John's Reviews > Lilith's Brood

Lilith's Brood by Octavia E. Butler
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Apr 19, 08


Lilith's Brood is actually three novels: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago, which have since been published in one volume. The basic story is this: humanity has virtually destroyed itself and the earth in a nuclear conflagration. Just after we've done so, a strange and powerful alien race called the Oankali arrive to save us. Sort of.

The Oankali are strange in a number of ways. They have horrifying snake-like sensory tentacles all over their bodies, they have three genders, and one of those genders has the ability to perceive, understand, and manipulate life on the genetic level. This alien race is driven from planet to planet looking for new races with which to merge genetic material, essentially finding new ways to evolve themselves. The human survivors of earth are put into a sort of stasis while the Oankali work to repair the damage we've done to the earth. The first novel is the story of Lilith Ayapslo, one of the first humans awakened, who is given the task of awakening other humans, making them aware of the situation, and teaching them to survive back on earth. Lilith--and the rest of humanity--is deeply troubled by the thought of merging with the Oankali and giving up humanity as a separate species.

The remaining novels deal with Lilith's children who are cross-breeds of humans and Oankali, who are living in a milieu that includes Human-Oankali "constructs" and sterile, frustrated humans who are resisting the merger with the aliens.

The series deals with issues of what it means to be human (remember this quotation?), while also developing interesting characters and their relationships. Each installment in the series is pretty good and there's a certain arc to the whole thing that weaves them all together. Nonetheless, I was frustrated to see that one of the major plot threads of the second novel was never really resolved. Not to give away the details of it, but we're brought to consider the question of whether human beings are essentially flawed, essentially doomed. The Oankali suggest that we are, but of course that's not exactly a satisfactory answer for, well, pretty much any of us who might read her novel. Thus, we want to see how the contradictions in our nature might be resolved, and we never get that chance. We're left instead with the possibility that we might save ourselves, but the assurance by the aliens that we will not and the redemption that we do see finally comes from the Oankali themselves, which is a bit disappointing, overall.

Still, the novels were enjoyable in themselves; it was only the overall expectations raised that left me rather unsatisfied.
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