The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

By definition, xenogenesis is the derivation of one species from members of another species. Such is the mission of the Oankali, an extraterrestrial race of genetic engineers whose activities link the three novels composing this trilogy. In the course of ensuring their own survival by interbreeding with other species and thereby bringing varieties of life to thousands of worlds, the Oankali found and captured a few human survivors of Earth’s devastating wars. As gene traders characterized by their extraordinary sensitivities, their abhorrence of violence, and their profound appreciation of all life-forms, the Oankali thereafter sought to make Earth habitable once again. In so doing, they confront what they perceive as the Human Contradiction: the high intelligence of human beings countered by their inherited hierarchical behavior, a combination that, if left unaltered, ensures the ultimate wastage of all the planet’s life, humans included.

Dawn, the opening novel of the trilogy, recounts the Oankali’s genetic manipulation of Lilith Iyapo. This proceeds under the aegis of an Oankali named Jdahya, who to Lilith is initially a horrific creature. Nevertheless, through 250 years of transforming Lilith, the Oankali offer her and her partially human offspring a lengthier life, free of disease and with self-healing capacities, and rich in diversity, either on Mars or aboard a spaceship.

Lilith appears in all three novels both as a pioneer in the Oankali experiment and, transformed, as an earth mother to a new breed. Lilith’s and her Oankali family’s offspring, principally Akin and his siblings, are the focus in Adulthood Rites.

Resolution of the emotional and intellectual strains faced by the new, partly human Oankali race, their interactions with resisting humans on Earth, and their ultimate decision, despite its dangers, to replant life on Earth are the subject of Imago. In this third novel, Octavia Butler describes the maturation of the Oankali-bred race, which nevertheless incorporates elements of Lilith’s original human qualities: adaptability, a sense of adventure, and the need to quest.