In June, I gave away a copy of one of my very favorite books Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler. I read it a long time ago and while I remembered bits and pieces of it, I thoroughly enjoyed re-immersing myself in this multi-faceted and completely unique world. I have never read anything else like this book, in terms of science fiction and in terms of world building. Butler’s ability to write the absolutely impossible and make it relatable and loveable is beyond impressive.
in Lilith’s Brood we are given a future world, after the destruction of earth. Aliens (the Oankali) have come and saved as much of the population as they can, but their culture, their very biology is dependent on the idea of “trade”. With each species they come into contact with, there is “trade”. In this sense, the entire species changes with each new discovery of life throughout the galaxy. It is a biological imperative for them to not just explore, but to in part become the very creatures they discover. In this way Butler handles two of the most difficult points of suspension of disbelief in alien sci-fi. 1- why do they look like us (bipedal) and 2- how can we breed with them?
So what we have is a book that is irrevocably about sex, but never shows penetration. It’s a book steeped in our ideas of gender (the aliens have a third gender the Ooli who are neither male nor female but are essential for procreation and intimacy between men and women. It’s also, on a global scale, about power, dominance, and survival. In order for the human species to procreate, it MUST do so with the tentacled aliens, the Oankali. All Humans have been sterilized, and now live a long and futureless life unless they join with the Oankali in “trade”.
So what are the options when there is no choice? What is life, when there is no future for the species? Lilith, the first to be awakened and the first to both love and mate with the Oankali, is strong, angry, hopeless, and at times, ferociously human. But in the biological trade, the Oankali are changed more than they anticipate, the essential piece which makes us human doesn’t just join with them, it changes them in ways they could not anticipate. Butler takes us through all the potentials, the long term ramifications of this by giving us three books. One about Lilith, one about her son, Akin, and one about her youngest child, born when she’s already a great grandmother, and the ultimate example of what it means to be human.
I’m not sure I can recommend this book enough. From the tentacled aliens to the interpersonal interaction, to the cultural commentary. It’s hard to believe how old this book is, and how little we’ve learned since it was written. Octavia Butler is simply the most genius author I’ve had the fortune to come across. Each new book blows my mind.
This month, I’m giving away a copy of Ally Condie’s Atlantia. I have my copy ready to go! So get yours and join me in reviewing: www.pktyler.com/giveaway