Lilith Iyapo is alive. She knows that much. Since the disaster on Earth, her existence is defined by a series of disorienting, brutal awakenings, each return to consciousness forcing her to confront old horrors anew: her family is dead. She is the prisoner of mysterious captors who saved her from Earth's nuclear holocaust, but now leave scars on her while she sleeps. She is forced to come to terms with what once was and what her present is.
When Lilith awakens to find one of her captors in her chamber, she's determined to find out who they are and what they want from her. She must face the dark side of survival and decide how she fits into her current society. This gripping series examines the hierarchal tendencies of mankind and questions how it hinders or helps the human race. But nothing could have prepared her for the strange truth of their identity — or for what she learns about her own species.
Known as both the Xenogenesis Trilogy and Lilith's Brood, this compelling sci-fi saga by the late Octavia Butler questions identity, culture, and what it means to be human. The trilogy begins with Dawn from the viewpoint of Lilith Iyapo, a survivor of Earth's nuclear holocaust. Her home planet is ruined. Humans are nearly extinct. A mysterious species can restore and repopulate Earth—but their aid comes with a price. She is introduced to an alien race, the Oankali, who happen to have have three sexes: male, female, and Ooloi.
Eventually Lilith bonds with Nikanj, an Ooloi, and the Oankali use this bond to obtain Lilith's help to train humans in the newly restored Earth. The Oankali have made Earth habitable again and offer humans access to the planet as an exchange for interbreeding and blending the human and Oankali races. The Oankali believe their offering is the solution to humans fatal combination of intelligence and hierarchal tendencies but humans rebel. By the end of the novel, the humans are sent to Earth without aid and Lilith is impregnated with the first human/Oankali child.
The other two volumes in this science fiction series focuses less on Lilith and more on her offspring. Another focal point is the relation between humans and Oankali and how it transforms as time progresses. In the first volume, humans are so much more resistant against alien forces but as the need for survival and the persistence of the Oankali only strengthens humans must decide how to better restore their world. The integration of hybrid offspring provides a different level into the story as they question their identity.
The series tackles various topics: sexuality, gender, and race. It is refreshing to see a black female protagonist in a science fiction trilogy. Butler also creates a parallel in the conflict between the human and Oankali races with the history of African Americans. The integration of the human-Oankali hybrids resembles that of African Americans into American society, one in which there is a large power imbalance.
The first of Butler's influential works to receive serious attention from Hollywood, Dawn will soon be adapted for the small screen by A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay. This is a fitting project for the director as black characters are more commonly being featured in futuristic stories. DuVernay also made changes to the children's classic A Wrinkle in Time by casting a biracial girl as the lead and introducing a large cast with non-white stars. Butler, who passed away suddenly in 2006, is also the author of the prescient near-future Parable series, the Patternist series, and the standalone vampire novel Fledgling, as well as numerous short stories.
Click here to read an excerpt from Dawn, then download the book!
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This article was originally published in July 2016.