.  (286)

As she left, someone handed her a note from Marc.  Her mind was reeling as she walked home–this time dressed like a woman.  Two men snuck up on her.  She couldn’t get to her gun but she got to her knife and was able to fight them both off.  Both men were killed in the fight and after being crippled by that, Olamina knew she couldn’t stay there any longer–not with two dead bodies near where she was staying.  So she up and left the area.

Then she read Marc’s note.  He couldn’t help her.  He said that the people who destroyed Acorn were splinter group–not Jarret’s own group [“see I was right”].  They call themselves Jarret’s crusaders but Jarrett has disclaimed all connection with them.  He called them very great people misguided but courageous.

He says that in order to find Larkin, Olamina should join CA:

Your cult has failed.  Your god of change couldn’t save you.  Why not come back to where you belong?  If Mom and Dad were alive, they would join. (291)

As if that weren’t a twist of the knife he continues:

I have to warn you though, the movement won’t let you preach.  They agree with Saint Paul in that: Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man but to be in silence.  But don’t worry there’s plenty of other, more suitable work for women to do to serve the movement.  (291)

At this point she probably wished she hadn’t even rescued him.

I’m ending with this last prescient quote because I can’t help myself.

What doe Jarrett really think about the crusaders?  Does he control them?   If he doesn’t like what they’re doing he should make some effort to stop them.  He shouldn’t want them to make their insanity part of his politic image.
On the other hand, one way to make people afraid of you is to have a crazy side–a side of yourself or your organization that’s dangerous and unpredictable. (292)

This book is really messing with my head but I am very glad I didn’t read the whole thing before the election or I would have been apoplectic trying to make everyone else read it.

OT: Jemisin and marginalization

I was in Barnes & Noble the other day and thought I’d look at the N.K. Jemisin books. So I went to the sci fi section and saw the half dozen or so titles by Octavia Butler and then I followed the alphabet to find ONE book by N.K. Jemisin.

Now, I admit that I had not heard of her before reading her introduction to Sower, but then I’m not a huge sci-fi reader.

But given her accolades

Four Hugos and one Nebula not to mention what I think Jeff pointed out about being the first author in the Hugos’ 65-year history to win back-to-back awards for every book in a trilogy.

How can they only have had one of her books on the shelf? I realize that space is limited and people don’t buy books anymore and blah blah blah, but is something more going on here?


One thing I’ve been curious about while reading these two books.

What does putting a date on them do to the narrative?

Many sci-fi/speculative fiction set their stories in the unspecified future. Maybe you can guess where it is, but it’s not specifically stated. Others do state it (a lot of mind 1900s sci-fi films set things in the 2000s because it was the nigh on impossible to imagine future.)

So Butler sets these books in the not too distant future (shout out to my fellow MST3K fans). So not too distant, that in the first book, it starts three years from now (but twenty years ahead of her).

What does that do to/for the book? Does it feel closer when she’s writing it (or if you read it when it came out). Does it impart a sense of urgency that an unspecified future imparts?

I don’t read a ton of sci-fi so I don’t really draw from a lot of examples.

When Siberia is a refuge

2033 is a brutal year for Acorn and Earthseed.  The end of the section was really hard to read.

As the year opens, our narrator, who we later learn is named Larkin Beryl Ife Olamina Bankole says that her mother should have left Acorn and gone to Halstead like Bankole asked.  It makes it seem as though perhaps Bankole went without her, but he did not.

“Larkin” is a derivative of Lauren and from the Greek Laurel ,  “Beryl” was his mother–emerald is type of beryl.  “Ife” is the Yoruba word for “Love”

Olamina dna Bankole had actually stayed in Halstead for a short time.  A family was moving from Halstead to Siberia (!) for a better life.  The election of Jarret was the last straw for them.  Bankole is amazed:

If [when I was a boy] anyone had said that Americans would be giving up thier homes and their citizenship and going to make new lives in Siberia, the rest of us would have looked around for a straightjacket for him (130).

Olamina and Bankole stayed in the family’s house while Bankole was trying to decide if he should move there.  Well, he knew he should, he was trying to convince his wife.  She doesn’t want to move but says it was a good trip for her.  Living in a modern house with plumbing.  Being so close to the Ocean.  She could see the appeal.

Bankole had told people that they were leaving.  Or, more specifically, Marc was telling people they were leaving and the faithful were understandably freaked out.  But she convinced them, and herself, that she wasn’t leaving.

When I started this year I was taking notes on things that interested me, but after having finished it and reading all the horrors, it seems bizarre to include little observations about things that made me smile.  But I get to throw this one in because I am a cataloger for a library.

Olimani and Channa have been sorting and cataloging books for their library and Olamina hated to be interrupted, but not too much: “Still, cataloging is tedious” (137).

The first bad news comes from Marc.  After he had been rescued by Olimani and taken in by  Acorn, he decided that he wanted to preach his own Christian beliefs to the people.  He was going to do it without asking his suiter, but Olamina found out and told him to preach at their next Gatehring.  She warned him that he would be questioned about what he said and he was cocksure enough to go on with it.

Continue reading

She would have been a wholly admirable person

Parable of the Sower ended on a vaguely optimistic note:  Lauren felt that they were ready to set up Acorn, the home of her Earthseed community.  Bankole thought there was no chance it would work.  But this is Lauren’s story, so we’ll assume that the story is tipped in her favor somewhat.

Plus, there’s a sequel, so things must work out reasonably well, right?

Well, surprise!

Parable of the Talents opens up with the news that Lauren is dead.

She is mostly called Olamina during this book because Bankole “doesn’t like my first name, so he ignores it.  That’s fair.  I didn’t like his first name either. It’s Taylor, by the way and I ignore it” (122).

This book is narrated by Olamina and Bankole’s child–unspecified gender and age in the Prologue, although by the end of this week’s reading we can assume the writer is their daughter [Bankole wants her named Beryl and Olamina wants her named almost anything that isn’t Beryl–“such an old fashioned name” (122).  The narrator later says something about high school, so it must be around 2050.

The child shares Olamina’s diary entries, but her basic attitude is that she hates her mother and thinks well of her father and wishes she knew him.

The book opens with this narrator saying “they’ll make a god of her” and the continues with something surprising about that

I think that would please her, if she could know about it.  In spite of all her protests and denials she’s always needed devoted, obedient follower–disciples–who would listen to her and believe everything she told them.  and she needed large events to manipulate.  All gods seem to need these things.  (7)

I never got the sense that Lauren wanted to be a god.  But maybe Olamina does.

She also tells us that Lauren’s middle name “Oya” is the name of a Nigerian Orisha–goddess f the Yoruba people (goddes of the wind, fire, and death, more bringers of great change (50).

