**spoiler alert** i'm both surprised that so many people hold this book in high esteem and embarrassed that i don't. this novel reminds me of those se**spoiler alert** i'm both surprised that so many people hold this book in high esteem and embarrassed that i don't. this novel reminds me of those semi-fictional parables/treatises philosophers used in the past to elucidate a theory, like, say, plato's republic, or leopardi's operette morali, or charlotte perkins gilman's herland.
in other words, this seems to me didactic, and weak in the story-telling and the drama and the adventure and all those elements that make a novel fun and novelistic instead of the exposition of a thesis. the characters are flat, the situations are staged, the language, while sometimes beautiful, also somewhat subservient to the main idea, and the dialogue quite, well, platonic.
but since i'm clearly in the minority i won't harp on this. i will instead address the flaws of the theory. UKLG seems to be arguing in favor of a socialist/anarchist utopian society based on the free sharing of resources (human and natural) without any outside compulsion (government, laws, mandates). the only outside compulsion the anarresti society acknowledges and, to some extent, relies on is that of custom, i.e.: we all do this so if you don't you'll be severely frowned upon and eventually you'll be so uncomfortable that you'll have to leave.
such a society incurs two main problems, which are addressed head on in the book: one, coordinating structures (you need those!) will naturally devolve into power structures and, two, people internalize laws and obligations, so the gentle pressure of custom becomes the much less gentle pressure of internalized prohibitions, with accompanying stifling of those very resources the sharing of which society so profoundly relies on. these two problems are addressed, and solved, in the book, thus: since the anarresti society is in nature and essence a revolutionary society, there will always need to be a revolution in place, a conscious drive on the part of at least some to return to the original conception, and this drive will invariably unsettle the status quo, but since there shouldn't be a status quo in the first place, it's okay.
the heart and soul of the book and the reluctant repository of the purity of the odonian ideal (odo is the philosopher/religious leader who came up with the conception for this society) is shevek, a super smart physicist who has come up with a unifying theory of space and time that may revolutionize, not only the planet anarres, but all the inhabited planets in contact with one another. for one, it will make communication instantaneous, thus greatly increasing the exchange of ideas. at the same time, clearly, such theory can and might well be put to evil uses by dwellers of planets who, instead of believing in universal peace and brotherhood, believe in control and domination.
hence the story.
well, the story doesn't amount to much. shevek, being the leadership figure he is, cannot but share the intellectual vision he was gifted with. what happens in the future no one knows, but shevek does what he needs to do, and the novel ends.
there is something in this whole utopia that i find profoundly annoying, and i suspect it may be precisely what others find inspiring and attractive about the novel. shevek believes with every fiber of his being that if you live up to your potential, are the person you were meant to be, follow your innermost desires and give yourself fully to your calling, you do the rest of us, the whole body politic, a ton of good. in fact, you are a genuine shot in the arm of the body politic. you make yourself and others happy. you keep society healthy.
the "analogic" model for this (they call it analogic in the book) is the cellular model. a healthy cell is a boon to all the other cells. each cell must only focus on keeping itself healthy by doing what it is meant to be doing. if every cell does that, the whole body will tick along like a beautiful, healthy, vibrant instrument. this does not exclude pain: pain is an essential component of human life, personal and social. the cellular entity experiences pain as an exquisitely personal reality, but, also, finds solace in the solidarity and brotherhood of others.
what i find annoying is something i suspect i would find annoying in all utopias that appeal to a harmoniously integrated conception of humankind minus the designer, i.e. all atheistic organic theories of society that rely on spontaneous harmony. it's very hard for me to comprehend that the working of one little part of a social body will magically benefit the whole of such body without someone to orchestrate such miraculous convergence. it sounds to me like wanting to do away with the deity while retaining all the advantages of a theological conception of the world. and this annoys me, because it smacks of childish optimism, of a belief in the order of things that stems from some forcedly ideological cheerfulness that is doomed, it seems to me, to turn into nightmare. it reminds me of when i was in high school; it was the 70s and there were student occupations and demonstrations. we got what we wanted, then didn't know what to do with it. it all degenerated into festivities and lounging around. some kids didn't have a problem with it, but me, i believed in the protests. and then i didn't any more. if you want an anarchic society to be purposeful and ruled by an inner sense of direction, you've got to put god in, or resign yourself to chaos and degeneration. mindless optimism bugs me no end....more
*** this review has spoilers that will do irreversible damage to those who have not read the book, is long, and is, i'm afraid, rather academic in ton*** this review has spoilers that will do irreversible damage to those who have not read the book, is long, and is, i'm afraid, rather academic in tone, because i just think that way. be warned. ***
Fledgling opens with a birth scene of sorts. a little girl (we don’t yet know that she’s a little girl, but find out soon enough) wakes up in a cave in tremendous physical pain. her body is badly injured, more, we gather from the description, than a human being would be able to survive. she’s covered head to toe in severe burn wounds. she can barely move. her skull is fractured in at least two places. she’s blind. she weaves in out of consciousness.
