Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club
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)
10 Wow! Don't miss it
8-9 Highly 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
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