Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter of Reading #2: The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

The Winter of Reading Series is one part commentary and one part analysis. Each post includes both a review of a book that I've recently read and, perhaps more importantly, the positive and negative aspects of the writing and the story within. The goal of this series is to learn lessons that will help make myself, and anyone reading this, a better writer and storyteller! Enjoy...

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

The Parable of the Sower is near-future dystopian science fiction at its best - painting an almost too-vivid portrait of a world gone terribly, terribly wrong. Climate change, a failing economy, and a collapse of Western social order has resulted in a North America made up of roving, drug-addicted savages, walled communities, and a constant struggle for food, water, and guns. It also tells the coming-of-age story of a girl who grows into a woman and learns what she's capable of - both physically and spiritually. Read on for my review...

First, what I really enjoyed about The Parable of the Sower. The future world that Butler has created, although extreme and shocking at times, is very believable and detailed in its portrayal. She really takes the time to flesh the world out - the people, their situations, the way that they live their lives, and the reasons people act the way that they do - throughout the book's 300 plus pages. By describing the setting through the eyes and mind of a girl struggling to deal with and understand it, you really feel like you have an insider's view of the world - and like you're really there.

This first-person form of storytelling, combined with a second-half journey outside of the protection of a walled community and into that tragic world itself, creates an incredibly involving story. Although the first half of the book felt extremely slow and lacking in connection between the reader and the story, once the main character's journey across California gets started, you really feel like you're there walking with her rag tag group, with them every step of the way. This half of the novel is bleeding with tension and entirely gripping - and kept me turning the pages, wondering what they would encounter next.

Two things about Butler's novel, for me, could have been a lot better. The first I've already touched upon: the first half of the novel is dreary. Other than the main character, none of the personas and relationships that are built in the first half survive or continue into the second half. Yes - this is because the main character loses a lot of her family and friends, but it also means that the reader doesn't feel a connection with anyone for 150 pages. And although many tension-building incidents happen while she's living inside the community, you never truly feel like she's in danger. Secondly, the book is a bit preachy. Since most of it is about how the main character finds a new religion called Earthseed, much of it is spread throughout the book, and it doesn't make the novel any more interesting or engaging.

Key Positives:
+ A detailed, vivid, and believable portrayal of the future of our world
+ An involving first-person perspective and insider's view of the world makes it all the more compelling
+ The second half of the book, which takes the reader on a journey, is gripping

Key Negatives:
- Takes much too long to get going - I was losing patience after 150 pages!
- Most of the important connections between the reader and the main characters are only formed as we meet them in the second half of the story, none of the relationships from the first half are retained
- The text can become much too preachy when it revolved around her new religion

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