besides feeling in agonizing pain, the girl is hungry in a way that feels life-or-death to her. a large animal comes near her. she immediately kills it and eats it raw. a few days later she’s on her feet and well on her way to healing. she hunts down deer, kills them with her bare hands, devours them on the spot.
the birth symbols – the cave, the physical pain, the blindness, the total incapacitation, the starving need, the complete amnesia – seem to me to signify both sides of the birth couple. the girl is both baby and mother; she gives (re)birth to herself.
what the girl slowly discovers, through well plotted and well paced steps of knowledge and self-knowledge acquisition, is that she’s a vampire who used to live in an all-female community, and that this community was wiped out in its entirety by humans. soon she finds the male community formed her father, brothers and older relatives, but this community, too, is soon almost entirely wiped out by humans.
in the meantime shori’s instincts and deeply-rooted needs and desires have led her to discover (everything is a discovery for her, and the amnesia never resolves itself) the pleasure of drinking blood from humans.
the rapport between the vampires (or “Ina,” not just a different race but a different species entirely) and the humans they feed on is easily the most mesmerizing, enthralling, and, to me, frankly pleasurable aspect of the novel. in the narrative i can detect – feel? – butler’s easy (she’d been doing this for years, and her novels always tread on the dark edge of the forbidden, which is probably why she chose to write sci-fi or speculative fiction) dipping in her own unconscious, into a pool of profound woman/lesbian longing that is rarely represented in literature. the whole book seems to me an answer to freud’s famous question “what do women want?” it seems both the representation of deep-seated and (therefore) tabooed female desires and the luscious, unbridled fantasy of their fulfillment. butler needs to push the envelope of difference in the desiring subject as much as possible.
shori, the first person narrator, is unique both in the cast of characters who people the book and, perhaps more importantly, in the cast of characters who are likely to read the book, in a number of ways. as far as the former is concerned, she’s black (one of her brothers is also black but of a much lighter hue, and anyway he’s quickly dispatched by the assassins who are after shori’s family; a small number of humans are black as well, but their blackness is not a primary issue in the novel the way shori’s is), she’s alone (the Ina live in communities and return to communities: shori is alone and wants to stay that way, form her own family instead of joining an existing one), she’s small for her age, she’s remarkably poised, wise, and intelligent, and, above all, she’s an Ina-human hybrid. this last trait, alongside her blackness, is key in the novel, but since it raises interpretive issues other than the ones i have at heart here, i’ll set it aside. as far as the readers are concerned, she’s unique in being a sexually active, sexually promiscuous child who’s equally attracted to adult men and women.
this is the thing that interests me most so this is what i’ll talk about from now on. shori, who looks like a human 10-year-old and is a 53-year-old Ina, is and isn’t a child in both worlds. from a human point of view, she of course belies appearances because she has 53 years of life under her belt. at the same time, not only does she look very much like a little girl to the human eye, but, also, she’s just undergone a pretty thorough and literal rebirth, and her memory is wiped entirely clean. when she gently bites her first human, he, a man of 23, experiences intense sexual (never described as such, but clearly that’s what it is) pleasure, and so does she. soon, she tells him that he can have sex with her if he wants to, because of the bond they have created through her feeding. the man may or may not feel instinctive reluctance to have sex what a small 10-year-old, but does nonetheless. shori is apparently (the sex scenes are not very detailed) an experienced lover, and this makes wright, the young man, feel altogether better, so that they go on to being regular lovers for the rest of the novel.
