If you like captivating characters, dystopian fiction, and masterful world-building, I highly recommend you read Parable of the Sower.
It’s hard to believe that this story was published in 1993 — it could easily take place tomorrow. The New Yorker even recently called The Parable of the Sower and it’s sequel a “prescient vision”, too close to current events for comfort.
In The Parable of the Sower, Butler creates a carefully crafted, character-driven picture of life after drastic climate change and socio-economic collapse in the US. The story opens in 2024, and centres on Lauren Oya Olamina, a fifteen-year-old black girl living in a walled Los Angeles neighbourhood.
The city outside the walls of Lauren’s home is danger and chaos, filled with desperate people doing desperate things to survive. There are many addicts to a drug called “pyro”, which gives them pleasure from setting fires. Police are unreliable and deeply mistrusted. With Butler’s elegant world-building, I often find it’s the small details, like the way a clothesline looks against the night sky or the familiar geography of a cul-de-sac, that really bring life to this story and lift it close—chillingly so—to the every day.
I’m continually inspired by the way Butler weaves in the realities of power structures and racial difference into her stories in a way that feels both like a natural exploration of characters’ experiences and a political point. The future, as the present, isn’t colorblind. But neither is race reduced to a shallow plot device, as it often can be in science fiction. For instance, once the book’s events take Lauren beyond the safe walls of her neighbourhood, it’s simply fact that other people of colour or mixed-race groups are her natural allies against the looming threat of white violence.
If I were to have a complaint, it would be that I feel all the threads of the story all wrapped up a little too neatly. But overall, like all of Butler’s work I’ve read to date, I found it hard to find fault with (or put down) this gripping, troubling look into an all-too-possible future.