Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are grim yet beautifully written and uplifting works of literature. These books are science fiction in that they incorporate fictional future technology, such as the slave collars and the ship that will carry the first humans to the stars. More important, however, they are works of social science fiction, envisioning a future toward which Butler arguably felt the United States might be headed if it continued to ignore alarming environmental, economic, and social trends. The books examine the damage caused by violence in the name of religion, as well as the illusion of safety that many people take for granted. As is the case with much of Butler’s work, these books also address the inhumanity of slavery, showing how previously moral people can become monsters when they hold complete power over others.
Much of these books’ beautiful writing comes in the form of Lauren’s Earthseed verses, which are sparse bits of poetry reminding readers that everything changes people and that people change everything they touch. Ostensibly excerpts from Lauren’s eventually published volume titled Earthseed: The Books of the Living, these verses head the sections and individual chapters of both books. In Parable of the Sower, the chapters themselves consist entirely of Lauren’s journal entries, written in the past tense but with effective immediacy. Parable of the Talents is framed by Larkin’s retrospective observations of her mother’s life, which Larkin has researched as an adult in an attempt to know herself. This technique is especially successful because readers can feel Larkin’s rage toward Lauren for abandoning her in favor of Earthseed, even though Larkin knows her feelings are somewhat irrational.
Larkin’s narrative is interspersed with what little survived of Bankole’s writings, titled Memories of Other Worlds. Bankole’s work provides background history for Butler’s narrative because he was old enough to remember the more civilized United States that existed before the “Pox,”...
(The entire section is 873 words.)