this is of course intensely disturbing to the reader. what is an adult male doing having sex with a little abandoned kid he’s just rescued on the side of the road? vampires and their humans, though, have a unique relationship. first of all, vampires are incredibly powerful, not only physically (they live a long time, are always healthy, heal themselves from injuries, are superhumanly strong, etc.) but emotionally. the moment they bite someone, the person experiences a pleasure that makes him or her little more than putty in the vampire’s hands. what stands between this and exploitation is the profound love vampires have for their symbionst, and ethics. the vampires desire their humans just as much as their humans desire them. their bond is pretty much absolute. even though humans mate with each other and have children of their own (and vampires do the same), the bond between vampires and symbionts is stronger than any other – it is visceral, and necessary to the survival of both. since vampires live as long as four or five hundred years and human symbionts, to whom vampires communicate a lot of their physical gifts, to 150 to 200 years, vampires are doomed to losing their symbionts, and the experience is described in the novel as so devastating as to be barely endurable. whereas, though, vampires can replace their symbionts, symbionts will get sick and possibly die if they lose the vampire to whom they are bonded. other vampires can and will take over out of ethical obligation, but it doesn’t always work.
as shori chooses and makes hers human after human, the reader’s pleasure deepens. the first human, wright, has little to no choice. both he and shori have no knowledge of what is going on between them, but, whatever it is, it’s irresistible to both of them. because she can’t feed on one human alone, shori then creeps into a woman’s bed at night and feeds on her. the woman is immediately, profoundly in love, and so is shori. technically they don’t have sex but they might as well have. these are the only two humans shori chooses. the other three she acquires in the book are, two of them, left-behind adult female symbionts of her father’s and brother’s, and, one, an adult male child of another symbiont who falls in love with shori and wants to be with her, and to whom shori is incredibly drawn. in other words, she has a profound attraction to three of her symbionts and only grows to love the other two. (two of her symbionts, the young man and the young woman she inherits from her brother, are also black).
the desire/fantasy this book portrays so effectively is that of total control over the love object, if not, possibly, over love itself. i submit that this is the desire/fantasy of those whose sexuality is chronically disempowered – queer people, women, who else? vampires cannot help reciprocating their humans’ love, but making this love authentic rather than exploitative is entirely a matter of ethical upbringing and ethical choices. shori, for instance, has to do violence to herself, at first, to allow herself to learn from her symbionts, some of whom have been living in vampire families for a long time and know way more about her people than she does. her willingness to treat her symbionts as equal is depicted as an act of great respect and humility on her part.
much as the symbionts long for her, shori has complete control over whom she feeds on, whom she has sex with, whom she chooses to love. they don’t. she, also, is clearly the head of the family. she decides what gets done when; the symbionts only suggest. moreover, she’s responsible for making the symbionts get along with each other. this last trait is of course reminiscent of motherhood. in fact, the whole feeding-as-a-sexual-act thing is very much a symbol of mother love, even though, in this case, it is the mother(-child) who feeds on the (adult) children. this role reversal is profound on many levels. because it gestures toward the breaking of a primal taboo, it shocks and pleasures at the same time. the smallness of shori’s body is always on the front of the page. she climbs into her symbionts’ laps, is enfolded in their arms, and, when they have traditional intercourse, which happens only with the men, always needs to position herself, and have her symbiont position himself, carefully.
interestingly, while butler describes with great intensity the pleasure shori derives from licking her symbionts’ blood (she doesn’t always feed on them; sometimes she just tastes them because it gives them both tremendous pleasure), she does not describe the pleasure she derives from having sex.
on the matter of sex: while shori is allowed to have sex with her symbionts, she is not yet allowed to have sex with other vampires, even though there is tremendous attraction between young male vampires and herself. i think she’d probably be around 16 in vampire age, and she’s too young to mate. for one, she couldn’t reproduce, for two, she’s just too young. the rules of proper-age mating hold just fine in the intra-vampire world.
which, problematically, sort of dehumanizes the humans. as i was reading the book, i kept slipping into a dissociative mode in which i perceived my dog as a symbiont. she is profoundly bonded to me, and loves me without any capacity for rejection. she obeys me even when it deprives her of pleasure (as when i ask her to go to her bed instead of staying on mine with me). i am bonded to her too, and i am as fiercely protective of her as vampires are of their symbionts. with all probability, she will die sooner than i and her death will devastate me. if i die before she does, someone will take her over out of ethical obligation to me.