Butler wrote this book five years after the Sower.  As I read Talent, I wondered what the intent of this story was. Had she planned all along to have a follower (child or otherwise) criticize Earthseed?  Had five years of thinking about Earthseed made her question the validity of Lauren’s ideas?  I don’t know anything about Butler, about whether she “agreed” with Lauren’s ideas or not.  I don’t have anything besides textual evidence to know how she felt about religion in general.  So was this book a commentary on her own ideas/ideals from five years earlier?  Or is this just interesting storytelling by having a new protagonist dispute the doctrine of the previous protagonist.  Especially if the bulk of this book is made up of Olamina’s diary entries (just like the first book was).

That’s right, even though the book is set after Olamina has died, the book so far is primarily her own diary entries from 2032, By the end of 2032, she is pregnant with, presumably, the person who is narrating this book and criticizing Olamina’s ideas.

She calls her mother “focused, and yet so misguided, there for all the world, but never there for me” (8).  This sets up a very interesting potential conflict between Olamina nd the outside world.  We soon learn that Earthseed is on the radar of powerful people (the new president) who do not approve of it.  This intro suggests that Earthseed really takes off–just how big does it get?  It’s easy to forget that it must have really grown as you read through 2032 and see the small steps they have taken in the last five years.

The other surprise is that Olamina is not the only one to have writings in this book.  It starts with and excerpt from Memories of Other Worlds written by Taylor Franklin Bankole.  There’s another writer coming up as well in due time.  We learn a little later that Bankole encouraged Olamina to copyright her books [it’s hard to believe that something like copyright is even meaningful in this lawless country], so presumably he has done the same with his.

Things will get back to normal someday…  You should do this in the same way that we go on paying their taxes” (73).

Wait, people are still paying taxes??

Bankole writes that he period from 2015 to 2030 is being called The Apocalypse or “The Pox” [that’s a hilarious comment on the media].  Bankole says it started long before 2015 and has not yet ended.  He says the United States suffered a major nonmilitary defeat–and it did not survive The Pox.

Next is the first journal entry from Olamina on September 26, 2032, Arrival Day–the fifth anniversary of the establishment of Acorn.

Olamina more or less gives us the reason behind the titles of these books.  She says that her father loved parables–stories that made pictures in people’s minds. And she summarizes the parable of the talents.  Talents were a currency during the Bible and I am, of course, curious if there’s an etymological connection between the money and how we use the word today [I’ll let Daryl investigate that for us].

Basically, a lord gives his servants money.  Two of them invest wisely and return with more.  The third buried his money and returned with exactly what he was given and his lord punished him and took away what little he had.

It turns out I had read an excerpt of this chapter in a collection of science-fiction stories last year.  And that let me get the elephant in the room out of the way.  Holy CRAP this book sounds a lot like what happened here in the 2016 & 2020 elections.  Rebecca Romney (no relation to Mitt, I assume) editor of the collection introduced the excerpt like this:

I’ve ended this collection with a meteor.  An African-America woman born with “hyperempathy” must navigate the 2020as and 2030s in a hellscape formed by climate change disasters…  The reader is introduced to a rising demagogue whose slogan in “make America great again.”  Did that send chills down your spine?

At the time she was writing, however, it’s more likely she was inspired by the past than by the future.  When Ronald Reagan accepted the presidential nomination from the 1980 Republican National Committee, he gave a speech in which he promised, “For those who’ve abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.”  Butler perceived the problems behind that phrase and used science fiction to explore how such a mindset could lead to history repeating itself, resulting in story that is even more powerful today than when she first wrote it.

When I wrote about the excerpt (it was just before the 2020 election), I was clearly freaking out about everything that was going on and the fact that people actually wanted to re-elect the buffoon who shall not be named.   So, I’m posting some of what I summarized in the excerpt (which covers most of chapter 1):

Dovetree is the community next to Acorn.  It was doing reasonably well, until it was burned down–attacked by men wearing black tunics with large crosses on the chest.  This was no gang of thugs or bunch of looters, this was an organized group–and one the narrator is unfamiliar with.

Was this group of people from my current least favorite presidential candidate, Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarret?  It sounds like the sort of thing his people might do–a revival of something nasty out of the past.  … Jarret insists on being a throwback to some earlier “simpler” time.  Now does not suit him.  … The current state of the county does not suit him.  He wants to take us all back to some magical time when everyone believed in the same God, [and they could stomp] anyone who was different.  There was never such a time in this country.  But in these days when more than half the people in the country can’t read at all, history is just one more vast unknown to them. (23)

And then this take on the electoral process.

It seem inevitable that people who can’t read are going to lean more toward judging candidates on the way they look and sound than on what they claim to stand for.  Even people who can read and are educated are apt to pay more attention to good looks and seductive lies than they should.

That sure sounds like 2020–aside from the good looks part.

At the time that I read this excerpt, I had no context about the role of religion in the story.  I see why religion is such a focus now.  Although last year it went with the election cycle pretty easily: just replace the religious aspect of this text with skin color and “cultist” with “antifa” and you could read this in any paper today.

“cultist” is a great catchall term for anyone who fits into no other large category and yet doesn’t quiet match Jarret’s version of Christianity.  …  Jarret supporters have been known, now and then, to form mobs and burn people at the stake for being witches.  Jarret condemns the burning, but does so in such mild language that his people are free to hear what they want to hear. (24)

I imagine that there will be more horrifying parallels going forward, but I’m going to try to minimize my mentions of them (maybe an asterisk as needed).  Especially since our Jarret didn’t win in 2020.  I can’t imagine what Butler would have said were she alive.

Actually, one more, from the next chapter.  It sounds like Jarret’s competitor is portrayed as dull (or perhaps “sleepy” if you’re too lazy to think of a better word).  And Olamina marvels that so many people

fear Edward Jay Smith’s supposed incompetence more than they fear Jarret’s obvious tyranny. (31)


In Chapter 2, the narrator gives us more context for 2032–every member of Earthseed was taught to read and write (English and Spanish).

Education was no longer free, but it was still mandatory according to the law.  The problem was, no one was enforcing such laws, just as no one was protecting child laborers. (28)

When we get to some details later about what’s happening to children–wearing remote controlled shock collars–labor laws are the least of the problems.

Bankole’s concern about Acorn seems like a general anxiety about being a Black man during The Pox.  But he was one of the lucky ones–a well-educated, professional Black man was rare–and treated with suspicion in the mountains.  But once the locals realized that he was a good doctor, people began to appreciate him.

In more exciting news, Olamina and three others went to a nearby farm to collect some supplies.  They were ambushed by a house truck. [I’m unclear about the provenance of this name–is it like a house boat?, a truck that you can live in].  Trucks like this were armor plated and fully automated with weapons.  After a few hours of hiding out, Olamina hears a child and goes to investigate.  It turns out that the truck was being monitored by two little girls–the rest of their family had been shot and was on death’s door.

They manager to rescue the two girls and the oldest boy (Dan).  The parents are dead and the older girls were taken–presumably to become prostitutes.  Obviously Dan is very upset that he didn’t save his family.  But he was shot and could barely move.

The good news is that Acorn now has an armored truck.  This is great for all of their expeditions and will also allow them to expand their small businesses–bringing food to market and making deals with neighboring communities.

