Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Parable of the Talents tp cover Parable of the Talents (1998)
1999 Nebula Award Winner

An Earthseed series novel
sequel to Parable of the Sower

Warner trade paperback - 408 pages (left)
Seven Stories Press hardback - 365 pages (right)
Parable of the Talents hb cover

From the trade paperback back cover:
       Lauren Olamina's love is divided among her young daughter, her community, and the revelation that led Lauren to found a new faith that teaches "God is Change."  But in the wake of environmental and economic chaos, the US government turns a blind eye to violent bigots who consider the mere existence of a black female leader a threat.  And soon Lauren must either sacrifice her child and her followers - or forsake the religion that can transform human destiny.

From the hardback inside cover:
       Parable of the Talents celebrates the usual Butlerian themes of alienation and transcendence, violence and spirituality, slavery and freedom, and separation and community, to astonishing effect in the shockingly familiar, broken world of 2032.
       A continuation of the travails of Lauren Olamina, the heroine of 1994 Nebula Award finalist Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents is told in the voice of Lauren Olamina's daughter Larkin, also called Asha Vere -- from whom she has been separated for most of the girl's life -- with sections in the form of Lauren's journal.  Against a background of a war-torn continent, and with a far-right religious crusader in the office of the U.S. presidency, this book is about a society whose very fabric has been torn asunder...

Read for group discussion on September 13, 2000

How we each rated this book
Dan - Amy 8 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 9 Barb 8
Aaron 7 Cynthia 8
Kerry - Jackie 7

Aaron's Commentary   Octavia E. Butler - Parable of the Talents

This is a direct sequel to Parable of the Sower, continuing the story of Lauren Oya Olamina.  This time, however, Lauren's daughter narrates.  Adding the viewpoint of the daughter, who clearly disapproves of Lauren's important life choices, was brilliant.  Lauren's and her daughter's sharply divergent attitudes frame the issues Butler wants the reader to grapple with.  Should Lauren have left her community, Acorn, to raise her family in a safer place?  The moral of the parable of the talents (the actual parable, not the novel) suggests Lauren made the right choice, but it certainly proved costly to her family.  It's easy for anyone who grew attached to Lauren in Parable of the Sower to share her desire to sustain Acorn, yet isn't she guilty of the same sort of denial that she found so appalling in others in Sower?  (It is interesting that Cynthia, who had not read Parable of the Sower, found it much easier than most of the group to side with the daughter's criticisms of Lauren.)

Earthseed is the most believable make-believe religion I've seen in fiction.  The "God Is Change" concept is simple enough to grab a hold of people quickly, yet intricate enough to maintain the interest of new followers.  But I don't see how the concept of the Destiny, Earthseed's overriding goal of traveling to the stars, fits.  The issue of whether we should devote our energies to space travel when people have plenty of problems here ties into the title parable.  But why would the God Is Change philosophy lead us to space?  Lauren says we have to avoid disappearing like the dinosaurs - but the dinosaurs didn't all disappear, some simply evolved (into birds, for example), which seems like just the kind of change Earthseed should embrace.

As much as I was fascinated by the philosophical issues Butler raises in this book, to me the story didn't come alive as it did in Parable of the Sower.  I think Butler finds it easy to fall into the pattern of writing about violence and abuse.  Everything of hers I have read (and admittedly there is much of her work I still need to get to) is extremely well written and thought provoking and just chock full of graphic depictions of rape, torture, and the like.  Here, that tendency seems to have caused Butler to focus on Lauren's period of slavery, which was fine but not the most interesting part of the story.  I wish Butler had de-emphasized that sequence, and instead developed more the characters of Lauren's brother Marcus and Lauren's daughter.  The daughter doesn't become a full-fledged character, rather than just a narrative voice, until very late in the book.  I would have liked Butler to show more of the relationship between Marcus and Lauren's daughter, so I could get a little more insight into why he would try to come between Lauren and her daughter.  I can't believe he would do it simply out of disapproval of Lauren's religion, and I suspect his reasons have to do instead with the hints of Lauren's and her brother's borderline incestuous feelings, but I would have liked to see these conflicts more at the center of the story, instead of thrown in almost as an afterthought.

Even if Butler didn't take the story in the direction I might have liked, however, this book is intriguing and well worth reading.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Our book group has also read the following books by Octavia E. Butler:
-- Parable of the Sower  in June 1995

-- Kindred  in June 2006
-- Fledgling  in January 2008
Octavia E. Butler (1947- 2006) was one of the few African American writers of note at the top of science fiction.

1980 James Tiptree Jr. Award for novel Wild Seed
1984 Hugo Award for Best Short Story "Speech Sounds"
1985 Nebula Award for Best Novelette "Bloodchild"
1985 Hugo Award for Best Novelette "Bloodchild"
1985 Locus Award for Best Novelette "Bloodchild"
1995 Recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award
2000 Nebula Award for Best Novel Parable of the Talents

The first of Octavia Butler's novels, Patternmaster (1976), was the beginning of her five-volume Patternist series about an elite group of mentally linked telepaths ruled by Doro, a 4,000-year-old immortal African. Other novels in the series are Mind of My Mind (1977), and Clay's Ark (1984).

Another Butler collection is her Xenogenesis trilogy, including Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989). Xenogenesis (1989) is a SFBC omnibus edition of the Xenogenesis trilogy. Lilith's Brood (2000) is another omnibus edition of the same three books.

In Kindred (1979), a contemporary black woman is sent back in time to a pre-Civil War plantation, becomes a slave and rescues her white, slave-owning ancestor.

The first of the Earthseed novels, Parable of the Sower (1993), was a finalist for the Nebula Award and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The sequel is Parable of the Talents (1998), which won the 1999 Nebula Award for best novel, and was selected as one of Best Books in 1998.

Other books by Butler are are Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980), and Fledgling (2005).

Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995) is a collection of five stories and two essays. The Evening and the Morning and the Night (1991) is a story published as book.

In June 1995, the MacArthur Foundation awarded her a "Genius Grant" in recognition of a writing career that spans four decades and has included eleven novels.

Thanks to Barb for researching and writing this page

Our book club's page for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Aaron's review of Bloodchild & Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler on Fantastic Reviews
Octavia Estelle Butler: An Unofficial Web Page
Octavia E. Butler - Wikipedia
Bibliography and links
Bibliography and criticism of Butler's works Book review of Parable of the Talents
Reading Group Guide | Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler - read excerpt
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This page was last updated October 17, 2008