if we want to eschew the suggestion that butler dehumanizes her humans, we can say that, at least, she infantilizes them. i cannot imagine reading this book if i had kids. i can stand seeing my dog the way vampires in the book see humans, but it would disturb me way too much to see my kids that way.
at the same time, seeing myself as a very powerful kid vampire who can control and attract so many adults (significantly, no one, vampire or not, is younger than shori in the book), and has such wise command of her emotions and her body, was tremendously thrilling to me.
i don’t know if the thrill i derived from this book is a consequence of my history and some damaged part of my emotional makeup, but i doubt all of those who liked it (and felt disturbed by it) have my same wounds. as i said, i think this book appeals to those – women, queer people, maybe disabled people, etc. – who are at a social disadvantage in the domain of sex and love. i admire tremendously what butler did here – the courage it took to write this on-the-surface reprehensible and distasteful book, her artistic integrity, her vulnerability. ...more
The Living Blood struck me most forcefully as an exploration of parenting. in the right hands, speculativ... ... ...
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS GALORE
The Living Blood struck me most forcefully as an exploration of parenting. in the right hands, speculative fiction takes the study of the (interior and exterior, inner and outer) limits of humanity to places where, perhaps, realist fiction cannot go. The Living Blood is not solely about parenting, but the rapport between children and parents, and the idea of childhood, are very much at the center of it.
the first book of the trilogy, My Soul to Keep, ends with the death of jessica and david's daughter kira in truly dramatic circumstances. i expected tananarive due to leave this stunning ending unexplored. i was wrong.
The Living Blood does plenty probing of kira's death and the terrible burden this death puts on the shoulder of the baby sister who was in her mother's womb when the tragedy occurred. if you'll remember, jessica allowed kira to die when she could have saved her, and she did so in a split-second decision, out of a sort of intuition that saving her would rob her of her place in heaven.
maybe The Living Blood could have done more with kira's destiny, her grandfather, the place in heaven he promised her throughout My Soul to Keep, and the reassurances he offered that she would be able to see and visit her parents (and see them happy!) as often as she wanted. in The Living Blood kira does visit her mom, but these visitations are ghostly and disturbing and probably not really happening. kira’s apparitions seem, in fact, to be a trick played on jessica by little fana’s supernatural powers.
TD, however, makes up amply for this omission by delving deeply into jessica’s grief and the ways in which her love for fana cannot but be tinged by it. i found this beautiful, a great feat of psychological lucidity and courage on the part of this author. parents are marked by their history in ways we often discount or deny. children are part of this history, too, and carriers of its seeds. familial history is passed down the generations, enriched each time by new layers of presentness. the existence of this historical chain, the continuance the makes each of us the rich product of an intersection of past and present, seems to me often lost to our idea of childhood. children are born with the guilt of cain and the screams of abel embedded in their small minds. in this way, they are a treasure-trove of familial, generational and cultural inheritance.
at the beginning of the novel we meet jessica again as a mother who loves her living daughter while being haunted by the loss of her dead one. correspondingly, fana is a much loved girl who has to contend with the presence of her sister in her mother's heart. in the course of the novel TD allows jessica to grow out of this crushing grief, but she never quite deprives her of the richness of its memory, and i, for one, am grateful for it.
fana deals with the large presence of her sister by striving with all she has (she is between three and four but she's already incredibly powerful) to soothe her mother’s grief, on the one hand, and have her all to herself, on the other. at some point, she decides that the best way to go about this is by blotting out jessica's memory of kira altogether. this is a compelling scene. jessica does not remember her grief and is therefore happier and relieved; at the same time, she feels, and knows, that she has lost something precious, and begs fana to give it back to her. i like the way TD understands the shaping power of memory and the value of transforming memories instead of erasing them (as if we could ever fill the void they leave). i also like the way in which she portrays the relationship between fana and jessica as a loving/painful/difficult negotiation of roles, and a shared process of loss and gain. in the way all children do but few children are represented as doing, fana experiences searing loss from the moment she is born, in spite of her mother’s excellent parenting.
