The dystopian future of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, the first in her two-book Earthseed series, is harsh, unforgiving, and plausible. Violence is commonplace, disease is rampant, and living conditions are neglected and filthy.
Lauren Oya Olamina lives with her family in a walled-off community barely insulated from the world beyond, but worries that soon even their home won’t be safe. When her fears finally come to pass and their shelter is destroyed, Lauren must leave home.
Along with other survivors, she faces the trials and dangers of a crumbling world. However, Lauren’s special gift of hyperempathy; her unique belief system; and her bold vision of the future give her a fighting chance as she charts her own course.
Following Lauren’s path forward, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower was named a finalist for the Nebula prize and a New York Times Notable Book. It has been adapted into a graphic novel and an opera, and in 2020 finally landed on the New York Times bestseller list, due in part to the book's extreme relevance to current events.
Along with its sequel Parable of the Talents, Butler’s Parable series offers a gripping journey through a future close at hand.
Read on for an excerpt from Parable of the Sower, and then download the book!
Tuesday, July 30, 2024
One of the astronauts on the latest Mars mission has been killed. Something went wrong with her protective suit and the rest of her team couldn’t get her back to the shelter in time to save her. People here in the neighborhood are saying she had no business going to Mars, anyway. All that money wasted on another crazy space trip when so many people here on earth can’t afford water, food, or shelter.
The cost of water has gone up again. And I heard on the news today that more water peddlers are being killed. Peddlers sell water to squatters and the street poor—and to people who’ve managed to hold on to their homes, but not to pay their utility bills. Peddlers are being found with their throats cut and their money and their handtrucks stolen. Dad says water now costs several times as much as gasoline. But, except for arsonists and the rich, most people have given up buying gasoline. No one I know uses a gas-powered car, truck, or cycle. Vehicles like that are rusting in driveways and being cannibalized for metal and plastic.
It’s a lot harder to give up water.
Fashion helps. You’re supposed to be dirty now. If you’re clean, you make a target of yourself. People think you’re showing off, trying to be better than they are. Among the younger kids, being clean is a great way to start a fight. Cory won’t let us stay dirty here in the neighborhood, but we all have filthy clothes to wear outside the walls. Even inside, my brothers throw dirt on themselves as soon as they get away from the house. It’s better than getting beaten up all the time.
Tonight the last big Window Wall television in the neighborhood went dark for good. We saw the dead astronaut with all of red, rocky Mars around her. We saw a dust-dry reservoir and three dead water peddlers with their dirty-blue armbands and their heads cut halfway off. And we saw whole blocks of boarded up buildings burning in Los Angeles. Of course, no one would waste water trying to put such fires out.
Then the Window went dark. The sound had flickered up and down for months, but the picture was always as promised—like looking through a vast, open window.
The Yannis family has made a business of having people in to look through their Window. Dad says that kind of unlicensed business isn’t legal, but he let us go to watch sometimes because he didn’t see any harm in it, and it helped the Yannises. A lot of small businesses are illegal, even though they don’t hurt anyone, and they keep a household or two alive. The Yannis Window is about as old as I am. It covers the long west wall of their living room. They must have had plenty of money back when they bought it. For the past couple of years, though, they’ve been charging admission—only letting in people from the neighborhood—and selling fruit, fruit juice, acorn bread, or walnuts. Whatever they had too much of in their garden, they found a way to sell. They showed movies from their library and let us watch news and whatever else was broadcast. They couldn’t afford to subscribe to any of the new multisensory stuff, and their old Window couldn’t have received most of it, anyway.
They have no reality vests, no touch-rings, and no headsets. Their setup was just a plain, thin-screened Window.
All we have left now are three small, ancient, murky little TV sets scattered around the neighborhood, a couple of computers used for work, and radios. Every household still has at least one working radio. A lot of our everyday news is from radio.
I wonder what Mrs. Yannis will do now. Her two sisters have moved in with her, and they’re working so maybe it will be all right. One is a pharmacist and the other is a nurse. They don’t earn much, but Mrs. Yannis owns the house free and clear. It was her parents’ house.
All three sisters are widows and between them they have twelve kids, all younger than I am. Two years ago, Mr. Yannis, a dentist, was killed while riding his electric cycle home from the walled, guarded clinic where he worked. Mrs. Yannis says he was caught in a crossfire, hit from two directions, then shot once more at close range. His bike was stolen. The police investigated, collected their fee, and couldn’t find a thing. People get killed like that all the time. Unless it happens in front of a police station, there are never any witnesses.
Saturday, August 3, 2024
The dead astronaut is going to be brought back to Earth. She wanted to be buried on Mars. She said that when she realized she was dying. She said Mars was the one thing she had wanted all her life, and now she would be part of it forever.
But the Secretary of Astronautics says no. He says her body might be a contaminant. Idiot.
Can he believe that any microorganism living in or on her body would have a prayer of surviving and going native in that cold, thin, lethal ghost of an atmosphere? Maybe he can. Secretaries of Astronautics don’t have to know much about science. They have to know about politics. Theirs is the youngest Cabinet department, and already it’s fighting for its life. Christopher Morpeth Donner, one of the men running for President this year, has promised to abolish it if he’s elected. My father agrees with Donner.
“Bread and circuses,” my father says when there’s space news on the radio. “Politicians and big corporations get the bread, and we get the circuses.”
“Space could be our future,” I say. I believe that. As far as I’m concerned, space exploration and colonization are among the few things left over from the last century that can help us more than they hurt us. It’s hard to get anyone to see that, though, when there’s so much suffering going on just outside our walls.
Dad just looks at me and shakes his head. “You don’t understand,” he says. “You don’t have any idea what a criminal waste of time and money that so-called space program is.” He’s going to vote for Donner. He’s the only person I know who’s going to vote at all. Most people have given up on politicians. After all, politicians have been promising to return us to the glory, wealth, and order of the twentieth century ever since I can remember. That’s what the space program is about these days, at least for politicians. Hey, we can run a space station, a station on the moon, and soon, a colony on Mars. That proves we’re still a great, forward-looking, powerful nation, right?
Well, we’re barely a nation at all anymore, but I’m glad we’re still in space. We have to be going some place other than down the toilet.
And I’m sorry that astronaut will be brought back from her own chosen heaven. Her name was Alicia Catalina Godinez Leal. She was a chemist. I intend to remember her. I think she can be a kind of model for me. She spent her life heading for Mars—preparing herself, becoming an astronaut, getting on a Mars crew, going to Mars, beginning to figure out how to terraform Mars, beginning to create sheltered places where people can live and work now. …
Mars is a rock—cold, empty, almost airless, dead. Yet it’s heaven in a way. We can see it in the night sky, a whole other world, but too nearby, too close within the reach of the people who’ve made such a hell of life here on Earth.
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