Meredith Morgenstern's Reviews > Dawn

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
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really liked it

Almost perfect, but not quite.

I rarely read sci-fi; I'm more of a fantasy reader. But, my reading project for 2014 is Speculative Fiction by Women of Color, and Octavia Butler seemed like the perfect author to start with.

The book opens with Lilith waking up in a strange room...only, this is not the first time she has Awoken. This has happened before, and all she knows so far is she is being held by unseen captors who question her and keep her fed. Every time she goes back to sleep, she Awakens somewhere else, with no idea who is holding her or how much time is passing.

From there the story goes on as Lilith is introduced to her captors -- alien beings called the Oankali -- and slowly brought into the world of their living spaceship orbiting Earth 250 years after a nuclear holocaust has rendered the entire planet uninhabitable.

I found the first third of the book extremely well-crafted. We the readers are kept in the dark with Lilith, only learning what she learns as she learns it, and this is by turns wonderfully frustrating and breathlessly exhilarating. Butler excels at world-building and in the small details that enhance the reader's enjoyment of that world, rather than bogging it down with long info dumps. I can see some definite aspects where other sci-fi has "borrowed" from the Xenogenesis world: the assimilating nature of the aliens (much like the Borg in "Star Trek"), the name "Ooloi" (which reminds me of the Ood from "Doctor Who"), the living ship (from both "Farscape" and an episode of "Doctor Who").

Where the book falls flat is in pacing. We go from the slow reveal of the world of the Oankali to a huge jump in time and events. And then to more jumps in time and events. It gives the last third of the book an almost whiplash-like effect after the deliberate pacing of the first two thirds. Maybe Butler did that on purpose to emphasize Lilith's own sense of things moving too fast, but I didn't like it.

Other than that, though, this book was as entertaining as it was thought-provoking. While reading, I couldn't help but ask myself what I would do in similar circumstances. In a world where so much is based on personality and on reactions in crisis situations, how would I fare? How would any of us? How well do we really know ourselves; and how easy would it be for aliens from another world to study us, learn us, and manipulate us?

Big stuff. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the trilogy.
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Reading Progress

January 11, 2014 – Started Reading
January 11, 2014 – Shelved
January 21, 2014 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Joy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy Meredith, thanks for your great review - I agree with your point on Butler's craft, avoiding the often used info-dump by lesser authors. And you're the first to mention the extent of borrowing from her work, that I've noticed myself (and not just from this book) - if only there was more honest acknowledgment of this...

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