“So dark, you sure you’re not from the DC universe?”
This book was one of the most depressing and horrifying read I ever had. I couldn’t even do a Kite Running to the ending, and had to consciously avoid it during eating; hell, even sandwiching the read with Moore’s Lamb wasn’t helping.
Year is 2024. Earth is pretty much what every gamer wants in a survival horror game, minus the zombies and mutants. People are forced to stick to their imagined or forced communities and fend for themselves with what’s left; or stay alive on their own, protecting what’s left, or survive by stealing and killing. Public services are not openly accessible anymore, and they cost money, like Fire fighters or Police or any of the things we take for granted. Rapes and murders are common, guns are unavoidable means of survival; and if one is equipped enough to commit a crime, he or she is probably well enough to walk out of it as well. Market economy seems to be reversed, though there is very little mention of it; and United States is laden with slavery and inhuman labour to meet the finished goods demands of East. World leaders are campaigning against Science as it’s a luxury in this post-apocalyptic world, and are gaining traction with this rhetoric. And in this mess, into this mess our protagonist attempts deliverance by bringing the unfittable and unthinkable. She starts a new religion, one with an intergalactic dream and a malleable God- Earthseed.
“In the night, a woman and three kids might look like a gift basket of food, money, and sex.”
Butler’s post-apocalyptic America is a ‘dark forest’, where everyone is a predator for survival. The narrative doesn’t leave anything on the ‘how’ part of the plot, but it makes readers go ‘what’ every now and then, with an encore of exclamation marks. In a way, it’s like a social, more expansive version of McCarthy’s The Road, focusing on normal people caught in cross fire, their survival, and search for fabled safe house and ‘nuka cola’ bottle caps. Of the many horrors book postulated, the absence of a modern state or government felt the gravest of all, even more than the drugs and violence. Though the caveat of tax payments are always there; imagine how open one would be to the idea of availing public services if it’s on a real time payment basis. One wouldn’t bother reporting a small burglary or fire, and will resort to self-mitigating measures for saving money. The same scenario translates to higher crimes too, depending on how much victim can afford or how reliable the non-audited services are. Instead of the State having legitimacy and monopoly over violence, in Butler’s universe, people enjoy them, unless otherwise challenged. And this terrible premise made me put the book down, multiple times, in reflexive terror.
In my opinion, Butler covertly incorporates elements of diversity that modern writers like Okorafor overtly advertises and limits as a genre; Butler’s treatment is more plausible, natural, inclusive and refreshing, even with the horrifying premises. Her narrative never suffers from the compulsion to reveal the race or sex or orientation of her characters nor are they conscious of it like it’s their predominant identity. And even if a critique might consider her gradual reveal of the same, rebellious with respect to popular conventions, a reader might not feel so lucid of it. Lauren here or Lilith from Xenogenesis were not textbook heroines, both in physical features and personal traits; former was a teenage sense8 trying to widen her cluster than what you expect of a religious leader and latter was a bereaved mother prone to manipulation than an emissary of humanity. But both were representatives of a diverse non-monochromatic species, progenitors of a world without hope, trying to regain humanity even if its through a proxy God, alien or fictional. Butler’s theology, further, swims against the accepted flow by offering argumentative dialogue on the concept of divinity. She elevates God from “adults’ way of trying to scare you into doing what they want” or permanence to change or personification of an idea, with the reason that people are more likely to remember God than ideas, in despair. Maybe, more than Lauren’s prayer book, Earthseed is author’s own ‘futurism’ after all, one that transcends race and prejudices, an Archemedis Palimpsestfor future generations.
He had asked and asked me what the point of Earthseed is. Why personify change by calling it God? Since change is just an idea, why not call it that? Just say change is important.
“Because after a while, it won’t be important!” I told him. “People forget ideas. They’re more likely to remember God—especially when they’re scared or desperate.”
“God is infinitely malleable, God is change”
Earthseed might be the book of the living, but Butler’s Parable is a book of the dying, with author snapping her Infinity Gauntlet in every chapter. I do want to know how earthseed takes root among the Stars or Earth for that matter, but I really can’t endure one more books of depression.
I don’t blame the Sower, I am just not the right terrain for those seeds.