Monday, February 2, 2015

Lilith's Brood

by Octavia Butler
contains the novels Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago


from the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit

one thing became clear to me as I read this trilogy: Octavia Butler is not partial to the human kind. oh, humanity: violent, vengeful, and vicious; petty, pitiful, perpetually proud. avaricious and all too willing to prey on their own. as a fellow visitor to this planet, I can only view Butler's perspective as one that is in line with my own. and so this was quite an invigorating experience given the overabundance of naively pro-human novels in the science fiction genre.

the story, in broad strokes: humanity destroys itself... the starfaring race of the Oankali arrive to pick up the pieces by saving what few humans remain on their blighted planet. these saviors of humanity offer them a sort of bargain: join with us - literally - and be reborn. it is not actually a bargain because humanity does not have much say in the matter. predictably, humans seethe and rebel against this kindly offer. my cynical self can't help but think that the main reason humans resist the compassion of the Oankali is because a large number of tentacles are involved. oh, racist humans! the trilogy follows the lives of three individuals: the woman who paves the way for a joining of the two species, and two of her children - two different kinds of human/Oankali "constructs".

Butler correctly assesses humanity's tragic flaw: a genetic tendency towards hierarchism at every level. a flaw that on the micro level leads to an inability to form relationships based on equality - and in the macro, one that could easily lead to the end of humanity's home world as they know it. oh, humanity. Butler writes in simple, straightforward prose, in what I imagine to be a chilly, neutral monotone. her style of writing makes the reading experience a deceptively simple one. but this is not a simple work. there is so much to contemplate throughout this series, in particular the idea of essentialism in terms of basic human nature: in gender roles, in the propagation of the species, in the ability to form families and other necessary social units, in the ways that humans think and act and react. science fiction as a genre once had at its core the idea of "speculation" - what would happen if this concept was introduced, what would happen if that idea changed a world. Butler's trilogy is a part of that excellent tradition and these books are challenging in the best sort of way: they force the reader to speculate on their own limited natures, on their own individual decisions and on the future of their kind. Lilith's Brood imagines where humanity's ultimate path may lie if they continue to give free reign to their basest genetic impulses - and then she imagines another path.

it should go without saying that Butler is ultimately in favor of the Oankali way. as a race, they are not without their own rather endearing flaws. but compared to humanity? well, that's like comparing a human child's scribblings to the works of the relatively advanced human Da Vinci. it was quite refreshing for me to read an alien invasion saga that is so resolutely on the side of the sensible "aliens". it was also fascinating to witness Butler's iciness gradually melt away, slowly revealing herself to be a rather tender individual who fully endorses the spirit and acts of cooperation and connection and joining that are necessary for any species' ongoing survival. her calm, dry-eyed observational skills are merely the outer shell of a person who values above all else such things as curiosity, compassion, and the concept that to live is to change. all beings are works in progress.

I have observed humanity as well; indeed, that is my entire mission on this planet. I hesitate to say that I am more sympathetic to the species, but my robot heart does have a certain fondness for this stumbling, bumbling race - a sympathy that a being from Butler's own insect species would most likely find quite foreign. well, I have been programmed for both sympathy and empathy while such emotions are often eschewed by her culture. I suppose such differences in perspective will be reconciled once our joint invasion of Earth commences.

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