Bankole is furious that Olamina risked her life for a crying child or even for a truck–his concern for her is quite touching.  Olamina, however, tells him to realize who he’s talking to–she’s no dummy.   But still, he thinks that they (maybe just the two of them) should move to one of the small towns where he can set up as the local doctor.  She outwardly says that she’s happy at Acorn–on Bankole’s property.  But inwardly, you knows she’s all “this is where Earthseed is dude, wtf.”

In Bankole’s writings he says that he was always a doubter when it came to religion, how crazy is it that he fell for a zealot.  The narrator is similarly puzzled by the appeal of Earthseed.

In Earthseed there is no promised afterlife. Earthseed’s heave is literal, physical–other world circling other stars.  It promises its people immortality only through their children, their work and their memories…  Its promise if of hard work and brand-new possibilities, problems, challenges and changes.  Apparently that can be surprisingly seductive to some people.  My mother was a surprisingly seductive person.  (49)

She continues later

She worked hard at seducing people. She did it first by adopting vulnerable and needy people, then by finding ways to make those people want to be part of Earthseed, no matter how ridiculous it seemed with its starry Destiny.

My biggest take away about the daughter’s attitude is “If she had created Acorn, but not Earthseed, then I think she would have been a wholly admirable person” (63).  [Wow, what happened??]

But indeed, Olamina says that she foresees a time

when most or all of our neighbors have joined us.  Even if they don’t like every aspect of Earthseed, I hope they’ll like enough of it to recognize they’re better off with s than without is.  I want them as allies and as members, not as just “friends.”  (69)

A new horror that’s introduced in this book is women with their tongues cut out.  There is a woman at Acorn–May–who had her tongue cut out, but she cannot tell them what happened.  Olamina says

in some of the more religious towns, repression of women has become more and more extreme.  a woman who expresses her opinions, “nags,” disobeys her husbands or otherwise “tramples her womanhood” and “acts like a man” may have her head shaved, her forehead branded, her tongue cut out, or worse case, she might be stoned to death or burned. (51)

Plus scientists in Australia brought a human infant to term in an artificial womb–reporters are already calling the womb containers ‘eggs.’ (82).  Eggs combined with cloning technology would give men the ability to have a child withou the genetioc or gestational help of a woman (83).

As new people get folded in to Earthseed, they often hasve questions.  Dan the teenager made a pretty complete recovery thanks to Bankole but he has serious questions about Earthseed.  When Olamina explains that change is God, he wonders

But what can you do with a God like that?  I mean.. it isn’t even a person.  It doesn’t love or protect you. It doesn’t know anything.  What’s the point? (73)

Her answer is, to me, unsatisfying

The point is, it’s the truth.

Although her point about prayer is pretty good.  “Flattering or begging God isn’t useful” but praying is because

it is an effective way of talking to yourself, talking yourself into things.  It can give you a feeling of control and help you to stretch yourself beyond what you thought were your limits. (74)

So Earthseed as self-help.

I have wondered before about the outside world in this series.

She talks about Alaska.  It was the dream for so many.  But even if people managed to get across the US-Canada border and then back across the Canada-US border to Alaska, things are not so great.  Plus, last year Alaska seceded and the Alaskan president and President Donner are rattling sabers at each other.  Alaska also seems to be getting chummy with Canada and Russia.

Three years ago, there was a nuclear exchange between Iran and Iraq which scared the heck out of everyone.  It caused peace all over the world for a little while, but soon people got annoyed and things flared up again.  “It’s always been much easier to make war than to make peace” (79).

I also wondered about Mars, which was sadly neglected at the end of Sower.  Well, there is a mention of it now because living multicellular organisms have been discovered there.  They look like slugs and are not exactly animal.  They are living Martians.  Although President Donner is looking to privatize the space program: “‘If it’s worth doing at all it should be done for profit and not as a burden on the taxpayers'”–as though profit could be counted only as immediate financial gain. (81)

So anything we learn about these creatures will no longer belong to America.  She cynically but correctly asserts that if they can be used they’ll be protected, cultivated and bred.  If they’re not useful, they’ll be seen as an impediment to progress. And if they’re bad for business they’ll be lucky to survive at all.

Then the worst news of all–Jarret won the lection.  Of course (most of) Earthseed voted for Edward Jay Smith.

Even a man without an idea in his head is better than a man who means to lash us back to his particular God. (84)

And then there’s this*

[Jarret has] had to distance himself form the worst of his followers.  But he still knows how to rouse his rabble, how to reach out to poor people, and sic them on other poor people. How much of this nonsense does he believe? I wonder, and how much does he say just because he knows the value of dividing in order to conquer and to rule? (85)

Two weeks later Olamina found out she was pregnant.

And then three months later she found her brother Marcus!  (This is what was spoiled in the Foreword to Sower–not a huge reveal, but still it ruined the jaw-dropping moment).

They had put put feelers to see if they could find Dan’s sisters who had been taken.  Someone-pimp named Cougar-said he had one of the sisters.  But when they went to meet with him the girl was not Dan’s sister (but she looked similar).  However, one of the boys was MarcusI  Olamina played it cool and eventually bought him back–the parallels to the salve trade are obvious.

Marcus’ story is horrifying (unsurprisingly).  He fills in the gaps for Olamina about what happened the night she fled.  He watched his family get killed and was nearly killed himself.  He was taken in by a family who happened to have the same last name as his mother–Duran.

Chapter Seven opens with an excerpt from Warrior by Marcos Duran.  That’s what the family who adopted him called him and that’s what he feels like now–“Call me Marcos.”  He’s been Marcos Duran for five years and doesn’t know how to be Marcus Olamina anymore.

While Marcus was healing, Dan ran away leaving a note that he was off to find his other sisters.  Olamina doubts they’ll see him again.

The narrator confirms that Marc was the handsomest man she’s ever seen (even after all the shit he’s been through).  But unlike his sister, he hated chaos–it was unnatural, demonic.  His gods were order, stability, safety control.  Uncle Marc wanted to make the earth a better place.  He knew that the stars could take care of themselves. (103)

As the year and the week’s reading come to an end Bankole says the doctor is Halstead is dead and the town wants him to move there to be their doctor.  He wants to do it and he’s more insistent on the two of them moving because he has an actual job offer.  He knows she won’t agree because of

[her] immaturity, [her] irrational unrealistic faith in Earthseed, [her] selfishness, [her] shortsightedness.

That’s a dramatic place to leave off.  I’m really quite hooked–with so many questions.

Unjustified optimism?

The end of the book provides something of a skeptical feeling of hope for our travelers.   I read in the Foreword that Earthseed was meant to be a trilogy; however, Butler only finished a sequel (and an unrelated novel) before she died.  The Foreword (by N.K. Jemisin also gives a spoiler to Parable of the Talents–uncool!  Even if the books are over twenty years old. 

By the way, Jemisin sounds pretty interesting.  Anyone read her?