this is mirrored on a purely human level in the parallel story of lucas and jared, who have lost, respectively, a wife and a mother, and are about to lose each other (jared is terminally sick with leukemia).
the other axis of TD’s deep look at parenting concerns what parents can and cannot do for their children, and the moral dilemmas centered around the curbing of both their own and their children’s fantasies of omnipotence.
in the relationship between jessica and fana, it is fana’s omnipotence that comes to the fore, and jessica’s moral struggle with accepting it, cherishing it, and protecting fana from it, simultaneously. in this way, this novel works as the fictional version of a manual on how to parent exceptional children. TD looks insightfully at the incredible burdens exceptional children carry – the grief that constantly threatens to assail them, the short-lived elations, the crushing responsibility – and presents in jessica a remarkably tuned-in parent. in the first half of the book Jessica spends a lot of time trying to understand fana. eventually the job of understanding her daughter leads her to take the radical and selfless step of leaving everything behind and looking for help in the only place where help can be found. at the same time, and quite heroically, she insists on fana’s humanity and childishness, and fights tooth and nail to protect it. in the bee scene that takes place during the escape from the colony, Jessica chooses to protect fana from excessive responsibility and loss of innocence over the certainty the fana could rescue them all from demise.
in the relationship between lucas and jared it is lucas, the father, who plays with fantasies of omnipotence, and jared who, with the very tangible language of vulnerability and disease, tries his best to remind him of the value of their shared humanity.
both jessica and lucas do eventually fail. this failure is mixed, because it appears in the novel as an apparent success: jared lives, lucas becomes an immortal, and jessica, david, and fana create the community that will ensure fana’s safe flourishing. jessica, though, has abandoned fana when fana needed her most and this has caused fana to provoke a hurricane and experience her tremendous destructive power. she may be "safe" in her new communal family, but she is heavily traumatized and basically catatonic. it is interesting to notice that jessica abandons fana for very good reasons, and it is thanks to this abandonment that jared survives and alex and lucas are saved. still, jessica compromises, and the consequences of this compromise are dire for fana.
likewise, lucas and jared are together, jared is flourishing, lucas is happily re-coupled with alex and is an immortal to boot. but immortality, TD has amply shown us, is at best a mixed blessing. in fact, if there is one thing My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood have shown us, the life of the immortal is ultimately a profoundly diminished life.
it is a sign of TD's depth as an author that she draws very little attention to the failures and successes of her character. in fact, she is a remarkably non-judgmental author. you have to draw your own conclusion pretty much as you would in life. and she complicates things, because that's how they are in real life: messy, and complex, and difficult. so both My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood are very difficult novels to read, not because they don't flow fast and furiously (they do), but because they are constantly balanced on the precarious, evanescent, and imbricate line between good and bad. ...more
added later. i would discourage people from reading this book without having first read at least The Living Blood, but optimally My Soul to Keep too.added later. i would discourage people from reading this book without having first read at least The Living Blood, but optimally My Soul to Keep too. i think 2/3 or its meaning would be lost.
this is the third in tananarive due's living blood trilogy, a brilliant investigation of life, death, race, slavery, parenting, faith, aging, destiny, grief, love and some other seventy-three topics, woven seamlessly in masterful page turners. you could read all three books and think they are nothing but adventure. or you could have your world turned upside down.
me, i had my world turned upside down by the realization that there are story-tellers who can go extremely deep and extremely wide while barely breaking the surface of the water. i have read my milan kundera, my franz kafka, my flannery o'connor. they deal in portentous metaphors and soul-stirring narratives. tananarive due is no lesser scholar of the human condition, but her probings can be easily consumed on the beach. this, to me, is brilliance.
***major spoilers ahead***
in Blood Colony fana, whom we had left catatonic at the end of The Living Blood, is a regular if extraordinarily gifted teenager, eager to escape the protection and worship of the colony that was built for and around her and, well, save the world.
her otherworldly gifts have vastly diminished. the little kid who could kill with a thought and cause hurricanes with a mood needed to be retrained in the mind arts because her most lethal and devastating gifts were left on the other side of her many years of catatonic trance.
