The Parable of the Sower
My father gave me my first Octavia Butler book in much the same way he has passed along others with a casual, "Here, you might like this." It was an omnibus edition of her LILLITH'S BLOOD trilogy, and I fell in love within the first few pages. I had never read speculative fiction written by an african-american woman about an african-american woman before, and it was so powerful to see a reflection of myself on the page. It was as though I had finally become visible in a genre that I have loved since childhood. I began to read everything by Butler I could find, and I was not disappointed.
Years have passed and I have since read all of Butler's published work. While KINDRED is the one I recommend to people wondering which of her books to begin with (especially those who claim not to care for science fiction), I believe THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER is her masterwork. It is what results when an extremely gifted writer examines the culture she lives in, asks herself the question, "What if things keep on in this way?" and writes down the answer her fertile imagination supplies. Though the book was written more than a dozen years ago, Butler predicts much that has been in the news and more that may yet happen if we are not careful.
Often gifted writers' books are difficult for any but the most dedicated readers to get through. It can feel like a chore to read books that are widely regarded as classics. That is never the case with any of Butler's work. She may be making any number of complex points about the society we live in through her work, the setting may be California or outer space, but she never drops the ball as a storyteller. Many times I have found myself deliberately pacing myself when reading her books for the first time, caught between not wanting the story to end too quickly and a powerful desire to know what happens next. It is often difficult to put her books down once you start reading, and the stories and characters will stay with you long after you have finished them.
Octavia Butler passed away last year, and humanity is all the poorer for it. In my opinion, her books are a cultural treasure that should be read by everyone.