To me, it is astonishing how many big questions go unanswered in the book.

I had mentioned wondering about the Mars mission and there’s no mention of that again.  We never find out anything about any state east of Central California and we never find out What Happened.  Obviously that information is irrelevant for the characters–they just have to move on–but it’s frustrating not to have even a hint.  [I accept that it wasn’t relevant to Butler, but I’m still curious].  We never hear anything about the community that the corporation bought, either–although there is a kind of follow up with someone from a similar community telling about how badly it turned out for the people living there.  

This section starts off with an earthquake.  Earthquakes are bad news in general but in this situation they are much worse because earthquakes tend to cause fires.  And we know who fires attract.  Zahra thinks that they might be able to scavenge for something they can use, but Lauren suspects, rightly, that it would be a dangerous thing to do–druggies and people more violent than they are would be there.  And this proves to be true.

In fact, it proves to be very smart to move on because they wind up putting some distance between themselves and the violent crowds that scavenged the burnt out houses.

Then they see a man pushing his belongings in twin saddlebags [I can’t actually picture this].  He’s about Lauren’s father’s age and looks in decent shape (and has all his teeth).  He says to her that the whole world’s gone crazy.  She replies that she’s heard that every three or four decades the world goes crazy.  He agrees: “The nineteen-nineties were crazy…but they were rich. Nothing like this bad.  I don’t think it’s ever been this bad” (229).

The man’s names is Taylor Franklin Bankole (call him Bankole).  Lauren likes him immediately. 

[Obviously Bankole’s name has significance as we shall see in a moment, but I wonder how much thought Butler put into names.  For a community that’s falling apart all around them, it’s interesting how much she specifies peoples names–first, middle, last nicknames etc.]

Lauren says

Our last names were an instant bond between us.  We’re both descended from men who assumed African surnames back during the 1960s.  His father and my grandfather had had their names legally changed and both had chosen Yoruba replacement names.
“Most people chose Swahili names in the ’60s,” Bankole told me.  “My father had to do something different.  All his life he had to be different” (230).

[So yes, he is one year older than her father would have been].

He joins their group, a bit warily at first, but is soon accepted.  And soon after, they get two more members. They hear two women screaming.  Normally one would ignore this sort of thing, but they felt safer in their big group.  The women were in an abandoned house when the earthquake collapsed it on them.  They were mostly okay, just a bit shaken up an bloody.

The two women are Jillian (Jill) and Allison (Allie) Gilchrist.  They are in their twenties and their father was their pimp.  They set fire to his house when he was really drunk–they don’t know if he survived.  Lauren hopes he didn’t.

Unfortunately, when the group helped the women, it made them an instant target.  A man grabbed Zahra and another grabbed Lauren.  Lauren stabbed the man up to the hilt of her knife–and the pain she felt was unimaginable.  Soon the pain died–which mean the man died.  Everyone was fine, but Zahra encouraged her to change clothes–she was bloody, which was an invitation to trouble.

By the end of the day they had made it to Salinas.  [Depending on where they started that’s roughly 300 miles]. It was untouched by scavengers but had a “stay on the road” look to it.  But people left them alone to shop and get supplies:

We were women and a baby as well as men, and three of us were white.  I don’t think any of that harmed us in their eyes. (240)

They got clean, bought water, food and ammunition.  “By the way,” Lauren bought “condoms for her own future”–I love the way she tucked that in with a “by the way” (241).

They also stopped at a kind of flea market and bought pots (Bankole’s cart could carry them) because they were 9 people now and needed more general supplies.  They also bought an old fashioned Winchester shotgun.

There’s also the first sign of the world outside of their immediate area.  Lauren managed to get a radio earpiece.  It doesn’t tell them much of the outside world, but it does tell them of trouble in the Bay Area.

[So there’s obviously someone broadcasting news.  This has to suggest some kind of basic infrastructure, right?  Similarly, the National Guard was called out–again, fascinating insight into the state of the country that there is still a National Guard but we let California (and more) get like this.]

They leave the 101 for a side highway, the I-5 which proves to be smart–fewer walkers and less trouble.

I’m fascinated by tis observation:

In some places, the rich are escaping by flying out in helicopters [where are they going?] The bridges that are still in tact–and most of them are–are guarded either by the police or by gangs.  Both groups are there to rob desperate fleeing people of their weapons, money food and water–at the least.  (246)

They made it to a safe spot and were able to rest, but soon enough they were woken in the night by gunfire.  Fortunately it wasn’t aimed at them.  Even though they were now a big group, they were able to keep themselves hidden and protected during the night.  But Lauren noticed that Bankole wasn’t in his spot.  She didn’t know if he’d run off or if he’d been shot while going to the bathroom.  But, in fact, he was trying to quiet an orphaned child–the boy’s mothers had been killed in the gunfire, and a noisy child is a giveaway they couldn’t afford.

Now their group was ten. The orphaned child, Justin Rohr, got attached to Allie–the more negative of the two sisters, so that seemed like a surprise.  Jill said it maid sense though because Allie had had a child of her own–a child who was killed by their father [graphically] because it cried too much.

Then they got to Hollister.  [I don’t know much of anything about California, so I don’t know if these town names are meant to signify anything to 1990s readers.  But Hollister seems to be a decent place to be].  The earthquake had done damage but the people there “seemed to be helping one another with repairs and looking after their own destitute.  Imagine that.” (257)

Things between Lauren and Bankole move pretty quickly, at least in her mind.

The nice thing about sitting and working alongside someone you don’t know very well, some one you’d like to know much better is that you can talk with him or be quiet with him.  You can get comfortable with him and with the awareness that you’ll soon be making love to him. (260)

But first she explains a bit of Earthseed o him.  He doesn’t exactly embrace it

It sounds like some combination of Buddhism, existentialism, Sufism and I don’t know what else (261).

But he’s not dismissive either:

She has fine tuned her ideas somewhat

The essentials are to lean to shape God with forethought, care, and work to educate and benefit their community, their families and themselves, and to contribute to the fulfillment of the Destiny. (261)

Bankole’s concern is that Earthseed is too straightforward. 

If you get people to accept it they’ll make it more complicated, more open to interpretation more mystical and more comforting (262). [I’m curious to see if this happens in the sequel].  But during the discussions, some of the others begin answering questions or chiming in with their ideas.  Earthseed is taking root among her flock.

Eventually Lauren and Bankole do settle down and make love and the enjoyable side of her hyperempathy is explored.  After they consummate, the reality of the fact that he’s 57 and she’s 18 sinks in.  He’s freaked out, but she is totally cool with it.

By September 9th the have made it all the way to Sacramento (another 185 miles), which is where they first see cannibalism.  Seems that trucks on I-5 are hitting people and not stopping which leaves parts for eating, I guess.

But compared to Southern California, there’s more water, more food, more room, so why were the people eating one another? (272)

But Lauren is more into Bankole than any other thoughts at the moment.  He has asked her to leave the group with him  She demurred and tried to read his intentions.