this is a narrative whose key comes at the very end. TD's genius consists, among other things, in keeping the key to the narrative deeply cloaked, or, in the novel's terms, masked. the key is that a certain kind of power comes only from evil. goodness is powerful too, but its power is slower, less flashy, more gentle, meeker. so, fana's confusion, her teen-age clumsiness, her desire for escape inside herself, her weakness, are simply the result of a choice that was made for her by her parents, in particular her mother (that jessica, what a character!). whereas little fana of The Living Blood is a force to be reckoned to, 17-year-old fana of Blood Colony has been brought up right by two generations of women who put god (not his blood or his magic, but his imperative to love and be decent) at the core of their lives and is a much more fragile (human?) kid. the fact that beatrice refuses the blood with such desperate conviction (she's terrified her wishes will be disregarded, and they almost are), speaks louder than just about anything else in this novel. who knows if what runs in fana's, dawit's, and jessica's veins in christ's own blood? what this woman who's lived her life with integrity since day one knows is that you don't mess with human life (or lives).
it is wondrous to me how TD can write a novel about good immortals, can even endow her heroes with immortality, while consistently presenting immortality in such an ambiguous, equally tragic and glorious, light. the balancing act impresses me deeply. i imagine this woman sitting at her computer in the morning and i wonder how she managed to keep her many compasses so steadily and unwaveringly focused in the direction of moral and emotional complexity. there are no easy solutions or easy choice in these novels. it is the constant act of choosing what seems right that is always at the front of the page. what seems right, though, is never clearly right. righteousness and goodness are always cloaked in a gentle mist and we can discern them only in silhouettes and hues. also, they invariably come with a toll of pain. TD is a writer who understand that goodness, love, pain, and death always come in unbreakable company.
it is only at the end, when fana meets michel, that we realize that fana could have easily been wiser, smarter, less fumbling, and incredibly more powerful. this, however, would have come at the price we all pay when we act with hubris, overstepping the boundaries of our finitude and humanity: the death of her soul. what saves fana and her family are not the gimmicks of a powerful blood, but the wisdom of sacrifice in the service of others. ...more
elizabeth wein always writes about love. this book is about tortured love, hurt love, torn love, and ultimately, gloriously, healed love. it's very beelizabeth wein always writes about love. this book is about tortured love, hurt love, torn love, and ultimately, gloriously, healed love. it's very beautiful, written with gold ink. it's stunning passage after stunning passage. and it gets down to the depths of the human heart, where goodness and terrible rage live side by side, always, always. (it's also a brilliant depiction of a sado-masochistic mother-son relationship, and of the hurt and torture such a relationship brings to the heart). ...more
Knife is lovely on a number of accounts, but none more than todd's voice and his relation with his little dog manchee, which goes from indifferent/hosKnife is lovely on a number of accounts, but none more than todd's voice and his relation with his little dog manchee, which goes from indifferent/hostile (todd --> manchee, not viceversa of course, dogs being dogs all worlds over) to deep and devoted. and patrick ness is a heck of a writer, so everything happens smoothly and sweetly and the story is wonderfully developed and it's both charming and terrifying.
my entirely subjective complaint is that this was a bit too YAish for me, i.e. too much adventure and maybe a wee bit of oversimplification of what are really complex issues. still, i couldn't wait to go back to it and today i'm picking up book two. so, you see, no consistency from me.
i'm going to review this classic without reading anyone else's review (i'll read them later), because the experience of reading it was so powerful fori'm going to review this classic without reading anyone else's review (i'll read them later), because the experience of reading it was so powerful for me, i want to try to convey it here intact. this is my fourth octavia butler, after Parable of the Sower, Fledgling and Wild Seed. butler is pretty consistent in her themes, but not until this time was i able to see precisely what she's doing.
this "precisely" indicates the level of power this book had for me, not the truth of what octavia butler is in fact doing. what i mean is, while reading this book i had a precise sense of what she was talking about. this precise sense is a merging of butler as a writer and me as a reader. it is unique. it doesn't speak of anyone else's experience, or at least of the experience of those readers who didn't come to this book with the same general set of issues and apprehensions and emotions with which i did.
it seems to me that all of butler's book are about love. in Sower the protagonist is an empath. she cannot helps feeling what others within a certain spatial range feel -- not their feelings, but their pain. feeling others' pain is love. wanting to alleviate this pain -- because it becomes our pain -- is love. in Fledgling the vampires love the humans they bond with absolutely. their love is so powerful that losing one of these humans devastates them. again, love brings enormous vulnerability. loving involves the possibility, maybe even the certainty, that sooner or later you will feel terrible pain. in both books, there is a salvific element. i'm using the christian word, maybe wrongly, but i can't think of another one. in Sower humanity truly positively needs to be saved from destruction.
in this book humanity has already managed to self-destruct though war and nuclear annihilation. the planet has been rendered uninhabitable. enter the oankali, an extraterrestrial species that plucks from earth the few survivors, puts them in hibernation to be able to study them, and in the meantime restores the earth to salubriousness. it also destroys all ruins, with the precise intention of giving humans a blank slate.
