ambyr's Reviews > Imago

Imago by Octavia E. Butler
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In a lot of ways, the slightest of the series. Certainly physically it's the shortest. And the plot feels like it retreads territory from previous books. But thematically (and for what it reveals about the oankali), I think it's necessary to close the series.

Harking back to Lilith early in the first book, it's interesting here that the humans with no exposure to ooloi--the young fertiles that Jodahs finds--have no interest in having kids (until they're exposed to Jodahs, of course). They're being forced into it by older human resisters. One of the most uncomfortable things about this series to me is the way every character desperately wants children; it's a hard desire for me to empathize with. It's sufficiently uncomfortable that I think I missed on previous reads just how much this desire to breed and expand is driven by contact with ooloi and their pheromones. Yes, the resisters have it--and the resisters have all spent time with ooloi before their release on earth. It's almost like it's a ticking time bomb the oankali have programmed into humans, something to drive them back into their arms.

And the oankali drive to breed and expand is a problem beyond that. They think of themselves as shepherds and preservers of life, as unwilling to kill--yet they leave the planets they visit as piles of rock nothing can grow on. (And I'm betting they don't rescue all the animals off them--where would they put them?) Given that we're told they'll be leaving earth a barren ruin in less than one oankali generation, it's kind of bizarre that they went to so much effort to rebuild its ecosystem. There's a contradiction for you.

None of this was quite clear in earlier volumes. It doesn't come up in Dawn at all. In Adulthood Rites we're told the ship will strip Earth to a husk, but the time table is a little more unclear. Also, in Adulthood Rites I got the impression that all the oankali would leave Earth on one ship. That would make the destruction horrifying, yes, and a contradiction to the oankali's self-identity, yes, but it would be . . . sustainable? If every time they reach a planet the oankali split into three groups, one of which destroys the planet to leave, and those groups split into three more . . . it's expansionist, but the universe is a big place. You could keep that going for a while.

But in Imago we're told that, no, the oankali will be leaving Earth in dozens of ships, each of which will of course be biologically driven to seek out other life to blend with, other planets to destroy. That's some serious exponential growth. The series has always been clear that the oankali have issues, but while their "trade" with humans is inherently unbalanced by the humans' inability to freely consent, there was still a sense that it was a trade, that the oankali were giving something as best as they knew how. It made them sympathetic. It appealed to the little voice in me that says, "you know, humans are awfully messed up. Maybe it wouldn't be such an awful thing if someone fixed them."

Imago shuts that voice up. Imago--and its image of the oankali's rapacious expansion through the universe, leaving trails of dead worlds behind--reminds me, brutally, that everyone is messed up, that their are no easy (or even hard) outside fixes, and that if someone comes in claiming they have one, they're probably hiding something very unpleasant indeed.
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