I didn’t see condescension or that particular kind of disregard that some men reserve for women.  He wasn’t deciding that my ‘no’ was a secret ‘yes.’  (273).

The big draw, though, is that he owns 300 acres further north (a piece of l can’t even imagine the size of).  His sister and her husband and children live there–and they had been in touch until he left.  Lauren rightly points out that here must be squatters there, but he says it’s hard to access the property from the main road.  

She changes his question into her own and proposes that they use that property for the first Earthseed Community–bring their entire group and set up a new there.

“The world is falling apart.  You could help me begin something purposeful and constructive.”
“Going to fix the world, are you?” he said with quiet amusement.”
“Are you sure you want God as your rival?”  (275-276)

He eventually turns this discussion into an offer of marriage–something his sister would be utterly angry about. [I’m fascinated that (promise of) marriage plays such a large part in this book, given the state of things].

They find a place to settle down for the night and when they wake up there are two more people among their group.  This is no good–clearly a failure of the watch, but they are lucky that the pair are friendly–a woman and her daughter.  They are clearly thieves, but they are not criminals (a nice distinction) and they do not try to steal from them.  Lauren realizes that–Emery Tanaka and her daughter Solis–are the most racially mixed people that she had ever met.  The woman had a Japanese father, a black mother, and a Mexican husband.

They worked for one of those giant agribusinesses.

Wages–surprise!–were never quite enough to pay the bills.  According to new laws that might or might not exist, people were not permitted to leave any employer to whom they owed money.  They were obligated to work off the debt either as quasi indentured people or as convicts.  That is if they refused to work, they could be arrested, jailed and, in the end, handed dover to their employers (288).

A few days later, they had two more companions: Grayson Mora and his daughter Doe.  Solis and Doe hit it off instantly and although Grayson was reluctant to join, he was happy to see his daughter make a friend.

Things seem to be going very smoothly.  Their posse is growing.  There is peace among their group, and they have a destination.

And then Jill is shot and killed.

During this skirmish, Lauren was hit by a bullet but it was a “cowboy wound”–hurt like hell and bled a lot but it was nothing serious (unless strangers saw that she was injured).  Bankole looks after her (he is a doctor!). 

While Lauren is thinking about this whole battle scene she realizes that Emery and Grayson as well as their kids are “sharers” like she is–that’s what they call people with hyeperempathy.  She wondered if the condition was transferred to children.  Some of their children did have it, but not all of them.

Then at last, on September 26, 2027 (56 days later) they reached Bankole’s land in the coastal hills of Humboldt county near Cape Mendocino. (They are still 150 miles form Oregon).  It was a wonderful moment of catharsis until they realized that his sister’s house was burnt to the ground and their bones were amid the ashes.

Bankole goes to the police to inquiry about the murder of his family, but they basically take all of the money he had on him–which wasn’t too much, but wasn’t too little either–they’d take something else if there wasn’t enough money.

Lauren knew it was a mistake from the get go and absolutely did not want the cops to come around.  [Given what’s going on in the country right now, this is a remarkable observation]

I wonder what you have to do to become a cop.  I wonder what a badge is, other than a license to steal.  What did it used to be to make people Bankole’s age want to trust it.  (316)

I also wonder if Octavia Butler hated dogs.  Dogs are sure evil in this book (and in Kindred).  When Bankole suggests getting dogs to protect their property Mora says “I wouldn’t give a dog nothing but a bullet or a rock.  I saw dogs eat a woman once.”

They decide that things will be okay, but Harry still wants to get a job.  In a rather disturbing moment Emery suggests that Harry could be a driver.  When he says he doesn’t know how to drive she says no, a driver of people.

Making them work.  Pushing them to work faster.  Making them do…whatever the owners says
Harry’s expression had dissolved from hopeful to horrified to outraged, “Jesus God, do you think I’ do that!  How could you think I’d do anything like that?”
Emery shrugged. It startled me that she could be indifferent about such a thing but she seemed to be…. “Some people think its a good job.”  (323).

The book ends on a tone of optimism from Lauren but pessimism from Bankole. He says “you’re so young … I wish you could have known this country when it was still salvageable.”

The eternal optimist, Lauren says “It might survive…  Changed, but still itself.”

But Bankole retorts:

No.  Human beings will survive of course.  Some other countries will survive. Maybe they’ll absorb what’s left of us.  Or maybe we’ll just break up into a lot of little states quarrelling and fighting with each other over whatever crumbs are left (327).

[Seeing what we’re witnessing politically these days, this seems scarily predictive.]

Bankole’s last thought in the book is “I don’t think we have a hope in hell of succeeding here.” (328).

And yet, they decide to name the place Acorn, which is certainly a sign of hope.

It would be five years before she would write the follow up.  I’m curious how you would read this if you didn’t know there was a sequel.  Is that an unreasonably optimistic ending?  Does it seem like Lauren’s ability to win people over shows that they have a chance of succeeding?

I’m very curious what the next book will show.

A Germ of Hope?

(Apologies for not getting this up sooner, Spring Break has put me off my game!).

I have not read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I don’t intend to.  But I feel like this book acts as a precursor to that one.  And that is something I did not in any way expect.

2026 opens in June, almost seven months after the previous entry.  I’m curious about the distance between entries.  It’s possible that Lauren has dozens and dozens of pages that just said, “today sucked” and we don’t need to see that.  But I am curious about the time jumps.

Is it a way for Butler to move us ahead quickly so that something that needed to take a few years to happen is given the time to do so?  I’m thinking about Mars a bit.  In two years a lot can happen with the space program.  Of course, the President was supposed to cancel the program.  So who knows what’s going on there.  Aside from basic passage of time, did we need to wait six months to see what came next?  I’m not sure.

In June Keith is back–bigger and more confident.  He’s not yet 14, but he’s very successful, bringing home money and gifts (but none for his father).  He has ingratiated himself into a gang by being the only literate one in the group:

They’re all older than me, but not one of them can read or write anything.  They stole all this great stuff and they couldn’t even use it.  Before I got there they even broke some of it because they couldn’t read the instructions. (105)

Lauren and Keith have a heart-to-heart–really their first ever.  He learns a bit about her and while he gains a little more respect he also tells her that she’d never survive out there–she doesn’t know enough.  He also tells her about these new crazies called Paints who paint their skin green or blue or yellow and eat fire and kill rich people.

Keith comes back on her birthday and gives her a present.  A month later he is dead–killed in a horrific and gruesome way.  He was clearly tortured and left to be found.  His death was a message for someone–a rival gang, probably.

But they don’t call the police:

cops liked to solve cases by “discovering” evidence against whomever they decided must be guilty.  Best to give them nothing.  They never helped when people called for help.  They came later and more often than not, made a bad situation worse. (114)

In October, a new component to the story crops up. 

Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton and Company (KSF) has taken over a nearby town called Olivar.  It is small and well to do.  The citizens voted to let their town be taken over–privatized.  They intend to set up energy resources in the community–solar, wind, desalinization.  They mean to own great industries in an area that people have given up on.

Kagimoto, Stamm Frampton: Japanese, German, Canadian.  When I was young, people said it would come to this. Well why shouldn’t other countries buy what’s left of us if we put it up for sale. (121)

This is another aspect of the story that confuses me.  Is it basically that Los Angeles has exploded and the rest of the country is okay?  There’s talk about work up north, but why?  What happened to the country that they/we would let L.A. collapse but nothing else.  Or maybe it’s the entire South West?  Nobody knows anything about the East Coast, apparently.   I’m hoping that they will get explained a bit later on.

Olivar was accepting applications to live there.  They were looking for educated people.  And here we learn that both of Lauren’s parents have PhDs [a commentary on the invisibility of Black scholars?].  Her stepmother thinks it’s a great idea to go to Olivar.  They would be guaranteed safety and security.  But her father is against it, calling it “half antebellum revival and half science fiction” (122).

Anyone KSF hired would have a hard time living on the salary offered. In not very much time, I think the new hires would be in debt to the company.  That’s an old company-town trick–get people into debt, hang on to them and work them harder.  Debt slavery. That might work in Christopher Bonner’s America. Labor laws, state and federal are not what they once were. (121)

Come November, the Garfields have been accepted at Olivar.  The Garfieds include Joanne, Lauren’s one time best friend (who misplaced Lauren’s trust by tattling to her father).  Joanne has been serious with Harry Balter.  But Harry is staying in Rebledo.  Lauren suggests they get married and then Harry can move in with them, but she says that Harry wants to get married and travel north.  He thinks they way Lauren’s father does about Olivar.

But the Garfields are still going: “conservative and sensible and mature and wrong” (128).

In November, Lauren’s father did not come home one night.  They spend days looking for him with no luck.  The search parties uncover all kinds of remains, some of which they think might be her father’s but which turn out not to be.

The search also reveals an aspect of Lauren’s hyperempathy that we didn’t know–sound doesn’t trigger it (she hears a man screaming), only sight does. 

Five days alter they have a Sunday survive that turns more or less into a memorial.  Lauren speaks at he service and proves to be powerful preacher.  She speaks of God but presumably she means her own god–the earthseed god.  By mid-December they have a formal funeral–they accept that he would have found his way home by now.

Later, when KSF came for the Garfields, it was in an armored truck

The two movers were a black and a white, and I could see that Cory considered that hopeful.  Maybe Olivar wouldn’t be the white enclave that Dad had expected. (139)

All along Lauren has been romantically involved with Curtis.  People anticipated that she would get married an have a baby with him–something she strongly resisted.  Indeed, her plan all along was to leave Rebledo without him.  But now with Lauren’s father gone (he was the reason she hadn’t left yet–she didn’t want to hurt him), Curtis suggests that they both go.  He’s upset that she wanted to go without him, but she explains that she didn’t want to force him to make that choice.

Two days later, someone burned down the Payne/Parrish house; while that was going on. they robbed three of the other houses including Lauren’s.   

I’ve been frightened at the phrases that Butler says that prove eerily prophetic to the last few years:

People are setting fires because they’re frustrated, angry, hopeless. They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable.  And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it.  (143)

Interestingly, the drug that gave Lauren her hyperempathy–Paracetco–was initially a legitimate drug intended to help victims of Alzheimer’s disease.  Pyro was an accident–a homebrew on the East coast it made it was away across the country.

People on the fire drug get off on watching things burn.  Blaze, fuego, flash, sunfire.  The most popular name is pyro short for pyromania [I’m fascinated that she needed to spell that out as I feel that in 2021 (and much earlier) it was a common abbreviation].

As the year ends, the families try to make due with what they have left.

Then we enter 2027.  Once again it’s six months into the year.  And this is when things change dramatically.   Thieves drove a truck through their wall and set everything on fire.  Nearly everyone in the community was killed.  [I did wonder if it was worthwhile learning anyone’s names, and it was two people I didn’t think twice about who survived].  The description is a violent orgy of death, rape, fire and who knows what else.  It is brutally described.  Lauren escaped.  She had the forethought to run back in and put on clothe and shoes and grab her bug out bag.  No one else in her family had done so. She saw them n bare feet and pajamas and then she didn’t see them any more.  She managed to get outside and to hide until the next day,

She crept back into her community and went to her house which was being looted and stripped. She knew where there were some hiding places and she managed to get clothes for her family as well as money that was hidden in the ground.  She grabbed a gun and got out, looking like all the other miserable looters.

Lauren was sure she was alone.  Then out of the rubble came Harry Balter and Zahra Moss–the youngest wife of Richard Moss the polygamist.  Zahra’s baby was killed (brutally) and an attacker was about to (or had begun to) rape her when Harry saved her (and got beaten for his help).  Neither one had planned for anything like this and they are pretty hopeless.  Lauren decides that three is safer than one and invites them to go North with her.

Zahra’s backstory is interesting.  Richard bought her from her mother who was a drug addict and a prostitute.  Zahra has lived on the streets and she knows what’s what.  She takes them to Hanning Joss, the biggest secure store complex.  I’m fascinated to learn that there are are still megastores and that they have security allowing people to shop safely there–commerce always wins.

Then they do what everybody else does–they head North.  Lauren has decided to pass as a man.  She’s tall and muscular and can do so, so she cuts her hair short.  They encounter much danger and violence but manage to get relatively far north.  Harry is a trusting guy, trying to avoid violence in any way possible.  But Lauren (and Zahra) knows the reality of the situation–kill or be killed; steal or be stolen from.  And with Lauren’s hyperempathy, she can’t afford to let people around her suffer.  She winds up cutting a man’s throat to stop the hurting that he (and she) are feeling.  Harry is appalled at her.  So she finally admits to her hyperempathy assuming they’ll abandon her.  But they do not–three is better than two.

Zahra and Harry become a couple and have unprotected sex (what harm could come from that?) 

Then the trio meet another family who seems to be tagging along after them.  Everyone is out for themselves, but Lauren takes pity on this mixed race couple with a baby.  She helps them out at the second Hanning Joss and a few days later, when Lauren saves their baby from a feral dog, they agree that five (or six) is better than three and two (or three).

The new people are Travis Charles Douglas, Gloria Natividad Douglas and six month old Dominic. They are going to Seattle where Travis’ aunt lives.  Travis is quite taken aback when he learns that Lauren is a woman–especially since she saved them, but he’s going to have to get over it.

All of this time, Earthseed has been running around in Lauren’s head, but it hasn’t really shown up. 

Then in chapter 18, Lauren starts talking to them about Earthseed.  Travis is a (surprisingly) intelligent man–he knows about entropy.

Travis’s mother was a live in cook for a rich man.  But before that she had written for newspapers and magazines.  She taught Travis to read. The man she worked for had a library and she would sneak out one book at a  time–he didn’t want Travis touching his stuff.