250 years later our protagonist, lillith, is awakened from her suspended animation and restored to normality. she's on the oankali's ship, prisoner. she is at first treated like a prisoner, too, and subject to interrogation by invisible and patiently stubborn interrogators. eventually she is told that she, along some of the humans who have also been saved (the ones most fit for such enterprise, and also the ones willing) will be sent back to earth to start from scratch, or almost (they won't have to redo stone age, obviously, and they will have some modern tools). but there is a catch. in order to survive as a species, the oankali need regularly (we are talking in terms of thousands of years, i imagine) to find another species with which to merge. the humans are incredibly attractive and stunning for them, a real find. they find them to be full of untapped potential, and really amazing from a number of points of view.
here starts the delicate and brutal love dance between lillith, presumably chosen for her specialness to be the first to do this, and the oankali who are specifically designated to deal with her as her family.
lillith resents the oankali because there are many aspects of her future (and her present) the oankali have decided for her and about which she doesn't have a choice. for one, she can't leave the ship and go to earth on her own, refusing the oankali's help and, above all, their intention to merge with her and the other humans. she is a prisoner. but it's also true that the oankali give her all sorts of freedoms and choices, including to refuse them (in which case she won't get to go to earth). also, and this is the other part of the equation, the oankali have saved her, continue to save her, and are incredibly kind to her. what i am saying is, if someone were that kind to me, spoke to me like that, used that kind of respect and treated me like i am the most precious things ever, i'd find it pretty damn seductive. who doesn't want to be loved like that? but there is a price, of course, and the price is a certain kind of freedom. she does have the freedom to say no, but she doesn't have the freedom to shape her life as if she were alone.
this is where the story and my own thoughts/emotions/beliefs converge. 'cause, do we ever have the freedom to shape our life as if we were alone? and if we do, which we don't, but if we manage to do it as much as possible, isn't there a price to pay? i am not saying that those who choose to live like this are doing something wrong. god no. i am saying that those who abandon the world and go live in a cabin in the mountains with dogs and pets but no other humans (which is the extreme case of going it alone) do pay a price, a price they may be very happy to pay but which most of us simply cannot pay. and then it goes without saying that they, too, rely on others in some respects, just because of the way societies and the world have evolved.
so, the way i read this book, when lillith struggles against the amazingly seductive, warm, loving, and respectful captivity of the oankali, she is fighting against giving in to love, salvation, maybe even a superior form of freedom. because the oankali to whom she's bound give her moments that are so special, it's hard for her to walk away from them, and to acknowledge that she's walking toward them of her own free will.
this is the gist of what i wanted to say. there are other things here, trademark butler themes: the leader is always a woman, a black woman, and she is formidable at the same time as she is also vulnerable. she does get hurt, but she is strong as all get out. she has vision. she understands others. she gets it.
sex is a fluid thing, a merging of bodies and minds and hearts that is sublime and special. the gender of the other person doesn't matter. the species of the other (humanoid -- no bestiality in butler) person doesn't matter. the appearance doesn't matter. the number doesn't matter. what matters is intense, unbelievable erotics mixed with something so deep and alluring, it makes you willing to give your life for it. i call it love. it is love.
this is what i mostly got from this book. lillith is being taught how to love in a way that makes her rebel but also give in. the struggle, as i see it, is a struggle that comes from the very same traits that have made humanity destroy itself, and that would make humanity destroy itself again if it weren't for the loving (and pained: the oankali love too, and therefore suffer) teachings of the oankali.
at some point, the oankali tell lillith that humans have one exceptionally good feature and one feature that dooms them. i don't remember the exceptionally good feature but i remember the dooming one -- a pernicious tendency to arrange themselves hierarchically. i had the duration of the book to mull this over and i think butler gets it exactly right.
