Travel Reading
Lilith’s Brood, Octavia Butler

This past weekend I flew out to Reno, where my mother met me, and drove to Lake Tahoe, where the party for my grandmother’s 80th birthday had already begun. It was a wonderful trip, of which I will write more later, when I can find the cord to let me get my pictures off my camera…until then, here’s my review of what I read during two very long days of travel on either end of my glorious mountain weekend.

Lilith’s Brood is Octavia Butler’s trilogy Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago under one cover. It is wonderful. The not quite continguous novels are set in a post-apocalyptic Contact scenario, where aliens arrive just in time to save a few members of the human race from extinction. These aliens, the Oankali, are gene traders; their species thrives on, is in fact driven to, discover new life forms and incorporate new characteristics into their own species.

The Oankali have a three part reproductive symmetry, male, female and ooloi (the true gene tinkerers), and most things that they do also maintain this symmetry. When they discover a new species, one group mates with the new species on its home planet, another group takes members of the species and mates with them in space, a third group does not mate, maintaining the prior form of the Oankali, a fail safe if you will.

Conflicts arise very quickly, first as humans have to face this alien species – covered in sensory tentacles that make humans think of worms or snakes – and then as the knowledge that they will have to “mate” unfolds.

The first book, Dawn follows Lilith, the first female to lead/teach a group of humans about their future. It is full of inter-human relationships, an in depth look at how people react in situations of fear, hopelessness and utter unfamiliarity. It is also a fascinating look into the various reactions that can be stimulated by unwanted desire.

The second book, Adulthood Rites is the story of a Human/Oankali construct child from his birth through maturity, and the discovery of his life’s calling. Humans have been returned to Earth, but many have chosen not to mate with Oankali – they have become “resistors”. These humans have been in-fertilized, and this creates a climate of fear and desire, though less sexual than in the first novel. The questions addressed in book two are more about finding meaning in life, and the destructive ends Humans go to when they cannot find it.

The third book, Imago, follows the creation of the first Human/Oankali construct ooloi. In this novel more than the other two, there is a sense of the mindset and concerns of the Oankali species, their fears and hopes. They are changing as much as Humans are being changed (albeit voluntarily), and they must learn to live with the species they are becoming.

Each of the three novels is deeply psychological, with well drawn characters and fascinating settings. The questions the novels pose, about the lengths people will go to to survive, to remain the same, and about the justness of imposed change are engrossing and challenging. They are not completely answered, and in some ways, despite deep empathy with the main characters, the reader may find affinity with those who resist, claiming their right to remain unaltered. Issues of xenophobia and acceptance, at many different levels, float through the stories, spoken and unspoken.

As you can probably tell, I found the trilogy quite fascinating, and well worth the incredibly quick read (two full days of airplane travel will make quick work of most books). I recommend it whole-heartedly.

If you aren’t ready to take on a trilogy, try one of Butler’s other novels, among them Wild Seed, Parable of the Sower and Kindred, or try some of her short stories in Bloodchild and Other Stories (though I must add this disclaimer: of the just mentioned books, I’ve only actually read Wild Seed, but seeing as I’ve enjoyed all four novels I have read, I feel comfortable recommending the others, and especially the short stories, as Butler has won Hugo and Nebula Awards for them). Enjoy!

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