Of course. Slaves did that two hundred years ago.  They sneaked around and educated themselves as best they could sometimes suffering whipping, sale or mutilation for their efforts. (218)

Natividad was a maid and the rich man let them marry:  The son of the cook marrying one of the maids. That was like something out of another era too.

They discuss her poems–Earthseed.  Travis pushes back against her ideas, although never in an aggressive way.

She argues that here is no pore pervasive power than change.  Travis says that nobody is going to worship change.  Lauren says she hopes not

This excerpt from God is Change summarizes this discussion nicely:

“I was looking for God. I didn’t know whether there was a god to find, but I wanted to know. God would have to be a power that could not be defied by anyone or anything.”
“Change, yes.”
“But it’s not a god. It’s not a person or an intelligence or even a thing. It’s just … I don’t know. An idea.”
“It’s a truth. Change is ongoing. Everything changes in some way— size, position, composition, frequency, velocity, thinking, whatever. Every living thing, every bit of matter, all the energy in the universe changes in some way.”
“Sort of like saying God is the second law of thermodynamics?”
“That’s an aspect of God. There are all kinds of changes in the universe.”
“But why personify change by calling it God? Since change is just an idea, why not call it that? Just say change is important.”
“Because after a while, it won’t be important. People forget ideas. They’re more likely to remember God— especially when they’re scared or desperate.”
“Your stuff isn’t very comforting.”
“It is after a while. I’m still growing into it myself. God isn’t good or evil, doesn’t favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought.”
“Your God doesn’t care about you at all.”
“All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace— and how to deal with the others.”
“But nobody’s going to worship change.”
“I hope not.  Earthseed deals with ongoing reality, not with supernatural authority figures. Worship is no good without action. With action, it’s only useful if it steadies you, focuses your efforts, eases your mind.”
“Praying makes people feel better even when there’s no action they can take. I used to think that was all God was good for.”
“That isn’t what God is for, but there are times when that’s what prayer is for. And there are times when that’s what these verses are for. God is Change, and in the end, God prevails. But there’s hope in understanding the nature of God— not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There’s comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There’s power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all. But there’s no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you. Best to understand that and return the effort: Shape God.”

Lauren thinks he might join her movement.  Zahra is already on board. 

She imagines finding and isolated place on the coast and making a deal with the owners–if there were more of them and they were better armed, they could provide security as well as education.

This fantasy, this plan gives the first sign of hope in this bleak world of Lauren’s.  It seems impossible.


I found Kindred to be an enjoyable (not exactly the right word, I know) novel.  I thought the premise was really cool and I thought the content was impactful and was conveyed really well.  It was a powerful story that did not shy away from brutality.

But it in no way prepared me for Parable of the Sower.

I didn’t know anything about this book at all before starting.  At first I thought it was neat that it was set in 2024 (hey that’s so close!)  And that, coincidentally, myself and my daughters are almost the same ages as the main character and her father (will this be our future?).

But then, holy crap, Butler doesn’t hold back.

The brutality of Kindred was based on reality.  It was horrible and, in retrospect, hard to believe that people could do such things.  The brutality of Sower, however, is all based on the future projection.  The book was written in 1993. Basically, she posits that in 30 years, America has become a rotting hellscape.  And while we haven’t reached quite the levels that she imagines, there are some pretty eerie accuracies.  I have to assume, given the natural of the elected politicians, that some things are going to get very very spookily prescient.

The book opens in 2024 with a quote from Earthseed.  We don’t know what that is yet, but by the end of this week’s read we’ll learn that Earthseed is a sort of manifesto written by the main character, Lauren Oya Olamina–I didn’t realize her name was given after the first quote from Earthseed until looking back on it.  Each chapter has another quote from Earthseed and then the story unfolds as a series of diary entries.

There is a lot in these chapters about Lauren’s feelings about God and how she starts to develop her beliefs and theories that she wants to write up under the name Earthseed.  It’s still underdeveloped in these first two chapters, and I imagine someone else will talk about it more than I’m willing to at this point.

The first entry in her diary is Saturday July 20, 2024 which is Lauren’s fifteenth birthday and her father’s fifty-fifth.  It opens talking about Lauren’s dreams, and I found the story a little unfocused–I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy the book.

But the next day’s entry brings things into focus and while I enjoyed the writing more, the content quickly becomes horrific. 

Lauren says that three years earlier, her father’s God ceased to be her own.  Yet on this day, she and some others in their neighborhood were going to be baptized.   She tells us that things are bad in their neighborhood–kids don’t go to school anymore, and in fact, parents are nervous about their kids going outside at all.

Sounds like overprotective parents have gone too far (this was written in the 90s, after all, the start of the helicopter parent).

Then she starts giving details–churches burned, there’s no water, thieves are everywhere and their neighborhood is surrounded by a wall that they really never go past.  They live 20 miles from to L.A. (in Robledo), and although her father says “the city is one big carcass covered in maggots” (9), Lauren tells us the maggots are in her town too.

The people involved in the baptism–the children and their parents, rode their bicycles (“gas was pretty much only used for torching things these days”) to the one church still standing. And that’s when the details get really gruesome.

There are people lying all over the roads.  “I saw at least three people who weren’t goin to wake up again, ever.  One of them was headless” (9). Then she sees a young woman, walking, naked, down the street. 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.” (9). The boys were pretty amazed to see a naked woman, no matter her condition.

Why did no one help her?  “My stepmother says she and my father stopped to help an injured woman once, and the guys who injured her jumped out from behind the wall and almost killed them” (10).

This book is science fiction, but at first it just seemed like a purely dystopian novel.  Then we learn that Lauren has a particularly science-fictiony condition.  One that makes it especially difficult for her to live in this world.  She suffers from hyperempathy.  Whenever she witnesses pain, she experiences it herself.  Her father believes it is something she can get over, but that doesn’t seem to be true.  Butler really likes to explore this kind of aspect interpersonal connection and i look forward to what she’s going to do with it.

Her brother Keith would fight her and when she hit back, she would feel the same pain.  Then she’d get punished for hitting her brother and feel more pain.  She has this “organic delusional syndrome” because her mother took too many Paracetco, the Einstein powder, which killed her.

The syndrome is supposed to make her share pleasure and pain, but there’s not much pleasure to be seen.  The good news is that once she got her period, she stopped actively bleeding in response to others’ blood.

Moving forward a few days, Lauren tells us that one of the astronauts on the latest Mars mission has been killed.  This is an interesting sci-fi component that i assume will be explored more later.

Poor folks in Robledo think the space program is a waste of money since they have so little on Earth. But for Lauren (and others) it is a source of hope.  Hope of getting the hell out of this.

The politicians are introduced soon after.  Christopher Morpeth Donner is against the space program and promises to abolish it if he’s elected.  Lauren’s father plans to vote for this man (although on election night, he doesn’t bother voting at all).   When Donner is elected, his first plan is to put people back to work –he wants to suspend overly restrictive minimum wage, environmental and worker protection laws for those employers wiling to take on homeless employees and provide them with training and adequate room and board.” (27).

