According to Jewish apocryphal traditions, Lilith was the first woman whom God had created along side Adam, before Eve. When Lilith was repeatedly persuaded to be subservient to her husband, Adam, she deserted Eden, revolting against God and her husband. This act of defiance has characterized future legends that epitomize her as manifestation of chaos, seduction and everything apostasic. In modern interpretations though, Lilith is an exemplar for feminist movements, for being a woman who stood up against dominance and subjugation. And for Butler’s post civilizational dystopian universe, that doesn’t have a God or any promised progenitors, I found the choice of protagonist’s name or the series renaming- Lilith’s Brood very fitting, allegorically and narrative wise.
Dawn, as the name rightfully implies, opens with a proxy God scenario. Earth has been left uninhabitable by an obscure nuclear war, and what’s left of mankid is under the cryostatic protection of an alien race called the Oankali. The Oankalis are a very alien Alien species with Medusa-ish body hair, Cthulhu tentacles for sensory receptors, Karellen-ish face and strange names(“Kaaltediinjdahya lel Kahguyaht aj Din“) that makes you wonder whether the author had accidentally bumbed her head on keyboard and decided to roll with it, or was being ridiculously imaginative. This Childhood’s End soon escalates into Overlords awakening their Stormgren- Lilith Iyapo in this case, 250 years since the war, with the intention of repopulating Earth with humankind. But there is a disturbingly weird catch. Something far more unsettling than the proposition of Monks from Doctor Who or maybe even that of Clarke’s Overlords.
The Oankalis are perhaps the strangest species I have ever read, both in biology and psychology. As repulsive as this sounds, they have terrifying sensory tentacles all over their body, three sexes as a species, ability to manipulate genetic biochemistry and an entirely different perception of the outside world to which our sentience is rather handicapped in comparison. Though it is easy to go to generalizations with the what is left of us as and the Oankalis as a species, this book evades the appropriation by presenting grey scenarios; Where it is difficult to assert right and wrong, for characters as well as reader. Dawn is reaction driven than character or plot, right from the very inception where Lilith is recruited as prime emissary for the new world order to her conflicting loyalty towards humanity and its godly captors. The book has captured the moral confusion, acceptance of apocalypse and prospectus of strange future from now captivity, rather beautifully. I loved how subtley, it reminded me of racism and xenophobia, and how futile it looked when another species is in play. And how imaginative, though a bit unsettling, the concept of bioship and biological manipulation was in comparison with our industrial contraptions. In addition to this technological incompatibility, genetic dissimilarities made them all the more alien, with reasons to doubt and fear. And author seemed to have let the events just unfold, in all its messiness, confusion and partisian conflicts, without passing any judgemental remarks or assigning any moral codes. It was hard to objectively blame anyone as the possibility of humankind being like pets or Oods to an Ood looking odd species in itself sounds pretty terrifying. And it took me a while to make peace with it.
I couldn’t help but compare the Onakalis with Enochian Watchers from Bible. In Aronofsky’s Noah they were depicted as Rock giants helping the selected ones pursue the ways of God, with minimum possible interference. This obvious appendage to Lilith allegory might be an overkill, but Oankali’s refined yet nonchalant attitude towards humans, even with the weird proposition for co-operation, sounded like something that would eventually become a legend, holy or unholy, once humanity is completely revamped as a civilization. Leaving these far fetched metaphors aside, Dawn felt well written and fast paced, if not completely reassuring. Loved the prose and I was gripped till the end, though it took me some time to decide whether the disturbance I felt were good or bad. Some feministic undertones could be interpreted from the lead being black and female, but, it might beat the purpose if not fun, as humanity itself is reduced to double digits. And just when I thought the book couldn’t get any more stranger, it surprised me by being even weirder. Definitely going to explore the rest of the books.
Anyway, the weeboo in me was amazed by the fact that, Butler’s aliens haven’t permeated into the hentai market yet, to which their sexuality is seemingly begging for. Well, there is still time and resources at the disposal of this really strange place called internet.
Lilith’s Brood is a collection of three works by Octavia E. Butler. The three volumes of this science fiction series (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago) were previously collected in the now out of print volume, Xenogenesis. It has been picked up by Ava DuVernay, Charles D. King’s Macro and director-writer Victoria Mahoney for adaption into a television series.