ETA and now that i browsed the reviews i see that people think poorly of the oankali, who to me are adorable. what do you know. ...more
i would like to review this book here for you all but i can't, because GR is bullying everyone, taking away our right to be, and showing itself to bei would like to review this book here for you all but i can't, because GR is bullying everyone, taking away our right to be, and showing itself to be profoundly ungrateful to people who have provided content here for years for free, and my buddy octavia, may her lovely soul rest in peace, would most definitely be against bullying and ungraciousness. so i'll tell you a story instead.
the author of Donald Davidson, philosopher Simon Evnine, used to live in west l.a. and when he lived there he had this absolutely unreliably mustang. i knew nothing from nothing so i was duly impressed when he told me that a mustang was a really cool car to have, that mustangs were fast and powerful cars, that mustangs were prestigious cars. i was so impressed that i really didn't care that the car wouldn't go more than one block without stalling, bucking, sneezing, coughing, and being stubborn, which, on hindsight, and with a better knowledge of the english language, i see was an entirely appropriate behavior. the mustang also released really bad fumes, which, even in hindsight, i can't find any appropriateness for (unless you want to equate fumes=poop, and i'm not willing to go there). (reader beware: this is a gun that won't discharge.)
one day Donald Davidson's author and i took a trip to san francisco, in the mustang. it was thanksgiving and the california hills and valleys could not have been more beautiful.
unlike the california valley of The Grapes of Wrath, however, this valley was as dry as a bone. in fact, when i say that it could not have been more beautiful, it is my readjusted memory that's talking. at the time, i was so utterly confused by the mere existence of such a landscape, and so utterly bereft by the lack of proximity of real mountains (where real mountains=the alps), or, in other words, so fucking homesick, that my reaction to the landscape was one of incredulity and dismay. what was i doing here? what were these burnt hills with no vegetation except stubbly yellow grass and the occasional isolated tree? where were the lush green, the vineyards, the old curvy roads, the ancient dry rock farmhouses that in my mind designated life on the planet earth?
so, you see, i wasn't in the best of moods. one could even say that i was pretty despondent.
and then i saw that this earth, this yellow dry-as-a-bone moonlike earth had cracks. largish genuine cracks, like the heat and dryness were too much and, like unmosturized skin, the earth has simply cracked open. the cracks were big enough for maybe three people to stand comfortably inside them. at least that's what it looked like from the car. i had to stop the merry chat Donald Davidson's author and i were merrily conducting to ask, "simon, do you think there are snakes in the cracks?"
being a man who doesn't pronounce even tentatively on things he has no way of knowing, Donald Davidson's author responded, not unreasonably you might think, "i have no idea."
i, being a person whose belief system and speech is made up entirely of untested hypotheses and flights of fancy, asked again, "but what do you think?"
Donald Davidson's author couldn't understand the question. please do realize that he didn't know me well at all, and he had never in his entire life been pushed to give an opinion about something he knew nothing about.
an exchange ensued. i would call it an argument, even a very heated argument, but that would be airing dirty laundry in public so i'll just leave it at conversation. the gist of it was:
but you can guess!
but i don't have any basis on which to guess!
there was born the "are there snakes in the cracks?" trope of our micro-civilization. when Donald Davidson's author doesn't have any opinion at all about something but is pushed, by me, to pronounce, he remembers, "are there snakes in the cracks?" and assuredly says "yes" or "no," depending on his mood, on butterflies batting their wings in asia, the vicissitudes of el ninõ or some such (non) random phenomenon. me, i'm entirely satisfied.
a proper review of this book will be provided when i finish reading the third volume of the trilogy and it will be posted on Booklikes. i will provide a link, so come back!
THIS REVIEW IS CLEARLY IN VIOLATION OF ALL THAT IS SACRED IN THE WORLD, NOT TO MENTION THE GOODREADS' TOS. PLEASE FLAG IT FOR BEING ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT TO THE BOOK IN QUESTION, FOR ATTACKING A GR AUTHOR AND FOR ITS GENERAL CUSSEDNESS AND INAPPROPRIATENESS. THANK YOU.
for jakaem: this is the second installment. ...more