She wonders,

Will it be legal to poison, mutilate or infect people–as long as you provide them with food, water and a space to die? (27)

Many characters are introduced in the neighborhood, and it’s a little unclear who is important to hang on to.  Some are killed pretty quickly.  Others seem to cause nothing but trouble.  An old lady kills herself (she was formerly sanctimonious and God-fearing, and yet she chose to kill herself knowing she would not go to heaven).  Her children and grandchildren all died in a house fire a few days earlier.  Clearly she just couldn’t take it anymore,

2025 opens with a February entry.  A fire occurred in their neighborhood.  They wasted precious water putting it out.  It was set by a little girl, Amy.  The girl is the daughter of Tracy, a girl one year older than Lauren.  Tracy was 13 when she had Amy and was 12 when her 27 year-old uncle started raping her.

Problem: Uncle Derek was a big, blond, handsome guy, funny and bright and well-liked. Tracy was, is, dull and homely, sulky and dirty-looking. (33)

There’s another observation about men on page 37:

Some middle class men prove they’re men by having a  lot of wives in temporary or permanent relationships.  Some upper class men prove they’re men by having one wife and a lot of beautiful, disposable young servant girls.  Nasty.

Tracy didn’t have maternal instincts and Amy roamed wherever.  Lauren kind of took her in and decided to look after her and help teach her–her maternal instinct had kicked in.

Back to the woman who committed suicide–her house is inherited by relatives.  They immediately blame the neighborhood for stealing from the abandoned house.  The neighbors did take back things that belonged to them, but any actual thieving was done by actual thieves before she died.  The neighborhood doesn’t care for the accusations though:

“This is a small community.  We all know each other here.  We depend on each other.” (35)

But the new residents (“Payne and Parish, what perfect names they have”) say “we’re not very social.  We mind our own business.”  I wonder how long they will last.

Lauren explains that her father takes all of the children (and adults) for gun handling practice once they reach fifteen.  They usually go out to open fields–unless there are corpses (and there usually are).  Even though he is a man of God, he tells the community they should all have a gun: “The police may be able to avenge you, but they can’t protect you.” (39)

While they are shooting, feral dogs get close.  The people are understandably concerned about feral dogs, although one dog and a dozen people makes for pretty good odds.  But when one gets too close, her father shoots it.  As they walk past the body, it seems to resist death and it’s up to Lauren (who is a crack shot) to finish it off.  She shoots:

I felt the impact of the bullet as a hard solid blow, something beyond pain.  Then I felt the dog die. (45)

March brings a kind of miracle: rain.  It rains so infrequently and water is so scarce, that everyone gets buckets and pots to gather as much as possible.  Most of the kids simply run around in it.  When it ends, Lauren says “I wonder how many years it will be before we see rain again.” (60).

But even in a time of relative pleasure, bad things happen–little Amy was shot by a stray bullet.  The funeral would be tough, especially for Lauren.

At the funeral Lauren confided in her friend Joanne Garfield.  She trusted Joanne and told her about her ideas–about God, about the future, and how maybe those who died were the lucky ones.  She tells Joanne she would love to get out of here.  But Joanne says there’s no where to go

Not is you don’t have money.  Not if all you know how to do is take care of babies and cook. (53)

But where would you go even if you had somewhere to go?  There’s cholera in Mississippi and a measles in New Jersey  Measles!

Surely Butler wasn’t anticipating anti-vaxxers, but in the real world, there was in the U.S. an uptick in cases of measles from 1990-1992.  But I credit her with some prediction:

From January 1 to December 31, 2019, 1,282* individual cases of measles were confirmed in 31 states. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992. The majority of cases were among people who were not vaccinated against measles. Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in U.S. communities where groups of people are unvaccinated. 

The problem, according to Lauren is that the adults are waiting for the good old days to come back.  

I know there were climate change deniers back in the early 90s (like one who recently died and cleaned up the radio waves by doing so), but she is certainly on point with

Your father says he doesn’t believe people changed the climate in spite of what scientists say.  He says only God could change the world in such an important way.

The rain is a good example of the practical effects of the climate change though.

Lauren, an early prepper (well, early for 1993, not 2025), proposes making Emergency Packs, “Grab and Run” packs (shame she didn’t think of “go bags” as a phrase).

Then a few days later Lauren finds out that Joanne told Lauren’s father about what Lauren was saying.  What if she had said more than she did?  She can never trust Joanne again.  Her father has a serious talk with her.  He is is angry but mostly because he doesn’t want her to scare the others with her talk.  He’s also concerned that her bug-out bag would be a gift to a burglar–every thing he could want in one handy place.  So there’s no way he’s letting her put a gun in it.

But there’s more important things to worry about–like the thieves that broke into their garden. They have started a Neighborhood Watch program.  Certain families who don’t participate are, of course, under suspicion.

As the summer comes to an end, the biggest crisis comes from Lauren’s brother Keith.  Keith has always been a pain, acting older than he is.  He is also Lauren’s stepmother’s favorite child (he is one of her birth sons after all).  He gets away with a lot, but Lauren’s dad doesn’t give in.  Keith desperately wants to go for gun-handling training with the others but he is not old enough.  Their father knows Keith is not mature enough, as evidenced when Keith makes the pathetic argument that his sister is allowed to go and she’s a girl.  

Then one night he took the key to the gate that surrounds their community and snuck out of the walled in neighborhood.  He came back a few hours later, bloodied and beaten in only his underwear.  Worst of all is that the thieves now had a key.  The neighborhood watch had to keep surveillance until they could put up a new lock and get new keys made.  Their father is furious, as is most of the neighborhood.

But a few days later Keith was gone again.  This time he took a BB gun and was gone for a few days.  He came back with newer, nicer clothes than he went out with.  Their father beat him until he cried.

So he left again.  This time he snuck back in when their father was out.  He had a wad of cash which he gave to his mother.

As the section ends, he leaves again promising to be back and to bring presents (but not for his dad).

The next section is 2026.  This above scene happened in August 2025.  That means quite a lot will have happened for next week’s reading.

We are so on trend! (Kindred on FX)

Buzz for Butler

The works of Octavia E. Butler, the renowned sci-fi author who passed away in 2006, have seen a resurgence in popularity over the past several months. Last week, her 1993 novel The Parable of the Sower hit the NYT Paperback Trade Fiction best-sellers list for the second time—the first being this past September. And this week there’s news that a pilot for an adaptation of her 1979 novel Kindred is set for FXVariety has details.

Plus, with the recent release of the Library of America edition of the first volume of her collected works, The New Yorker has a feature on Butler, “the sixth science-fiction writer to be featured in the landmark series, and the first Black science-fiction writer.”

Also, in a fitting tribute, the spot where NASA’s Perseverance rover recently landed on Mars has been named “Octavia E. Butler Landing.”